Friday, 30 December 2011

Heaviest Single Load carried by British Railways

My introduction to Tipton Curve box here refers to the "largest single load ever carried by British Railways". On 27th March 1965, I signalled this load through Tipton Curve Junction, thanks to the kindness of my friend Tom. Earlier that day, Tom and I had covered Deepfields from 8.0 a.m. to 2.0 p.m. It looks as if we 'doubled back' to cover the evening working. I've located my Train Register covering these movements and a copy appears below.

I don't know whether larger loads have been carried since but at 122 feet long and weighing 240 tons, it was fairly impressive. In theory, any weight can be carried by rail, provided it is spread over sufficient carrying wheels so that the Civil Engineer's axle load limit is not exceeded. As far as size goes, the British loading gauge is quite restrictive (much more restrictive than, say, the 'Berne Gauge' widely adopted in continental Europe). Obviously, the load can't be so large that it starts bumping into bridges or other lineside structures. Length is significant, too, because as the load traverses curves, overhang and end throw may put structures or trains on adjoining lines "in harm's way". Considerable pre-planning is necessary before 'Out-of-Gauge' loads can be run.

As far as block signalling was concerned, three different 'Is Line Clear?' bell signals were generally authorised, depending upon just how out-of-gauge the load was. There was also a special bell code to ensure adjoining lines were 'blocked' where necessary. The bell signals are listed below:-

Bell Code Description
2-6-1 Is line clear for a train which can pass an out-of-gauge or exceptional load similarly signalled on the opposite of adjoining line?
2-6-2 Is line clear for a train which cannot be allowed to pass an out-of-gauge load of any description on the opposite or adjoining line?
2-6-3 Is line clear for a train which requires opposite line, or an adjoining line to be blocked between specific points?
1-2-6 Opposite line, or adjoining line used in the the same direction, to be blocked for passage of train conveying an out-of gauge load.

There was a special notice covering the working, but I don't have it. Because of the tight curve between Bloomfield Junction and Tipton Curve Junction, the train was to travel as a '2-6-3' between these points. It was then allowed to go forward to Princes End as a '2-6-2'. Two different reporting numbers were allocated - 8Z03 normally, changing to 8Z04 in between Bloomfield Junction and Tipton Curve Junction.

Tipton Curve, Saturday 27th March 1965

We opened the box at 7.15 p.m. and just after 8.0 p.m. we acknowledged the '1-2-6' to Bloomfield and 'Blocked Back' in the Tipton direction. We 'took on' the '2-6-3' at 8.17 p.m. and immediately 'Sent on' a '2-6-2' to Princes End. We received 'Section' from Bloomfield at 24 minutes past and the train passed, at walking pace, five minutes later. The special train was diesel-hauled and carried a long silver-coloured drum on a number of wagons. It passed me at walking pace and was accompanied by more-than-enough inspectors making sure it didn't get into trouble. As soon as I sent 'Train out of Section' to Bloomfield, he lost no time in closing the box. I also removed the 'Block Back' to Tipton. At 8.36, Princes End sent 'Train out of Section' and we closed Tipton Curve box.



I think there must have been a series of these shipments but I only saw one myself. Below is a cutting from the 'Express and Star' dated 31st May 1965 showing one of the massive drums leaving John Thompson by road for rail shipment from the goods depot at Ettingshall Road. Apparently, they were Steam Drums for the power station at Eggborough. An idea of just how different the world was then can be gained from the employment adverts adjacent to the picture of the Steam Drum, particularly noting the salary of two thousand pounds a year being offered to the Works Manager of a presswork company.