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RCH - The Railway Clearing House

In 1842 nine British railway companies set up the Railway Clearing House (usually abbreviated to RCH) to sort out the charges due when one company's vehicles travelled on another company's lines. This was a practical move as the number of lines which were now linked was increasing rapidly at the time and it was technically possible to cover great distances by traversing a series of different companies tracks.

The RCH did not represent a price fixing 'cartel' but it did make the railways more competitive against the canals. In 1850 the Railway Clearing Act gave the RCH a statutory basis and within twenty years virtually all railway companies belonged to this organisation.

The RCH introduced rules or guide-lines on the construction of private owner vehicles in order to bring these up to a safe standard for operation on the railway. The RCH wagon specifications were mainly concerned with safe operation of rolling stock and covered the design of couplings, brakes and buffers. This also ensured that rolling stock could be repaired if it broke down on a 'foreign' company line and the railway companies subsequently adopted the standard RCH chassis parts as this eased the repair of their own rolling stock when it travelled about the system.

It is worth noting that at about this time something like two thirds of the open wagons on the North Eastern Railway were still of the chauldron type, although these tended not to wander far, mainly running from the mines to various industrial users and the ports.

The first real attempt at standardisation of rolling stock was the Railway Clearing House specification of 1887, for a minimum standard of construction for privately owned mineral wagons. This was introduced following a serious accident in 1886 caused by defective private owner mineral wagons.

Probably the most important RCH wagon design specification from the modelling point of view was issued in 1923, based on a seven plank 12 ton mineral wagon on a chassis seventeen foot six inches over the headstocks with a nine foot wheelbase. It is this RCH standard chassis that forms the basis of most Ready-To-Run models, although these favour the later ten foot wheel base version. Again the railway companies switched to using the new standard RCH chassis parts on all new stock in order to ease the problems of repairs.

The RCH 1923 specification settled on a standard capacity for vans and open wagons of twelve tons, although in the general merchandise trade average wagon loads were now only about three and a half tons as it was impractical to wait until a wagon was full before sending it on its way. Within the RCH rules however the railway companies and independent wagon manufacturers all managed to produce distinctive designs featuring their own ideas on the best methods of construction.

The Great Western Railway favoured their own design of hand brake, the Dean Churchward brake, which used a small lever mounted on a frame under the wagon, resulting in a distinctly different look from the standard long-handled Morton pattern brake. The various hand brake designs are discussed in more detail in the section on Rolling Stock Development.

Goods stock generally had a long life and even after the 1948 nationalisation there were a lot of older railway company wagons in service which still did not meet the 1923 RCH basic requirements. These were all railway company built wagons as the RCH repeatedly allowed the railway companies extra time to implement their specifications and the financial constraints meant that some stock was not fully modified. Examples included bogie open wagons with the brake lever mounted on the front of the headstock and wagons on which the brake lever did not act on all four wheels.

From a practical modelling perspective the most significant part of the RCH specifications is the provision of a metal 'registration plate' on the chassis of every vehicle. This allowed the RCH to tally up charges due when a vehicle registered with one company travelled on another company lines. Adding a black rectangle with some white dots on it serves to represent this plate, which was normally bolted toward the left hand end of the solebar.

Fig___ Registration Plates

Photo of registration plates

The picture shows the standard circular Private Owner type of plate on the left with a railway company plate on the right. I am not sure of the colour of the PO wagon plate, I was under the impression they were always black with white markings.

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