206 – Chasewater Railway Museum Bits & Pieces
From Chasewater News – Autumn 1997– Part 2
From The Board Room
David Bathurst, Chairman
By the time this edition of ‘Chasewater News’ is published, we shall be nearing the end of the 1997 running season. All the indications are that the word ‘successful’ will appear more than once when the time comes to prepare the annual report.
However, rather than engaging in self-congratulation and reflecting upon such successes as have been achieved in 1997, I believe that our members (working members in particular) and supporters would prefer to hear more in relation to other important matters which will inevitably influence the Railway’s future aspirations. Indeed, and at the risk of using something of a cliché, 1997 may well prove to be one of the ‘defining points’ in the Railway’s short but eventful history.
Birmingham Northern Relief Road (BNRR) (M6 Toll)
Members will know only too well that following a review of major highway schemes, the Government has given the go-ahead to the construction of the BNRR. To be rather more precise, the Secretary of State has accepted the Inspector’s conclusions and recommendations, subject to some amendments not affecting the Railway. A letter to this effect was published on 23rd July 1997. The letter goes on to say that the Secretary of State will make, as soon as possible, the necessary orders –including the compulsory purchase order (CPO) which includes the Railway’s land at Brownhills West.
In relation to a likely timetable, Midland Expressway Ltd. (MEL) have expressed the opinion, entirely without prejudice, that Notices of Confirmation of the CPO are likely to be served towards the end of 1997. Notices to Treat (which will invite the Railway to submit a claim for compensation) are likely to be served sometime around April 1998.
MEL also believe that the contractor will be expecting the Department of Transport (as the acquiring authority) to deliver the land necessary for the scheme, in or around January 1999.
My colleagues on the Board and I are concerned that the timetable which has been suggested to us is entirely unrealistic and potentially unattainable. It is essential for our operations to be relocated and in place before we can give up our occupation of the land required at Brownhills West. Accordingly, we are already in contact with the Railway’s appointed Valuer with a view to making an application to the Department of Transport to enable us to carry out works and incur expenditure before Notice to Treat is served. As a general principle, the law provides that the Railway would not be able to recover expenditure incurred before Notice to Treat has been served, without the prior approval of the Secretary of State.
At this stage, it is impossible to assess the implications upon our operations, particularly as Lichfield District Council have yet to declare their hand regarding an alternative site for Brownhills West Station and associated facilities. The new location will require planning permission. At the time of preparing these notes, Lichfield DC is considering the future commercial development of Chasewater in conjunction with a private sector developer.
One thing is certain: things are moving very quickly, from day to day. To ensure that everything is handled in an appropriate and professional manner, the Railway will be relying very heavily on the proven expertise of its appointed Valuer. However, it is important to emphasise and confirm that the views of the Railway’s members on specific elements of the relocation scheme will be invited at the appropriate times.
It is also essential for members to understand another fact. The Board believe that compensation should be based on ‘equivalent reinstatement’ (Rule 5 of the Land Compensation Act 1961). It is rather like the paint advert on television – ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’. Equivalent reinstatement means precisely what it says; there will be no gold plating on the taps and there will be no slush fund to finance the Chairman’s cigars. Equally, it has already been spelt out to our Valuer in very plain and simple teams that the Railway has no resources available to finance any element of ’betterment’. We foresee some interesting times ahead!
I make no apology to those readers who may find all this uninteresting or tedious. But the reality is that the road scheme is set to proceed and we are affected by it. We cannot ignore it. It will not go away. Our aim must be to make the best of the situation and to maximise any benefits which might result from it.
On 6th August 1997, the Railway received from Staffordshire County Council (SCC) formal notice under the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 that the SCC had submitted a planning application for the construction of Phase 2 of the Burntwood Bypass. From the plans provided, the eastern end of our leased land will be just about in the middle of a traffic island. The plans make no provision for the protection of an alignment, which would enable the Railway to proceed to Chasetown Church Street.
We have submitted a formal objection to the planning application. On two previous occasions, we have written to SCC expressing concern about the effect of the scheme on the Railway’s proposals, and requested that proper consideration be given to our needs and the opportunities which can be generated by our proposals. Our letter of objection protests at the way in which our concerns and previous representations appear to have been ignored, without any form of discussion or consultation whatsoever.
Yet again, the railway has been treated as though it did not exist. Yet again, we have been treated with discourtesy by a public authority. Yet again, we appear to have wasted our time in writing detailed and constructive letters expressing our legitimate concerns.
It remains to be seen as to whether our objection and the complaints therein have any effect. They will either be ignored once more, or they might conceivably promote the sort of ‘consultations’ which should have been afforded to us months ago. We need a positive and supportive relationship with the public authorities whose activities affect the Railway, but at the moment our members can be forgiven for adopting a jaundiced view of the whole proceedings.
Lichfield District Council Local Plan
Members will recall that the Railway attempted to persuade Lichfield District Council to include a specific reference to the Railway in the Council’s Local plan and our representatives appeared at the Local Inquiry to support our case. The Inspector has decided not to support our application. His decision is base more on technical and administrative grounds than on a lack of sympathy for the Railway, and in reality is not unexpected.
Extension to the Running Line
It will soon be necessary to provide a viewing gallery at Norton Lakeside Station judging by the number of passengers interested in the work on the extension towards Threes Junction (Chasewater Heaths). At the present rate of progress, it will also be necessary to provide coin-in-the-slot telescopes as the track gang moves further out of sight. Seriously, though, the extension is a cause of great enthusiasm for all of the Railway’s working members, who recognise, with considerable gratitude, the immense value of the track, sleepers and fittings so kindly donated by British Oxygen at Wolverhampton.
Of course, the laying of track is but one aspect of extending the running line. Ballasting, provision of proper drainage and fencing are but three areas of activity which will involve considerable effort and, to some extent, expenditure. And then there is the question of a station platform to be resolved, although that is not a priority at this moment.
The Summer Slog – or more P Way
During the latter half of June this year we had the call to get some extra track which was redundant to the needs of a Company in Wolverhampton. This was the track which Rob Duffill had tipped us off about some time ago, and, as the timing was right, we jumped at the offer. Because we had had the go-ahead to extend the running line to the aptly named ‘Threes Junction’, which will advance the Railway a further ½ mile or so, the acquisition of more track was uppermost in our minds. So, armed with pinch bars, shovels, track spanners and most important of all, the use of a Bance machine (impact wrench), which we first used on the aborted Wolverhampton episode last year, a small team of us descended on the sidings at the British Oxygen depot in Wolverhampton to set about the task of dismantling the redundant track. The site, incidentally, is opposite to the Wolverhampton Low Level site where we were last year.
After 3 to 4 weekends the track was dismantled, lifted and stacked, with the use of an all-terrain forklift, ready for transporting to Chasewater. The work of relaying commenced immediately. The track bed towards Threes Junction had been cleared with the loan of a bulldozer during the rebuilding of the causeway back in 1993. Since then, the track bed had become somewhat overgrown again, at least it wasn’t with trees, only light scrub, and the only regular use was by joggers and pedestrians. We managed to clear the weeds in a short space of time with the help of a strimmer and a small chain saw. After the track bed was levelled and cleared, the first sleepers were laid and re-chaired with the expert help of DJ and his amazing borrowed Bance. All this was done with just a gang of three on most weekends, with the number sometimes rising to six. With the end of the running season we are expecting that some of the members, including the Editor, will join us now that their other duties are over. The seven 60 foot panels of excellent track from BOC have now been laid, and we are looking to use some of the rail which has been around on site for some time. The biggest problem now is the lack of sleepers in good enough condition to be used on the running line. However, I understand that further sites of disused track are currently being looked at.
The title of this piece came to mind by way of the actual relaying of the track. If you can imagine the heat – sweat – flies. There you are, working in the heat in excess of 80º, you start to sweat then what happens – flies. Oh! Do they love sweat, and all while you are carrying heavy timbers, the flies come out in droves. One of our valiant team had got some fly repellent, I think it was ‘Essence of S**t’ because when it was applied it attracted the flies by the score, and you know what flies hang around. Anyway, we are hoping to get further supplies of sleepers shortly to carry on the good work. The main job over the winter months is to ballast the track already laid. As the line extends, the distance from the ash pit area to the end of the line increases and the main problem we face is the lack of road access to the railhead. Do we hire in a Dogfish again or do we look for an alternative solution?
The biggest problem of all is the lack of volunteers. I know that this is a perennial problem over the whole railway because as the Railway grows so it is always playing catch up with the available manpower. Without the help of D.J.Gillion, who has been my mucker on the P way gang for the past 16 months, half the jobs that we have done wouldn’t have been done. He’s a hell of a guy who’s always there when needed. Whether it’s building a shop counter for the buffet or something as mundane as burning the rubbish at the end of the day. Then there’s Nigel Canning who, when not working on the locomotives, is down the line helping us and coming up with some excellent ideas. Also there’s Alec, our Mancunian friend, and like Bill, a new member. Both have helped us immensely since they’ve started on the Railway. It’s sad to say that I’ll not be seeing Tom again. Tom phoned me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that he’d thrown in the shovel, having just got over a knee operation. Anyway Tom, I’ll miss your dry jokes about caterpillars, nuns and the like. Just don’t forget us mate, come down when you can.