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Timber and Sleeper Sizes

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As some of you may well know, I started a topic to share a large number of images of permanent way drawings. Since I am currently experimenting with building track in EM gauge before I start on the trackwork for the new layout, the drawings have been very useful. One thing that seems to be a fairyly common query on the forum is sleeper spacing and sometimes, the dimensions of these sleepers.


Having just finished the process of scanning these drawings, there was something that stuck out as being different to what had been explained to me on the forum.


On S&C, 12x6 timbers are used and this is shown throughout these drawings, on the whole of the turnout/crossing. It was mentioned to me that the timber supporting the nose of the crossing should be 14x6. The drawings I have actually show 12x6 throughout. Was this timber changed to a 12x6 in nationalisation or is there another explanation? Also could someone please enlighten me as to what the use of a 10x6 timber was and the period of its use?


As for plain track, 8' 6" sleepers were/are standard and 9' 0" sleepers were those used previously?


All of the drawings I have are copies of the originals from the British Rail Drawing Office dated around 1948-1960.



This drawing clarifies my query. (It's best to open it as it will be much larger and show the detail).


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Most early railways used 9ft long timbers changing to 8ft 6ins around the time of the 1st war when timber was scarce, this did not happen overnight and as trackwork was down graded they could be found on branchlines and sidings long after mainlines were using 8ft 6 ins. Note that 12in wide sleepers were used either side of a joint for quite a while.


As for crossing timbers 12in was prett9y standard but 14in was used where there were problems with fitting on the chairs, in S &C work.


It is worth spending the time researching what your favourite company did and the timescales, us GW devotees are lucking the Great Western Study group published a book on the subject.



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"Modern" (i.e. post-grouping!) practice has been to keep point sleepering orthogonal to the principle route through the point. This inevitably means that chairs for the common crossing and the diverging route are placed at some angle to the sleeper on which they are mounted and this can make it difficult to fix them securely, particularly with 4-hole chairs, to 12-inch timbers. This is why wider timbers were occasionally used (at considerable expense, I might add, so it wasn't an easy cop-out).


Pre-grouping, some companies had followed "modern" practice for years, some went for separate timbers for each route (solves one problem, introduces another because they are difficult to pack) and some kept their outdated 2-hole chair designs specifically for use on p&c work.


If you are trying to replicate the practice of a particular Company or Region, particularly in one of the "fine scales", it will pay you to look at as many photographs as possible before starting detailed design work rather than just relying on "standard" templates.

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Personally I have never seen 14" wide timbers on post grouping designs, but that doesn't mean there were none, but I suspect they were very much the exception. Some earlier designs did make quite a lot of use of 14" timbers, the LSWR was one such user.  Use of 12" wide sleepers and the associated wide base chairs at rail joints was probably more common, but by no means universal. One user was the London Underground and they can be seen to this day in the bay platform and stabling sidings at Woodford, that being one example I get the opportunity to study most mornings.




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