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Goods Rolling Stock Design

One of the difficulties of railway modelling is picking appropriate rolling stock. First you have to decide on a date and location, then select wagons and liveries which existed at that date and might be seen in that location. There are books detailing the rolling stock built by the various companies and with a little work you can modify existing models and kits to produce variants and unusual wagon types. The problem here is one of numbers; the reference books show one or two pictures of each design, whether they were produced in tens or hundreds, in some cases only a single example of a particular wagon type was built.

Another problem is that of operational practice, having wagons in places where they might actually be seen. An example dear to the hearts of many modellers would be the railway beer wagons, used to transport barrels of beer from the breweries. These vans would usually travel in groups however, so you would need to make up at least three or four which is a long job. This kind of wagon would be quite restricted in its movements, built for a specific service they would not be used to take beer to a branch line station for the local pub.

Finally there were many changes in design introduced over the years which offer numerous traps for the unwary. Vans built before the 1930's generally had the frame timbers on the outside and some nineteenth century vans had short tubular 'lamp pots' on the roof which were the chimneys provided for oil lamps. An example of such a wagon is the early GWR fruit van with outside framed doors and a single lamp pot on the roof. A model of this van can be made from a standard Peco Vent Van kit and this is described in the section on Kit Bashing. Over the years versions of this van appeared in both grey and brown livery.

Fig ___ Early GWR fruit van Sketch showing an early GWR fruit van

From reading the general literature you might assume that by the mid 1920's the lamp pots on the roof would have been removed, and the doors would have been changed to the inside framed type (as seen on the Peco GWR van) soon after 1927. In fact these nineteenth century vans (among the very first fruit vans built) continued in use, unaltered other than for livery, into the 1950's. The model is based on the Peco 'ventilated van' but these vans did not have the hooded vents on the ends so they need to be trimmed off and they had flat strapping in the form of an C across the end of the wagon. If I build any more I will use a Peco 'standard van' with sides cut from a Peco 'Ventilated van' kit with the doors modified as shown.

Some things did change however and a good example is the arrangements for supporting tarpaulins on open wagons. On wagons with no support the tarpaulin cover would tend to form hollows in which rain water would collect. Tarpaulins were water-proofed with a mixture of oil and 'lamp black' (better known as soot) but in use tiny 'pin holes' soon appeared in the fabric resulting in damage to goods carried. This became a significant problem when the tarpaulin sheet was laid over an ordinary open wagon and formed a dip in the centre allowing rainwater to collect and steadily drip through onto the goods below. One solution, used on several early railways but most common on southern lines, was to build the wagon with raised ends, usually with a curved top, over which the tarpaulin could be draped. Quite often there was also a wooden cross bar or length of chain mounted between the raised ends to support the tarpaulin sheet or 'tilt'. Building wagons in this way added to the cost and if you need a few thousand that cost becomes significant. On wagons built in this century the 'patent sheet supporter' was favoured, consisting of a hinged tubular metal rod fitted to mountings on the outside ends of the wagon. When raised this formed a ridge supporting the canvass sheet but when loading or unloading the wagon it could be lowered to the side out of the way. This still added to the cost of the wagon however and there was no practical way to reserve these wagons specifically for high value cargo.

Fig ___ Wagons with tarpaulin supports

Wagons with fixed, removable and hinged tarpaulin rails

The companies in the south favoured the raised ends on their open wagons, the post 1923 Southern Railway inherited a large number of this type and built more to similar designs. The GWR did away with the raised ends from their older rolling stock in the later nineteenth century but fitted a number of its open wagons with the hinged metal bar design. The additional cost of these tarpaulin supporting arrangements meant they were viewed with less enthusiasm in the north of the country where comparatively few wagons with either raised ends or patent sheet supporters were built.

As described in the Historical Background section the railways pooled a number of their wagons under a 'common user' scheme during and after the First world war. In the years after the war there was some debate on the relative value of the pooled wagons and the charges one company could make on another for their use. After some discussion, in which the northern companies proved reluctant to add tarpaulin rails, the GWR removed the rails on most 'pooled' wagons shortly after the First World War. Following the grouping of the railways in 1923 the newly formed Southern Railway similarly removed the hinged rails and after the mid 1920's they also started removing the raised ends on their older wagons, converting them to resemble the standard five plank open design in general use.

Hence in the 1920's you would still see quite a few GWR wagons with the hinged rails and wagons from the Southern companies with hinged rails or curved raised ends (sometimes with a hinged rail as well). Subsequently the GWR and SR wagons would have no hinged rail, unless marked Non-Common-User, and although some of the older Southern wagons with raised curved ends survived into the 1940's they were steadily being replaced by or modified to square ended designs.

The open wagon with its load protected only by a tarpaulin was vulnerable to pilfering and, on occasion, to the weather. Covered vans offered advantages for some cargo, particularly high value cargo, but they cost a lot more to build and maintain. Over the years more and more covered vans were built and the railways made frequent reference to their van fleets but it was only in the early 1960's that the van traffic came to predominate.

Another change occurred in the 1960's when the railways changed from describing a wagon by referring to the load it can carry to the all-up weight of a loaded wagon or 'Gross Loaded Weight' (GLW). For example the wooden bodied 'twelve ton coal wagon' carried twelve tons of coal, the 'one hundred ton bogie oil tanker' carries about ninety tons of cargo but weighs in at one hundred tons when loaded. This change appeared when the weight on the wheels of loaded goods wagons began approaching the maximum the track could carry. Prior to this only locomotives were normally restricted by their weight.

Early rolling stock designs

Railway rolling stock development has been a steady and continuous process. The changes have been gradual with older stock maintained in service for many years after more modern designs became available. This longevity was particularly noticeable in the case of privately owned stock, for example tank wagons built in the last century were still seen in traffic up to the 1960's. Private Owner vehicles will be discussed in more detail later.

The rolling stock used on the early horse-hauled railways was small by modern standards, comparable in size to the horse drawn carts of the day. In the sketch below the open wagon is a fairly standard general purpose type seen from the 1820's on many early railways. The sketch is based on a preserved example dating from the 1830's from the Stratford & Moreton Railway (which continued in operation with similar wagons into the 1940's). On horse drawn lines passengers were catered for with simple open wagons typically fitted with bench seats along the sides. These were operated singly so there was no need for buffers or couplings. The standard coal wagon was based on a common design of coal cart, known as a 'chauldron wagon', so named because it carried an Imperial chauldron of coal (the chauldron is actually a unit of volume, corresponding to just under three tons of coal, see also Appendix One).

Fig ___ Nineteenth century horse drawn tramway wagons 19th century horse drawn tramway wagons

The British steam-hauled railways adopted the colliery wagons already in use for moving coal (including the chauldron hopper shown above) and based new rolling stock on simple four wheeled vehicle designs derived from experience with building road carts. By the 1830's the carrying capacities were in the region of five tons. The drawings in the sketch below were sketched from paintings and drawings of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway done in the 1830's. They are neither accurate in detail or to any exact scale, neither were the original paintings, but they give some idea of the general appearance of the rolling stock.

Fig___ Early Railway Goods Vehicles Sketches of early Railway Goods Vehicles

By the end of the 1840's the design of British railway goods rolling stock had evolved and become more railway-like in appearance. Most wagons were about ten feet long, seven feet wide and with sides about three feet high. Covered vans were rare but goods brake vans became standard at about this time (brake vans are discussed in detail later). Wagons of the 1830's and 40's lasted in service for between ten and fifteen years. They were built in small batches, no real standardisation was applied and repairs were often a problem.

By the 1850's wagon designs were beginning to settle down as the companies gained experience of their operational needs and the wagon builders developed the designs and technologies to meet the new demands. There were no standards as such, each company building wagons to suit its own railway and incorporating its own ideas on design. These wagons generally had a life expectancy of about twenty years.

Fig___ 1850's rolling stock Sketches of typical 1850's rolling stock

As wagons began to wander across the system the poor quality of private owner stock was recognised as a problem for the railway companies. The Railway Clearing House acted as the liaising authority between the various companies and in 1887 the RCH issued a standard specification for private owner wagons (see the Historical Background section for further details of the Railway Clearing House and its standard specifications for wagons). This RCH specification was for private owner wagons but using the standard RCH parts facilitated easy repair and maintenance when the wagon wandered onto another company line. As a result most railway companies built their own rolling stock to the same standard specifications. By the end of the century this standardisation allowed wagons to continue in service much longer than before, typically for thirty years and occasionally as long as fifty years, as quite major components were available virtually off the shelf.

The basic British four wheeled railway wagon or van as built from the turn of the century would have a nine foot or ten foot wheelbase with a body about seventeen feet long and about eight feet wide mounted on it. Everything had leaf-spring suspension and the bearings were mounted on the end of the axles, outside the wheels. The vehicle would be rated to carry typically eight tons and would be equipped with only a hand brake. Such a wagon could be easily moved about the yards by a horse and hooks or holes were provided in the wooden or metal chassis for attaching chains and a harness for this. If a horse was not available a man with a long crowbar could get the loaded wagon moving and once rolling a single man could keep it going on the level. By this time the original one, two and three plank open wagons, although still common, were being replaced with higher sided, four and five plank open wagons and an increasing number of vans. Only in the North West did the three plank open remain popular and they were built in some number into the 1960's. Open wagons by this time used metal reinforcing straps but the vans mainly still had heavy external timber frames. Specialised wagons such as fish and fruit vans and manure wagons were built in some numbers at about this time. Operating practice had evolved and become largely standardised and for the next fifty years the changes were slight.

Fig___ Typical 1890's Goods Vehicles Typical 1890's Goods Vehicles

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