Mineral wagon

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Some ex windcutter wagons at Loughborough MPD on the Great Central Railway

A mineral wagon is a small open-topped railway goods wagon used in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to carry coal, ores and other mine products.


A preserved 6-plank wagon of the Foster Yeoman company at Didcot Railway Centre

When the railways originated in the United Kingdom, the initial rules and laws of passage were based on those used on the roads. Hence the railway companies provided the track (road) and locomotives (motive power); whilst the transporter for bulk goods provided both the goods and the carrying vehicle. The result was a proliferation of private owner wagons, and growth in wagons makers. But with few rules except that demaned by the railway companies (there was no Railway Inspectorate), wagons were mostly specified by agreement between the wagon manufacturer and the transporting customer. The original goods wagons - with many designs based on farm carts, and hence utilising four wheels - were based on an iron or steel frame, with main bodywork made of wood. The wagons had no driver operated train brakes, but were equipped with independent hand-operatd brakes, which could be pinned on steep hills. The result was a cheap sturdy wagon, and one when damaged was easily repaired; but which proved relatively short-lived and hence increasing uneconomic.


With wooden bodied wagons proving uneconomic to replace for their owners, and post the 1930s recession the wagon makers looking for more economic longer-life products, both Charles Roberts and Company and the Butterley Company started developing standard all-steel construction mineral wagons, with capacities of 14 long tons (14.2 t; 15.7 short tons) and 15 long tons (15.2 t; 16.8 short tons).[1] those from Roberts had sloping sides, and both companies a combination of riveted or welded construction.

At the outbreak of World War 2, and with need for a quick expansion in railway carrying capacity, the Ministry of Transport (MoT) requisitioned all of the existing steel wagons from both companies, including the stock within the private mineral companies that they had sold them to; and also placed additional orders with both companies. The MoT then developed a specification for a standard 16-long-ton (16.3 t; 17.9-short-ton) wagon:[2][1]

  • 2axles/4 wheels
  • 9 feet (2.74 m) wheel base
  • 16 feet 6 inches (5.03 m) total length over headstocks
  • 2xside doors, 1xend door
  • Designed for and equipped with the welded hangers for either vacuum or air brakes...
  • But only equippd with the standard Moreton "V" hanger independent hand-brakes

Contracting out the orders to both existing wagon companies as well as general engineering contractors, the result was a huge variance in constructions methodologies (welded/riveted), and some minor design differences (fabricated/pressed steel doors; sloping sides).[3]


Vacuum-braked 21 ton coal wagon being loaded from a hopper at Blaenant Colliery, bound for Aberthaw Power Station, c.October 1965

The basic wagon had numerous variants.

On creation of British Rail (BR) in 1948 - which took control of all railway assets, including all private owner wagons - the new company inherited 55,000 original MoT wagons. Officially termed MCO/MCV 16t Mineral Wagons,[2] they were all given a B prefix in their 5-figure numbering.[2] Both the LNER and LMS had taken an additional 5,000 wagons from the MoT post-WW2, and once these were absorbed by BR were given the prefix M.[2]

Due to the decimated state of Europe post-WW2, SNCF in France ordered 10,000 MoT specification wagons - except for their continental-style vertically-hinged "cupboard" doors - from various British-based wagon manufacturers in 1945/1946. Proving quickly out-dated due to their lighter loading gauge, BR bought the residual 9,000 in 1951.[3] Overhauled by their original manufacturers, they were subsequently given numbers in the B19xxxx-series. All were withdrawn by the end of the 1960s.[2]

The basic BR-commissioned variant stayed true to the MoT original specification, except they had linked Moreton brakes, using either welded (diagram 1/108; 85% were made to this diagram),[2] or riveted body construction (diagram 1/109; only 10% of the total number of wagons).[4] The most common variant was an opening flap above both of the side doors. Known as a "London Traders" flap, there are conflicting ideas about its function, but it is generally thought to have been provided to make it easier for coal merchants to unload the wagon by hand.[1]

BR through various large orders eventually brought the total number of wagons to over 300,000.[2] This included a late-1950s order towards the end of their construction, when Pressed Steel was commissioned to build 27,500 wagons split across 4 lot numbers.[2]

Re-bodying occurred throughout the wagon's service with BR, until the end of their service in the late 1970s.[2] This mainly resulted in a replacement steel body, often of a simpler design. But in 1975 under lot number 3863, 394 former Palbrick wagons which were originally built on an extended 10 feet (3.0 m) chassis were re-bodied, and then renumbered B596000 - B596393.[2] BR eventually developed a 21 long tons (21 t) version (B200000-B202499 series), which was a 16T wagon with extended wheel base and two side doors.[2]

Under TOPS, the remaining wagons were allocated codes MCO and MCV for those with clasp brakes (two shoes per wheel), and from 1981 code MXV for those with push brakes (one shoe per wheel).[2]


A Water Orton 'windcutter'. Ex LMS Fowler 0-6-0 4F 44458 passing Water Orton Station Junction and on to the fast lines to Kingsbury with a train of empty 16T mineral wagons

In BR days there were unfitted mineral trains run at express freight speed, locally known as "the Annesley Cutters" or "Windcutters". These ran from Annesley, a collection yard for the collieries of Nottinghamshire served by the ex Great Central Railway, to Woodford Halse and then onwards to major destinations across England. These trains have been recreated on the preserved Great Central Railway, using over 30 of these wagons purchased in 1992 by readers of Steam Railway magazine.


Mineral wagons were phased out by BR in the 1970s, following reduction in demand for household coal and the development of merry-go-round trains, which used much larger (and braked) hopper wagons. Two batches of 16T wagons were bought by CC Crump in 1971, hired to ICI in Runcorn for the transport of soda ash, and subsequently scrapped in 1979.[2]

The rusty BR survivors were transferred to Departmental use, under TOPS codes ZHO (unfitted) and ZHV (vacuum braked). Used by civil engineers for general works, the denser loads resulted in holes being cut in the wagons sides by the operational department, to avoid over-loading.[2] According to TOPS records, 3,600 ZHVs were in use by 1987, 26 in 1992, and 4 by 1999.[2]

See also[edit]


  • Don Rowland (27 Feb 1997). BR Wagon - the first half million. Leopard Books. ISBN 978-0752903781. 
  • Paul W. Bartlett, David Larkin & Trevor Mann (1985). An illustrated history of British Railways revenue wagons, Vol. 1. Oxford Publishing. ISBN 978-0860932031. 
  1. ^ a b c Pat Hammond. "Bachmann BR 16T Steel Mineral Wagons". Model Railways magazine. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "MCO/MCV 16t Mineral Wagons". LTSV. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Pat Hammond. "Bachmann BR 16T Steel Mineral Wagons". Model Railways magazine. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "16T mineral wagons – a bluffer’s guide to recognition". Retrieved 1 February 2014.