Make your own free website on

The History of the I.C.I. Hopper Wagons

For the past sixty-two years, hopper wagon trains conveying crushed limestone have been running from Tunstead quarry in the Peak District to the Soda Ash Plants at Northwich in Cheshire. These trains used a distinctive type of bogie hopper wagon that is instantly recognisable to both enthusiasts and the general public alike. Now that the wagons have been withdrawn I will chart the life of these unique wagons.

Once the Midland Railway’s route through the Peak District from Derby to Manchester had been completed in 1866, limestone was taken by rail to the Cheshire plains where it was used in the production of Soda Ash using the Leblanc method. However, as this method created toxic gases, production of Soda Ash using this process was prohibited. Instead the Solvay process of producing Soda Ash was developed by the Belgian chemist Ernest Solvay. This new process was noticed by the German chemist Ludwig Mond who immediately sought a licence from Solvay to enable him to produce Soda Ash in a more environmentally-friendly way. With his friend John Brunner they chose the site at Winnington, Northwich to build their new works. The first delivery of limestone was made on the 3rd November 1873 using their newly acquired 8 ton wagons. Back at the Buxton end of operations a new combined venture, Buxton Lime Firms was born in 1891 from the merge of 13 separate companies.

With the combined output of the various quarries the company grew and by the turn of the century had started work on its new quarry at Great Rocks known as South Works. Here, a quarry was established alongside the main-line. Initially operated by Buxton Lime Firms the quarry began supplying limestone products by rail. After problems with supply of stone, Brunner Mond and Buxton Lime Firms merged together. New wagons were purchased to help with the expansion of the company and the increase in limestone requirements throughout the local area. During 1927, Brunner Mond merged with Nobel Industries, British Dyestuffs Corporation and United Alkali Company to form Imperial Chemical Industries (I.C.I.) which became the largest chemical company in the world until it was de-merged in 1992. As demand for limestone products soared it was decided to develop and exploit new reserves at Tunstead which lay to the south of the old Buxton Lime Firms South Works.

The new facilities at Tunstead became fully operational on 26th October 1930 and by the mid-1930s I.C.I. had a wide market for its limestone products in addition to its block workings to Northwich. When I.C.I. was formed, the company inherited wagons of differing types but mainly five-plank wooden design from the old Brunner Mond and Buxton Lime Firms operations. Shortly after both the quarry and the kilns became fully operational it was decided to modernise the wagon fleet.

Plans were drawn up with the assistance of the LMS for a radically new type of wagon which would be able to carry the large amounts of limestone needed. This plan was drawn up during 1931 later revised in 1935. For general purpose usage, new five-plank wagons were purchased. For the Winnington traffic an order was placed with Charles Robert’s of Wakefield on the 28th April 1936 to build 84 bogie hopper wagons based on the 1931 drawings. These new wagons would be more efficient than the smaller wagons carrying 43 1/2 tons payload. The wagons were numbered in the range 3200 - 3283 and delivery was taken over three years in order to evaluate their performance. The first 3 wagons; 3200 - 3202 were built in 1936 and were painted light grey with a black underframe and running gear.

Using archive photographs in the Charles Robert’s collection I have been able to determine that three different types of hand-brake equipment were trialed on these three wagons. 3200 had a black hand-brake wheel mounted on the solebar; 3201 had a hand-brake lever mounted on the solebar in a similar position to the wheel - the cranks and linkages for the lever were mounted outside the solebar; 3202 had individual hand-levers mounted on each bogie and on each side. Subsequent wagons from 3203 adopted the hand-wheel as standard although the size of the wheel was later increased. Flame-cut letters spelt out I C I LTD on the sides picked out in black - this applies to 3200 - 3202 only - the LTD was later removed.

Wagons from 3203 had a mid-grey body colour with black underframe and running gear. By the end of 1939 a full 84 wagons had been built all to the same design. From the Chas. Robert’s Collection photographs it can be determined that wagons 3200 - 3283 were fitted with (Baldwin) Diamond-frame open bogies and three-hole disc wheelsets with white tyres. The wagons were delivered to Tunstead in short rakes as soon as they were ready.

The large hopper body was composed of seven side panels and two end pieces riveted together and supported on the underframe by six side ribs. Additional support was provided by an angled end plate in addition to a pair of T-section end supports at each end, bent to shape over the bufferbeam. A large vacuum brake cylinder was mounted on each end and the two cylinders were connected by a vacuum pipe running the length of the hopper through the side ribs. This pipe eventually terminates in a standard vacuum brake connector hose on the bufferbeam. Screw couplings were fitted as standard to all I.C.I. wagons.

As the wagons were delivered, the train sizes were gradually increased until they comprised of 11 vehicles which was the maximum load for Class 4F steam traction diagrammed for these workings. In July 1936 a proposal was drawn up by I.C.I. to use two Beyer-Garrett articulated steam locomotives on the services each hauling two out and back workings with 16 wagons. This daily payload came to 2,560 tons whereas the requirement for one day was 2,670 tons - the extra trip being covered by a Class 4 loco. The actual document makes interesting reading with all the data on wagon utilisation. However, the proposals went no further as the Garretts would be under used and over-powered and so in November 1938 successful trials were conducted with Stanier 8Fs.

Engine No. 8026 took out the first full train of 17 loaded hoppers to Winnington on the 2nd December 1938. During the second world war there was a general shortage of 8Fs due to the war effort and this led to LNER J39 class 0-6-0s being used occasionally on empty workings but once back 8Fs regained the duties till the 1960s. The engines used on the services were based at Heaton Mersey (19D) shed and it was these duties which established the 8F as a reliable workhorse engine. Initially 19D had only a few engines but by 1940 had 5 engines and five years down the line swelled to 12 engines.

It is a matter of history that the first batch of 84 wagons were very successful and so a second batch was ordered on the 3rd August 1945 comprising of 36 wagons numbered 3284 - 3319. Final batches of wagons, numbered 3320 - 3323; 3324 - 3346 and 3347 - 3351 were ordered on the 18th June 1951, the order being completed by 1953. Hence the total number of wagons built for I.C.I. was 152.

Wagons from 3284 onwards were fitted with the ‘new’ Plate-frame bogies. These bogies allowed a higher loading of 44 1/2 tons compared to the previous 43 1/2 tons using the Diamond-frame bogies. The 36 wagons numbered 3284 - 3319 have the same body style as the Pre-War hoppers 3200 - 3284; but have the larger style of body letters affixed from new - again this is supported by Chas. Robert’s photographs.

The last 32 hoppers; 3320 - 3351 have a different body style but with the large letters. The main difference in the two body styles is the arrangement of the riveting strips and the side ribs (which support the hopper body). Wagons numbered 3200 - 3319 have bracing on the right of the rib and then to the left - hence as there are six side ribs the bracing strip is arranged as follows : R, R, R, L, L, L that is one each side; 1-2 and 3-4.


Later wagons, 3320 - 3351 have a different arrangement of the ribs. The ribs are arranged R, L, R, L, R, L on one side of the wagon - side 1-2 and the other side 3-4 R, R, R, L, L, L - hence only the side ribs move position and the bracing strip always remains in the same place so as to match the other side of the body and the joins between adjacent body panels. The reason for this change is thought to be to allow more leverage on the hopper door return handles located adjacent to the second and fifth ribs on side 1-2. The other side, 3-4 remained the same as it carried the through vacuum pipe. The standard paint scheme had by this time been altered to all over mid-grey body and underframe. 3320 - 3351 had mid-grey body and underframe with black bogies instead of mid-grey.

By 1949, the services utilised Northwich based 8Fs. Indeed 48340 was the first to be allocated there in April of that year. The hopper diagrams were worked in such a way that an engine would perform an out and back service. The engines were well received at the shed - much better than the J10 0-6-0s which the shed had at the time. At this time there were four main receiving works in the Northwich area; Lostock, Winnington, Wallescote and Middlewich. The locomotive would work a rake of either the wooden or bogie hoppers back to Tunstead from one of the four works. The 8F would detach from the train in the reception sidings at Great Rocks before being turned on the turntable which was adjacent to the Great Rocks road overbridge. If the engine needed any attention then it would have been worked on to Buxton Shed. There were about 5 maybe 6 return workings per day serving the four plants at this point.

Coaling and water facilities were provided in Tunstead yard prior to the locomotive collecting its train from Tunstead Lower Sidings. Again the loaded wagons would either be wooden or steel bogie hoppers though if it had worked in with empty wooden wagons it would work back with loaded bogie hoppers and vice versa. Lostock works is situated to the North of the station at Northwich itself on the right-hand side and wagons were unloaded via a loop line on the east side of the works. Winnington works was accessed via the Reception sidings at Oakleigh. Upon arrival at Oakleigh Sidings the 8F would be sent off to Northwich shed for servicing or return with empty wagons that had previously been brought up by the works shunter. Wagons would be tripped down into the works sidings by internal works shunters. The sidings at Oakleigh are on a falling gradient and upon arrival all wagon brakes would need to be screwed down to prevent any runaways. The shunter would then take some of the wagons to be discharged returning with empties. A former driver who worked on these shunters recalled an occasion when the some of the directors of I.C.I. were touring the plant and were riding in a coach behind the steam loco. Descending from Oakleigh through the works to Wallerscote was achieved with praise from the directors who commented that not a drop of tea had been spilt during the entire journey !

As we know, Wallerscote works was accessed by a steeply-graded line running through the heart of Winnington works. There was also a single-track line which joined the main Crewe - Warrington line at Gorstage sidings. Outgoing Soda Ash traffic and incoming coal tended to use this route. Trainloads of Soda Ash was taken to the Manchester Ship Canal at Glazebrook in refurbished 16 ton coal wagons. These wagons had to be sheeted over to prevent contamination of the ash and for this they were fitted with light blue covers. The wagons were a dark blue with orange solebar. These operated to and from Glazebrook via Knutsford, Skelton Junction where the train ran round then along the line to Glazebrook. This service ceased during the early 1980s.

It appears that Middlewich also received Limestone traffic on a regular basis again for the Soda Ash process. These services used the 5-plank wooden wagons known as the 'Middlewich smalls' and this ran under cover of darkness. It is not known when this traffic ceased as the works was converted to producing liquid chemicals like Nitric Acid - a traffic which still continues today. This lead to a slight reduction in traffic to around four return journeys per day although more could be run if needed to meet demand at the three remaining plants.

The wagons were maintained at I.C.I. Avenue workshops which was located off a spur which passed through Winnington works. Passing over the main A533 road the line then continued to the south joining with the line from Gorstage sidings. A line then ran off around a sharp curve back towards the north terminating in a set of sidings. These sidings can be seen next to Mond House. Then by shunting back to the south Avenue works complex was reached. South Shops workshops at Great Rocks also carried out some basic repairs to the wagons. Each wagon was overhauled on a seven year cycle and was fully stripped down to basic parts, cleaned, repaired and then re-assembled.

Initially they were painted in a green primer before receiving a coat of all-over Pale (Battleship) Grey with the lettering picked out in white or on some examples orange. Even the wheelsets were painted and the wagons were as good as new. Most wagons were a weathered mid-brown colour due to the constant use they saw.

Upto this point in their lives the wagons had rarely strayed from the established route from Tunstead to Northwich except for p.w. works. However, during 1955 problems with one of the Tunstead loaders meant that it required repair and so the output of limestone dropped. To enable the supply of stone to be maintained I.C.I. setup a supply from their quarry at Llysfaen near to Colwyn Bay on the North Wales coast. One out and back working was worked by Northwich men and 8Fs to the Chester area where the hoppers were taken on by men from Mold Junction shed for the remainder of the journey. The quarry sidings were located alongside the mainline and after loading the train would run back along the coast to Chester. The stone quarried at Llysfaen has a pink coloration probably due to iron leaching. However, this did not affect the Soda Ash process as the stone was of the same 99% purity as that from Tunstead. Empty hoppers were noted having a slightly pink weathering inside which soon wore off as output was increased from Tunstead again. Llysfaen quarry most of its output via sea, the quarry being linked via a series of conveyor belts which led to the jetty out in the Colwyn Bay. Output from this quarry has diminished over the years – output now taken away by road transport.

Motive power continued to be 8Fs but with the occasional new diesel locomotives on test runs from Derby works. On the 13 - 15 th January 1957, trials were conducted with a BR Standard class 9F 2-10-0 no. 92045 which took out 19 wagons on the final day without difficulty. WD Austerity 2-8-0s were also used but it was felt that the diagrams did not warrant such super-power, but they did make a few appearances in the last few years of steam. Apart from these trials the 8Fs remained the mainstay of motive power until diesels took over.

Trials using a pair of Metro-Vick class 28s were conducted in May 1963 and they demonstrated superior braking power to the EE Class 40s which were also being assessed as replacement for the 8F steam locomotives. These trials on the 21st - 23rd May used D5711/14 in multiple hauling 19 wagons on the third day.

The Class 40, thought to be D228 had suffered damage to the wheel tyres and brake linings and hauled a maximum of 16 wagons. Tests with 19 wagons were scheduled for the class 40s but were cancelled due to the damage sustained. Further trials took place in June when D5700 which hauled a 19 wagon test train unaided for four days in a row. Full scale introduction of these locomotives never took place, the final trials taking place in March 1964. The main problem was maintaining sufficient brake-force on the descent to Cheadle Heath despite the Class 28s having good haulage abilities. The plan was to transfer 8 of the class to Trafford Park shed on a permanent basis.

Towards the end, 8Fs based at Heaton Mersey shed were used on the duties as required to the same pattern of workings. 48036 and 48632 were one of the last 8Fs to be used on the hoppers. On one of the last runs 48632 was allowed to haul the loaded hoppers directly into Winnington works. After this the 8Fs were no more, Northwich and Heaton Mersey sheds having closed during mid-1968 along with the remains of BR Steam power. Class 25s had been used on the services from the mid-1960s and were used alongside the 8Fs until their demise. Despite the problems highlighted in the trials, class 40s and later class 45s could be seen on the services to Northwich but were mainly used on the Roadstone services introduced towards the end of the 1960s. Type 2s D5273 - 5279 were allocated to Trafford Park for the hopper services.

During 1968 I.C.I Mond Division, BR and Quickmix Concrete Co. Ltd had collaborated to enable a supply of aggregate to be moved from Tunstead to a new receiving terminal at Dean Lane, Manchester. Using surplus wagons from the Northwich circuit a fleet of about 23 was allocated to the Roadstone pool. Expansion of the Roadstone pool saw further terminals established at Pendleton, Collyhurst Street and later Portwood, Stockport. Carterhouse Lane in Widnes did for a short time receive aggregate using the hopper wagons during the 1970s. This is thought to run out in the morning taking the direct line from Skelton Junction to Widnes via Lymm and Warrington. More wagons were added to the fleet as required. However, a wagon from the Roadstone pool could not be commandeered by the Mond Limestone pool or vice versa. The only exception to this would be when Roadstone pool wagons required overhauls which were done at I.C.I. Avenue Works, Northwich.

In 1973 the wagons were re-numbered 19000 - 19151 when the BR TOPS scheme started and classed PHV (Private, Hopper, Vacuum). Class 47s were introduced in the early 1980s - primarily due to the fact that the class 25s could not always perform as well due to the immense strain imposed on the AEI traction motors and the class 25s could be better used on short-haul passenger and freight traffic.

Like the Llysfaen and Carterhouse junction workings mentioned above, another similar event occurred during the 1970s or 1980s. The exact date of this working is not known but would have made a good picture! Due to reasons unknown a rake of hoppers were commandeered from their usual duties to work stone to Wolverton on the West Coast Main Line. Despite the fact that trains of vacuum-braked wagons were effectively banned from the WCML the train ran. Traction unknown but would be at least a class 40/45/47 or even a pair of class 25s to enable them to keep a reasonable time though speed would still have been restricted to 50 mph.

Over the years, 13 wagons owned by I.C.I. have been lost due damage sustained in accidents. On the 22nd May 1980, 8 wagons derailed at New Mills South Junction and rolled down the embankment just beyond the signalbox. The wagons were recovered and taken to Chinley goods yard to be scrapped once useful parts had been salvaged. Some of the wagons with minor damage were repaired by Standard Wagon, Heywood and received a patchwork green coat of paint to cover up the repairs. Just over a month later another 2 wagons became derailed on the north curve leading into Oakleigh sidings. The train was being hauled by a class 25 and banked by a class 40.

The banker loco was added at Northwich station to assist the train over the steeply graded ascent over Northwich Viaduct and it was when the train was about half-way round the curve when the two wagons were forced upwards into the air. These were scrapped at Avenue works. One wagon had been noted as a cripple at Wallerscote in Autumn 1979 cause unknown. The final 2 wagons possibly became derailed on or near Chinley South Junction - date unknown but before 1982. The main reason for scrapping the wagons was a bent underframe as this was very difficult to repair. Therefore, parts of the wagons would be salvaged for spares which would be re-used on the replacement wagons.

To bring the wagon fleet back upto a total of 152 wagons, I.C.I. (Mond) Division sought replacement wagons. Similar wagons to those used by I.C.I. had been built for John Summers & Sons Ltd in the mid-1950s as a follow-on design and these were used to convey Iron ore from Bidston Dock to the works at Shotton. John Summers was later acquired by British Steel and upon cessation of steel making at Shotton in 1980 these wagons became surplus to British Steel’s requirements.

The John Summers owned wagons were built by Charles Robert’s from 1952-1958 to a smaller design specification but are operationally identical. These hoppers were originally classed PHO (Private Hopper O = Un-fitted) and had a slightly higher payload capacity of 46 1/2 tons.

The first wagon originally numbered 60 was turned out in a pale-grey body and underframe colour with large white SUMMERS letters and smaller JOHN and & SONS letters above and below the larger letters. Black Plate-frame bogies with 3-Hole disk wheelsets with white rims were fitted along with Three-link couplings. Wagon 61 was out-shopped in a similar scheme - a very light-grey almost white with black large and small lettering along with black bogies etc. This livery was adopted for all subsequent wagons thereafter although the small lettering was dropped.

Surprisingly all of the 123 wagons built were unfitted i.e. without any braking equipment and therefore special attention was paid to ensuring the locomotive brakes were in good order. It is believed that the first batch of wagons for John Summers were used in the Shildon / Darlington area before being transferred to the Wirral Iron ore circuit. No records of these wagons have been found for the first batch of wagons in the Chas. Robert’s records held by the HMRS, although wagons that were built later are listed in the archives. A copy of the drawing for these wagons also exists but would need to be restored first. Short rakes of new wagons were delivered to the Wirral via the Woodhead route and thence the C.L.C. lines from Godley Junction to the Chester area.

A class 9F locomotive and 11 wagons with brake van was the normal load for the Iron ore workings and again 8Fs and WD Austerities were occasionally used, although the maximum number of wagons was reduced accordingly. The final working by steam was on the 6th November 1967 by 9F 92203 with 11 wagons was driven from Bidston to Shotton by Sir Richard Summers, Director-in-Charge of John Summers & Sons Ltd. After arrival the driver and fireman had lunch with Sir Richard and were presented with engraved ashtrays and a cheque. The cheque was towards the cost of entertaining their fellow colleagues at Birkenhead shed (8H).

These duties were gradually taken over by Brush Type 4 (class 47) locos, the first use being during October 1967. Later pairs of class 24s were used followed by pairs class 25s and class 40s and probably would have been used up until the end of steelmaking in early 1980. The last train of iron ore to BSC Shotton as it was then ran on the 2 nd April 1980.

After steel production had stopped there was still considerable stocks of iron-ore on the site which needed to be removed and so a working between Bidston Dock / Shotton and Llanwern steelworks near Newport, South Wales was set-up. Most of the wagons by this time were laid up in the yard at Shotton.

The wagons were originally numbered in the range 60 - 182 then 3060 - 3182 and later BSSH 13060 - 13182 under TOPS; a total of 123 wagons. I.C.I. surveyed the hoppers and then purchased 8 wagons which were then sent to Avenue works to be refurbished. Once these had been completed and tested another 5 were brought and refurbished. It is known that one of these refurbished wagons 19152 was involved in trials with the RTC at Derby during 1983. This ran in a circuit between Derby and Manton Junction on the Corby line. Both loaded and empty tests were conducted and eventually the wagons were passed for running at 40 mph though it is thought this was later increased to 45 mph.

I estimate that an additional 90 wagons were also brought by I.C.I. and I believed these were used for spares - the Plate frame bogies were the main spares that were required. This allowed I.C.I. to fit them to the first 84 wagons that had Diamond open frame bogies to allow them to carry another ton of limestone.

The remaining 20 wagons were either moved onto other duties or scrapped with the exception of 2 wagons which were reported to have been used as internal user wagons at BSC Llanwern until they were cut-up during 1997. These would have ended up here after being used to bring the surplus iron-ore down from Shotton. New or refurbished vacuum brake equipment was fitted – some possibly salvaged from the I.C.I. wagons that had been involved in the aforementioned accidents. The brake mechanism was simplified slightly and used less linkages and cranks than before. The hopper door release and return mechanism was identical to that on the I.C.I. wagons. Large style flame-cut I C I letters were affixed to the wagon sides in the same position as per the I.C.I. wagons.


The main differences on the BSSH wagons are that they are 9 inches lower in height and 18 inches shorter in length when compared to the I.C.I. wagons. The angle of the end supports and end plates differ from the I.C.I. wagons confirming the reduction in height and length. They have the same body style as per the I.C.I. wagons numbered 3320 - 3351. These ex-BSSH hoppers were re-numbered 19152 - 19164 upon refurbishment and added to the Roadstone pool giving a total of 36 wagons. Traction for these was usually a class 40 or 45 with about 15 wagons. Pairs of class 20s, single class 37s, 45s and 47s were also used as needed. The wagons were marked with white stencilled ROAD STONE letters on the wagon sides. The end ladders were retained on the ex-BSSH wagons and they proved to be popular with the staff at the receiving terminals who could check to see if the load had been discharged properly. This lead to I.C.I. adding similar style ladders to the other I.C.I. wagons that were also in the Roadstone pool although these were only added at one end of the wagon.

With the fleet back to 152, pairs of class 20s with brakevans were introduced in 1984 and these took over as the main traction type on the Mond workings and services normally loaded to 18 wagons. Around the same time pairs of class 37s were introduced onto the Peakstone and Tarmac services emanating from Peak Forest and Topley Pike, replacing the ageing class 40s. The 37s were also occasionally used on the Mond services at weekends allowing a slightly higher payload of about 20 wagons to be used. However, Wallerscote stopped receiving limestone about 1982 and the works closed about 1984 and so the services dropped to become three per day – two out of the three going to the larger works at Winnington the other to Lostock. As before this could change at short notice and wagons could be dropped off at Lostock en-route to Oakleigh Sidings / Winnington works.

In April 1986 a scheme to improve the braking capabilities of the class 20s on these services saw the creation of a dedicated pool of locomotives. In the scheme eight class 20s were re-numbered into the range 20301 - 20308 becoming class 20/3s. A system known as Triple-valve-braking was fitted to each locomotive. The system was supposed to improve the braking capabilities of the locomotives and also to reduce the time it took for brakes to applied along the train length. However, this scheme did not improve the situation and so Class 47s were re-introduced onto the services as required from August 1986. The class 20s had the triple-valve brake equipment removed and Slow Speed equipment installed for MGR coal traffic. It was decided that the class 20s could be better utilised on these coal duties but they still made appearances on services from the Peak District up until the early 1990s. At least one pair was transferred to Thornaby to work services in that area before regaining their original identities.

Pioneer wagon ICIM 19000 was fitted with air-brake equipment on a trial basis from January 1986 until the late summer when it regained its vacuum equipment. What the outcome of these trials were is not known but it would have been interesting to see the results of the tests and then conclude as to whether or not it would have been viable to air-brake the entire fleet at that time. As to how the wagon was tested is another matter whether in a fully air-braked train or as part of an existing set of wagons.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of I.C.I., 47365 was named "Diamond Jubilee" at the open day held at Winnington Works on the 20th September 1987. The loco then remained in the area hauling the hoppers on a daily basis. By Mid-November of 1987 newly refurbished class 37/7s were being tested on the services and 37796/803 could be seen with the wagons again including a brakevan in the consist. These trials were deemed successful and eventually newly refurbished 37676-688 were delivered for use on traffic from the Peak District. These locos did not require the use of a brakevan unlike the steam era locomotives and the class 20s and 37/7s.

A new flow of traffic was introduced from Tunstead to the I.C.I. works at Hindlow, which had ceased quarrying limestone but still produced crushed lime products and to mark this new traffic, 37688 was named "Great Rocks" on the 23rd June 1988 at Hindlow works. Sister locomotive 37684 was also named "Peak National Park" in 1990 at Edale in recognition of the fact that a high proportion of raw materials leave the Peak District by rail transport. By this time some of the Roadstone flows to Pendleton and Dean Lane had ceased and so the Hindlow services used wagons from the Roadstone pool. It was rare for wagons in one pool to be used on the other except when the wagons needed attention at Avenue works.

Under sectorisation the flow of limestone to Northwich came under the control of Railfreight Distribution as the traffic was classed as Industrial Chemicals - hence the reason why class 47/3 and 47/4s were used during the early 1990s - although Construction allocated class 37s could be seen from time to time again mainly at the weekends. Train loadings remained around the 18 - 20 wagon limit for all diesel classes already mentioned and hence these were increased to 22 wagons with the advent of class 37/5s. The wagon prefix changed from PHV to JGV in 1990 (JG - Private Bogie Hopper, V vacuum) as a result of re-organisation of the TOPS computer system although none of the wagon received new data panels. The numbering of the hoppers remained unchanged. Both the I.C.I. and the ex-BSSH hoppers were used in a common pool with the loss of the Roadstone workings. Pairs of class 31s had been used occasionally on the Roadstone services, supplementing the pairs of class 37s where needed.

Over the past twenty years or more the service has been subject to diversions which has meant the services sent from Tunstead to Northwich via some rather unusual and lengthy routes.

The main route is as follows ;

Diversionary routes and points diverted between and why;

In 1992 I.C.I. was de-merged to form a set of new companies out of which the former I.C.I. (Mond) Division was brought out by a management consortium known as Buxton Lime Industries (BLI). The Soda ash plants at Lostock and Winnington came under the ownership of Brunner Mond (UK) Ltd. This split meant that ownership of the wagons passed to BLI. Wagon prefixes were changed from ICIM 19XXX to BLI 19XXX and the I C I lettering was subsequently removed from almost all of the wagons.

However some of the I letters forming the last one in the sequence I C I were retained. It was suggested that the letters B L would be added to the wagons to make

B L I but nothing came of it. The services were for a short while hauled by single class 37s but soon reverted back to pairs of 37s - single 37s were used as per the Railfreight Distribution arrangement with the class 47s - the 37s used were the ex-Provincial 37/4s mainly outbased at Crewe with the occasional interloper from other regions. Again as we have seen previously, the Railfreight Construction class 37/5s were used at the weekends and these allowed loadings to be increased to 24 loaded hoppers with the single class 37s being restricted to no more than 18 loaded hoppers.

All of the trains climbing out of Tunstead on the 1 in 90 gradient required the assistance of a banker whether it be a 4F, 8F, 25 or a 37 one would be provided. After the services reverted back to pairs of class 37s in the mid-1990s the need for one was eliminated altogether.

The Stanier 8F Locomotive Society managed to obtain two wagons in late 1993 for preservation - 19052 and 19129 and these are currently based on the Severn Valley Railway. Some wagons were retained for Internal user use at both Winnington and Lostock and as such rarely ventured out onto the mainline.

In early 1994, air-braked Tiphook bogie hopper wagons were introduced on the Tunstead - Hindlow services with class 60 traction replacing the pairs of 37s and the vacuum-braked wagons. A new fleet of 20 air-braked bogie hopper wagons was ordered by BLI to replace the vacuum braked wagons on the Tunstead - Hindlow services. These new JHA hoppers, Nos. BLI 19200 - 19219 were delivered by Tatrastroj Poprad of Slovakia in 1996 and were complemented by nine blue Tiphook KPA hoppers.

These were refurbished and the height reduced so as to fit under the new Tunstead rapid loader. These newer wagons were also used on services to Ratcliffe Power Station for the De-Sulphurisation project. Both the new wagons and the new Limestone rapid loader were purchased with a Section 8 Freight Grant. A special run with 8F 48773 within the Tunstead site with a rake of loaded hoppers occurred on the official opening of the new rapid loader. The 8F had been working passenger charter trains from Guide Bridge to Buxton over the weekend of 10-12th November 1995.

Whilst the engine was in the area was sent to Tunstead on the Saturday 11th to take part in the celebrations. The 8F took a loaded rake of 15 plus wagons from the Lower Sidings to the reception sidings at Great Rocks. The train was banked by one of the works 0-6-0 diesel shunters. Amid much steam which flooded the narrow limestone cutting, the 8F made its way up the 1 in 90 gradient slipping occasionally. All this steam and the lime dust in the air streaked the engines boiler barrel. What a sight that must have been ! Around this time BLI was acquired by Minorca, a multi-national company who already owned the former Tilcon business interests.

Traction on the services was for a short while provided by the short lived Trainload Freight West company which quickly became Transrail. Eventually Transrail merged with the two other freight businesses (Loadhaul and Mainline) to form English, Welsh & Scottish Railway or EWS for short. EWS was the result of the combined purchase of the three freight companies and the Rail Express Systems (Res) parcels arm by Wisconsin Central an American based railroad company. Class 37s were provided from a common pool so locomotives originally allocated to different parts of the country could be seen on the services - adding a bit of colour to the local freight scene !

By the end of 1995 the age of the wagons - some are now about 40-60 years old; was beginning to show and new wagons were scheduled to be ordered as replacements. BLI had advised that they didn’t wish to replace these wagons as they were so robustly built - they have been described as being "built like tanks - they’re almost indestructible!". But the fact that the wagons were vacuum-braked meant that EWS was committed to providing suitable vacuum-braked traction in order for this valuable commodity to continue to be transported by rail. The problem arose with finding suitable pairs of class 37s which could be operated reliably where the vacuum braking system was concerned. There were several instances where the vacuum brake system on the locomotives failed before departure or en-route causing delays. Substitute traction like class 31s and 47s were not always available to replace the class 37s.

Now that the wagons were owned by BLI, the maintenance of the wagons was passed to a private company believed to be Marcroft / CAIB and limited repairs were carried out in the old steam shed in Tunstead sidings. Any major defects saw the wagon consigned to the sidings. During mid-1996, six wagons 19001/039/044/076/107 & 152 were put into store at Tunstead Lower sidings to join previous stored wagons. These were stripped for spares like couplings and buffers and parts from the hopper doors.

More wagons were stored at Winnington works as the wagons began to accumulate minor faults that precluded mainline operation - these were later scrapped at Avenue works just before it closed. The common problems included; Bad brakes, faulty hopper door mechanisms. Problems were also encountered with the wheelsets and those fitted to some of the stored wagons were refurbished so as to create a spares pool. Further wagons were then withdrawn when the need arose to trim the operational fleet from about 145 wagons down to around 100.

To further extend the life of the wagons, a scheme to air-brake all of the remaining wagons was proposed and Marcroft Engineering in Stoke-on-Trent was involved in talks to convert the braking system from vacuum to air operation. This would have enabled EWS to use newer Type 5 air-braked traction on the services or at the least use the existing pairs of class 37s which are very reliable locos. In June 1997, the wagons were granted a six-month extension up to the end of 1997 and as such were on extended life terms. The main cause for concern was the condition of the wheelsets which would be very costly to replace and as we have seen a number of wagons were withdrawn to provide a pool of spares. Plain wheelsets were used alongside 3-Hole Disk wheelsets where required. Five of the six cannibalised wagons stored at Tunstead in 1996 were cut-up on-site in the lower yard.

Services were booked for pairs of class 37s hauling 24 loaded hoppers to a class 7 schedule and upon arrival at either Lostock or Oakleigh would detach and couple upto the empties that had already been shunted into the sidings by the works shunter. The locos would then return with the empty wagons to Great Rocks. This allowed spare wagons and those released from repair to be returned to Tunstead to be re-loaded - typically 28 wagons or so would be the trailing load on the return journey. However, from my own personal observations I once noted 2x37s with 52 empty hoppers and once a single class 37 with 32 empty wagons returning to Tunstead. On the other hand even smaller loads have been observed. After the New Mills derailment the class 25 loco continued with the leading five loaded wagons. Another smaller load of just one wagon with a pair of 37s was seen during the 1990s.

The end of the wagons finally came in December 1997 with the introduction of air-braked PGA hopper wagons on some of the services with complete replacement by the 28th December. The final scheduled working was on Sunday 28th December 1997 was hauled by 37380 and 37350 the latter of which is D6700 the pioneer class 37 - it is known that it was specially arranged to have 37350 on this service. The wagons worked one more time on the 30th December with empty wagons to Tunstead. Ironically, the ex-I.C.I. wagons were replaced by the PGA wagons which were built at the Wakefield works of Procor who acquired the Charles Robert’s site and interests back in the 1970s - this same site was where the JGV wagons were built some 40 plus years earlier !

After this, the wagons were parked up after arriving at their final destination whether loaded or empty. Most of the wagons were to be found at Winnington works - 77 wagons with Tunstead having 42 wagons. Lostock works was home to a further 16 wagons. Some of the wagons at Winnington and Lostock are still used as Internal user wagons conveying Limestone and Coke around the site.

The remainder of the wagons at Northwich were those wagons previously used internally or stored between 1994-6. Buxton Lime Industries did offer wagons for preservation but this offer was not taken up by the preservationists. One wagon did manage to escape though it was a donation by BLI to the Rutland Railway Museum. Wagon 19161 was donated to the museum during February 1998 as it was proposed to re-create a Wisbech Tramway coach using the underframes. But after realising what a good solidly built wagon it was they decided not to convert the wagon. As the railway operates on an ‘Industrial’ theme the wagon complemented the stock they already had.

After six months the decision was made in June 1998 to send most of the stored wagons at Tunstead for scrap. 47467 was sent to Tunstead to collect the 36 wagons to be taken to the European Metal Recycling site in Sheffield to be scrapped. EMR paid 30,000 for the wagons and they couldn’t understand why they were scrapping them as they were in such good working condition. This left 6 wagons at Tunstead some of which had running defects and some partially loaded with stone. Those wagons stored at the Northwich were marked for scrapping but no action was taken at that time. All of the wagons remained in the ownership of BLI with BM using them as required.

A commemorative run using a BR 8F Steam locomotive - either 48151 or 48773 was proposed around the time of withdrawal by Freight Train Productions but lack of interest and insufficient funding killed off the idea. EWS, Railtrack and Brunner Mond (UK) Ltd all supported the proposal - but suprisingly BLI didn’t which is unusual considering the long history of the wagons and the company. The National Railway Museum in conjunction with the Railway Heritage Committee has stated that it intended to obtain a wagon - probably the pioneer wagon, 19000 which is still in regular use at Winnington.

The replacement PGA 2-Axle wagons formerly operated by ARC and Foster Yeoman in the Mendips were brought out of store from Westbury, Taunton and Exeter and overhauled by Marcroft. This entailed fitting replacement wheelsets where necessary and work on the braking and hopper discharge doors. Once complete the wagons were moved north from Didcot in two or three rakes making a total fleet of about 110 wagons. As the wagons were now hired by CAIB they had the ARC and YEOMAN logos painted out either with grey or blue paint and a CAIB logo sticker applied. Stickers with instructions and warnings were also applied. They were used alongside the JGVs during November and December 1997 before taking over completely in January 1998. Initially, EWS stuck with pairs of class 37s for traction though class 60s would eventually take over. The wagons were on hire to BLI for 2 years in which time it was hoped that new wagons would be introduced.

When the wagons were changed so did the operational timetable. Instead of three trains a day to Northwich it was reduced to two. The first working went out before 4am and returned back at about 8am and the next turn departed Tunstead around 4pm returning at 9pm. Trainloads consisted of upto 36 loaded PGAs and the timings of the trains brought complaints from residents living along the route of the train especially on jointed track sections. EWS, Railtrack, Brunner Mond, CAIB and BLI were drawn into solving the dispute and the timings of the first run were altered to leave later. The matter was even brought up in the House of Commons during mid-1999 as the problems continued. A trial with a air-braked bogie hopper wagon was carried out on the request of the concerned parties - probably using a spare BLI, RMC or Tiphook wagon. Studies by Railtrack and EWS showed that the trains were not causing any more damage than others and as a commitment had been made to purchasing new wagons it was not deemed worthwhile investing in improving the existing PGA wagons.

Discharge and storage facilities at both Winnington and Lostock were somewhat limited even to the point of having three rakes of JGV wagons still loaded with limestone at Winnington sidings ! These wagons having been there since December 1997. Therefore, Brunner Mond (UK) Ltd put in an application for a Freight Facilities Grant from the Government to improve discharge and storage facilities and to purchase new rolling stock. This came to fruition on the 28th September 1999 when it was announced by Lord Macdonald of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions that Brunner Mond had been awarded 6.1m towards a 9m scheme proposed by the company. This would allow the annual movement of 1 million tons of limestone to be retained on the railways from the Tilcon (South) quarry at Tunstead for the next ten years.

The new wagons may be of similar design to those used by BLI and RMC but would be fitted with modern Low-Track Force (LTF) bogies to reduce track damage and also to reduce the track access costs imposed by Railtrack. It is thought that the wagons may be jointly owned by BLI and Brunner Mond and a total of 75 wagons would be required for the services. Construction of the new wagons is said to have started already in time for May 2000 when the PGAs would be returned to CAIB for other duties.

At one stage during 1999, it was rumoured that some of these wagons would be returned to service with a full overhaul including new air-brakes and LTF bogies. Costings showed that for the price of one new wagon three JGVs could be overhauled. In the end they took the new wagons option. Wagon 19000 was earmarked for the NRM and hopefully a few more wagons may survive into preservation since no-one took up the offer the first time around. For the time being, the PGA wagons continue to operate with class 56s, 59/2s, 60s and even new class 66s making appearances on the services. However as the year passed by, wagons at Lostock and Winnington were starting to be laid up and those loaded with limestone gradually emptied.

During November 1999, moves were made to take wagons from the BM works at Lostock and Winnington for scrapping as they were now surplus to requirements. Indeed the operational fleet at Winnington had been reduced by almost a third. After chasing round it was established that a total of 50 wagons were to go for scrap. The wagons were to be scrapped at EMR in Liverpool but this was changed to Lloyds Metals Group in Salford. Lloyds Metals is part of the EMR group.

Reports of wagons on the M6 and M602 motorways confirmed the wagons were on the move. 8 wagons were taken from Lostock leaving 8 on internal user duties. 42 wagons were taken from Winnington works - this comprised the 20 wagons that had been in long-term store at the bottom-end of the works and also wagons from the Internal User pool which had been laid up with defects during the past year. On a happier note, two wagons; 19000 and 19036 have been preserved by the Class 20 Locomotive Society and these are based on the Midland Railway Centre. This leaves 33 wagons at Winnington. 6 wagons still reside at Tunstead although appear to have been unloaded and also shunted about. It is not known what will happen to these wagons. Once the new wagons come into traffic more of the hopper wagons will become surplus as the services will operate with increased capacity. It is known that more wagons may be preserved for the future.


Thus the reign of the hoppers on the Tunstead to Northwich circuit is now complete the wagons proved their worth during the past sixty years. Their only downfall was the antiquity of their design - this meant lower payload when compared to the newer designs of bogie hopper wagons; the bogies restricted the tonnage the wagon could convey and the fact that they were vacuum braked only. It is a pity that they didn’t see in the millennium of 2001 in regular usage. A spokesman for BLI recently said that they could have run the wagons for another 20 years if it was not for the age of the wagons. I hope that some of the remaining wagons still being used internally at Northwich will be preserved for future generations as the wagons are truly a piece of railway history. It is estimated that with new American style freight bogies and air-braking the wagons may have lasted another 10 years in traffic. At least we have 5 wagons in preservation covering all three variants used by I.C.I. during the past 60 odd years.

The sight of an I.C.I hopper train rolling down the grade from Peak Forest will just be a memory.......

Paul Harrison March 2000.

Current Freight Timetable

The current operational timetable is as follows. All services use 2-Axle PGA wagons. Note that there is sufficient time between the workings to allow another trip to Northwich and back if required using the Mondays only working as a basis - although this doesn’t always run.

Mondays - Fridays:

6F70 04.10 SX Tunstead - Lostock + Oakleigh Sdgs Down

6H71 07.35 SX Oakleigh Sdgs - Great Rocks Up

6F72 12.56 MO Tunstead - Oakleigh Sdgs Down

6H73 16.20 MO Oakleigh Sdgs - Great Rocks Up

6F74 17.04 MX Tunstead - Lostock + Oakleigh Sdgs Down

6H74 20.46 MX Oakleigh Sdgs - Great Rocks Up


6F70 07.03 SO Tunstead - Lostock + Oakleigh Sdgs Down

6H71 10.43 SO Oakleigh Sdgs - Great Rocks Up

6F72 15.15 SO Tunstead - Oakleigh Sdgs Down

6H73 18.49 SO Oakleigh Sdgs - Great Rocks Up


6F70 07.15 SuO Tunstead - Lostock + Oakleigh Sdgs Down

6H71 11.00 SuO Oakleigh Sdgs - Great Rocks Up

6F72 15.15 SuO Tunstead - Lostock + Oakleigh Sdgs Down

6H73 18.49 SuO Oakleigh Sdgs - Great Rocks Up

Class 60s can be seen on these services being drawn from the EWS general user pools. Down is towards Northwich and Up towards Tunstead when at Hazel Grove.

Most trains call at Lostock to drop off loaded PGAs and collect empties - these then go onto Oakleigh with the loaded PGAs at the front and are then combined with the empty PGAs at Oakleigh Sidings for the run back to Great Rocks Sidings.

References :



Copyrights noted on above articles / books. Booklet produced by Paul Harrison January 2000

Paul Harrison 1999. Hopper Article Booklet

HOPPER.DOC Created : 04/02/97 Updated : 09/02/2000

Version 6

The author can be contacted by email :