Buffer stops and Track Maintenance Personnel & Equipment
At the end of a track there would be something to stop things rolling off the end, usually referred to as a buffer stop (the Americans call the 'bumpers'). These were not intended to stop a runaway train but they would stop a wagon rolling along the track fairly slowly. When positioned in platform bays or at the end of the main line (at a terminus) they carried a lantern showing a red light so the engine driver could see the end of the line. For N Gauge the lamp can be made using a 2mm length of 40x40 thou strip with disks of 20 thou rod glued to one side and the top. The lamp was white with a red lens. Glue this to the top of the buffer beam and glue a strip of 10x20 thou to the back of the lamp and buffer beam to represent the mounting bracket.
The most basic option was a heavy timber beam, a sleeper would do, laid across the track. The railway inspectors would not allow this as a permanent solution as they might be moved but they were sometimes seen on light railways and often used on industrial lines such as those serving a quarry or brickworks.
A rather more permanent option, sometimes seen on industrial lines and on some quayside lines, was simply to bend the ends of the rails upwards by about two feet. The rolling stock wheels then act as buffers, by making the stops two feet high they are above the centreline of the wheel, which cannot then roll-over the 'buffer'. The sketch below shows such an arrangement used with inset track on a quayside siding. I could not see in the photograph if a diagonal brace had been added behind the curved rail. This would give greater strength but similar curved sections of track were sometimes used on wagon tipping plates and in at least two cases these had no additional bracing fitted.
Next up in simplicity is the 'sleeper built' buffer (a model of which is available in N from Peco), this is a simple box built from timber sleepers set into the ground on end and filled with earth.
Probably the most common type was the rail built buffer stop (again a model is available in N from Peco). This consists of lengths of rail bent to an inverted U shape and bolted to the rails with the same sort of bolts used for fishplates. To these were bolted vertical lengths of rail, extending up from the track. At the top of these vertical rails there would be either a timber sleeper or a couple of lengths of rail bolted to the frames at the same height as the buffers on rolling stock.
A less common variant was the timber built buffer stop, consisting of two heavy (about eighteen inches wide by a foot deep) vertical timbers set into the ground with a similar beam mounted horizontally at buffer height and behind this were two more heavy beams set into the ground at an angle to brace the frame. The vertical posts typically extended some distance above the top of the buffer beam. These would require rather more work to maintain ore replace than the rail built type (which could be unbolted from the track), and could only be used at the end of a siding where the track ended (the rail-built type could be bolted on before the end of the track so the rails did not need to be cut to length), this may explain why they were less common. The sketch was made from an undated photograph of such a buffer stop in a Metropolitan Railway goods yard but judging from the rolling stock in the yard the photograph was probably taken in the late 1920's. Such a buffer could be made using match sticks in N Gauge.
In end-loading docks, where wheeled vehicles could be loaded onto flat wagons 'over the buffers', I believe it was fairly standard practice to have a timber beam at buffer height to protect the banked up platform beyond as wagons were pushed up to the end of the siding. At a guess this would be supported on sleepers with their ends buried into the ground to either side of the track.
Fig___ Sketches of buffer types
At the ends of long sidings you will sometimes see the track banked up so the last sixty feet or so are on a raising gradient. This served two purposes, it would help slow down a rolling vehicle before it hit the buffers and also, when the siding was being shunted, the engine driver would see the end vehicle rising as it approached the end of the line. An example of this can be seen on the carriage sidings on the approach to Manchester Piccadilly station.
Where a trap point was used, diverting run-away stock onto a short stub line at the approach to a junction, there would be a set of buffers at the end of the stub track but this track would have a covering of sand, called a 'sand drag' to help slow down the run-aways before they hit (and quite possibly demolished) the buffers.
The cross timber or rails on buffer stops were sometimes painted red but generally 'rust' colour would be a better description of the metal type. As noted above a fitting for an oil (later electric) lantern showing a red light was mounted on top of the buffer beam, in the centre, on tracks where the engine might be at the front of the train (dead ends in stations). These lanterns were not a standard feature on sidings although I do seem to remember seeing some. The lanterns themselves were white in the 1980's but I am not sure of the colour before then. These lanterns were replaced in the first years of the 21st century by a post carrying two red lights as shown below.
The examples below were photographed in 2007 by Ian Mackay at Norwich station, these are interesting in that the rail used for the supports has not been bent, simply cut, and the assembly is held together with bolted-on plates. These buffers have had white paint added to their front face, including the front supports. I have never seen buffers of this type in the Manchester area, possibly they are associated with areas where facilities for bending rail into acute angles did not exist.
Fig___ Photo of modern(?) rail-built buffer painted white
From about the mid 1990's rail built buffers in some locations (mainly sidings) seem to have switched to all-over yellow or 'rust' with yellow cross members. The example on the photograph (taken in 2004) is on the end of a lengthy head shunt and is equipped with an electric light.
Fig___ Photo of modern rail-built buffer painted yellow
When sighted on the end of ordinary sidings the buffers of this type are painted in the same way but do not have the pole with the lights attached. In the North London area I saw a number of buffer stops painted red with white ends in late 2005. I have not seen this colour scheme anywhere else (yet).
Fig___ Photo of modern rail-built buffer
In main line terminus stations there were experiments with hydraulic buffers. I am not sure when these appeared but there was a model of a set in the Hornby OO range in the 1960's. They consisted of a large concrete block with a pair of very long shank buffers sticking out of them. In Manchester Piccadilly station they used sets of rail-built buffers clamped (not bolted) to the rails some distance from the end of the track. Anything running into these would push them along the track, absorbing the energy. Again I am not sure when these were introduced but I believe buffers of this type replaced the expensive hydraulic type. See also notes in italics below.
More recently buffers have disappeared from rolling stock, notably the more modern DMU's which favour the Scharfenberg combined buffer coupling. The photograph below shows an old rail-built buffer stop at Altrincham tram station that has been modified to handle this new type of coupling (fitted to the Manchester trams). The vertical supports which once carried the timber buffer beam have been cut down to the same height as the U frames, the part of the U which used to extend forward of the beam has been cut away and two cross-rails have been added lower down fitted with a specially designed stop block. As this is the end of the line there is a red light mounted above the buffer beam but for some strange reason this is actually a signal, linked to the railway control centre at Deansgate Junction in Manchester, and even has a plate attached to identify its number (DJ 509). This may have been set up as the original lines from this platform ran on into a set of sidings and there may have been a plan to use these in the future. There is still a trailing cross over between the main railway line and the tramlines at Altrincham, allowing diesel trains from the main line to access the tram lines (to allow ballasting and the like). It would have been possible to establish a small goods handling yard but in the event the local council and the people charged with administering the old BR property decided that yuppie mico-flats and cafe-bars were preferable so the area has now been built up.
Fig___ Modern buffer stop with Scharfenberg stop block
I posted a question about these buffer stops on the news group uk.railways and received a number of informative replies (note the couplings mentioned are described separately under Rolling Stock Construction). These are summarised below -
There are now many different types of couplers in use, Buckeye, tightlock, Scharfenberg, BSI are all in use on Diesel and electric units in the UK. The London Underground uses a different design on its passenger trains, Buckeyes on its engineers vehicles, and older trains used to be fitted with Ward couplers, I'm not sure if any are still in departmental use. Blocks of wood or other material shaped to accept these various couplers are quite common, and can be fitted to various designs of stop block.
I will make one comment on the one shown in your photograph, I wouldn't want to be riding in a vehicle which hit it at any speed. I have had the experience, many years ago of being in a train which hit a fixed rigid stop block at about two miles per hour, and it was quite a jolt, not pleasant, and I certainly wouldn't want to do it any faster.
For many years large hydraulic buffers were installed at passenger termini, they are becoming much less common now, but London Waterloo still has them, with an extra beam mounted in front of them, now that most passenger trains do not have side buffers, but central automatic couplers. These work by the train pushing back a piston, which expels water from a cylinder, through a small opening, and therefore retard the train over a certain distance. Typically they can be pushed back, a metre or two, depending on the size. They were often gas heated, to prevent freezing in winter. There is also a similar but oil-filled hydraulic buffer, which has a large reservoir on top, one of the District Line tracks at Ealing Broadway still has one.
Having a train retarded over a metre or two is better than hitting a dead stop, but the greater the distance the better. The modern solution is a rigid metal structure, similar in shape to a rail-built buffer stop but of welded steel construction. Rather than being rigidly attached to the track, the rails pass under it, by way of a friction clamp device on each rail, allowing it to be pushed back along the track a considerable distance. Shaped blocks are normally fitted to these, to fit the train couplers in use. Sometimes additional friction devices are fitted to the rails behind it, which it would push back if it reached them, gradually increasing the retarding force.
Sometimes a sand drag is installed in front of a buffer stop to slow down a train.
Modern practice is to allow as much space as possible between the normal stopping place of a train at a terminus, and anything solid which it would hit if it overran. At Stratford station on the Jubilee Line it's quite a walk between the station concourse and the first carriage of the train, probably more then an extra carriage length of track.
I was working in Waterloo offices one day when a train hit those hydraulic buffers. Although there were no injuries - so the buffers had done their job properly, BR paid quite a lot of money in compensation to people whose clothes were ruined by the dirty water coming down from the roof.
By 2004 new buffer stops were appearing to handle the range of buffered and non buffered stock in use. The example below is situated on a siding close by Manchester Picadilly and has facilities to handle a range of buffer and coupling types.
Fig___ Modern steel plate buffer stop with buffer pads and Scharfenberg stop block
Track Maintenance Personnel & Equipment
Mention must be made of the railway staff who maintain the track, this is a continual process and until the 1970's was largely un-mechanised.
For each section of track there was a man called a 'lineman' who was responsible for inspecting a section of track and effecting minor repairs. He walked the track every day looking for faults such as a loose fish-plate or chock working loose in a chair, mis-aligned track, subsidence due to mining or rock faces in danger of falling. A solitary figure eating his lunch alongside the track would be a reasonable adjunct to a model railway.
The hard manual work
of repairing or adjusting a length of faulty track was done by teams
of 'plate layers' with a 'ganger' in charge. To protect the men as they worked a 'flag man' was
positioned up the track, armed with a flag and a horn. The horn was
used rather than the whistle as it could not be mistaken for a guards
whistle or a whistles used by station staff.
Fig___ Track maintenance workers
The chap in the photo below was photographed when working as the 'flag man' for a contracting company in 2006, he has been issued with a high visibility jerkin and carries the flag and horn.
There were many and various problems that might need the attention of the plate layers. For example track on curves tends to drift outwards due to the force of the wagons passing through and has to be levered back into line. Track that had settled too deeply into the ballast had to be lifted up and the ballast shovelled back underneath it, worn or damaged lengths of rail needed replacing and embankments eroded by rain had to be shored up.
The railway companies built special track-testing coaches, equipped with sensors to measure the sideways and vertical movement. This was hauled along the line and the measurements were recorded on paper strips. In addition (on the GWR at least) a mechanical device was fitted which squirted out some whitewash when the sensors detected too great a deviation. The paper trace should have recorded the position of the faulty track quite accurately but the whitewash was an additional aid for the track gang to find the site of the problem.
The early BR track maintenance machines were painted green but the standard had changed to yellow by the 1970's. The market leader is now the Austrian firm Plasser and I understand a powered model of the standard tamping machine should be available in N by late 1998.
Soil gradually works
its way into the ballast and prevents water draining through. This results in degradation of the track bed and produces uneven track. The old
method of putting this right was to simply replace the ballast,
shovelling the old ballast and soil into spoil wagons. Today there
are special ballast cleaning machines (developed before the second
world war but not regularly used until the BR built some in the
1960's), these new machines clean the ballast in place and only a
`topping up' is required. By the 1970s there were increasing numbers of specialised machines in use for track maintenance, some lift and level the track, others replace the ballast. These machines are furtive beasts, often only venturing out at night. I know little about these machines and have seldom seen examples although there are numerous web sites devoted to them where you might find further information.
One of the more common problems with track is that over time it settles down into the ballast and becomes uneven. The original solution, in use into the 1970s, was to take a long (20 feet) stout pole, this was pushed under the rail on one side and laid down on top of the rail on the other side. A team of men would then pull down on the free end to lift one side of the track so other men could shovel fresh ballast under the sleepers. This work took time and was expensive in manpower so to solve the problem the self propelled 'tamper' was introduced. The tamper first lifts the track, then vibrating steel splines are driven down into the ballast and pulled together to force the ballast under the sleepers.
I wasn't sure what the machine shown below was, however when I asked on the uk.railway newsgroup where 'Kirk' confirmed this was a tamper and Charlie Hulme (another regular on uk.railway) informed me that -
DR 73248 is a Plasser & Theurer 07-16 Universal Tamper / Liner. The bits with the red arms hanging down under the curout in the body are the arms ('tines') that go down each side of a sleeper and compact the ballast below.
They're based on the German 'Cargosprinter' container-carrying DMUs, and can carry a wide variety of modules for different tasks. Apart from the rail-head treatment and weedkilling ones mentioned, they can be used for catenary maintenance, P-W work etc. The modular system was derived from that designed for the Eurotunnel works trains- the units used on CTRL now use the Eurotunnel facilities at Cheriton to exchange modules.
Railtrack planed to renew 1,200 bridge spans, 2,500 km of rail, 5,500 km of sleepers and over 6,000 km of ballast between 1998 and 2008. The actual work was to be subcontracted to track maintenance companies, mostly based on three year contracts. With the end of Railtrack in 2001 the entire plan has been reviewed by its replacement Network Rail but as far as I am aware the details have not yet (2003) been published.