Stobart Rail & Civils save Christmas
The Santa Express train made it to Churnet Valley Railway thanks to Stobart Rail & Civils’ rapid response after severe flooding washed away a large section of their track.
Churnet Valley Railway is a preserved standard gauge heritage railway operating along a part of the former Churnet Valley Line situated in between Caldon Canal and the River Churnet to the east of Stoke-on-Trent.
Torrential rainfall during October’s storms caused the canal to breach its banks. The floodwater surged over the neighbouring track, washing out almost 30 meters of the track bed and leaving rails, sleepers and a previously buried gas pipe suspended in mid-air.
Churnet Valley Railway relies on fundraising activities to survive, so it was a disaster for the railway when the flood caused the cancellation of their ‘Super Power Saturday’ planned for just a few days later. This would have seen three USATC S160s operating together for the first time in the UK since 1944 and was the first in a series of events to support their ‘Reconnect Leek’ project that aims to restore the rail link between Stoke-on-Trent and the nearby town of Leek.
Churnet Valley Railway’s next major event was their annual ‘Santa and Steam’ timetable that runs from the end of November until Christmas Eve. This is another huge fundraising programme that gets Christmas off to a magical start for families and friends riding the Santa Express through the Staffordshire Moorlands.
Losing this important income would be an unthinkable blow for the railway, so it was vital that they find the right partner to help them repair the railway.
Just a few weeks before the flood, Stobart Rail & Civils’ teams took part in the PWI’s annual practical track works challenge on the Churnet Valley Railway. Stobart is also the Environment Agency’s major incident response partner so has the expert teams needed to help protect infrastructure assets during major flood events, such as this autumn’s flooding that has affected so many communities across South Yorkshire.
Stobart were therefore the ideal choice to re-instate the track in time for Santa’s imminent arrival. Stobart mobilised their orange army, prepared their ‘elf’ and safety, and got to work on saving Christmas.
Once on site Stobart excavated the remaining track bed material and graded it off level. They then backfilled using recycled 6F5 aggregate and compacted it in 150mm layers until they created a new formation 600mm below sleeper level. They laid a geotextile separation layer and starting backfilling with ballast, and where the gas pipe crossed the track Stobart surrounded it with pea gravel. Once completely filled Stobart tamped the ballast using their RRV with tamping bank attachment and profiled the ballast back to compliant track standards, with CVR finishing up with a mainline tamper.
“Because of Stobart’s rapid response, Churnet Valley Railway’s event of the year, ‘Santa and Steam’ was still able to go ahead. Not only would this have been a huge blow to the business, it would have also meant letting many families down. Thank you to the team at Stobart Rail & Civils for repairing the track and ensuring the Santa Express arrived safely and on time”
Greg Wilson, Churnet Valley Railway