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BR early wagons: To be Grey or not to be Grey, that is the question !

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  • BR early wagons: To be Grey or not to be Grey, that is the question !

    BR Wagons the early years (1948-60ish).

    Click image for larger version  Name:	P1017432.JPG Views:	1 Size:	376.0 KB ID:	7739
    Above: Those missing early era BR unfitted box vans. As manufacturers have virtually overlooked this unbraked category of early BR boxvan wagon. I am in the process of rebuilding these very old (original 1970's Farish "OO" models) box vans of three types. A gift from a kindly Spanish gentleman at the Barcelona exhibition last May. These models came in various pseudo advertising liveries, so have already been resprayed. The chassis detail also needs "upgrading", but at least they won't need brake hoses or vacuum cylinders ! (Picture of my workbench this week).

    "Wot no grey box vans" !
    The problem of Wagons in the Post War era up until around 1960ish, seems to have caused some little confusion for model manufacturers. This is reflected in what is currently included in the major manufacturers ranges, and includes one noticeable HOLE !

    Obviously DAPOL have the largest range of wagons of any current manufacturer. Although this large range does also reflect the gaping HOLE, in that I can find currently only TWO box vans in BR unfitted livery. As too the other manufacturers there appears to be currently absolutely NONE available whatsoever. This is not reflected in the real life statistics for 1948 and 1960 shown below.

    When BR were formed in 1948, they inherited 1,279,543 wagons. Of which over half a Million were Private owner types. The only types excluded from this "Nationalisation" figure, were around 20,000 wagons, owned by large concerns such as the oil companies, Salt, Lime and certain special hazardous goods types, which remained in Private hands. However of the huge figure inherited in 1948 over 70,000 were "Stopped" awaiting repairs. As many wagons were still suffering from the effects of WW2, and the fact Private Owners (particularly coal merchants) were reluctant to expend money on regular maintenance. This meant the British Transport Commission (BTC), of which Britians Railways had become just a part, had a complex task to solve. In addition it should also be noted that in 1948, pitifully few wagons had anything other than a handbrake. Most still had grease axleboxes, meaning they were unsuited to Express freight service. And such things as Hydraulic buffers, roller bearing axleboxes, and disc brakes were unheard of.

    The BTC reaction to the wagon situation, was rapid and thorough. They repaired wagons that had a reasonable life expectancy, and scrapped those that did not. They built replacements for those scrapped which began a process of increasing the size and facilities fitted. Initially wagons of the Big Four (SR; GWR; LMS; LNER) designs were perpetuated, but these quickly gave way to improved and totally new designs. Out went grease axleboxes in favour of oil ones. Wooden underframes were replaced with steel, and even mineral wagon designs that had included partial wooden parts were now made with steel. Further the minimum of 12 tons capacity was also set for general merchandise, and 16 tons minimum for mineral wagons. Initially certain selected types were also fitted with vacuum brakes.

    Real change in wagon design did not however arrive until the publication of the 1955 "Modernisation Plan". This envisaged faster fully fitted Vacuum braked trains. Air brakes were eshewed on the grounds of expense. A further limited increase in tonnage was also on the cards, with particular pressure from the oil companies in this direction. The arrival of fully fitted freight trains as opposed to unfitted, or partially fitted, also spelt DOOM for the traditional 3-Link coupling. As the need to "pick-up the slack " in the wagons gently, by the locomotive when starting, was now obviated by the existence of an automatic brake along the whole train. Indeed the buffetting and clanking of wagons was not helpful to their contents, so the 3-Link was replaced on newly "Fitted" wagons by either the "Instanter" or "Screwlink" coupling. These types being adjustable in the amount of "slack" you allow when coupling up.

    The wagon situation in 1948:
    Opening stock 1,223,634
    Additions +: 39,464
    Withdrawals -: 83,694
    Closing stock: 1,179,404
    Of which:
    Fitted vehicles: 131,965
    Unfitted: 1,047,439
    Average Capacity in Tons: 12.50

    The situation in 1960 was:
    Opening stock: 960,353
    Additions +: 14,179
    Withdrawals -: 12.585
    Closing stock: 961,947
    Of which:
    Fitted vehicles: 311,754
    Unfitted: 650,193
    Average capacity in Tons: 15.14

    From the Statistics above, one thing is quite clear, and that is a large percentage increase in the number of vacuum fitted wagons which had risen in 12 years from roughly 10% to 30%.

    The modeller and the wagon.
    Some understanding of wagons is needed by the modeller, because of the Plethora of rules about how wagons are operated. In the period covered here, this firstly means that any wagons with continuous brakes should be marshalled behind the locomotive, to increase the braking ability of the train. Unfitted wagons therefore HAVE to go behind the fitted ones. This is also visually VERY noticeable as unfitted wagons were basically painted "Pale Grey" and fitted one "Red Oxide".

    Obviously "Pale Grey" (unfitted) wagon models do NOT need brake hoses each end or Vacuum cylinders under the floor. However the fact that many model wagons painted in "Red Oxide" (fitted), have NOT been fitted with brake hoses, or sometimes even vacuum brake cylinders, and should, is a noticeable OVERSIGHT by MOST manufacturers !!!!

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    Above: Class 2884 ex GWR 2-8-0 between Lichfield tunnel and Popham No1 tunnel, south of Worting Junction on the Southampton line (part of the new Mk2 Basingstoke layout) typifies the current problem. With the "early BR crest" (pre 1957) on the loco. The Dapol Milk tank leading, and possibly a couple of the vans behind would form the "fitted head". But the rest of the train behind the petroleum tank would most typically be formed of unfitted Pale Grey coloured wagons....

    The scarcity of Box Van Models in the Pale Grey "Unfitted" livery is also not reflected by the statistics shown above, and therefore needs remedying.

    Another important point is the application of the letters "XP"on wagons . Although slightly misleading these letters mean "Express Passenger". When applied to a freight vehicle, it means the vehicle can be included in a passenger train as it is both "Fitted" and has axleboxes of a suitable design for higher speeds. So MUST obviously be painted "Red Oxide". Wagons such as Horseboxes, Motor car carrying vans, Banana Vans (with steam heating), early type 4 wheel loaded container flats, and certain other designs (mainly box vans) intended for high value or time critical goods, carried these letters. The term "XP" was certainly used by the Southern Railway pre 1948. I have found NO evidence of its use on suitable GWR wagons even those built 1945-48. Nor on LMS or LNER types !

    There were numerous other markings applied by BR to wagons Post 1948. Which gave visual indications of their design or possible safety issues. These include obvious ones such as diagonal white lines on Mineral wagons denoting at which end were fitted end opening doors. Or two white lines in almost a "V" shape centrally located to indicate bottom discharge doors. Or 3 vertical white lines normally positioned centrally on both sides asnd ends to indicate "Shock absorbing" capability. Tank wagons even when privately owned, would be painted black indicating low hazardous heavy oils (such as crude). Cream or white indicating medium hazardous goods. Types such as Milk tanks were of course often painted in light colours even silver to reduce the effects of the sun turning the milk to cream. If tank wagons has an orange band horizontally around the tanks midriff, then this indicated "High Hazardous goods" such as Liquid petroleum gas, or even Hydrocyanic Acid. This last product was carried by rail vehicles in concentrated form as it is not allowed in road vehicles without Police escort. One molecule of the stuff coming in contact with atmosphere is highly explosive. So a 45 ton tank wagon full of this stuff equates to roughly a 10,000lb Bomb !

    Other aspects of freight train operation affecting the Modeller, include the necessity to have "Barrier wagons" between locos and "Hazardous goods". And also if two types of hazardous goods are in one train there are requirements to have up to 3 non hazardous wagons inserted between. A "Barrier wagon" can be any type of usually empty wagon that is "Fitted" and suited to the maximum speed the train is permitted to travel at. So the famous Black Esso tank trains (see Dapols plastic kit of this type. Cat No C036), that ran from Fawley (near Southampton) to Bromford Bridge (near Birmingham) did NOT need barrier wagons, because the black tank wagons indicated a non hazerdous product (heavy crude oil). Although when the service first began it was typical to see two flat empty "barrier wagons" behind the 9F 2-10-0 locomotive . These unfortunately being light caused a couple of derailments on the Didcot Newbury and Southampton line because, when the locomotive began braking, the slowness of the vacuum brakes to apply on the heavy tank wagons behind, simply squashed the lightweight empty flat wagons in between. When the Didcot Newbury and Southampton line was closed either because of derailments or due to Dr. Beeching. This most famous of freight trains was diverted via Basingstoke. So of course this train will feature on my layout, that's all 26 x Dapol plastic kits of this train !

    Click image for larger version  Name:	92249 9F 2-10-0 (02).jpg Views:	1 Size:	252.3 KB ID:	7740
    Above: My 9F 2-10-0 hauling some of the Dapol Esso oil tank (kit) wagons, I have been slowly building over the past 10 years or so. Well 18 complete and just another 8 to go ! The picture was taken on my Mk1 version of Basingstoke (57ft x 20ft) built in the loft of a house in Germany, with scenery part complete, around 2011. The new Mk2 layout being built for a Railway Museum here in Mora near Tarragona, Spain, will be (87ft x 25ft), so I'll need those extra wagons.....

    Further restrictions on the way freight trains are formed, include problems relating to such things as "Gunpowder" and other explosives, including "Commercial explosives", such as those provided to the Cornish tin mines. Being obviously "Hazardous Goods" Explosives of whatever type needed either barrier wagons between the loco and the train. Or the odd explosive wagon included in a train had to be marshalled near the middle and of course not near any other type of harzardous goods. Again non hazardous loads in wagons could be used to create the necessary "barrier". The most common hazards to freight trains in this era, were lighted embers from the locomotives chimney setting fire to vehicle roofs, or tapaulins covering open wagons. Or nasty old grease filled axleboxes catching fire and setting fire to wooden wagons. So train crew in this era had to be particularly vigilant when working freight trains, if they wanted to rech their destination without exploding.

    Problematic loads requiring special wagons were often run as special freight trains. But if included in a regular scheduled service, were normally coupled behind the locomotive. It is not wise to have very heavy special vehicles and loads near the rear of the train as this can lead to derailments in curves.

    It should be noted here that it was NOT allowed to have a second locomotive at the rear of trains. Unless the locomotive was a "Banker" in which case it was NOT coupled to the train, and was only there to assist, over a limted distance (Such as the "Lickey Incline"). In todays modern world the attaching of diesel locos to the rear of steam hauled specials was explicitly forbidden in BR times, as it was regarded as dangerous to have a heavy load swinging along on the rear of any train !!!

    Other problem items such as cranes and particularly the heavy steam brakedown cranes again normally went behind the locomotive. If the crane was in steam it had to also have a qualified fireman onboard the crane for the journey.

    Maximum speed of freight trains could also be affected by the inclusion of special wagons, certain dangerous or hazardous loads, including cranes. Although a little outside the era of this posting, Nuclear Flasks when they arrived on the railway scene had even more restrictions placed on them. They are not allowed to stop within 125ft (two coach lengths) of the general public. Which could cause some fun if there was a red signal in a station !!!!

    The above is only a brief summary of a few of the operational rules covering wagons. But if you want realistic operation of freight traffic on your layout, it has to be paid heed too !

    References: A History of GWR Goods Wagons by A.G.Atkins, W. Beard, D. J. Hyde and R. Tourret. Published by David and Charles 1975.
    British Railway Wagons by Don Rowland. Published by David and Charles 1985.
    "Railway Magazine" (various copies 1948-60)
    "Trains illustrated" magazine (1952-59)
    "Modern Railways" magazine (1960-65).

    The Duke 71000
    Last edited by The Duke 71000; 19 August 2018, 02:21.

  • #2
    Despite this being not my era, nor do I plan it to be, I really like your posts. They are full of detail and just an absolute pleasure to read. 👍


    • The Duke 71000
      The Duke 71000 commented
      Editing a comment
      Very kind of you.

      From what you say I guess you are doing modern image. But the problems of "troublesome trucks" hasn't totally gone away. The modern "Block train" operation reduces the problems of what can be mixed together and where each wagon has to be marshalled in the train. And the "bogie" wagon is also much more suited to modern concrete track and welded rail.

      But it can still be rather unnerving to look back from your diesel loco cab window to see part of the train is on fire going down Hemerdon Bank (near Plymouth) at 02.00hrs. Knowing there is a 45ton box van full of "commercial explosives" in the train somewhere. Which happened to a train I was working around 1991 !

      The Duke 71000.