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Air braked wagon development



Please note the air braked era is not an area of particular interest to me. I have made notes in case I started to model this period but there may well be errors in the text and or the illustrations that follow.

On what is primarily seen as a passenger railway system the demand for ever higher speeds and development of improved suspension and braking systems has continued. Whereas the pre-war goods trains had typical speeds for unfitted stock of only 25 miles per hour, current practice calls for air-braked stock operating at speeds of 60 mph or more when fully laden. These higher speeds do not confer any real commercial advantage, it is generally agreed that railway freight moved at speeds of 40-50 mph is probably the best compromise between efficiency and economy. The additional cost of building the high speed rolling stock has probably cost the railways some business, they do however make life much easier for the people routing trains. In the USA, where the economics of the late 20th century have just about killed all but commuter passenger traffic, most lines are basically freight only. Average speeds of 30 mph or less are not uncommon, with many lines restricted to a maximum of 50 mph even for passenger stock.

Vehicles fitted with both air and vacuum brakes were built for ferry traffic in the pre-war era and more were built by BR. In the 1960's BR conducted a series of experiments compare air and vacuum brake systems, making much use of the ferry stock to do this.

As well as the ferry vehicles they built a series of prototype wagons, starting in about 1962 with a small number of 'tube' wagons. I believe these were essentially the same as the later OAA (as available from Grafar) but I have not found any photographs to confirm what they looked like.

Several experimental open wagon and van designs were then built using a common air-braked chassis (one of the curtain sided experimental vans from a batch built in 1966 is included in the sketch below). These were judged a success and British Railways set about building a fleet of open and closed vehicles on this standard chassis . This was before TOPS and the new vans and open wagons were coded COV-AB and OPEN-AB.

The initial British Railways standard four wheel air-braked wagon chassis appeared in 1969 and was 33 ft. 6 ins (10211 mm) over all length with a wheel base of 24 ft. 9 ins (6324 mm). This chassis was developed from a small number of prototypes. The 'standard' was somewhat flexible however and there were variations in the suspension and the positioning of the brake handles. One point to note is that the brake gear under the wagon was offset to one end, so the brake handles were different on each side of the chassis.

Fig___ BR standard AB chassis

Sketch showing the design of the early standard BR air brake chassis

The early form of air braked chassis is used by Graham Farish and Taylor Plastic Models for their modern image models and the latter firm also offer the basic chassis as a separate item.

It was decided that the air brakes, which require less bulky equipment on the wagon, were preferable for modern stock. Series production of air braked vehicles for purely British use began in 1964. First to appear was the HOP 32 AB merry go round hopper wagon (now coded HAA) followed by the small-wheeled bogie Freightliner flat wagons (now coded FFA and FGA) and the Cartic Four car carriers (TOPS coded PQA for PO types, FQA for British Rail owned stock). The Cartics and other similar vehicles are discussed later in this section.

The HOP 32 AB mineral hoppers (TOPS coded HAA/HDA/HFA) used for supplying power stations with coal became the most common single type of wagon in the modern fleet. They have a chassis which is 27 foot 2½ ins (8001mm) over the headstocks with a wheel base of 18 foot 11 ins (5561mm). A model of this vehicle was available from Minitrix.

Quite early on, before TOPS was introduced, fifty seven of the HAA hoppers were fitted with a solid roof equipped with what appears to be a single hatch running the length of the top (I have yet to find a photograph showing the tops of these wagons). Originally coded COVHOP 32 AB, changing to CBA under TOPS, they have been used for lime traffic as recently as 1995. I had thought from photographs that they were painted 'freight brown' rather than the plain metal of the standard HAAs but I understand that they were in fact just very dirty. There was presumably a CAA covered hopper but to date I have traced no information on these and they may not actually have been built. The last major order for wagons by BR before privatisation was for a conversion to more of the HAA hoppers for china clay traffic. Built in 1988 and TOPS coded CDA these have a power operated canvass roof, rising to a central longitudinal roller device. I believe the body of the wagon is painted white but I am not sure about that. (There is a conversion kit available for the Minitrix HAA to convert it into a CDA)

Following the prototypes of 1966 the first open wagons for the new fleet were the 31 ton payload/45 ton GLW OPEN-AB (TOPS coded OAA) open wagons. These were introduced in 1971 and a model is available from Graham Farish. Wooden bodied the sides were made up of three drop down doors with removable stanchions so the whole side could be opened for loading. These wagons were supplied with their own green tarpaulins, marked 'TO BE RETAINED WITH AB WAGONS ONLY'. Cargo for these wagons has included various palletised loads such as bricks and roof tiles, large crates, steel bars and (with a tarpaulin added) bags of grain and rolls of newsprint. Several of these wagons were transferred to departmental use and were re-coded ZDA 'Squid'.

An alternative wooden bodied open design was the OBA (available as an etched kit in the John Grey range). The prototype was built in 1974 on a redundant steel carrying SCA chassis (which had itself been converted from an OAA). Series production of the type began in 1977 an this proved to be a successful design. The OBA has sides made up of four drop doors, again with removable stanchions to allow the whole side to be opened for loading. The floor has bolsters which can be folded down out of the way when not required, allowing loads of steel to be carried. The ends are two planks higher than the sides to support a tarpaulin and loads would be as for the OAA above. By the mid 1990's most OBA's had transferred to the departmental fleet, re-coded ZDA 'Bass' but quite a few were sold and formed the basis of a number of Private Owner vehicles.

The OCA, introduced in 1981 is a steel bodied open wagon, still with drop down sides in three sections and with removable stanchions. The floor is fitted with a series of bolsters which are not removable, these were added to allow the wagon to be loaded with hot steel sections. The OCA wagons were originally built on redundant steel wagon chassis and loads would again be as for the OAA but they were built for carrying steel and were often used for coils of steel wire.

Air braked vans were built in greater numbers than the open wagons, following the preference for van traffic evidenced in the vacuum braked services. Unlike the open wagons all early batches of vans were piped to work with vacuum braked stock. Following the prototypes of 1966 the first air braked van design to appear in 1969 was the COV-AB (TOPS coded VAB, the un-piped examples were VAA) with half length sliding doors and with a single hooded vent at each end. Variants on this were the non-vented VBA as offered by Graham Farish (it is marked VAA but so were some BR vans) and VBB, a sub variant was the VBA-F which may have been insulated. The bodies of all these vans were essentially similar, the sides were identical. All had a 30 ton maximum load when running at 60 mph but the maximum load at 70 mph was only 20 tons for the VAB and VBA, improved suspension on the VBB allowed high speed running with about 24 tons. One common use for these vans was the Rowntrees confectionery traffic from York.

VCA and VCB are variants on another standard design with centre sliding doors and no end vent, some VCB's have lashing bars and these were sometimes used for banana traffic. The maximum load at 60 mph is 30 tons, at 70 mph this falls to about 25 tons. The VCA's proved less than successful and in the later 1980's many were transferred to other duties, quite a few ended up as barrier vehicles whilst others were converted to FPA wagons for carrying thirty foot long coal containers and some were sold to the Ministry of Defence. The VCA chassis has been used for a number of Private Owner conversions, including (in the later 1990's) a fleet of open wagons with high square ends and drop-down mesh sides for Plasmor. These carry palletised lightweight concrete building blocks from the factory to the depots.

The VDA/VDB appeared in 1976, these have an external frame on the ends (as seen on some early prototype vans, see sketch below), no end ventilator and hinged centre doors with separate quarter doors at the outer ends. These could carry 31 tons at speeds of up to 60 mph but this was reduced to twenty one tons for speeds up to 70 mph. This proved to be one of the more successful designs and they have remained in demand throughout the 1990's. I believe they were the most common type of air braked van built by BR.

In 1981 the prototype for a new van was introduced on a new and longer chassis, this was the VGA, a 42 foot long, sliding-wall van with a wheelbase of 29 feet 6 inches. Based on a German built design originally produced for Ford (UK) these have proved to be a very successful vehicles. The body had heavily ribbed ends and the roof forms only a narrow strip along the centre line. Each side consisted of two sliding doors made of light alloy and the upper part was bent inwards, forming part of the roof. This arrangement allowed loads to be craned into the van and provides easier access for fork lift trucks. To increase the carrying capacity the section between the wheels was dropped to form a well and the actual capacity of the vans was some 75 cubic metres with a 25 ton payload. Some VGA vans were later fitted with modified bearings and coded VKA.

The last British Railways van design was the VHA although I only know of one of these, a prototype converted from a VDA. The VHA was an interesting 25 ton design with a solid roof, low wooden drop sides and a plastic 'curtain' covering the upper two thirds of the sides. Unlike the earlier curtain sided vans however the curtain was supported on a light tubular metal frame and hinged upwards, which saves a lot of time during loading and unloading. The prototype was later converted to an OTA timber wagon (discussed below).

By the mid 1990's of all these early van types only the VDA and VGA vans remained in regular service although odd examples of all types were seen. The hinged and sliding doors on the older vans have given problems and replacement curtain sides may be fitted to many of those which are to remain in service.

Fig ___ British Railways standard air-braked rolling stock Sketches showingt various types of British Railways standard air-braked rolling stock



In about 1980 several of the old ten foot wheelbase 'vanwide' vans were converted to air brakes and re-coded VEA (for those with roller bearings) and VFA (for those with roller bearings and an alarm). They were intended for use carrying military supplies, the short wheelbase being better suited to the tight curves in military establishments, but by the mid 1990's these were all in departmental service and coded ZSA or ZRA.

In 1983 fifty of the old twelve foot wheelbase pipe wagons built by British Railways to an LNER design were converted to air brakes and coded ODA also intended for Ministry of Defence traffic.

The non-MGR air braked mineral hoppers (HBA/HEA/HSA), originally intended for domestic coal traffic, appeared in 1975. These wagons have a chassis which is about twenty five foot over headstocks with a fifteen foot wheelbase. Taylor Plastic Models offer a body kit of this wagon to suit the Peco fifteen foot wheelbase chassis. Some of these were later fitted with a canvass roof with central roller, essentially similar to those on the CDA china clay hoppers. These modified vehicles were coded CEA but I do not know what traffic they were used for. I understand that the kit for modifying the Minitrix HAA hopper can be used on the Taylor HBA body to produce a CEA.

The steel industry has been one of the railways better customers and British Railways has always operated large numbers of steel carrying wagons. The unfitted bogie steel carriers built in the early British Railways period were all scrapped or transferred to the engineers departments by the early 1980's but some of the vacuum braked early British Railways designs lasted into the early 1990's operating as block trains. By the mid 1990's only new air braked designs and upgraded stock retro-fitted with new air braked bogies were in service.

Quite a number of specialised steel carrying wagons were built on the standard four wheeled air-braked chassis. The SAA was the first to appear, three hundred of the type being built in 1971, the SAA had drop-down posts along the sides and drop down ends. Taylor Plastic Models offers a kit of such a vehicle to fit the TPM/Graham Farish chassis. Oddly enough these were seldom used for steel and spent most of their working lives as runner wagons. By the mid 1980's they were being re-coded as runners with TOPS codes RRA RAB RBA and RRB.

The SCA (Coil C) 24.5 ton wagons appeared in 1977, open wagons with four section steel drop sides and with a set of hinged vertical side rails. These were built for wire and rod coil traffic (mainly from South Wales) and were re-coded SAA in 1988 when the original SAAs had all been transferred to runner duties.

Also in 1977 the first SPA steel carrying wagons appeared, the modern version of the old plate wagons they have a steel body with three section drop sides. Over a thousand of the type were built and they were initially used for pig iron.

The SDA was a 2 axle bolster wagon, the SEA code was originally intended for a conversion of a bogie wagon to a four wheeler but this was never completed and the code was then used for a plate wagon with three section drop sides introduced in 1979. The SFA is a variant of the SEA fitted with a nylon canvass 'tilt' so they can carry unfinished steel sections.

By the mid 1980's there were twelve types of four wheeled steel wagons listed in the TOPS 'S' series with another eight two-axle coil types listed in the 'K' series (these were then re-coded in the B and F series).

There has been a continuing program of up-grading the steel carrying stock, funded by the steady profit from the traffic. As an example the forty five foot long vacuum braked Bogie Bolster C were built to carry thirty tons but were subsequently up-graded to 42 tons capacity and fitted with air brakes (TOPS coded BCA). Similarly the forty two ton payload fifty two foot long Bogie Bolster D of 1960's vintage was fitted with a strengthened underframe and new air braked bogies in the late 1970's to handle 58 ton loads with a tare of 22.5 tons, these are TOPS coded BDA.

The first new air braked bogie steel wagons to appear were three hundred or so 40 foot long Bogie Steel AB wagons, TOPS coded BAA, first built in 1972 and rated at 76 tons payload. These were followed in 1973 by the BUA with a capacity of 42.5 tons and in 1975 by five hundred or so BBA. The BBA is a 52 foot wagon rated at 74 tons payload, similar in appearance to the BAA but longer and with deeper channel sections along the sides. In 1977 two hundred BMA (Bogie Coil M) fifty foot long wide-body bolster type wagons rated at 58 tons were built. In 1979 the BOA bogie coil wagons were re-built for steel strip coil traffic, these carry 53 tons apiece.

In the mid 1980's there were nineteen wagon types listed in the B series (bogie steel wagons) and another twelve in the J series (bogie coil wagons). The J series were then integrated in the B series and there appear to have been some cases where old codes were re-used.

The French designed Debauch Vite wagon appeared in privately owned British wagon fleets in the early 1980's, this has fixed ends similar to a standard van but the body is a tarpaulin supported on a series of inverted U shaped hoops. The hoops can be moved along the wagon (this is power assisted) so the tarpaulin can be quickly drawn back allowing loads to be craned into the wagon. These wagons proved popular for steel traffic as they offered protection from the weather. In 1990 British Railways built four prototypes of three essentially similar wagons, coded BGA (13m long 64 tons capacity), BHA (16m long 61.5 tons capacity) and BJA (19m long 63 tons capacity). There are no commercially available models of this general type but the design is essentially simple to model. One option for this is discussed in the section on Kit Bashing.

The very latest design is the EWS 100 ton bogie steel coil wagon coded BYA. This is an unusual vehicles with a three section ribbed telescopic roof. The design is reminiscent of the VTG owned German built telescopic hood wagons (described in the section on PO wagon design) but the hood is lower than on the German design and the tops of the hood sections are a simple curved shape.

Fig ___ Modern steel carrying vehicles Sketches of various Modern steel carrying railway vehicles





The above form the backbone of the railway owned air braked stock but there are many variants and modifications. Some of the variants are available as models or kits, regarding which see the section on available models. There were of course many conversions used for steel traffic, amongst the air braked stock there were several four wheeled plate wagon conversions such as the 31 ton SDA bolster, the 22.5 ton SEA rod-coil wagons, the SHA (Coil T) 31.5 tons strip coil wagons and the SRA 24.5 ton rod-coil wagons.

Timber traffic in Scotland has continued to be worthy of railway investment and the OTA timber carrying wagons are similar to the old Timber P vacuum braked vehicles but based on the longer air braked chassis. The first lot were built using chassis from redundant OCA wagons in 1985, a later batch was built using redundant VCA chassis. The OTA has solid ends but no roof. Ranged along the sides are either twelve or thirteen sockets to hold vertical posts and the load is strapped down using two straps attached to fittings mounted between the side posts.

The MAA is a mineral tippler built on redundant HAA merry-go-round hopper chassis and introduced in 1990. These wagons have a simple box body with external framing which could be made up quite easily using plastic card and microstrip. The chassis could be made up using a Peco fifteen foot wheelbase chassis with a 4mm section cut from another chassis inserted. The wheelbase would then be seventeen foot against the prototypes nineteen, but this is cheaper than using expensive Minitrix HAA's as the basis.

The MEA is another mineral tippler wagon, the prototypes were built in the late 1980's and series production began in 1990. These wagons were intended to replace the old MDV twenty one ton mineral wagons in South Wales but have since found wider application throughout the system. The MEA resembles the MAA but they use the shorter wheelbase chassis from redundant HBA hopper wagon. The ribbing on the sides of the MEAs seen has been uneven with the verticals near the centre closer together. This makes them a bit more difficult to model than the MAA but they can run on a Peco fifteen foot wheelbase chassis. The Peco chassis does need some of the brake gear removing and a new long brake handle fitting but this is not difficult.

The latest in this series of basic four wheel tipplers in the MKA, introduced in about 1994 or 1995, these are built on ex Private Owner air braked chassis.

A half height version of the basic box body vehicle has been produced in some numbers in the later 1990's, these are coded MFA and are used for ballast.

In about 1999 a bogie box body wagon was introduced coded MBA, these may be on former BBA steel carrying wagon chassis but I am not sure about that. Four-wheeled container carrying wagons for ISO containers have been produced from a number of British Railways wagon types. The first were based on redundant plate wagons (of the type offered by Peco) and Lowmac vehicle carriers.

In the 1970's experiments began using containers to carry coal, I believe this was mainly in connection with traffic destined for Ireland. A number of dual braked former 'ferry' plate wagons (again essentially similar to those from Peco) had their vacuum brakes removed and fittings for twenty foot ISO containers added. I believe these were used for twenty foot coal containers, designed for use with standard ISO container handling gear but lower than normal to fit within the loading gauge when sitting on a standard height wagon. In the early 1980's some standard air braked SAA wagons were converted to carry thirty foot coal containers. The container wagons are discussed in more detail in the section on Unit Loads - Modern Containers, Road Railer, Piggyback and Swap Bodies.

Fig ___ Air braked chassis conversions

sketches of air braked wagon conversions

Carflats are car carrying bogie flat wagons with a timber deck and a low rail running along either side. They were developed for moving motor cars and saw extensive service on the Motorail services (see Non passenger coaching stock - Motorail). The carflats were built using redundant coach chassis are now mainly used for commercial vehicles such as vans and are coded FVX under TOPS.

The carflats were cheap, reliable and able to operate at high speeds, making them well suited to Motorail duties, but they occupied a lot of siding space for a given number of cars. In 1964 British Railways and Ford jointly developed an articulated air-braked double-decked wagon consisting of four sections mounted on four wheeled bogies with a total length of over two hundred and ten feet and called the Cartic Four. These required much less siding space for a given load (typically between about a third and a half less space), some were used for the Motorail services when demand was high. The sketch below shows one end of this four-unit vehicle.

Fig ___ Cartic 4 car carrier

Sketch of cartic

An etched brass kit of the cartic four is available to members of the N Gauge society but bear in mind that a couple of Cartic Four units (ablut the minimum you can get away with as a block train load) require about three foot of siding in N.

The British Railways owned Cartic Four's (TOPS coded FQA) were withdrawn and held in reserve in the 1980's, they are painted rail blue with no markings, there remained over a hundred Private Owner sets operating however, mostly owned by Procor and MAT. These are TOPS coded PQA.

The Autic Six (coded PJA under TOPS) is articulated two-unit six-wheeled drop-centre and double decked car transporter. They are about ninety two foot long, actually based on a French design and the British version was built for Cartransport (a division of National Freight Carriers) by Standard Railway Wagon Co in 1981. The first user for these wagons was British Leyland but they have also been used for other firms cars. The Lima six wheeler articulated car carrier is the closest available design to represent these vehicles, a single Lima double-unit could pass for an Autic Six although the side framing is slightly different.

In the late 1980's many Cartics and Autics were fitted with white or black plastic panels on the sides to protect the cars from stones thrown by children, some also had a curved corrugated black plastic roof added.

The Cartic Four carried about 24 cars, it was not economic for smaller numbers as the charges were based on the hire of the vehicle not its load. Procor introduced their Procar 80 to fill this gap, offering economic transport of loads down to 8-10 cars. The Procar 80 is a double decked bogie vehicle eighty three foot long, the longest non-articulated vehicle on British rails. Renault was first user, hiring the wagons to transport cars imported at Goole. The nearest ready to run model in N was the Ibertren bogie car carrier although this is a little short and difficult to find these days.

The restricted British loading gauge remains a problem for larger road vehicles such as commercial vans and the like. These cannot fit inside the articulated wagons and are too high to ride on the carflats. British Railways have converted a number of Freightliner bogie flat wagons for moving these larger vehicles. This vehicle carrying conversion is fitted with a wooden floor and has buffers at both ends (unlike the standard Freightliner wagons). The buffer beams are above the height of the deck so short ramps are built into the ends to allow vehicles to be driven off over the buffers on to standard height loading bays. I believe this is a British Railways owned conversion but I am unable to confirm details of the livery.

The 'Comtic' is a single decked version of the Autic Six (it has been described as an articulated Lomac) these are used for larger vehicles and TOPS coded PKA. The comtics were first purchased by MAT-Transauto and I believe they were introduced in 1984. Leyland/Daf used these wagons to move articulated lorry tractor units from Leyland to the docks in the later 1980's. These could be modelled fairly convincingly by removing the upper deck and its supporting pillars from a Lima articulated car carrier.

The sketch below shows how three tractor units were loaded in one photograph of this vehicle. Note how the middle vehicle is parked off-centre with the cab toward the dip to keep the roof within the loading gauge.

Fig ___ Loaded Comtic commercial vehicle carrier

Sketch of comtic

The Autic and Comtic wagons appeared in a number of liveries, often specified by the company whose vehicles they carried, for example Renault had them painted yellow with the Renault name in black on a white patch somewhere about the centre.

Inter-factory traffic has declined with changes in the motor industry but some still remains on the railways. The Peco 'palvan' represents a design built at Ashford in the 1960's for Ford, the model is actually rather short as the prototype was closer in size to the Graham Farish air braked van. These vans travelled as a block working between Dagenham in Essex and Halewood near Liverpool. Later Ford used forty seven foot long leased wagons, developed by Cargowaggon, these are described in the section on PO Air Braked Stock.

Fords international spares and parts movement was all containerised by the early 1980's and so travelled on Freightliner services.

In the 1970's and 1980's British Leyland used rail for moving body pressings from the Pressed Steel plant at Swindon to factories at Cowley (near Oxford) and Longbridge but I have not been able to confirm the vehicle types used for this traffic.

To cater for British Leyland traffic, specifically engines, BR modified some of its very large four wheeled ferry vans in the late 1960's or early 1970s (British Leyland was only formed in 1968). These were coded VQX I believe. The sides were removed and replaced with dark blue curtain sides (Humbrol Oxford Blue is a fair match I believe), the curtain sides had the logo and company name on them in white. The ends and roof were all painted in a very slightly lighter blue than the curtains. These vehicles retained the RIV international ferry markings and fittings (the markings were moved to the ends as shown below) and the securing lugs remained in place but I do not know if they were used for export traffic or if they operated between BL factories in the UK. By the early 1980's they were stored out of use.

Fig___ British Leyland (ex BR Ferry) Van

Sketch of the BR ferry vans converted for British Leyland traffic.

The advantage here is that the curtain side is much easier to model than the sides and drop-flap ventilators on the sides of the original ferry vans. A model, in N, should be 86.5mm over headstocks with a wheelbase of 54mm. The curtain sides should be 14mm high and wrap over the ends by about 0.5mm. The two rows of small white rings on the drawing are the lacing rings for the sides, the upper row were along the bottom edge of a separate short curtain near the top of the sides. As noted by Bernard Taylor in his article of BR Ferry Wagons in Practical Model Railways magazine (see bibliography) the long wheelbase of this vehicle makes for problems on the tight curves of a model railway. He built his model of the ferry van on a continental steel wagon chassis which had pivoted axles for this very reason.




Future Developments

Predicting the future is notoriously risky, as railway planners have found repeatedly since the early nineteenth century. There are some trends which seem likely to continue however such as a steady increase in mechanical handling and the containerisation not only of finished goods but also raw materials. The steady increase in container size has resulted in further developments in rolling stock such as the drop-centred 'pocket' wagons used by Freightliners Ltd.

The 'Piggy-back' wagon, carrying articulated road trailers is an idea supported by the European Union, again the constraints of the British loading gauge has produced some interesting new ideas for piggy-back rolling stock. One notable example is the Eurospine wagon designed by Thrall which can carry both road trailers and containers. Again this is not such a new idea, the Americans have been carrying road trailers on 'piggy-back' services since the 1960's and in the early 1980's a German firm called Talbot introduced a low-loading bogie wagon which could carry both the tractor unit and its trailer. These latter were formed into long rakes and used for a 'rolling-highway' service between West Germany, Holland, Italy and Switzerland. The lorry drivers were carried in coaches at the rear of the train. The French, who benefit from a more generous loading gauge, have been operating special wagons carrying road trailers for several years. In the early 1980's Procor worked on a British version but the constraints of the British loading gauge proved too much of an obstacle, especially as road vehicle sizes continued to increase.

First in the field was Eurospine, a fixed rake of four articulated units each capable of carrying a low height road trailer or a forty foot long standard ISO container. Eurospine was developed by the American specialist company Thrall Car (who now have a European division) and the pre-production prototype was shown to the public in late 1996. This is not an entirely new type of vehicle, the design is derived from an American wagon called the Fuel Foiler which entered service in the 1970's, but the British version has to contend with much tighter clearances along the track. Services began with two sets in 1998 carrying Post Office 'Parcels Force' trailers but EWS have ordered over a hundred of these sets. Each Eurospine unit consists of a hefty central spar with cross-beams toward the ends to support the ends of a container and a pair of platforms mounted on the sides to carry the road wheels of an articulated lorry trailer. The trailers have to be lifted on by a crane, current practice favours a very large 'fork lift' type vehicle equipped with a special lifting frame in place of the forks. John Grey offers a model of the Eurospine wagon in his etched brass range of kits. The complete four-wagon articulated set is just over fifty nine and a half meters or one hundred and ninety six feet long, that corresponds to some 40cm or 15 inches in British N.

Meanwhile Freightliners were also taking an interest in this method of transport, they worked with Frauhauf (the road trailer builders) and Exel TankFreight (a logistics firm) to design and produce some semi-trailers for chemicals. These are moved on redundant low-loading wagons initially built and leased by Charter Rail for pet food traffic under Speedlink. These wagons and road-rail tank semi-trailers were introduced into service between the Freightliner depots in Manchester (Trafford Park) and London. The Trafford Park terminal has been equipped with two new 23m high transporter cranes to handle this traffic. The cranes were in part paid for by a Freight Facilities Grant, they use standard lifting frames for containers and a special frame with four long drop arms to lift the trailers.

Pocket wagons have a dropped section between the wheels or bogies, similar to the old Flatrol or Welltrol wagons but with sides to the well forming a 'pocket'. These wagons can carry taller than normal containers, notably the nine foot six inch high types which are becoming increasingly common on the 'deep-sea' container shipping routes.

Latest to enter the field are Babcock (famous for their steam boiler plant) who have developed a vehicle called the Mega 3 Pocket wagon. The Babcock wagons can carry a road semi-trailer, two twenty foot long containers or a single road/rail swap-body. The swap-body is a road-rail container shaped like a standard lorry semi-trailer body which can be transported on railway wagons or on a purpose built skeletal road semi-trailer. They are not built to ISO container specifications (they are not the right size and they have different securing methods), they cannot be stacked or transported on container carrying ships. They are designed specifically to carry standard size pallets and better meet the needs of a straight road-rail transportation service. They are a couple of inches (about 5cm) wider than the ISO standard container, and hence run into clearance problems on the British rail network but Freightliners Ltd. has experimented with them.

Sketches of the Eurospine and Pocket Wagons have been included in the section on Unit Loads - Modern Containers, Road Railer, Piggyback and Swap Bodies.

The European Economic Community is very interested in rail haulage for road lorries and they plan a Europe-wide trunk rail network offering high speed transits. The British are having difficulty deciding who might pay for the increased clearances to allow such services in the UK. Initial estimates were that it would take £100 million to upgrade the line from Scotland to the Channel Tunnel to carry nine foot six inch high containers and full size lorry trailers. This cost then bloomed under Railtrack until the entire project was effectively put on indefinite hold. At the time of writing (2003) I am not aware of any plans to start work on this.

Europe has now evolved a plan for a Europe wide network and the intention is that, in the future, train operating companies will be able to operate through-services Europe-wide to increase competition and hopefully efficiency. The plan includes considerable provision for the nine foot six inch high containers, road trailer transporters and swap body vehicles but as most countries on the continent meet the loading gauge requirements of the Berne Convention work is proceeding quite quickly on this project. The British have recently indicated that they feel it would be uneconomic for them to provide the investment in infrastructure to achieve similar clearances throughout the British network. Platforms would need to be cut back, bridges and tunnels altered and the overhead catenary wires would need to be lifted to allow European stock and engines to roam about the British system. I believe they are prepared, in theory at least, to upgrade some lines and provide maps for Continental train operators so that rolling stock suitable for use on unmodified British lines can be routed through the system.

Still on the drawing board are a number of vehicles which may yet see light of day. One interesting idea is the self-propelled goods wagon, this is really an extension of the old idea of the diesels parcels carriers of the 1950's and the new parcels multiple units used for Royal Mail traffic. The new machines would be able to operate as multiple units with perhaps three or four conventional un-powered wagons in tow. The designs under consideration include curtain sided pallet carriers and even hooded steel carrying wagons.

Research into the use of aircraft style containers on the railways is also in progress, building on the experience with the Mini-Link container and the more recent Royal Mail containerised parcels services with their associated purpose built multiple units. The most recent manifestation of this concept is the Minimodal system, which uses simple square sheet metal containers, the initial standard version has a roller shutter door in one side. These can be placed on rail wagons or road trailers, if the door is to the side they can be loaded whilst on the vehicle, if not they are secure from break-in when parked in a lay-by. Quoting from Minimodal.com

The Minimodal Unit Load
The Minimodal unit load has a 2.55 metre square base, the maximum road width of a lorry, which can be rotated for side loading from both sides and end loading - individually and in series.
Minimodal units have four way fork pockets, provision for top lift, may be connected together to form a 7.82 metre swap body, are stackable and secure. The Minimodal format can be adapted for dry goods, chilled produce, liquids & gases, waste, hoppers and as a flat carrier.
Any suitably rated flatbed road vehicle will carry Minimodal. Heavy goods vehicles can carry up to 6 Minimodal units, smaller goods vehicles can carry fewer. Standard container-flat rail wagons can convey Minimodal by rail.


The Minimodal container services have now started, sponsored by EWS and they could provide a useful service to parcels carriers, supermarkets and other organisations with a high volume traffic that requires rapid handling.

It is generally accepted that the railways now offer better time reliability than road haulage and new investment has seen the evolution of advanced technology solutions. Whilst it is highly unlikely that the railways will ever regain the mass of small scale traffic they once handled they are in a position to offer cost effective solutions to logistics managers.




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