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The great Red Nose backwards
cess walk

A field next to the railway, 0930 on a damp spring morning. Slowly over the fence from the lay-by they came - tall ones, short ones, thin ones, fat ones, young and old. For this was to be the first of what is hoped would become an annual event.

The email had gone out several weeks ago to all interested parties; many had replied but few had expected the turnout to be so large.

The idea was to walk backwards for two miles along the cess from the junction to the level crossing, taking in a short tunnel and seven overbridges. Teams from Network Rail, HMRI, RSSB, several contractors, HR and BTP, P-Way track workers and - all had agreed to enter. Fancy dress was optional.

First to arrive was Wendy from HR who had misread the email and came in high heels, a pink Stetson, Playboy bunny tail and asked where the Big Market was. The HMRI team turned up on skateboards, wearing pirate eye-patches. The BTP all wore shin pads and carried multi-coloured pens so they could “write things down”! Members of the RSSB team had pogo sticks and their leader was encased in a giant, clear inflated ball. And of course there were the two obligatory rhinos who had got lost on their way to the London marathon.

The team from Gay Rail lines up beneath a new inflatable road-over-rail bridge which is fully compliant with HSE building regulations.
Photo: Inadvisable

One guy - nobody knows where he came from - won the fancy dress first prize with Biggles goggles, toe tec flip flops, reflective nipple strips, a high-vis codpiece, spinning bow tie and a pair of fingerless gloves. The P-Way lads turned out in full orange HV, hardhat, goggles, gloves and trade union badges which they agreed would give far better protection than the hardhat.

Each team had to carry between them a selection of railway engineering equipment, choosing from two sets of six-hole fishplates, one AWS magnet, a set of four bars and two shovels or an S&T hand-bonding machine and a signal location base.

All was going well until, at the start line, one of the P-Way lads asked who would be acting as COSS, insisting on seeing the Rimini plan. Nobody seemed to know so a meeting was arranged - HR chaired it whilst RAIB offered to take the minutes which would be circulated at a later date. 2019 was mooted. Nothing could be sorted during the hour-long summit as no-one from planning was in attendance, it being Sunday.

RAIB offered to take the minutes which would be circulated at a later date. 2019 was mooted.

With all this standing around, several contestants started playing quiz games. “I spy with my goggle-protected eye, a big thick heavy slab between the rails”. “Sleeper” came the cry, only to be rejected as an answer. “John Prescott” bellowed one wag. “An environmentally-friendly supporting cross-brace formed from recycled plastic milk cartons” muttered an RAIB inspector, quoting from his well-thumbed handbook of railway theory. “Spot on” announced the quizmaster, “collect your annual performance bonus.”

In the end, one of the P-Way lads walked the track as an IWA, reporting back that there was no cess to be seen anywhere along the proposed course. “It looks like an overgrown scrap yard” he said.

So it was agreed that the cess walk could not take place; in fact the railway was found to be a very high-risk an environment so the RSSB team was asked to head back to their office and commission research into the optimum colour of tea cups. The minutes would read that, next year, a sponsored paperclip count and pencil sharpening fiesta would be held instead, hosted by Network Rail in their nice warm offices. Hardhats and protective footwear will be provided; St John’s Ambulance will be on hand in case anyone suffers a Repetitive Strain Injury.

So there you have it. Most people agree that the railway is not a safe place and what’s needed is a walkway well clear of the track for staff to transport themselves and equipment along. It could also be used as a position of safety when trains pass. But we all know that lads and lasses will be out and about the track 24/7, just getting on with the job and, to do so, they will be putting themselves in danger.

How things have changed. I well remember an attempt at team bonding a few years ago when a local manager decided to have a day of games and contests between two teams - managers versus the lads. It was all taken very seriously and both sides played to win. At the end of the day when the results were in and all the points had been added up, the manager sent a fax to all his depots stating that “the managers had come very creditably in silver medal position while the lads had finished in second from last place.”

As a comedian once said, “it’s the way I tell ‘em”!

Story added 1st April 2009

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