Gasworks Tunnel Incline was the nickname of the steepest gradient on the Dark Railway. The bottom of the incline began at the lower, northern portal of Gasworks Tunnel, and continued to climb through the tunnel and past Merecombe Gasworks before levelling out to a slightly easier gradient.
Gasworks Tunnel was built in 1895, to give rail access to Merecombe Industrial Estate . Due to the difference in level between the industrial estate and the city's Gasworks, the tunnel was constructed to take a severe gradient of 1in36, to enable it to reach level terrain at the base of the hill.
The incline has been the source of trouble since it was built. Trains descending into the Industrial Estate usually have to have extra braking power added to the train, often meaning a pilot engine and extra brakevans are required.
For services leaving the industrial estate, pilot engines or banking engines are often required to assist services to a point past the Gasworks sidings, where a banking engine would stop. If a pilot engine is attached to the front, it usually runs all the way to Manston Fore with the train, before uncoupling and returning down the bank.
In 1947, the tunnel was strenghtened after a severe storm compromised the foundations of the Gasworks, causing the tunnel to be closed whilst earthworks were completed to make the area and tunnel safe. Since then, it has been in regular use, with no indications as of yet of needing work done to it.
Also located on the incline is the Gasworks passenger platform (taken out of use in 1967), which used to be used by workers at the Gasworks for journeys up and down the line. It was a challenge for engines to restart from this station when climbing the gradient, and almost as much of a challenge to stop descending passenger trains there!
In 1968, the tunnel collapsed, burying a locomotive along with most of the Gasworks itself, thus bringing an end to the incline, which was ripped up shortly afterwards by Merecombe Council.
The incline begins at the northern portal of Gasworks Tunnel, just outside of Merecombe Industrial Estate. From level, the gradient quickly stiffens to 1in36 for the entire duration of the 1 mile tunnel, before emerging in the shadow of the Gasworks.
Still graded at 1in36, the incline continues through the old passenger platform, and further past the Gasworks, before levelling slightly to a gradient of 1in98. This is consiered the top of the bank. About half a mile of the incline, therefore, was actually out in the open air.
Accidents and Incidents involving the InclineEdit
- In 1898, a service hauled by an SER Class R 0-6-0 engine ran away whilst descending through the tunnel, due to overloading. The train was directed through the old platform at the Industrial Estate and crashed through the end of the line. The crew survived by jumping out into the reservior by the side of the platform.
- In 1924, an ex-SE&CR C Class engine stalled on the climb through the tunnel whilst hauling a heavy coal train. Unfortunately, the crew were inexperienced, and passed out due to smoke inhalation whilst trying to restart the train, rather than descending the bank. The guard, trying to help, released the brakes on the locomotive and closed the regulator, causing it to roll back down the line and collide with a waiting van train in the yard. The crew of the engine survived, but were severely repremanded for their actions.
- In 1947, after a severe storm washed away part of the foundations of the Gasworks, the tunnel was closed for several weeks whilst it was strenghtened and repaired.
- In 1959, a service descending the bank encountered a fatal blowback with Black Five No 45101 . This was due to a distraction on the footplate: apparently, a bee had stung the fireman, who was allergic to bee stings, therefore, attention was diverted. Though the crew were slightly burnt, they survived the initial blowback, but fireman Jenkinson had to be treated at Royal Merecombe Hospital for the bee sting, which was worse than the blowback burns!
- In 1962, a serious accident occurred as a result of the incline, when visiting Fowler 7F 2-8-0 No 53802 lost braking power whilst descending the bank with an empty coal train. The train careered into the Industrial Estate, crashing at Prairie Coaling Ltd. Luckily, nobody was seriously injured in this instance. The engine lost it's tender down a coal put, necessitating it to be lifted out with a crane. Several wagons, however, were written off as a result of the accident.
- In 1968, LMS Jubilee 4-6-0 No. 45690 "Leander" derailed in Gasworks Tunnel as a result of the poor condition of the trackwork. The locomotive smashed into the side of the tunnel, causing it to collapse and resulting in an explosion from the Gasworks above it.
The Dark Railway Series
- Gasworks Tunnel was the steepest gradient on the railway, and, therefore, was more formidable than Upway Bank.
- The nickname for the incline was slightly misleading, as just under half of the climb was made in the open air beside the Gasworks. However, the name had stuck, with most people (and engines) referring to the incline itself simply as "Gasworks Tunnel".
- This was a more challenging climb for steam engines than diesel engines, as the tunnel could cause problems for steaming and smoke drifting/inhalation.
- This was Dave's least favourite place on the railway, partly due to the risk of fatal blowbacks within the tunnel.