2017, a station in the woods...

...and a waiting train, 2018

History & Background by 'Isambard'

Isambard

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 runs on two Saturday afternoons a month (April - October) and on special event days in conjunction with other woodland activities.

Churwell Environmental Volunteers

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. I’m now known a ‘Isambard’ – a poor epithet really as I’m a lot taller, don’t own a top hat, not friends with any Stephensons, still alive and definitely NOT an engineer, either civil or mechanical. (However, CWR is only a small pen stroke away form GWR!)".

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!

Operation:

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.

Earthworks around The Dell

Phase Two - Extension:

Almost immediately after the railway opened, folk started talking about extending it – such was its popularity with the public and the level of enthusiasm of the volunteers.

‘Isambard’ got his machete out and hacked through enough undergrowth to find a level that left the existing track just short of the existing terminus, over a new bridge, looping around a culvert sump (where a little waterfall adds a nice extra feature!), rejoining the end of the existing track and requiring a level crossing over a footpath. The planned route would provide a there & back run of approximately 150metres (500 ft).

Work on the extension began in February 2015 and by June all the necessary earthworks (cuttings & embankments) had been formed and track foundations laid. As volunteers, CEV are very good at begging materials, often acting as a ‘home’ for otherwise unwanted stuff. The road scalpings used for the foundations were 'donated' by the contractors resurfacing the nearby road on Churwell Hill. The bridge is built mainly with pieces of architectural stonework donated by a nearby business that was closing and needed its old stock cleared. The trackbed's wooden edging  also came from the same source. The building of some new embankments was aided by the availability of hardcore from a Morley building site (delivered for free!). Due to the availability of materials at the right time - a very rare occurrence - the formation was complete surprisingly quickly.

The track on the extension was built from new materials paid for by donations from local supporters, individuals and businesses. The junction turnout was fabricated by Mark Seale (son of the GM), at the Ellesmere Port Rail Engineering Works. A new siding was laid at the terminus to allow carriages to be run around the loco (or vice-versa).

By July 2015 the head-of-steel had reached over half way round the new balloon loop and visitors to that summer's woodland event were treated to a run twice as long as before!

Completed bridge

Finally, after the bridge was built in September 2015 the railway was completed by the fitting of the 'Golden Chair' - the final rail fastening just north of the bridge. Later in the year with winter making its presence felt through the medium of wind & rain, some small trees and branches were deposited on the line, happily with no damage. Had the challenges of maintaining a woodland railway, especially in the autumn and winter, been considered, enthusiasm may have been curbed a little. At one point in mid-November, the track was completely lost under a sea of fallen leaves. (That's when a leaf blower came in handy!)

The completed, extended railway was open for the Santa Specials that year and proved very popular. The lack of a run-round facility at the terminus has meant top & tail operation with two locos and that remained the method of operating until further developments allowed greater flexibility - more anon.

Engineering Features

As described above, the balloon loop layout involved a level crossing over a footpath, a 2 metre span underbridge and a sprung trailing point at the junction. Original plans to provide gates at the level crossing were dropped opting instead for a SOUND WHISTLE board and good observation.

The bridge has stone abutments supporting two substantial timber beams that carry the track. The track on the bridge is fabricated from steel bar, welded to steel sleepers. Angled steel check rails are fitted for security and form a clear flangeway. The bridge is decked and a handrail fitted on the walkway side.

The sprung points at the junction can be set in either direction and allows the train to run back through without the need to 'change' the point blades.

Winter Operation

''Santa Specials' are run where passengers are taken to see Santa in his grotto, for which a special platform has been provided. (This is also used on other special event days.) The railway then 'goes to sleep' until the spring, but plans are afoot for further improvements.

Station approach showing platform road, run-round & siding with the turntable at the far end

Phase Three - Terminus Development

There isn't much space available in the area of the terminus, so to make the most of what we have, a three-way point has been installed (another product of the Ellesmere Port Engineering Works) providing access to the platform road, a run-round loop and a storage siding. At the far end, a 6' turntable saves much of the space otherwise needed for a headshunt and provides the means of turning the locos around, allowing 'chimney-first' running at all times.

These developments have provided a really smart and functional station area, paved and with a good edging stones, decorative dry stone walling, improved signage and a station seat - all provided by the efforts of our dedicated volunteers.

Full Steam Ahead!

Up to summer 2016, the railway continued to be operated as an attraction in conjunction with other woodland events, organised by the CEV volunteers. Four or five of these events being  staged throughout the year starting with an Easter Egg Hunt and ending with Tree-Trimming at Christmastime.

In 2016 regular passenger trips were begun and the first Halloween trains wer provided - ghastly! (Facebook users can get updates and info on future events by looking up ‘Churwell Environmental Volunteers’.)

The railway was then also in a position to welcome visiting locos, although as all stock has to be carried down the slope from the road this restricts the size and weight of locos. The General Manager says, "If anyone has a fairly lightweight loco that can be carried down to the railway, they're very welcome to come along with it. You're also very welcome without - get in touch first and we'll give you a personal tour".

CWR General Manager invites the Mayor of Morley, Clr. Robert Gettings to cut the ribbon & to open the railway

Official Opening

The railway was officially opened by the then Mayor of Morley, Clr. Robert Gettings, on Sunday October 9th 2016. Over 200 passengers enjoyed a ride, in sunshine and in rain. Two steam engines and three battery electric locos took turns in hauling the trains and a great time was had by all!

If you are interested in knowing more about the railway, contact can be made via this website.

 

Further Developments

New Ballast Siding Turnout March 2017

A significant further development in 2017 was the addition of a siding to the ballast store. This siding takes off from the main line by a turnout downline from the level crossing. This was installed in March 2017 and provides easy loading of ballast into wagons and some storage potential. The siding is approximately 6 metres long.

 

Three aspect signal

The new signal box (2019) houses the controls for the system colour-light signals. There are two three-aspect signals controlling the exit from and approach to the terminus. The control panel enables the signalman to dispatch trains out onto the main line and control locomotive run-round whilst another train is on the main line.

Winter 2018 saw the installation of new gates, barriers and signage - all provided to improve the appearance and ease of use of the railway.

The eagle-eyed will notice the developing gardens at the station and signal box. Gardens used to be a very important part of railway station life and although we haven't much time between trains to do the weeding, we do our best!

Water tank & notice board

To provide replenishment for visiting steam locomotives, we have installed a water tank & coal store at the turntable end of the station platform. Conveniently sited for a station  noticeboard too! The wooden structure completely encloses the tank and was deliberately designed to blend in with the woodland scene.