The GCR uses aluminium alloy rail which is light, surprisingly hard-wearing and easy to cut and bend. Its main disadvantage is that it has a tendency to expand in the summer sunshine. This can result in the track developing kinks, particularly on bends. Before every running day, therefore, the track is inspected for movement and re-aligned and re-ballasted as necessary. In particularly exposed sections, the joints are re-worked to allow the rails to expand more easily. A number of trees were planted several years ago, especially around Green Lane loop, which are now helping the shade the track and prevent problems developing.
The original track was constructed by screwing the rails to oak sleepers that had been soaked in preservative. These can be extremely long-lived and still make up approximately 30% of all the sleepers on the railway. However, they do eventually require replacing and, these days, we use sleepers made from 50mm square recycled plastic which, we hope, will prove to have a much longer life expectancy. The raw material arrives in bars approximately 3 metres long and is cut to the required length in the workshop.
The accompanying diagram shows how the track is assembled. The wooden sleepers are held in place by large mushroom-headed screws which, traditionally, were screwed in with a brace and bit. Now we use roofing screws which can be tightened using a cordless drill. Much easier! The track is assembled in a jig in the blue P-way container next to our workshop. Each track section or “panel” is 4 metres in length and requires 20 sleepers and 80 track screws. The panels of track are held together using bolts and fishplates just like the real thing. The track is then held in place with granite ballast, again the same practice as used on a full size railway. This is shown in the picture below.
With two miles of track the Permanent Way team are always kept busy. During the summer season the main aim is to iron out any problems caused by expansion from the heat. We also replace any sleepers that have reached the end of their life. During the winter months, we lift lengths of track that require refurbishment. Old ballast is removed and used to re-inforce embankments etc, rails are assessed and replaced if required, wooden sleepers are discarded and replaced with plastic, and the re-worked panels are re-laid, ballasted and tamped. The final process is levelling to ensure a smooth, safe ride
Construction of points is a highly-skilled operation. Each one must be individually built to fit the exact dimensions and alignments required. There is often a process of trial fitment, testing and modification until both the P-way and Operations Managers are happy to release the new point for service. In addition, the S & T department are involved in installing the point motor and ensuring that it operates correctly.