DFR Telecoms Diary


January 2009

We are now concentrating on the move. We had to build a partial false ceiling in the old booking office mainly to hold the fluorescent tubes up out of the way although we have managed to get quite a bit of other equipment up there. The skip has received quite a bit of the stuff that lies around in workshops as we gradually make the move.
Norchard is a real cold spot and the frost lies there permanently this time of year. Consequently we have not been very active on some of the electrical jobs required.
Chris Bull and his lineside clearance party now have the aerial cable down from the poles above the Town Crossing and we now expect him to carry on removing all the old poles on our property. There are still quite a few dotted along the lineside not now supporting anything so we will be pleased to have them off our back. By the month end all but four poles have been removed. Chris has told us that several just needed a bit of a tap to break off and collapse, the logs now being fed into the workshop fire bear witness to the amount of rot in the poles.
Mervyn Thomas and his crew have laid cables for us from DP1 at Parkend and Rick and I took a day to get just the DP1 ends stripped and ready for termination. We are wondering how we will get on with the armoured cable that is to be laid between Whitecroft and Parkend and along the Park side in Lydney.

We completed the move to the old booking office and find it snug and cosy compared with the Severn and Wye room we have been using to work in. We will have to share with the Booking Office staff on Thomas days but this seems to be no problem as we seldom attend on those days.

February 2009

It was cold and snowy at first and we certainly did not feel like doing outside work for a couple of weeks. I therefore went round our main building at Norchard recovering all the old disused wiring that had built up over the years and got rid of a lot of untidyness. I found old PA speakers, transformers for non existent Christmas lights, PIRs and warning bells and various boxes screwed to the walls. All now gone and no longer causing us to scratch our heads and wondering where cables went to.
Work has started on the new office accommodation but as no one is coordinating the project the plan changes more rapidly than the days arrive. However we now have a basic outline that allows us to draw up an electrical and telecom specification and get us going. We started in the loft where we will be cabling and found four wasps nests which have been removed and have fitted a fixed light to aid us in the many electrical, telecom and computer cables we will be installing shortly.
The Asterisk system is stuck at present as we still have a BT router that will not talk to us. We do have an unlocked router to install when our computer man can find time. However Ian Jolly has supplied me with the necessary equipment for use at home. At present as I cannot access the railway network the PAP2 adapter is registered to Ian's home asterisk. It worked first time. I can dial out.

March 2009

The New Offices under Construction
The new offices have at last started on the construction phase. I have now removed all telephones, clocks, old DPs etc in readiness for the new installation.
I have finally completed the switching for the standby power unit installed in Norchard exchange. Previously I would have had to move a wire from one connector to another to changeover the power units.

April 2009

We have made a start on terminating the cables around the new DP1 cabinet at Parkend. However the cabinet is close to the running line and it may be some time before we can get back to the work on a non running day.
We have had a spate of dry batteries packing up on the D phones and token machines used by the signallers and this has kept us busy.
We have got the DP cable into the new office accommodation but we now hear that there may well be much larger telecom requirements in the future so we feel we should look into providing a second cable to the area.

We have another go at connecting the asterisk machine to our BT router and finally got the two to talk together and then we even managed someone on CNet to dial successfully into the UAX 13. A bit of a thrill when we heard the selectors going up in response to someone dialling in from Cheshire. However it didn't last. The BT router went dead on us the next day and has had to be replaced by another BT router. To date we have not tried to reconnect the asterisk.

May 2009

May was the month in which we concentrated most of our efforts in cabling out the new office and booking office. After many changes of mind on how the office was to be laid out, we now have the walls up and can get on with things. We have fancy three way trunking to go at desk level and this took quite a time to figure out, cut and fitted into position. After that cabling was relatively simple. We are providing 240 volt mains, telephones, clocks and computer cabling to each desk etc.
We now have a problem with our signal post telephones. Some of them are local battery SPTs and we can no longer maintain them as we have no spares. The crunch came when a tree branch being transported along the line knocked a phone off its post and no one reported it. When I finally got to it, it was full of water and absolutely nothing in the phone was working. That signal post does not have a phone any longer. The phones are a complete nuisance in any case, always needing us to go along and change the batteries. So now we are considering the provision of line concentrators at Norchard and Lydney Junction boxes and gradually changing the phones out to CB types.

June 2009

Steve Harris is trying to scource a couple of line concentrators for me but I rather fancy building them instead. Chris Hall from the Mid Hants has provided me with diagrams of his system and now I am putting together a small rack of equipment for one of the concentrators. A nice design challenge. The IRSE Railway Telecommunications book outlines the requirements so perhaps we shall even be legal. I have made a start on the construction.
The new sockets being provided in the office
The new offices are coming along nicely. The trunking and cabling are done, some connections remain to be completed. We expect our electrical contractor to arrive shortly to test our work and connect it to the mains. We are pleased with our efforts as the final installation looks very tidy and professional. I have wiped up the telephones needed to connect the offices to our UAX13. The picture shows one corner of the new office with the final result of the trunking, computer, telephone and mains sockets. The BT and the DFR DPs are also in the picture
The Chairman now has the idea that we should get hold of a small exchange for connection to our separate BT lines so that we could economise on the number of BT lines we rent and offer our customers the choice of facilities via a menu eg 1 for the shop, 2 for the recorded information line etc. It sounds fine, I may have a learning curve ahead of me.
I have also installed a second battery and a standby power unit at Parkend. The room is getting full.
The visiting Beattie Well Tank
When I went in today I found the Beattie Well Tank over the pit ready for use on this weekend's gala. Lovely for someone brought up on the Southern.
I have started talking to users about their needs for BT lines and find that everyone seems to like the present system and has reasons for not altering it. I think we should persist with the idea as it would at the very least remove any need for additional BT lines.
Steve Harris has not been able to find any line concentrators and David Collins, the S&T boss likes the idea, so I will now continue with the design and build of a concentrator for Norchard, as this is where our difficulties lie at present. Possibly a bit of a long term job. At least I have found all the stores for one concentrator, but a second one is not going to be possible unless I lay my hands on a stock of relays to pillage.
The Chairman has told me to hang fire on a new switch for the BT lines as he has further requirements coming up in the future.
We seem to be finished in the new offices and now await the arrival of our contract electrician to put the seal of approval on the job and connect it up to new consumer units he will provide. I just have to get our Point of Sale BT line extended into the new booking office but that will have to be done on a non running day.

July 2009

Not a busy month, mostly odds and ends at the railway. Our contract electrician has approved our mains cabling to the new accommodation and has connected it up and so the new offices are now ready for use so far as we are concerned.
We completed the CAT5 cabling around the main building in readiness for Trevor Nicholson to get a new server working in the new office.
We had to change the BT phone at the Junction as it went faulty and fit an extra BT phone in the new booking office.

The mark 3A sleeper coach at the Junction is likely to move up to Norchard and be used as accommodation so we have started to find out what will be necessary to connect it to the mains. This culminated in a visit to the Avon Valley Railway to be shown over the electrical side of things in their sleeper coach by their First Great Western expert, Ollie Wise. We find that it is an extremely complex piece of equipment with items using 1000 volts, 240 volts and 110 volts. Conversion to 240 volts 3 phase is not too difficult but has to start with the provision of a 110 volt battery. Sounds expensive and until you have a battery you are unable to check out whether or not the rest of the gear is OK. We were asked to check a dozen lighting solenoids and found that most of them had become sticky. We have freed them up but we wonder about the condition of the many motors driving fans and pumps.

At home the line concentrator for Norchard Box is well under way. The relay sets have been built.
Concentrator Relay Sets
I was offered a concentrator head (the key and lamp unit) by Mick Bulman of the Telephone Heritage Group.
Concentrator Head General View

We arranged a swop for a couple of UAX13 selectors. This is currently being completely rewired to suit our purposes.
Concentrator Head Layout

The head will include a basic line tester for engineering use as the cable pairs will not generally pass via the exchange MDF.

This will leave me to build a small rack on which to mount the relay sets, batteries and power unit and connect it all together for testing. An interesting project.
Steve Harris has dropped an electronic line concentrator into our office. It has no diagrams etc so we will need to get it on the bench and play with it to find out how it works. If we can get it going it will do a good job at the Junction signal box.

August 2009

I visited Parkend to check the exchange only to find it completely dead. The batteries were flat. The standby PU184 had been connected and has obviously given up the ghost. We have not taken the PU to bits to see what has gone wrong but somehow it blew the charging fuse and then stopped providing power. Back to the old power unit while the battery tries to recover.

The S&T Group have arranged with me to start the cable laying jobs necessary. They will lay the cable and erect the cabinets and we will terminate the cables and sort out the circuits. But first we need to know where the cable lengths that we have are to go. To this end Rick and I have spent a day with a surveyor's measuring wheel checking the section lengths. That made our feet ache but at least the weather was just right for walking the railway. And we got to wave at the trains.
Then we measured the cable lengths with a pulse echo tester. We found three drums empty of cable and some 800 metres have been stolen. The sooner the rest are installed, the better. We think we have just enough to do the immediate jobs.

The concentrator for Norchard has got to the point where it is working on my bench in the garage. It seems to be doing a good job. I have made a start on building a wooden rack on which to mount the relay sets, batteries, power unit and a small tubular heater to keep it happy in the winter. The lower room in the signal box is not the kindest of environments for a relay based piece of apparatus.

September 2009

The rack has now been built and the batteries and power unit etc temporarily installed in my garage to test the whole concentrator as it will be when installed. It worked well on the 55 volts that the battery supplied after I had changed one relay armature to an adjustable residual type to stop it sticking on. Very satisfactory.
The head has been taken to the signal box so that the signalmen can decide where they would like it fitted. The rack position has already been agreed in the lower locking room.
The equipment descriptions, circuit diagrams etc have been added to this website and can normally be reached via the main menu.

I have started to wipe up and modify some internal 700 type phones for use as CB teles connected to the line concentrator. They are phones that were 6 volt "D" phones but seem to be OK when stripped out and turned into very basic CB phones.

The line concentrator rack installed at Norchard Signal Box

The rack has now been installed in the signal box at Norchard and is powered up ready for testing. It still has to be connected to the head. We have moved things in the box ready for the head installation.

We have fixed the head in the box in its final resting place and cabled down into the rack with two 20 pair cables plus battery and earth.

It now looks as though the new lineside cables will be laid in early October with trenching and burying later in October. We are to hire in a trencher for the work using our digger to assist in the backfilling. However both Rick and myself will be away for most of October so we will miss the fun! However we start to get involved when the cabinets have been erected by S&T and we can terminate. This looks like a difficult job as the cable is heavily armoured and is extremely stiff to work with.
We have the trencher for a week and it is hoped that more existing cable can be dug in during that week.

On the electrical front, a new 3 phase cable is to be taken to the toilet block area for connection to the sleeper coach when it arrives and to replace the present connections out to the caravan and wagon areas. It should cope with any development of that area. The toilet block is to be completely refurbished during November but at the moment we do not know who will be responsible for the electrical work.

October 2009

October was a month when we went on holiday and hardly had any time for the DFR. However work went on as S&T laid out all the cable that we had alongside the rails and Jason Shirley made a great start on burying it. However the flail has been in use cutting back the lineside growth and has again managed to quite badly damage the Norchard to Whitecroft cable.

November 2009

On returning to work, Rick and I walked the line to see what had been done in our absence. Most of the Whitecroft to Parkend section has been buried and now awaits cabinet erection and jointing.

The cable length was a bit short at Parkend

The cable didn't quite make it to Parkend, we are about forty metres short, Ah well, yet another cabinet required and we have to find a length of suitable cable.

Oh Dear!, this cabinet will have to sit on the floor

The cable has ended up with very short ends at some cabinet positions. We will have to mount the cabinet at floor level and see how we can lay out the interior with such short lengths of wire.

We have another problem, the flail has been in use again. Despite walking the length of the cable we could not see the damage so we may now have to resort to testing to find the cable faults etc. Autumn has managed to cover the cable in most places very completely with leaves.

The position with our Asterisk exchange has not altered. We are still not connected via the router to the internet and are not able to use the equipment. Our computer expert is completely tied up with getting a coach ready for the Christmas season, the new office is just a very expensive storeroom and so the new server cannot be installed, and in any case when the new computer goes in we want to change our ISP and router. Lots of reasons for the lack of progress on this front. At least one job, the toilet block refurbishment, has started on time. Nice to see a bit of progress.

It's that flail again!

It's that flail again! We have now located five points at which the cable has been damaged.

Finding the cable in trhe undergrowth!

At least we have made the best use of the cutting of the cable. Rick, Graham Bradley, Jean and I have managed to extricate the cable from the trees growing on the railside so that the cable now lays beside the track from Upper Forge Crossing to Tufts Bridge. Should the digger make it back, this quite long section will be easy to bury. Now we have four joints to make before it will be worth testing the cable for further trouble. All we need is for the rain to stay away.

18 Nov 09 Ever had one of those days? Arriving with the hope of eating into our work load, we found a cable strung between our office and the signing on room. We decided to get it moved back out of the way of the proposed staff toilet hut and onto the existing catenary. This meant bringing an old lighting fitting into use, mostly as a jointing point for extending the shifted cable onto the existing exterior lighting fitting. Everything went wrong. Earthing the neutral accidentally brought out a main trip. There were a few volts floating around on the neutral from somewhere. The existing light did not work as we had not connected the wires properly. Then nothing worked, it was a fuse feeding the PIR. The existing lighting fitting was now short circuit. I had to go and buy some small value fuses as we were all out. Then the bulb blew in the existing fitting and we could not obtain a spare. The light in the signing on room stopped working. Bob H thought it was a faulty wall switch, it was, though replacing the switch did not clear the fault. Replacing the tube did. At one point we were called upon to shift a couple of night storage heaters and the associated bricks. During all this it drizzled and the leaky gutter poured water down our necks. We were not the happiest of groups especially as we were constantly beseiged by others demanding attention. At 3.30 we decided to quit and go home before anything else happened.

Moving to site using a railtrolley!

The next week it was still wet but we decided to have a go at erecting the first cabinet on the new cable from Parkend. We obtained possesion of the line, borrowed a rail trolley and loaded up with a cabinet and tools.

Using the post hole auger!

Rick and our help from S & T, Bob Hawker, used a pole auger to dig the holes, excellent small diameter holes with firm edges and much quicker than digging a hole by hand.

cabinet mountinguprights and rodding!

We got the uprights and channel rodding completed but found the holes in the cabinet too small for the bolts. As it was getting wet we returned and got the cabinet back where we can drill out the mounting holes ready for next week.

I have got the line concentrator all wired up and Rick and I gave it a good work out and testing. All seems well, so we have left a temporary phone connected to it in the box so that the signalmen can play with it.

December 2009

Rick and I have now got the concentrator into service, just! We have changed out the "D" phone circuit to the Crossing Hut and connected it to the concentrator. We noted a huge improvement in transmission quality. The signal men seemed to like it. This was an easy changeover as we only needed to fit an internal CB phone, now we have the more awkward job of changing out the post phones. This involves getting external type CB phones mounted onto signal posts etc. Bob Hawker is helping with this. S&T and Operations have agreed to our proposals for the new SPTs.

Our S&T helper, Bob, has got the first Parkend cabinet mounted into position. Bob, Martin and I have also put in the duct track crossing and laid the extra cable to link the new cable to the existing network. I have been back and stripped off the cables in the new cabinet ready for terminating. Stripping the armoured cable was interesting. I thought I was getting nowhere as the outer sheath was bonded to the armouring, but I found that the armouring is just a tube over the top of the cable inside. A bit of delicate hacksawing and the outer simply slides off and the wires are very clearly colour coded inside. Great.

Norchard in the snow, December 23rd 2009

Norchard in the snow, December 23rd 2009

Jason Shirley has restarted cable burying and has finished the lengths beside the Park, however the snow has made it impossible to continue and the work has been suspended until the ground reappears.

I have also managed to repair three of the breaks in the Whitecroft cable, the last two repairs with crisp snow on the ground. Hope I have not trapped too much moisture inside the cable. Walking up the line in the snow was great. Everywhere there were animal tracks.

I helped out in the cafe for the last Santa train. The water was frozen so we could not wash up, the trains were an hour late and in the end it was announced that the cafe would serve free hot drinks. The place was jammed with humanity and dirty crockery. Not our best day, though the customers seemed to appreciate that at least we had trains running in the snow.

We finished the year wondering what to do in the cold. In the end we opted to stay indoors. Rick and Martin went off to install a new heater in the museum and I built a small cabinet to use where the flail has cut the cable. We had lunch and went home as the place was still freezing.

All the Best for the New Year

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This page was last updated on
31st December 2009