She's nearly 90 feet long, weighs 90 tons and is capable of speeds of up to 60 mph.

Both Photo's - Alan Hireson.

The official description of the vehicle is that it is a 09 -16/32 CSM Tamping Machine and the magnificent beast arrived at the Avon Valley Railway for a three week visit on the first day of Autumn.

The reason behind its arrival is interesting. Due to the volume of passenger and freight traffic on the UK's main railway network, time allotted for maintenance work is at a premium. So infrastructure companies are turning more and more to Heritage Railways as places where they can train staff and test new equipment without using track-time required by Network Rail.

Following an enquiry earlier in the year by the nationally-known railway engineering company Carillion, a National Training Officer and two colleagues visited Bitton. Their assessment was that the AVR contained many of the track and trackside features that they would encounter in their work and would be an ideal venue for them to train a number of new operators in the skills required to drive and use their giant tamper.

The person in cnarge of training the new staff in tamper technology was Colin Dixon.  "I couldn't believe it when I was told that I was coming here" he told us. "I did my own tamper training on the Mangotsfield to Bath line back in February 1971. I remember that it was an eight week course - but it was a year before I was fully trained".

And the coincidence extends even further. In talking to the AVR's Dave Bryant it became apparent that Dave had been trained by an old friend and ex-colleague of Colin's to use our own Minima tamper.

For anyone unsure exactly what a tamping machine does, Cohn explained, "It improves track alignment, cross level and top to give smoother running. In full working mode, this machine can deal with up to 1200 metres of track per hour. Using an ATTA (Auto Track and Top Alignment) Computer, it lifts and re-ballasts the track to make sure that it is kept at a high standard to ensure comfort and safety for passengers."

Whilst we're not likely to be seeing our own trains achieving 125 mph, however a fortunate by-product of the three week training course should be a smoother ride for our customers in the future.

The tamper has now completed its three week visit to Bitton, so here is a POSTSCRIPT from John Bater.

"With the advent of the 09 tamping machine at Bitton, many hours of track maintenance have been taken care of.  On-going maintenance work will continue during the shutdown periods of November, January, February and March."

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This page last updated by Tony Wray on 29/10/2004.