Mineral wagon

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

A mineral wagon or coal truck (British English) 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 wagon makers. But with few rules except that demanded 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-operated brakes, which could be pinned on steep hills.

The railway companies had no control over the maintenance or design of private owner wagons (many were very poorly maintained and crude in construction - and many of the 'private owners' actually leased their wagons from the wagon builder, adding a further layer of complexity to maintaining the vehicles) but were legally obliged to operate them. This led to frequent delays and breakdowns due to broken couplings, faulty brakes and hot boxes - the latter caused by the crude grease-lubricated wheel bearings often used on private owner wagons - and problems caused by the simple dumb buffers that were near-universally used up to the time of World War I.

To combat these issues the Railway Clearing House (an organisation originally set up to share out revenue from joint services between companies) introduced minimum standards for private owner wagons in 1887. Companies that were signed up to the RCH refused to allow wagons that did not meet the standards in their trains, although there was a lengthy grace period for owners to upgrade or replace their older wagons. New and stricter standards were introduced by the RCH in 1909 which required hydraulic buffers and oil-lubricated bearings as well as numerous other details in the construction of the frame, brakes, axles, and suspension that made the RCH's design the basis for virtually every British mineral and goods wagon for the next 30 years. Wagons that complied with the standards carried a plate saying 'RCH'. Although the 1909 design standards were supposed to be fully enforced by 1914 the advent of World War I meant that they were suspended and many non-compliant wagons actually remained in service until well after the Grouping of 1921.

The result was a cheap sturdy wagon, and one when damaged was easily repaired; but which proved relatively short-lived and hence increasingly 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 II, and with need for a quick expansion in railway carrying capacity, the Department for 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
  • 2 side doors and 1 end door
  • Designed for and equipped with the welded hangers for either vacuum or air brakes
  • But only equipped 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 London, Midland and Scottish Railway (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 after World War II, 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 small capacity, 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 Birmingham (Washwood Heath) empty wagon service, almost certainly destined for Toton in Nottinghamshire. Ex LMS Fowler 0-6-0 4F 44458 passing Water Orton Station Junction and on to the main 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", exclusively running on the ex-GC line. 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 southern 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. Whilst there were many equivalent empty wagon trains run by the Midland/ LMS/ BR LM Region, they were never run at express speeds, nor did they attract any nickname such as Windcutters.


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 greater weight of stone necessitated holes being cut in the wagon sides 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. 
  • Bartlett, P., Larkin, D., Mann, T., Silsbury, R., and Ward, A. (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.