Civil Engineering Department
The Civil Engineering department of the East Lancashire Railway is sometimes called the PWay team (which stands for permanent way) and often called the 'Hit Squad'.
This last name came about because the members of department are willing to take on many of the less desirable jobs around the railway.
Facts and figures
Currently the department consists of 78 working members of which three are paid members of staff and another three are still at work elsewhere, not on the railway, meaning that we have 72 members now in retirement from their career work. Only a handful of these have any engineering / building experience and just a couple have worked on railways before they retired.
Two of the team are now 87 years of age and two others were born in the late 1930s. The youngest member of the team is 35 years of age. Two of the team travel over the M62 from Yorkshire and others come from as far away as Warrington and Macclesfield.
It can be a dirty job – but somebody has to do it.
When do they work?
The team meets on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to undertake a wide variety of tasks. Very few of the team manage to attend more than twice each week.
Jacking and packing is hard work
Usually the Saturday team will tackle trackwork replacing sleepers, jacking and packing (levelling the track) or tree felling. The mid-week team also do track work but can be found doing work around Bolton Street and at all other parts of the railway.
Attendance is usually about 15 – 25 members each day midweek and 4-10 on Saturdays.
About half of the work seems to involve painting and probably a third is setting up the stations and trains for the various events that take place during the year.
The rest of the jobs includes litter picking, painting white lines on the edges of all platforms, repairing benches, toilets, gates and fences etc.
During November and December the team concentrates on the preparation and delivery of the Santa Special trains
providing staff to unload thousands of items being delivered.
the decoration of the overbridge, station platforms and trains.
delivering presents to the Santa trains each day of running.
Of course all the decorations have to be taken down again in January!
Usually about one month of each year is spent on track renewal, replacing wooden sleepers for concrete over about a half mile of track and in October 2020 this is planned to take place north of Ramsbottom station.
Most of the team will be needed for this on four days each week so we work in shifts.
Track work just north of Bolton Street Station
Most of the volunteers have joined the department through the recruitment tour organised by the ELRPS on a second Saturday of each month and then come along on a Tuesday or Thursday to take part in whatever is happening that day. But anybody can become part of the team by just turning up (already being members of the ELRPS) and wearing appropriate clothing. The paperwork can be quickly completed.
The Working Day
The department generally begin the day about 9.30 am with a brew in the cabin under the main station buildings at Bolton Street. Bob Johnson, who is the organiser of the non-trackwork department, and formed the Hit Squad 25 years ago, allocates various tasks to the team and we split up at that time.
John Whitaker, who is the professional head of department, organises a small group of up to 10 people to go out on the track to replace sleepers, level the track, fix fences, dig ditches or cut trees. They generally travel as close to the site as they can by car then walk the last few hundred yards. The Landrover and trailer can drive alongside most of the track to carry tools and equipment.
The team are expected to provide themselves with protective overalls / jackets and strong boots, with metal toecaps, but all any other equipment that is needed will be provided by the department.
A typical week
In one week at the start of February 2020
Midweek Pway team members could be found replacing sleepers and ballasting the track near to Burrs Country Park.
Power washing the footbridge at Ramsbottom
Another team were busy at work on the Overbridge at Bury Bolton Street station painting the roof and some of the walls. The fencing at the north end of P2 also got a new coat of preservative.
A third team team were down in Carriage Siding 2 fixing some protective covering over the trucks that the Thomas train uses and the fourth group were at Rawtenstall still working on the canopy that has been designed by a member of the civil engineers and mainly constructed by the volunteers themselves over the last three months.
On the Saturday a small group were replacing sleepers near to the Carriage and Wagon shed.
It could be asked what it is that motivates retired people to come to the railway to work often in cold and wet conditions in a job that is so dissimilar to their paid employment.
It is possible because all of the team have an interest in railways and are looking to do something that is quite different to what they have done all their lives and they want to do something active.
Amongst the team are salesman, insurance agents, IT specialists, teachers, doctors, lorry / bus drivers etc.
Working on the ELR provides motivation, interest, exercise and camaraderie as well as a feeling that they are helping to keep history alive. Hearing of the success of the railway and having the opportunity to see and ride behind some interesting and famous locomotives is quite stimulating!
Who else do you think paints the mile posts?