Under Regulation 18A of the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (ROGS), every organisation that is responsible for the maintenance of railway vehicles, such as Clan Line, is known as an Entity in Charge of Maintenance (ECM). Each ECM has to ensure that, through a system of maintenance, a vehicle for which it is responsible is safe to run on the mainline railway. The system of maintenance is the maintenance of a vehicle in accordance with:

  • The maintenance file for that vehicle
  • The applicable maintenance rules

To comply with this regulation, all our maintenance procedures are thoroughly documented. This documentation lays down what we do, and when we do it. It also shows what we have done, when we did it, who did it, and, if necessary, why we did it. To check our compliance, we are audited regularly by an external company.

As well as this, we also have to comply with the Pressure Equipment Regulations 1999 (PER), and Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (PSSR). These regulations mean that, every year, we have to have our boiler inspected by a qualified boiler inspector. This includes a thorough examination of the boiler, both internally and externally, as far as is possible without removing it from the frames. Also included are inspections of the safety devices, such as the safety valves and gauge frames. This is followed by another inspection with the engine in steam. This would include proving that the safety valves lift at the designed pressure, and the injectors work within their designed range.

The report from the official boiler inspector is passed on to the external auditing company, as well as our insurance company.

We have just been through our annual scheduled maintenance period and associated audit.

The first job to do was to give the boiler a thorough washout. In the days of steam, washouts were often done with hot water, but we don't have that luxury. Therefore, we had to give the boiler a chance to cool down slowly after the previous trip. So, a lot of us were at Stewarts Lane on the Saturday before Christmas. The grate and smokebox had already been cleaned. The boiler was drained using the blowdown valve, and all the washout plugs and mudhole doors were removed. To gain access to the plugs in the front tubeplate, the spark-arresting equipment was also taken out. We have a high-pressure pump that uses the tender tank as a reservoir. The intention is to remove all the sludge and scale that we can. Once this has been done, we use a paraffin flare to have a good look at the water-space. All our findings are documented.

The washout pump

The washout

The next job is to prepare the boiler for the inspector's cold examination. We replace all six fusible plugs each year, so these are all removed. The syphon plugs are also taken out, so that he can look at the inside of the thermic syphons. We then look for broken stays. This is done by tapping them with a hammer, and listening to the noise that they make - much like the wheeltappers used to do.

A stay

The boiler inspector also needs to check the safety valves and gauge frames, so these are dismantled for him.

A safety valve

The boiler inspector's cold exam was in early January. He gave the boiler and associated equipment a thorough going-over, which took most of the day. That meant that we could start "boxing up" the boiler.

We started with the fusible plugs. These are plugs which have a hole in them. The hole contains a piece of gun metal, and is sealed with lead. They are fitted in the crown of the firebox. If the water level in the boiler gets too low, the top of them is exposed, and they overheat. This causes the lead to melt, and the pressure blows out the inner plug. This causes a jet of water to be sent into the firebox, and the sound of this alerts the footplate crew to the problem.

A fusible plug blank, showing the inner plug

We replace our fusible plugs every year. Because the distance that the plugs protude into the water-space is important, we make each plug to fit its own hole. We buy blanks, and machine them to fit ourselves. We use graphite grease on the threads as a lubricant.

We also refit all the washout plugs and syphon plugs, also using graphite grease. Whilst doing this, we clean the plugs and the holes, and check the threads for damage. Different holes are of different sizes, so they need plugs of different sizes. We always ensure that each plug goes back into the hole whence it came. We update all the documentation accordingly.

Washout plugs

A fitted washout plug

One of the syphon plugs, including the caps over the flexible stays

The mudhole doors are also re-fitted, after being cleaned and inspected. They are sealed with gaskets based on PTFE. They are tricky to fit. The door is inside the water space, so that the pressure helps to seal it, but it has to be inserted through the hole that it seals. They mustn't be tightened too much, otherwise the gasket may move and fail.

A mudhole door

We also re-assemble the safety valves, and set them roughly. We can then fill the boiler with treated water.

All our pressure and vacuum gauges need re-calibrating annually. We have two master gauges which are sent away to be re-calibrated periodically. We have test rigs so that we can compare our gauges with the masters. We check them at various points throughout their ranges, and document all the figures.

The next stage is for us to have our own steam test, during which we carry out several tasks.

We always have a steam test after a washout, to check the integrity of the mudhole doors and washout plugs.

One of the major jobs, though, is to set the safety valves. This usually involves four people - two on the footplate, and two on top of the firebox. The people working on the safety valves have to have a lot of trust in the people looking after the fire. The boiler pressure is brought up to see where the valves lift, and it is than brought down again so that the valve can be adjusted. This involves partially dismantling the valve, using a special large spanner to make the adjustment, and reassembling it. Great care has to be taken as everything is very hot, so all the disassembling and reassembling has to be done without touching the valve. It is also very important not to put your hand over the valve, just in case it lifts unexpectedly. This process is repeated until all three safety valves lift at their desired pressures. We like to have the middle valve lift first, at 250psi, because we think that this looks better. The next one should be the fireman's side, so that he can see that it has lifted. The driver's side should be the last one, to decrease the risk of damage if it lifts inside a tunnel or under a bridge.

A close-up of a lifting safety valve

Another job is to carry out the annual brake test. This is more involved than the tests during a Fitness To Run examination. As well as the usual tests, we ensure that, amongst other things:-

  • If the Main Res (yellow) pipe is broken, we don't lose all the air from the tanks.
  • If the compressor fails, the brakes come on at the correct pressure.
  • That the compressor can fill the tanks at the required rate.
  • That the brakes come at the desired rate for an AWS/TPWS application.

As with everything else, the results are all documented.

For all the electronics, we have to rely on a certified contractor to carry out the tests for us. These electronics include:-

  • AWS/TPWS (Automatic Warning System/Train Protection & Warning System)
  • OTMR (On Train Monitoring Recorder)
  • GSM-R (Global System for Mobile Communications - Railway)

These checks also require the engine to be in steam, and the results are passed on to us, and the external auditing authority.

When all this has been done, the auditing authority pays us a visit for their cold exam. They check our documentation, and give the loco a good looking over.

After that, it is the official steam test. This is witnessed by the boiler inspector and the external auditing authority. They want to see that the safety valves lift at the designated pressures. They also want to see an accumulation test. This is where we try to lift all three valves, to prove that they can release enough pressure, even we have a very large fire.

Another thing that we have to do is to pressurise the steam chest, while they are looking in the smokebox. We ensure that the loco is scotched and the brakes are on. With it in mid-gear, and the drain cocks shut, we open the regulator. They look for leaking steam pipe joints or superheater elements. They also look for blows up the blast pipe, which could indicate leaking valve rings. (We also do this during the Fitness To Run examination before every trip).

We have just been through all this, and we have received our certification for another year.