FOR the volunteers who ensure the Embsay and Bolton Steam Railway keeps running, their work is a real labour of love.

And for one group over recent weeks, it has been rather more labour than usual, with a section of sleepers on the tracks needing replacing.

The work has involved the re-railing and partial re-sleeping of the former carriage sidings at Bolton Abbey station.

"We're governed by railway inspectors so we have to maintain the same standards expected of all heritage railways," said Stephen Walker, business manager at Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway. "The idea is to make the track the smoother the better."

Heavy usage and a deterioration of the timber sleepers that lie beneath the steel rails led to the requirement to carry out the works.

The steel rail itself lasts a very long time, but the wooden sleepers do not have as long a life.

"Wood rots, so you can get about 25 to 30 years out of a sleeper," said Mr Walker.

He said common practice for railways is to use concrete sleepers, but wooden ones are more traditional and so the latter are used in the stations at Embsay and Bolton Abbey.

"People associate stations with the traditional wooden sleepers, but if you go around the corner of the station you can see that we also use the concrete sleepers.

"The concrete ones have actually been around since the 1930s, but they can crack and break as well."

Mr Walker said that the work to re-lay 100 yards of sleepers at Bolton Abbey station was carried out by a team of volunteers who do all of the maintenance for the steam railway.

Volunteers David Barlow and David Hutchinson headed up the maintenance project, and Mr Walker said they have involved in Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway since it opened approximately 15 years ago.

Mr Walker said the process of re-sleeping starts by de-spiking and removing from the sleepers from the lighter weight flat-bottom rail.

All of the 'life-expired' sleepers are exchanged for top grade, relayable sleepers and the whole section is provided with cast bullhead chairs to receive the replacement rails.

All the replacement bullhead rails are then placed in the cast chairs, held in place using steel keys and joined together using 'fishplates' and fastened down to the sleepers.

With only one rail in situ, the opportunity is then taken to re-align the section to give a less sinuous passage for trains using the siding.

With that done, the second rail is then fitted in place, the section 'gauged' to 4' 8 ½" and the second rail fastened down.

Having completed the re-aligned section of track, attention then turn to addressing the 'top' or level of the track.

Using 'sighting boards' to achieve the desired levels, the track is then jacked up at intervals and local limestone ballast 'tamped' under the sleepers using percussion hammers.

Mr Walker said that doing the maintenance work is vitally important to keep visitors coming in the years to come.

"Carrying out this work is an ongoing process to keep the railway looking its best," he said.