The infrastructure section looks after a number of important areas, without which the railway couldn't operate. These sections include:
Naturally, the track is very important, and it needs to be well maintained for steam and diesel trains to operate. The work includes checking and adjusting the alignment to ensure our passengers have a smooth ride, ensuring the rails are not too worn (and renewing them when they are), checking all the "keys" are in place (these hold the rail to the fixing plates), maintaining the plates that hold the rails together, and checking and changing sleepers.
The track team meet regularly, and undertake all these roles, trying to do a variety of tasks to ensure everyone gets a varied experience and enjoys their volunteering. This can also include a chance to be trained on how to operate the on-track machinery within the EOR engineering fleet, including mobile inspection units, cranes, tampers, etc.
Bridges, Structures & Drains
These are often the "Cinderella" of the railway world, many being largely unseen to our passengers, but we like to take good care of our structures, as without them the railway couldn't safely cross the many roads, streams and rivers between Ongar and Epping. This includes the M11, under which the line passes!
All our bridges are inspected on a periodic cycle by our experienced bridge inspector, and the work planned in advance to ensure it doesn't conflict with train operations and other departments' work. The work can include more technical aspects of surveying, measuring and assessing, as well as undertaking the resulting repairs or planned maintenance required to keep these structures in good order. This can include re-pointing, priming and reapplying protective paint, fitting additional safety guards, or fixing parapet walls. Many of our bridges date from 1865, are in remarkably good order and can carry a high axle loading (RA8 to RA10), so there is even more reason to keep up the much needed maintenance.
Not to be forgotten are the culverts and "catchpits"; these allow rainwater to pass under and along the line, avoiding it pooling up beside the line and becoming a danger to trains or leading to rotten sleepers or land-slips. These need checking each year and silt removed, so when it rains hard, the water can safely drain away.
We are very lucky that the line runs through 6.5 mile of unspoilt countryside, some of the most picturesque in the area, with pleasing undulations, a variety of farmland, crops, livestock, which afford our visitors some excellent views.
To ensure the safety of trains, (which can weigh 250 tonnes in total), and despite the lower heritage line speeds, they cannot stop quickly, so need a good lookout ahead. Therefore it is important that we manage the trees and bushes so the driver has a clear view ahead to be able to warn our teams working trackside and stop the train in good time if needed.
The careful management of the vegetation types and species also enables us to improve the stability of cuttings and embankments, provide a varied and beneficial ecosystem, and ensure our paintwork on our rolling stock is not scratched by branches, as well as reduce the risk of lineside fires.
The lineside vegetation is carefully managed and any cutting back is balanced, so as not to disadvantage our wildlife neighbours, some of which use the lineside ecosystem as a largely undisturbed route to move from one area to another. We are keen to manage our lineside to provide a wide range of ecosystem types, thus enhancing and maintaining the wildlife biodiversity.
With 6.5 miles (13 miles if you include both sides!) of lineside to manage, this is no small task, and we are always keen to hear from new volunteers or groups that are willing to lend a hand. It is an excellent way to keep fit, learn more about how a railway operates, as well as pause to watch the heritage trains go past. It has also provided an excellent group working opportunity for local groups to get involved with their local heritage railway, and to do something rewarding to help towards the safe re-opening of the line.
We are fortunate to have Ongar and North Weald stations, both dating from 1863. Both stations are being carefully returned to their original layouts, restoring many of the original room uses and functions. For example, the Ladies' Waiting Rooms at Ongar and North Weald, were converted to offices; these are being returned to their original use to enhance the visitor accommodation, provide baby feeding and changing areas, and remind visitors how travel used to be in the 19th Century. Another essential part of the restoration has been the refurbishment of the toilet facilities and cubical, so while true to the original, they are clean and welcoming.
Our stations are our "front door," the first thing our visitors see, and they are being restored to different periods: Ongar to Great Eastern times (1890-1930s), the only operational GE station in GE colours, and North Weald in 1940-1960s London North Eastern Railway (LNER) / BR (E) colours. This is to help show-case how transport has evolved and add interest for our visitors, especially those on educational visits.
Our stations require continuous upkeep, both as part of the restoration, to keep them smart and presentable, and the routine maintenance that buildings over 135 years old often need. In particular, wherever possible, we take care to restore using original or sympathetic materials; Ongar station is a Grade II listed building.
Common tasks include re-pointing, plumbing, electrical, plastering, decoration as well as deep cleaning. Our volunteers work in the public areas, as well as many "behind the scenes" areas, where we have also tried to replicate the original. For example, at both Ongar and North Weald, we have restored the Ticket Office counters and windows, complete with ticket racks and stamps. This means our visitors are immediately "taken back in time," being issued with an "Edmondson" card ticket for their journey.
This is an area with a smaller number of volunteers, but which is an important part of brightening the station areas. This includes tending both the platform beds at Ongar and North Weald, the grassed picnic areas and the hanging baskets that brighten up the stations. The team has a great deal to live up to, as North Weald station has been renowned for its garden displays, and we are very lucky to have the original LT certificate of merit for 1983!
Can You Help?
If you are interested in helping out in any of the areas mentioned above, please do not hesitate to contact or visit the Volunteering page.
There is no minimum commitment to volunteering, nor is there a need for you to have any previous railway experience, or indeed to have a background in building trades.
We can find rewarding and enjoyable tasks for EVERY extra pair of hands, no matter what your age or abilities are; we have a very friendly and welcoming team. Why not get in touch - with no obligation - and find out more?