With the incessant rattle of passenger and freight trains bearing down on top of them, the average sleeper gets quite a pounding. As they slowly rot and splinter new supplies arrive at Hartlepool docks from the Baltic in 1957. Just up the road the new sleepers are shunted on trolleys into long cylindrical tanks, tightly closed, to be pumped with creosote. They are pulled out at the other end by chain, pass along a conveyor belt, are “chaired”, and go on their way.
This is one of a large collection of films created by the Photographic Unit of the Chief Civil Engineer of the LNER in York, and his successors on British Railways, and eventually being passed on to Fastline Photographic. The sleeper depot on Cleveland Rd, near Hartlepool docks, had been refurbished in 1956, but has since closed. Although freight traffic on the rail was in sharp decline, and severe line cuts only a few years away, the permanent way is nevertheless anything but permanent. With over 2,000 sleepers required for each mile of track, the job of replacement is continual. Each of the timber sleepers, made from fir trees, 9 ft long by 10 in wide by 5 in deep, has to absorb from three to six gallons of creosote.