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A Brief 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. After the wagons were delivered in 1936 they were initially hauled by LMS 4F engines hauling a maximum of 11 loaded wagons.

A proposal existed to utilise the Beyer-Garrett freight locomotives but this never came to fruition, LMS 8F locomotives being introduced instead - the 8Fs remained the main traction type on these workings well into the mid-1960s. The last wagons of the 152 wagon order built for I.C.I. were delivered in 1953. After that Charles Roberts started construction of a batch of similar but smaller unfitted wagons for the Iron-Ore flow from Bidston Docks to the Shotton Works of John Summers Steel. These heavy 11 wagon trains utilised heavy-haul 9F Freight locomotives. Diesels took over both flows during the mid-1960s after extensive trials - eventually using BR Type 2s and Type 4s as required.

The Iron-Ore operations ceased in the early part of 1980 after which the British Steel wagons became surplus, some being used to take away the remaining stocks of ore to other British Steel plants. Upto 1982, I.C.I. had lost 13 of its fleet to accident damage and to restore its fleet to normal purchased 8 wagons followed by another 5. These were overhauled at I.C.I.'s engineering workshops at Avenue, Northwich. This involved fitting vacuum brake equipment and roller bearings to the bogies. A large quantity of spares mainly pairs of bogies was also purchased by I.C.I. This would allow them to fit the Plate Frame bogies to the early Pre-War wagons which were running on Diamond Frame bogies. This had the benefit of all the I.C.I. fleet being fitted with the same bogies, roller bearings and able to convey the same 47 tons of stone.

The 'new' wagons were placed into the Roadstone pool. This pool of wagons were used on fine aggregate flows to receiving depots in the Manchester area. Pairs of EE Class 20s were introduced onto the services from 1984. Class 40s, 45s and 47s could also make appearances on the Alkali services to Northwich and Class 37s started to appear on the Roadstone services around the same time. During 1986, the first I.C.I. wagon no. 19000 was experimentally fitted with air-brake equipment and was on trial for a few months. 8 class 20s were also converted to class 20/3 and had the braking equipment modified for use with the wagons. They lasted in this guise for about a year before returning to their former guises. Newly refurbished class 37/7s were trialled on the Mond limestone flows and as a result Buxton depot received its own fleet of 13 refurbished class 37/5 locomotives for use on the stone services in the area.

Pairs of 37s remained the preferred traction on the services until the end although other sub-classes of 37s made regular appearances in later years. The Roadstone services ceased in 1990 and the wagons from the pool were re-used on the new flow of limestone to I.C.I.'s processing plant at Hindlow. In 1992, the I.C.I. empire was broken up into a series of smaller companies. The quarry at Tunstead became Buxton Lime Industries (BLI) and the Soda Ash plants at Northwich went to Brunner Mond Ltd. However, the wagons became the property of BLI. They were in turn replaced by more modern air-braked wagons during 1994 on the Hindlow services, and from this point the 152 wagon fleet was gradually reduced and some wagons found use internally at the Northwich works. As age and the limited capacity was ever apparent, it was decided to withdraw the wagons by the end of 1997.

The last loaded service formed of the hoppers ran on 28th December 1997 with a return empty train running on the 30th. After this trains used the younger PGAs formerly operated by ARC and Foster Yeoman and put back into service by CAIB. Wagons were laid up at both Tunstead and Northwich ends until 36 were dispatched for scrap by rail in June 1998. However, Brunner Mond still used the wagons internally at both the Lostock and Winnington works. Further wagons were sent for scrapping at the end of 1999 from Northwich. Brunner Mond successfully received a Freight Facilities Grant from the Government towards the cost of purchasing new wagons and updating the discharging facilities at Northwich. The new facilities are to be in place by mid-2000 and the new air-brake bogie wagons by the end of 2000. The PGAs will then be withdrawn from the services having caused problems during their tenure on the route.

During the late 1990s several schemes were proposed to modernise the old hopper wagons; fitting air-brakes and new bogies but nothing was implemented. Happily, six of the wagons have been preserved to date. Just six more remain at Tunstead sidings for internal use only.

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

The Illustrated History of the ICI Hopper Wagons

My book on the history of these wagons was published in Spring 2002 and comprises of 112 pages with photographs of the hopper trains in both steam and diesel eras. It also includes information on the more recent PGAs, JGAs and the new JEAs to complete the story. Diagrams, maps and illustrations will also be included in the book as well. Have a look at the Cheona Publications website at

See the I.C.I. Wagon Locations listing as well