Volunteers celebrate completion of tracklaying
How It Came To Be
The Churwell Woodland Railway (CWR) is a 7 1/4” gauge miniature railway, built by a group of volunteers given responsible for the maintenance
and development of the woodland in Churwell, including Clark Springs Wood and Jappa & Daffil Woods, for the benefit of local residents, on behalf of Leeds City Council. In order to encourage the recreational use and further enjoyment of the woods, the
railway opened to the public at Easter 2014. The railway generally runs on two alternate Saturday afternoons a month, April to October, and on special event days in conjunction with other CEV-organised woodland events.
For those non-locals, Churwell forms the lower part of Morley, a district in south Leeds. Roughly speaking, Churwell begins at the top of the hill on Victoria Road, Morley, down towards Elland Road stadium (Leeds FC ground), and
ends at the viaduct that carries the line to Huddersfield from Leeds. This hill is in fact known as ‘Churwell Hill’. The viaduct is famous (or infamous) for being the place where a runaway tram came to an abrupt and tragic halt many years ago when
Leeds had a proper public transport system.
Not far from the top of Churwell Hill, between there and the M621, there is a housing estate built c1990. In the midst of the houses are linear strips of the original woodland, following water courses and
small valleys. These were left for the general benefit of the area and the enjoyment of local people. As the resources of the local authority are limited and primarily directed elswhere, the care, maintenance and development of this woodland has been taken
on, under a stewardship agreement with Leeds CC, by a group of environmentalists rejoicing in the epithet ‘Churwell Environmental Volunteers’ (CEV).
In the words of the railway's General Manager, "This splendid band of local folks' only
obvious ‘oddity’ is that they are willing to give up their time to litter pick, tend plants, reapair damaged fencing & bridges, dig out & clean ponds, weave willow, make hurdles, provide bird boxes, empty dog-poo bins etc. etc. –
you get the picture. All this for the pleasure of the local amblers and dog-walkers! I think the volunteers enjoy what they do – my wife Joanna says so and she's one of their number, spending most Thursday mornings ‘in the woods’. Joanna
is also the events organiser and a keen advocate of CEV and promoter of the recreational use of the woodland".
Let's Build a Railway!
In conversation one day with Steve Hunter, the 'prime mover' of this excellent band of volunteers,
Joanna happened to mention her husband's interest in railways and ownership of a miniature steam loco (Li’l Jo)…
“Wouldn’t it be great to build a railway in the woods”, Steve Hunter said.
The General Manager
continues, "From then on it all happened rather quickly. Not long before, for no particular reason, I had acquired 100ft of portable track via eBay and was looking for somewhere to use it. Most of the woodland is on a significant slope but after a bit of searching
we identified a level stretch of neglected and overgrown land in an otherwise inaccessible part of Clark Springs Wood. (Well, I say 'level', if you ignore the short stretch of rising 1:20 on the approach to where the station was to be!) It was important to
us that nothing but weeds, nettles & brambles should be removed to clear a line, and that the works should enhance the woodland not harm it!"
"The railway was ‘on’, to be build by volunteers of the new CEV Railway Dept., with me as engineer.
This is how we did it...
Phase One - Construction:
Having found a location, the first job was to clear the way for the track foundation. A one-metre wide formation was created by clearing, digging out here and building up there.
Timber edgings were then fixed 750mm apart, placed to the finished levels. This excavation was then filled with road scalpings and consolidated. (At this stage most people thought that a new path was being built, which effectively it was, although it came
to a rather illogically abrupt end!). This gave approx 120 ft of railway formation.
The track was laid using 10mm limestone for ballast. A 30mm thick bed of primary ballast was spread on the foundation with a home-made grading machine and the track
sections placed on top. A layer of secondary ballast was then placed over the track up to the level of the sleepers and the whole lot levelled & compacted. Rails are formed from 3metre lengths of 25mmx10mm steel bar. Two curves were needed and presented
a bit of a challenge to the PW (permanent way) gang, but it was worth the effort as it meant that one end was not visible from the other!
At the start the railway only ran three or four times a year in conjunction
with events organised by the volunteers. Trains were operated on a push-pull basis with a small four wheeled braked carriage (No. 1) carrying three adults or four children with 'Li'l Jo' as motive power. Later a four wheel 12volt electric loco called 'Woody'
built by Silver Fox Steam at the Churwell Locomotive Works became avilable to share the workload. This enabled other drivers to be trained up and have 'instant' motive power.