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Worting Junction and snow

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Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby colin1501 » Mon Mar 19, 2018 7:57 am

I've just travelled through Worting Junction (west of Basingstoke on the SW main line) on a train that normally uses the high speed crossovers there to cross from the up Southampton to the up fast. It is very snowy this morning, and we continued on the up slow to Basingstoke, crossing to the up fast just west of the station.

I've noticed this before over the last 10 years or so, often enough for it to be consistent. There seems to be a reluctance to use the high speed crossovers at Worting Junction in snowy conditions. Does anyone know if this is the case, and if so, what the reason is?

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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby Ashley Hill » Mon Mar 19, 2018 8:40 am

I think that nowadays there s a general reluctance to move points unnecessarily during snow. Once they're set for the most useful route you leave them there,especially if a lack of groundmen to keep points clear. This was noticeable during the recent snow in the West Country,all trains through platform loops or only using one or two platforms at larger stations.
In the case of Worting Jct it would keep the fast lines free for West of England traffic and the Southampton's on the slows to prevent delays at the junction with blocked points. As you say they then cross over outside the station keeping point use to a minimum.
Last edited by Ashley Hill on Mon Mar 19, 2018 9:09 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby davidwoodcock » Mon Mar 19, 2018 8:57 am

Not just nowadays. When I first started commuting half-a-century ago I noticed a marked reluctance to swing points when there was fresh laying snow, presumably because it allowed the men on the ground (who were there then) to concentrate on keeping essential points (at junctions, for example) working.
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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby StevieG » Mon Mar 19, 2018 11:54 am

There used to be (still are?) Rule/Instructions for slight or moderate winter weather on periodically working points that had not been used frequently to attempt to keep everything going (e.g., pre-1972, the 1950 Rule 61 included "Points not frequently used must be occasionally worked by the Signalman to assure himself that they are in order.", though that was not specifically weather-related.)
But if the weather got too bad, any established more restricting policy could be pronounced as to be applied (usually by the Control office AFAIR.)

Thirty years ago I was tasked with reviewing the Kings Cross Area (KX -Stoke)'s "Key Route Strategy" for the more severe times which dealt precisely with identifying points which were essential to be kept workable, where possible also selecting those which were in fairly compact areas to optimise where ground staff could more easily attend when necessary, often purposely listing those which were not to be worked in more isolated locations that would otherwise have been more desirable speedwise or permitted parallel movements but where staff resources were less likely to get to promptly in the case of problems or were perhaps inaccessible in prevailing conditions. It should be noted that this was an entirely power-signalled area by that time, as has Worting Junction been for very many years.

Over many decades now there have of course been several types of point heater used to try to prevent point switches freezing and/or becoming blocked by snow or ice (including lumps of same which can drop from passing trains).
One other problem which became more apparent with the advent of authorised train speeds exceeding 100mph when lying snow was of a drier powdery nature was points becoming blocked by the huge clouds of snow drawn into the air in the slipstream of high speed trains.

Most obvious when operating were those heaters which used bottled gas fuel and were turned on manually by the PWay staff or (not always successfully) automatically by temperature sensing equipment. These could then be heard 'popping' away, and in darkness emitted a row of visible blue-ish low flames along the outside of the stock rails.
I believe electric types have been more effective in more recent times but have no idea of their means of operation or effectiveness, and in any case even the best could probably be overwhelmed by sufficiently heavy falling or drifting of snow.

One other factor which has occurred to me regarding points with high diverging permissible speed, but about which I have no knowledge, is that the point switches are inevitably long (picture those few places such as Colton and Rugby T.V. Junctions, where [using 'H' length switches?] the two divergent permissible speeds are both 125mph), so the movable lengths of the switches, and the number of movement drive points which they have, are much greater, and so they may be more difficult to effectively heat.

And in any case if a set of points cannot fully move to, and be detected in, their opposite position in bad weather, it is quite possible, even after several attempts, that snow or ice could also prevent them being successfully restored to their previous position, potentially creating the situation of their then being unusable in either position, and the signaller is then 'snookered', unable to move anything over them pending site attention to either get detection restored or even get them working again. It's also possible to be left with the least desirable circumstance for train movements, of only being able to get site assurance that the points have been secured but signal/s still cannot be cleared through inability to restore detection, necessitating each driver being verbally authorised to pass the signal/s at Danger.
Last edited by StevieG on Mon Mar 19, 2018 1:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby John Hinson » Mon Mar 19, 2018 12:13 pm

StevieG wrote:I believe electric types have been more effective in more recent times but have no idea of their means of operation or effectiveness, and in any case even the best could probably be overwhelmed by sufficiently heavy fall or drifting of snow.

The only type of electric heater I came across were heated pads fitted beneath each chair, so the entire chair was heated. They seemed remarkably efficient at their task but the issue, as with the paraffin ones before them, was lack of maintenance and testing during non-cold weather and they often didn't work when actually needed. Some power boxes I worked had a switch to control them, whilst at other locations I am thinking of a thermostat was used.

This was 25+ years ago, maybe other types exist now - although you wouldn't think so given the fact that apparently nobody dares use the points these days.

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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby StevieG » Mon Mar 19, 2018 12:51 pm

StevieG wrote: " There used to be (still are?) Rule/Instructions for slight or moderate winter weather on periodically working points that had not been used frequently to attempt to keep everything going (e.g., pre-1972, the 1950 Rule 61 included "Points not frequently used must be occasionally worked by the Signalman to assure himself that they are in order.", though that was not specifically weather-related.) .... "
Colin1501, just found the old 1950 rule that I was really looking for ; -
Rule 95. (a) "During severe frost or falling snow, signals, points, locks and bars, must be frequently worked by the Signalman when the section is clear and no train has been signalled, in order to prevent frost or snow impeding the working of such apparatus."
But the basis of this rule undoubtedly originated when all signalling equipment was assumed to be mechanically operated, local permanent way staff were more plentiful, and some signalmen with a train/s delayed by an item of nearby points or other equipment being seemingly disabled by snow etc. when no assistance was really available, might choose to go out (hopefully, only if having suitable clothing) and see if they could remove the problem themselves.
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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby Fast Line Floyd » Mon Mar 19, 2018 2:05 pm

The Midland Mainline in the 1970's had calor gas point heaters which were thermostatically controlled. During my training for Finchley Road nobody thought to mention these heaters (the nearest being just in front of the box) I found out the hard way about these heaters which when they cut in caused a huge bang a bit like the pop you get when lighting the gas on a cooker only much louder! It was the middle of the night when this huge bang occurred and the sky lit up which caused me quite a fright until I worked out what it was.

Most electric heaters have both a thermostat which (IIRC) cuts in automatically when the air temperature drops to 0c but have a manual override in the nearest signal box which the box instructions say should be switched on if snow is forecast or is seen to be falling but not previously forecast.
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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby Ashley Hill » Mon Mar 19, 2018 3:19 pm

It was or still is in the SGI or its modern equivalent about moving infrequently used points. The danger is of course if you would get them and the detection back afterwards especially if on a main line.
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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby Cotswolder » Mon Mar 19, 2018 8:41 pm

Worting Junction had (and I hope still does have) a very useful feature inasmuchas if all the points were kept in the normal position then it could act almost as two separate railways. The Southampton line trains could be kept to the slow lines and those to the West of England on the through lines. Providing point detection was maintained (therefore do not swing the points!) it was then as if the junction didn't exist - hence no delays due to heavy snow leading to point failures.
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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby colin1501 » Tue Mar 20, 2018 7:31 am

Thanks for all the enlightening replies - very helpful. And yes, Cotswolder, the layout at Worting Jc is still as you remember it, and it was clearly being used in the way you suggest yesterday. All back to normal today!

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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby Cotswolder » Tue Mar 20, 2018 8:00 am

Thanks Colin!
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Re: Worting Junction and snow

Unread postby Chris Rideout » Wed Mar 28, 2018 12:06 pm

StevieG wrote:Colin1501, just found the old 1950 rule that I was really looking for ; -
Rule 95. (a) "During severe frost or falling snow, signals, points, locks and bars, must be frequently worked by the Signalman when the section is clear and no train has been signalled, in order to prevent frost or snow impeding the working of such apparatus."
But the basis of this rule undoubtedly originated when all signalling equipment was assumed to be mechanically operated, local permanent way staff were more plentiful, and some signalmen with a train/s delayed by an item of nearby points or other equipment being seemingly disabled by snow etc. when no assistance was really available, might choose to go out (hopefully, only if having suitable clothing) and see if they could remove the problem themselves.


This rule was sometimes better ignored! Working points while the snow is still falling packs the snow tightly between the switch rails and the stock rails. However, there was point grease that looked like curry sauce and that was slapped on the slides to prevent the switch rails from getting jammed between the normal and reverse positions.
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