WHR (Caernarfon) Construction Stock
[Tracklaying aids] [Gullick & Dobson tamper] [Matisa tamper] [KMX tamper] [Ballast wagons] [Other]

Tracklaying Aids

Construction work is facilitated by specialised items of rolling stock, some evolved specifically for the WHR Project. In 1997 Winson Engineering built a tracklaying machine, believed to be a first for the British narrow gauge. Its beams extended 9 metres at either end of a South African DZ flat wagon chassis (giving a total length of 27 metres). Comparisons with the Forth Bridge were quickly made...

Its compressed air-powered winching arrangements were designed to pick up rails or pre-assembled track panels at one end, and then deposit them in the required position ahead of the vehicle, on top of the stone ballast laid by contractors. It is seen below in use at Bryn Seiont, on the outskirts of Caernarfon; more views of it at work can be found on the Phase 1 page.

While the tracklayer proved useful for work on straight track, it also proved somewhat unwieldy for curved track. Having lain out of use at Dinas since Phase 1, the end of the line came for the tracklayer in Spring 2006 - stripping was under way in the left-hand picture below.

Within a week the structure had been cut up, liberating the flat wagon it was built on for further use.

Subsequent tracklaying has been done by other methods - notably the use of pairs of trolleys built at Dinas, known locally as Roland's Rail Movers.

Tracklaying on Phase 1 was speeded up considerably by the use of the first pair of these RRMs. Their function is to lift rails, deliver them to the Head of Steel, and slide them into position for fastening to sleepers. In preparation for of Phase 2 (on which track was laid at more than one location at a time), they appeared to have been breeding!

A fresh labour saving innovation for assisting with the completion of Phase 3 is a ballast plough, which is helping with creating proper ballast shoulders during the tamping and lining process. WHLR staff are seen below working on its construction in March 2003.

The completed plough was rolled out of the Dinas workshop where it was built on April 7th; this workshop is not rail-connected.

Following final painting in yellow, the plough was moved to Waunfawr on April 10th. It is seen below parked on the new line with diesel Conway Castle.

Tampers [top of page]

Gullick & Dobson

Basic tracklaying is followed by tamping work to settle the track into the ballast and ensure its correct alignment; a Gullick & Dobson-built tamping machine was acquired for this task in 1997. The Festiniog Railway's permanent way has long benefitted (as have its P.W. workers) from the use of such a machine, in the form of the ex-standard gauge Stefcomatic. The first WHLR Ltd machine was built for use in coal mines, and was adapted by Yorkshire Engines (YEC) for use above ground. It proved a little fragile in use, in particular its hydraulic traction system proved to be under-engineered.

The Gullick & Dobson machine spent the great majority of its time at the WHR parked at the end of a siding, following a mechanical failure in the traction system during Phase 2. It was sold in early 2008 to Andrew Briddon (well known for his collection of standard gauge diesel shunters), and was moved into the bay platform at Dinas to await removal from the railway.


Stefcomatic was moved to the WHR during Phase 2 construction, and while it did not prove suited to the steepest gradients, it was used to tamp the more easily-graded approach to Waunfawr before being returned to the FR.

Matisa A05 [top of page]

It was recognised that a sturdy and dependable modern tamper is essential for WHR construction work, and thereafter for maintenance of the 40 miles of line between Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog. WHLR Ltd thus purchased a state of the art Matisa A05 tamper from GTRM. The tamper is a metre gauge design, widened out to standard gauge and used for construction on London's Docklands Light Railway, and also for sidings on the Jubilee Line Extension. After completion of the JLE it had seen little use, and had not been started for over a year when the WHLR first investigated it. Despite this it started first time on its own batteries, without support, and all the hydraulic circuits also worked.

It has been regauged by moving in the wheels and tamping gear to permit its use on WHR tamping, but eventually the body will also be rebuilt to permit use throughout the FR (which has a more restricted structure gauge) and WHR. The picture below (Mike Bradshaw, FR) shows it up in the air at Glan-y-Pwll following regauging.

The tamping mechanism of the A05 is readily regauged, as its design for the tamping of standard gauge points means that its two tamping banks are supported on a pair of sliding runners mounted across the machine. They allow the two heads to be slid sideways, and at their closest position they match WHR/FR gauge. The work needed before it could start work on the WHR thus mainly comprised regauging of the wheelsets of the main unit and the small sighting trolley, and of the hydraulic clamps which hold the rail for its lifting and slewing facility. It has laser-sighted lifting and levelling, which can be used to level track automatically. When tamping, the machine can be remote controlled via a handheld radio controller.

To quote Andy Savage, Operations Director of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland (and also Engineering Director of GTRM!): "This tamper should permit the rapid consolidation of the WHR track for higher speeds, and offers the eventual opportunity to mechanically maintain both our lines. It represents a real step forward from our previous tampers, and comes with a proven record of reliable, high quality work on standard gauge track. I expect it to work extremely well on our railways."

The purchase was agreed in October 2001, and completed in early January 2002. The tamper was delivered (from Crewe) to the FR's Glan-y-Pwll depot in Blaenau Ffestiniog, where it was regauged. The tamper was ready for use in early October 2002 and was delivered to Betws Garmon, from where its first job was to tamp the Waunfawr-Betws Garmon section of the Phase 3 extension.

Plasser & Theurer KMX [top of page]

In March 2005 Welsh Highland Railway Construction Ltd announced the purchase of a Plasser KMX tamper/liner machine, to be used in construction of Phase 4 from Rhyd Ddu to Porthmadog, and the maintenance and upgrading of the existing railway.

(Picture by Olivier Jaubert)
From the WHRCL press release:

We have always looked with envy at our standard gauge heritage railway colleagues who are able to bring in modern mainline tamping machines to align and tamp their track without all the manual work we currently have to do on the WHR with our existing basic Matisa tamper. These standard gauge machines have the ability to detect where the track is at the start of work, and from that deduce a lifting and lining plan as to where the track should be, what cant is required and then with the automation they have just get on and sort it all out.

To look into what was needed for the WHR a small team set out to investigate our requirements and scour the world for an affordable machine. Investigations led us to conclude that it was a Plasser-built machine that we were after, with their reputation for reliability, and if possible we wanted to find a machine with the sort of automated lifting and lining equipment that our standard gauge railway brothers benefit from. The optimum machine we were looking for was one of the Plasser KMX series narrow gauge machines, such as used in Australia to maintain 800km of track on their 2 feet gauge sugar railway system. With only a handful of these narrow gauge machines having been built our chances of finding one available for sale were thought to be slim.

What is the Plasser KMX machine? It's a tamper designed to be assembled to individual customer requirements in the gauge range of about 1000 to 600mm gauge. It is built to order varying from the simplest of machines with nothing much more than a manual tamping head, up to the most advanced with all the track recording and evaluation equipment, lifting, slewing and lining gear. In its most advanced form it is built with largely the same equipment used on the modern Plasser 08 tamper liners that are in everyday use on the mainline. Nevertheless a new narrow gauge KMX tamper with automated lift and line equipment was clearly unaffordable with a current new build price of around 1 million Euros!

Our worldwide search continued until, much to our surprise, we came across a 1995 built Plasser KMX tamper/liner for sale in France at an affordable price, following the closure of the extensive Lorraine coalfields where it had been in service. Not only was it available for sale but it was the version of KMX with everything on it!

As soon as we discovered this second hand machine was available, an immediate trip to France was arranged so that Ffestiniog Railway Co. engineers could inspect and evaluate the machine. This showed it was just what we wanted, and in excellent all-round condition. In addition, while it is currently assembled for 1 metre gauge track, its bodywork is inside WHR and FR's loading gauge so it will be able to work throughout both lines.

The machine will arrive shortly and go into Boston Lodge during the second half of this year, where it will be re-gauged and overhauled. Then, with the support we have been offered by our friends from the big railways who use this sort of automated tamping machine on a daily basis, it will then complete a programme of training and commissioning before being moved up to the WHR for new construction and maintenance of the existing track.

The 17 tonne KMX is powered by a Deutz diesel engine with a scrubber unit on the exhaust to reduce emissions for working in tunnels. Interestingly it is also fitted with an overhead pantograph, but that is simply a safely device to ensure the overhead line current is switched off when the machine is working. The tamper can travel to site at up to 35 km/hour and cabs are fitted at both ends - one incorporating the tamp and line control desks.

The lifting/lining gear on our KMX95 CM tamper is the same Plasser technology applied to mainline machines around the world. The combined lifting and levelling unit located directly ahead of the tamping head can automatically lift and align the track to the predetermined position with power and precision while the track is locked in place by squeezing the tamping tools in the ballast under the adjacent sleeper.

WHRCL also recorded its thanks for help in the process to Terry Turner, General Manager of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway (seen in the right-hand picture above), which already has a Plasser machine of a different type.

The KMX tamper was delivered to Minffordd Yard on the Ffestiniog Railway on March 29th 2005. The unit appeared in very good general condition, although it had clearly spent some time outdoors, as witnessed by surface rust on the brake discs; also the wheels of at least the unpowered bogie looked likely to need turning. It was badged as a product of FRAMAFER, a French sales subsidiary of the Austrian manufacturing parent company. Signage on the machine revealed interesting features probably relating to its previous use in mines, such as use of a compressed nitrogen system, rather than oxygen.

It was moved to Boston Lodge in mid-June, still on the bogie wagons as seen above, for assessment and overhaul as required, including regauging.

The tamper is seen below inside Boston Lodge in mid-October, mounted on South African bogies to make it portable. The metre gauge bogies have been regauged to FR/WHR gauge by adapting the gussets which strengthen the bearing arms to accept outside bearing wheelsets in place of the inside bearing originals. The middle picture below shows the bogie frames stacked together (the lower one is upside down). New wheelsets have been manufactured by Alan Keef Ltd, with the wheel diameter reduced by about an inch to clear the frame. Only one of the bogies is powered, with a hydraulic drive; both have hydraulic disk brakes.

The pantograph had been removed some time earlier, and found a home on Harold's cab roof! In mines usage the pantograph was used to draw power for certain functions such as driving the alternator, which have now been bypassed and will take power from the tamper's own engine. The engine has been run on a number of occasions, and on October 11th was run successfully for the first time using its own fuel system. The hydraulic system was also filled and pressurised for testing and found to be mostly in working order. However the main vibration shaft was found to have seized with what appeared to be a long standing lubrication failure. The pick arms (which move the tines) have already been stripped out as they need replacement; it has been found that these parts are interchangeable with those from standard gauge Plasser 07 tampers, and sourcing the parts is in hand. As part of the overhaul useful contacts have been made with experts in Plasser tampers, including the manufacturer's UK operation.

Also, the machine's French signage was covered with temporary English versions - translation of the operating manual has been one of the volunteer tasks. Those involved with the translation deny any responsibility for the nickname Cockomatiqué which appeared on the machine - it is meaningless in French, but follows the tradition of Stefcomatic (with which it doesn't rhyme) by adapting a volunteer's nickname.

The new fabrication for the lining arm and head was completed at Boston Lodge ready for assembly in late January 2006, by which time the regauged bogies had been trial fitted. The tamping bank was at a specialist firm in Manchester for overhaul and gauge conversion, including fitting four standard type 07 pick arms kindly donated by Carrillion Rail.

Carillion Rail are also helping with training, as operationally the machine is very similar to their standard gauge Plasser 07 tampers; WHR Construction Ltd staff participated in training work using an 07 on the Dean Forest Railway during February.

In the course of the overhaul the unit was also fitted with roof sections- as it will be working in the open air rather than underground, except of course in the tunnels.

The tamper first moved under its own power on April 27th 2006, around Boston Lodge yard - it is seen below on May 1st.

The tamper is seen below being tested on the Cob on May 5th.

The machine was delivered to Dinas on May 16th.

Following further commissioning work it was driven up to its initial work base at Rhyd Ddu on the evening of June 29th.

The KMX is seen below being tested for tamping operation at Rhyd Ddu on July 18th, when Boston Lodge staff were helping to familiarise WHRCL staff with its operation. By this point HMRI had cleared the machine for use after completion of various items after an inspection, including radio communication between crew members. Commissioning of its lining bank was planned for the following week.

CTS Rail Services Ltd visited on July 24-5th to commission the KMX's wire track measuring and alignment system, and undertook initial tests of the lifting and lining gear between Pitt's Head bridge and the summit; the tamper is seen below at Pitt's Head on the 25th.

Commissioning of these systems meant that the KMX was now a fully functioning machine, performing to highest expectations. The system remaining to be brought into use is the computer measuring system, whcih can undertake a long distance track survey of a section of railway. Commissioning of this will wait until the KMX has first settled in with its simpler wire measuring lining system and staff have got fully used to using it in that condition.

The tamper is seen below between Pitt's Head and Pont Cae'r Gors on September 28th 2006, during further successful commissioning trials.

A special runner wagon has been created for the KMX, to carry tools (etc) for which there is not space on board the machine itself. Wagon no. 5001 has been converted from an ex-military wagon as a volunteer project by the WHRS East Anglian Group (details of the job). It is designed to be permanently coupled to the KMX with side chains as well as chopper couplers, and as such, is the only vehicle without continuous brakes authorised for use on the operating railway. The tamper and wagon are seen together for the first time below at Dinas in November 2006, prior to fitting of the side chains.

The wagon is seen below parked outside the tamper "shed" at Rhyd Ddu in mid-December 2006.

The Matisa A05 is being retained in addition to the more sophisticated KMX, but the smaller Gullick & Dobson machine bought in 1997 has been sold.

Ballast Wagons [top of page]

An addition to construction rolling stock for Phase 2 onwards came in the form of two ballast wagons acquired in South Africa. These self-discharging bogie hopper vehicles represent an advance on anything similar used on this gauge in the UK before, and have similar capabilities to ballast-laying vehicles used on the standard gauge. The photos below (credit: Mike Hart) show wagons of the same type at Port Elizabeth in South Africa, rather than the specific vehicles shipped to the UK, which were delivered to Dinas early in May 2000. Obtaining these much sought-after vehicles is seen as a significant contribution to the rapid extension of the railway's permanent way.

The pictures below show the two ballast wagons (SAR numbers NG-Y1-2021/2) the day after their delivery to Dinas on May 5th 2000. They received maintenance and were quickly put to work.

The ballast wagons have been renumbered 4021 and 4022 to release their original numbers for the new coaches acquired in 2002.

A third ballast wagon arrived in Autumn 2006. No. 4023 was built new in Romania by S.C. Atelierele Centrale S.A. of Criscior, using a range of remanufactured components, including the bogies. It is based on a four-wheeled standard gauge design for Austrian Federal Railways. Unlike the SAR wagons it discharges ballast along the centre line of the track as well as at the sides; in addition to this function, having a third wagon also reduces the number of return trips the ballast train needs to make to reloading points. WHR Construction Ltd's Ian Hartill visited the manufacturer to inspect the wagon in the second week of October 2006; it was found to be most satisfactory, and delivery to Dinas took place on October 27th 2006.

Following detailed inspection at Dinas, no. 4023 was passed for service in January 2007 and was taken to Rhyd Ddu to join the SAR hoppers on Phase 4 work.

All three ballast wagons are seen below at Dinas in July 2007, having been brought down from Rhyd Ddu by Upnor Castle for the wagons to have their brakes checked over the inspection pit.

These pictures illustrate the ballast wagons in use, here adding more ballast at Cyrnant (near Waunfawr) in November 2007. The train is proceeding with the Romanian ballast wagon leading, and the ballast plough bringing up the rear.

Other Items [top of page]

A tool van has been created as a volunteer project, with a just over half-length body fitted to one of the South African flat wagons, for use by permanent way and civil engineering crews. The left-hand view below shows the skeleton of the body in 1999, and the vehicle is seen on the right in 2002.

In early 2001 the railway acquired an ex-Ministry of Defence vehicle transporter, comprising a pair of coupled flat wagons with a roll-on/off ramp, intended for the transport of items of plant with road wheels or tracks. The combination is seen below at Dinas.

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Authored by Ben Fisher; last updated February 17th, 2008