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Round-up of Project Prima (Princes Risborough Infrastructure Materials Acquisition)

The arrival of the first tranche of redundant materials from the HS2 works on Network Rail’s Princes Risborough to Aylesbury branch (PRA) has been successfully completed. (A second similar tranche is theoretically to be available soon, but practicalities at the HS2 site mean that this is uncertain.)

The PRA branch is being realigned just South of Aylesbury to run over a new bridge over the HS2 track (and another over a putative new by-pass road), with new track on new embankment. Some of the old track materials, not re-usable on the national network due to age and wear, are being donated to the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway Association (a registered charity and heritage railway entirely run by volunteers) by Network Rail.

The materials are principally concrete sleepers, which for speed of removal from the trackbed (over the weekend of 19 August) and relative ease of transport are still formed as short lengths of track with rails cut to 6m long. These rails won’t be re-useable. Each of these short track panels has 8 sleepers and weighs about 3 tonnes, and there have been 72 of them so far. In practice some sleepers were wooden replacements, and two panels were entirely wood, so we effectively have about 67 concrete 6m panels and 5 wooden ones. The wooden sleepers are of course still useful to us.

The panels had to be collected from the huge HS2 site which stretches between Stone and Stoke Mandeville. HS2 has requirements to use accredited hauliers and lorries with the latest environmental and safety gismos, so we eventually wound up using a firm from Hampshire. We also had challenges at the Chinnor Railway end, as we have no space to store these materials other than trackside where they are to be laid, and no road access possible to that area. At present we do not have any loading area where we can get large lorries alongside a train, nor a working large rail crane, and added to that we have a weak bridge which limits the loads we can put on wagons travelling the length of the line! So a method had to be found....

Of course we would have liked to see the materials shipped by rail, but this was ruled out as impractical at the HS2/NR end due to the project programme. (It’s always difficult moving the materials of a single line out over the line you have just lifted. Rather like taking the wheels off your car, loading them in the boot, then driving to the garage...)

For speed, two types of articulated lorries were used to collect from the HS2 site. One had its own 'Hi-ab' crane on board, mounted behind the cab. The weight of the crane together with all the stabiliser jacks and hydraulic equipment means however that the payload of such lorries is limited (5 of these track panels), so a second 'plain' vehicle was used in addition, which could carry more (8 or 9 panels). The crane on the first was used to load both itself and the second lorry.

Without a loading wharf or crane available at Chinnor, deliveries were made via the rural level crossing on Horsenden Lane. It was only just practical to get the size of lorry up the lane, but there was no way we could get two at once within crane’s reach of the crossing! So each run of the hi-ab lorry brought 5 track panels to Horsenden crossing, and lifted them onto waiting rail wagons. Then that lorry rejoined its mate which had gone to our Chinnor station car park and unloaded it there before both ran empty back to HS2 for the next load. Two cycles per day of this were possible, shifting up to 28 panels out of HS2. Of course, the stacks of materials built up in Chinnor car park, and at one stage there were 33 panels there; so on other days the focus was simply shuttling from Chinnor to Horsenden with a single lorry.

Once the lorries left the level crossing, our short train of loaded wagons was shunted from Horsenden level crossing to Thame Junction, ¼ mile away. There, our TRM (Track Relaying Machine, also known as a twin jib crane) was waiting in the Loop line alongside. It picked up one track panel at a time on each of its jibs, and then carried these alongside for up to half a mile to where they could be stacked trackside ready for use. Then back for the next load. This 40+ year old TRM hasn’t worked so hard in many years! Inevitably it threw up a few issues – minor hydraulic and air leaks, a sensor playing up, a switch that fell apart - but it has come through for us.

The result of this exercise, completed in a fortnight, is that we have about half the sleepers needed to complete the missing section of the Chinnor Independent Line out of Princes Risborough. If we get the second tranche from the HS2/PRA project then we will have about enough. We already have some recovered rail to fit these sleepers, but only about half the amount we will need. Stops were pulled out, and something like 70 volunteer shifts were worked over the two weeks to bring these materials in. Impressive!

Further information and contacts please SEE HERE.

19 September 2023.

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