18 Nov – Resting on One’s Laurels

It made a very pleasant change to be working on a station bathed in sunshine or, at least, as sunny as it gets in the cutting at Cheltenham Racecourse Station in mid-November.

That said, one of our perennial problems was well illustrated this afternoon as, despite the fine dry day we were experiencing, Platform 1 was essentially cold and damp from the recent rain.  This, in turn, allows the moss etc to grow producing a wet and sometimes slippy platform in the critical areas where our visitors stand and admire the GWSR fleet of engines.  As such, the authorities made a decision to reduce the overhanging vegetation somewhat by cutting back the laurel bushes and allowing more sunlight and air into our danker locations.  In this task I had the fun job of sawing down the trees whilst the hard work was undertaken by Pete and John O – shown below – dragging the results up the way and across on to our burn pile on Platform 2.



You might have thought that this was a bit radical, and begin to doubt our green credentials, but rest assured the laurel is a very forgiving plant it seems and here’s one we did 3 seasons ago which has grown back very nicely:20191118_1406464445584758041585156.jpg

Colleagues Chris and Roger were busy removing the last of the pine piles from the track bed which should leave us clear of this task until 2020 (I hope!).  Mary meanwhile was tidying the garden for winter:20191118_1405343337447100591697436.jpg

….and then having a well-earned rest in the sunshine:20191118_1519096003412397931737457.jpg

Which reminds me to thank the ever faithful Mike who provides the tea and coffee during our breaks.


A random shot of the sun on Cleeve Common!

Dave T was busy straightening up after the weekend’s Race Meeting whilst Dave G was, I think, busy painting various small items which can dry indoors.

So a great turn out on a day when it was a pleasure to be a volunteer.




16 Nov – Heavy Going (Literally!)

A report in from Dave T, who was certainly ‘at the races’ yesterday:

“Just self, Dave G and Steve in today for the Cheltenham Area Group, plus 2 Station Masters, a booking clerk and 4 crossing monitors, all of the latter to deal with the race train morning and afternoon plus the fish & chipper at lunchtime.

“Steve put up and decorated the Christmas tree in the booking hall and then sorted out the four plug leads for the festive lights around the canopy of the building. It was necessary to unbolt the plug sockets from a metal back plate and drill new holes to fit it all in the plastic box. When I left in the early evening, the light strings were all nicely illuminated to raise awareness of our Santa trains.steve sorting xmas lightssteve xmas tree

“Meanwhile Dave G passed the time by painting one of our ‘Beware of Trains’ signs over in the paint pod. DaveG painting sign

“I checked tarmac surfaces were just about dry enough to – wait for it – hoover up pine needles for the bonfire and then leaves for composting. The racing punters arrived to a clean platform and ramp and left for the course without being aware of the effort put in to clean up after last week’s deluge.race trainrace goers

“For a ‘major’ race meeting the day seemed rather subdued, with a smaller crowd than normally attending the showcase meeting. Perhaps some were put off by the Racecourse warnings of boggy ground in the parking areas and the plea to share cars!”

Thanks Dave.  Going ‘heavy to distinctly boggy’ I should think.  Still, it looks slightly drier next week – or am I deluding myself?



11 Nov – Remembrance!

Remembrance is, of course, the time to reflect on those of the nation’s Armed Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice. As most passengers who have passed through Paddington Station in London will be well aware the Great Western Railway itself has a magnificent memorial to those 2524 of its employees who died in the Great War and 788 in the Second World War.

GWR Memorial

Presumably, some of those worked in and around the Stations now part of the GWSR; I wonder who, how many and what their ‘back stories’ were? Perhaps there is scope for someone to do some research in the various archives and find out?

In a similar vein I also note that, on the original Remembrance Days (then known as Armistice Day)s, all train services pulled to halt at 11am on the 11 November; a tradition I believe some nations still respect. Not sure what this would do to the timetabling of the UK’s commercial train services and we hardly need any more reasons for delay or disruption!

Fortunately, or otherwise, this is not an issue we in the GWSR face since we are a week into the short close season. That said, the imminence of the November Race meeting at Cheltenham is on everyone’s mind this week as we try to combine our maintenance and refurbishment plans with keeping the Station spick and span for the ‘Specials’ later in the week; no easy task this autumn. Therefore, we have put on temporary hold any tasks which might interfere with the rather singular requirements of the racegoer. Whereas our average passenger comes along to appreciate the experience of steam train travel, the race punters are rather more focused on arriving at their destination and getting on with the business of the day: watching the horse racing, placing the odd wager, eating and drinking etc. That’s not to say that some (hopefully all!) don’t enjoy the experience, its’ just that you are just less likely to enjoy a conversation with them about the boiler pressure in P&O or whatever! A good money earner for the railway though, so we’re not complaining.

Anyway, after that extensive preamble, what were the Monday workers doing this ‘fine’ day? Wait for it, wait for it – yes, sweeping up pine needles, pine cones, pine tree branches etc. This is, of course, partly a cosmetic activity since no-one wants the Station looking unkempt for our visitors. However, there are also practicalities and safety considerations. Steam engines scatter the occasional piece of burning coal and allowing too much debris to build up on the track bed risks the occurrence of small fires – exacerbated alongside the regular stopping places by the amount of oil residue also present. This again wouldn’t be likely to cause conflagrations of Australian bush fire proportions but even small blazes can damage the plastic elements visible in our current track:


(The orange coloured bits visible at the bottom of the of the picture.)

Moreover, if the amount of debris visible on the track at the moment were to increase proportionately over the next few weeks, the chaps at Toddington would be fitting snow ploughs to get through it! And I exaggerate only slightly.

Luckily, a team of stalwart Monday men (and woman) turned out in force and made a super effort to clear the tracks of the worst. So all credit to Ian, Chris, Roger, Pete, Maurice, Dave T, Mike and Mary for a lengthy stint amongst the pine straw.


The result of which hard labour was an increasing pile well out of sight of race going punters:

Is there a market for this somewhere? Possibly it might make good pet bedding or perhaps it could be air blown into cavity walls as insulation? Tied in bundles to make GWSR straw dolls? Consumed as a vegan alternative to cheese straws?  I think something should be done!

Meanwhile our tenth volunteer of the day, Dave G, was in and about the Ticket Office – painting screens.  All in all a good afternoon’s work and we should be in fair shape come race days.





9 Nov – Pine Nuts!

We love pine trees here at Cheltenham Racecourse Station. Absolutely love them and, in fact, we are thinking of starting a Cheltenham Pine Tree Appreciation Society (The Cheltappers). This is because they provide us with so much activity – all year around. Pine tree worship is only a blog away.

Today for example, when we could have been inside doing a bit of calm decorating or rearranging the model train display, we were out on the track bed raking and sweeping oily clumps of pine needles into dumpy bags! Just for fun.


Pine piles – rather like religious icons but less tidy


Pine bales – a jolly good alternative to straw bales for the self-builder?

Next week, if it wasn’t for the Race Meeting, we might very well have been doing the same thing. And do you know what? It doesn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference how many you remove there are always more to come. Talk about leaves on the line!


And here’s the Cheltapper-in chief with the traditional gear on!

Seriously though, considering the forecast, there was a good turnout with Dave G, Dave T, Steve, Bob, Ben, Andy B and Mike on pine parade. Andy and Bob were, I think, busy prepping the Christmas lights, Dave G on ticket office related duties and Steve maintaining stuff. Which left Mike sweeping the pine straw down the steps to the platform and self, Ben and Dave T on track bed cleansing.


Here’s a bit we’ve ‘done’ and a bit we haven’t. Spot the difference.

We concentrated on the ‘four foots’ not the ‘six foot’.  For the uninitiated – like me until I had it explained this morning – that’s the gaps between each set of rails, rather than the gap between the up and down lines. And as for the trackside itself: right down on our priority list but we’ll get there.

Still with all that oil and pine sap it should make a decent fire when we get round to it. And when it stops raining for a day or two – if it ever does.  If you see or hear about  dense smog descending on Southam you’ll know we’ve decided to have a pine bonfire.

Ben did ask the question as to what would happen to all this debris if we had the odd full-sized, top speed, mainline monster whizzing through the station at 100mph? A good thought, and worth seeing if we can hire one for the day perhaps.  I dare say there would be so many other consequences the disease would be worse than the cure, what with ORR and all. Never mind we can dream, or invent a specialist pine hoover? (The Dyson Pine Vac – only £249.95  and an essential Christmas gift for the volunteer who has lost the will to live got every other tool imaginable.)

By the time I left (early) the cold, the persistent drizzle had returned and I fear my colleagues might quite reasonably have decided that a couple of hours outside was quite enough.  There’ll be plenty left to do on Monday, and next week. and the week after…..

Still, musn’t repine,


4 Nov – I want one of those!

The short close season is upon us and there will be few pictures of trains until Christmas steams into view ( 30 Nov – see Santa Special.) In the meantime…….

It was quite an unusual Monday in some ways – not because the workers were engaged in sweeping up pine needles (they were, we do that every week) – but because we had a couple of very impressive contractors on hand to do some of our larger/more specialised tasks.

First, Dave T and I arrived early (0930) for the contractor engaged to empty the lost Klargester. 20191104_0936272391279906588602223.jpg The pumping lorry parked in the A435 ‘lay by’ and the pipework stretched down the side of the Ticket Office under the arches and emerged, through careful planning, opposite the tank lid.  Here’s DT assisting with the big hose – you can make your own caption up!20191104_0940554155530472952774385.jpgI will spare readers the details but suffice to say that extracting the content proved a little tricky since, after 16+ years there was rather more solid material than normal.

20191104_0950347881149425299728362.jpgWe’ll leave it at that I think!

Second and close by the GWSR has contractors clearing the lineside embankments between the Evesham Road Bridge and the Hunting Butts Tunnel.   Queue one man with the appropriate machine and here’s the behemoth concerned in action:

I want one of those!

To my mind the particularly impressive thing is the amount of debris left behind – there wasn’t much!  And no messing about with fires or compost heaps – just chewed it all up and moved on!  Do they make a steam powered one I wonder?

The still photos provide an idea of the end product – looking back from the tunnel towards the bridge.20191104_1017405369568274654208992.jpg


All that said one shouldn’t underestimate mother nature and, left untended, no doubt it will look pretty much the same again in 5 years or so.

Meanwhile, the Monday gang engaged in pine needle removed from the tack bed – photos next time, bet you can’t wait.






2 Nov – Railway Busyness?

What’s red, green, blue, purple and yellow, and needs careful study? Answer




(Obviously we keep this sign for historic purposes – dates from a less frantic era when the Evesham Road bridge carried one horse ‘n cart per hour not one artic every 10 secs.)

In a previous blog (21 Oct) I was reflecting, during a period of personal physical inactivity, on how busy or otherwise we are on the railway.  The updates from the Board invariably relate to passenger numbers and obviously this is a most important metric as I am well aware that Station staff, and others similarly ’employed’, are busy in relation to numbers of journeys being made. Furthermore, it is of course the income from the latter which is critical in determining the financial viability of the railway.

However, for those in a more supporting role, whilst these figures are still important, it is as much the number days we are open which both make us busy and affect what we can (and can’t!) achieve.  A simple analysis of the timetable suggests that we run trains on about 188 days per year or a fraction over 50%. However, between April and October this increases to 160 running days out of 214 or 75% of the time.  Entirely sensible Health and Safety precautions dictate that we ‘maintainers’ can’t realistically access the track at all, and are seriously restricted in trackside activity, when trains are running.  As it happens the Cheltenham Area Group works on Saturday mornings – which must be the busiest time of the week – and Monday afternoons, when there are almost never any scheduled services. You win some and you lose some!

None of which is a complaint directed against anyone – just a reflection on where we are at.  But, that said, I assume that as the railway tends to expand and increase its business in an effort to remain viable, the number of running days will tend to increase and the proportion of ‘down time’ will reduce further?  I wouldn’t want to fight against this but we may need to adjust our mindsets and get used to being able to do more maintenance activities whilst services are operational. Evolution not revolution will no doubt be the order of the day.

And at the end of the 2019 summer season, which has been busy but not generally manic, the Racecourse Station can reflect on what we have managed to achieve – by ourselves and with the help of others.  Probably best summed up as ‘remaining well-maintained but with several improvements’ – some visible but mostly under the radar. Our ‘arches’ stores area is much reduced, tidied and safer, excess material holdings being disposed as environmentally as possible. The Ticket Office has had various external improvements: some structural and some cosmetic. The overgrown areas we cleared in previous seasons have been pretty much maintained – so that where there was once impenetrable jungle, there is now grassy path (of sorts!):

The area at the end of Platform 1 – also our entrance for those passengers with reduced mobility – has been re-fenced with an impressive new gates – now nicely painted!



These are all things we can maintain through normal working in ‘operating season’ which, I guess, fits with the logic above.



28 Oct – All Our Yesterdays!

I thought, as the season draws to a close, it might be interesting to reflect on what was going on at the Racecourse Station at this juncture in previous years. That said I’m afraid our blog diaries only go back 3 or so years so it’s not exactly a long historical perspective. It’s more a sort of short term ‘All our Yesterdays’ (and writing that certainly dates anyone who can recall the TV series of the same name). So, as an occasional feature I will reflect on what activities were taking place in late October 2018, 2017 & 2016 – compared to this year.

2019. This year, along side clearing up ‘aprés le déluge’ as it were, we managed to rid ourselves of some of the accumulated debris of the last quarter century or so!

dsc00451 (600x800)3697343638840831252..jpg


2018. At the same time last year I note that a glamorous and youthful team (Ben, Wiley and self) were busy raking acres of pine needles from the Platform 2 embankment, a task I’m not sure we ever entirely finished, nor ever will.



The thing which is most striking is that the ground looks so dry! And no, it’s not climate change, just a rainy autumn 2019.

2017. Twelve months earlier than that the emphasis appears to have been on scrub clearance as we made our way through 40 years of overgrowth on the Platform 1 embankment with bonfires aplenty.



2016. In 2016, I see we were busy laying paving slabs leading from the ramp to the storage container. Hard to believe now that we used to wheelbarrow across the grass/mud – primitive! (And it’s useful to note the location of that Osma pipe access point!)



The wheelbarrow is parked by what is now known as Ben’s chicane – intended to keep speeds down around the tricky tree section of the track.

It’s good to be able to stand back – if only slightly – from the day-to-day and see where we have made progress. I hesitate to draw any deep conclusions but it seems that we are doing rather less major new work and more general maintenance. The ‘big stuff’ is either done or being left to the specialist teams. I don’t think we are we in danger of ‘finishing the railway’, as one of my colleagues puts it, but we are perhaps evolving how we go about getting there?