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Freight Operations - Non Passenger Coaching Stock - Private Carriages and Motor Cars

Taking a personal horse drawn carriage with you was preferable to trying to find one at the far end of the journey and in the 1830's people often travelled in their own carriage, strapped down to a flat wagon. The Duke of Wellington, never a fan of the railways, always travelled in his own coach on a flat wagon right up to his death in 1852. As railway carriages improved the passengers moved inside but the provision of 'carriage trucks' by the railways suggests that, although the preserve of the rich, taking ones carriage along remained a fairly common occurrence.

Private carriages and individual privately owned motor vehicles usually travelled on purpose built stock, 'carriage trucks', attached to passenger trains. Passenger stations were often equipped with a 'carriage shoot', a short length of track leading to a bank suitable for end-loading. As horse drawn coaches were made to be light it is probable that at quieter stations the carriage truck would be uncoupled from the rear of the train and moved to the carriage shoot by men or horses, allowing the train to continue on its way. More expensive private carriages were transported in covered vans fitted with end doors and called CCT's (for Covered Carriage Truck).

Photographs of models of an LNWR carriage truck and a Midland Railway CCT will be found in the section on Goods Rolling Stock Design - Specialised Rolling Stock.

During the run up to the Grouse shooting season (12th August) entire trains of open carriage trucks and CCT's were seen taking the coaches of the wealthy up to Scotland. Carriage trucks and covered carriage trucks were usually rated to travel attached to passenger trains but often appeared in goods trains as well.

Scheduled motor car carrying services have been around for a long time, the GWR provided such a service through the Severn Tunnel in the 1920's for example (although you had to book 24 hours in advance to use it) and I believe the LMS pioneered the use of redundant coach underframes fitted with a simple wooden floor for private car traffic (although I would assume most such wagons were used for delivering new cars to dealers or for inter-factory traffic).

As traffic in motor cars increased in the 1930's more covered carriage truck (CCT) vehicles were produced, some, such as the GWR Mogo van, were existing goods van designs with end doors added but these were mainly used for transporting new cars to dealers. Most private cars were transported in longer wheelbase vehicles designed to run in passenger trains although most of the van type were flat-sided rather than bowed to match the passenger coach side curves. I believe a lot of private cars were actually moved in goods trains, rather than attached to the passenger train carrying the owner.

For carrying individual motor cars BR built a number of four wheeled open carriage trucks for use in goods services and both four wheeled and bogie vehicles with end doors for working with passenger stock. The standard British Railways four wheeled CCT (as offered in N by Lima) could only carry two cars, in practice this proved inefficient and they were seldom used for this traffic. After 1959 four and six wheeled stock was banned from passenger trains but the four wheeled CCT's had proved generally useful as vans, they remained in use for many years for parcels traffic.

In 1956 a new approach was adopted which offered passenger and vehicle loading at a single depot. The passengers travelled in separate coaches from the cars but the coaches and car vehicles were assembled as a single rake and travelled through the system as a single train. The first such service was established by British Railways Eastern Region between London and Perth in 1955. CCT and larger bogie GUV end-door vehicles were used for these early services, wearing standard maroon and yellow livery, changing to blue and white in 1964.

The service was called Motorail and operated between quite a number of terminals around the country. A Motorail terminal does not require a great deal of space and adds some operational interest to a layout. In the example shown below the design is based on a Metcalf Models goods shed as this has good roof lights and visible roof truss detail to add interest to the scene. One end of the shed is replaced by an insert across the top, the colourful sinage at such a terminal makes it a good visual focus, this can be handy near one end of a layout. The sketch assumes that the entrance to the terminal is at platform height, so no ramp is required inside the building. The sketch is based on a photograph of such a terminal (actually Kensington Olympia) posted by Robin Carmody on his website at however the sketch represents a rather smaller version.

Fig___ Motorail Terminal in 1965

Sketch of a Motorail terminal froma photo taken in 1965

The van type vehicles proved to be difficult to work with as the drivers had to make their way along the rake in poor lighting and opening and closing the end doors required a lot of time and effort by staff. The GUV's remained in use following the ban on the four wheeled CCT's but in the mid 1960's BR adopted a new kind of vehicle, basically a redundant coach underframe, fitted with a wooden deck and low side rails supported on stanchions. These were coded Carflat and as modern cars could not be chained down the vehicles were secured using bright yellow wooden chocks. I understand these chocks had spikes on the base and they were simply kicked into place under the wheels (obviously the car hand brake would be applied as well). The standard open BR Carflat (Motorail) converted from the BR Mk.1 coach running on B1 bogies was 64ft 6in over headstocks, vacuum braked and weighed in at 21 tons (unladen). They were limited to a maximum speed of 90 mph and fitted with the standard coaching stock buckeye coupling. Prior to 1964 they would have a black chassis with maroon bodywork, changing to rail blue bodywork in 1964. This change presumably took a long time as in the early 1970's some of these vehicles appeared to be all over 'rail grime' and many did not have the Motorail side boards.

Fig ___ Motorail Carflat

Motorail carflat with rail sides

The name Motorail was officially adopted for the service in 1966 (although it seems to have been in use before that date). Also in 1966 some of the BR owned air braked Cartic Four car transporters were transferred to these services, suggesting a substantial demand. The Cartic would require additional facilities as the terminals to access the upper deck of the vehicle but I have not traced any photographs or other illustrations.

Motorail proved moderately successful and the network expanded with services from London to Edinburgh Stirling, and Inverness in Scotland and between London and Fishguard and St. Austel in the west. Services from provincial centres such as Birmingham to Stirling and Newton Le Willows to Stirling were established in the 1960's. By the late 1970's there were over thirty Motorail services operating, most associated with over-night sleeping car services.

A typical Motorail train might be five coaches with two or three carflats behind, each carrying three or four motor cars. Several Motorail services operated overnight and for these some of the coaches would be sleepers. On at least one such service the train made its way almost to its destination (Glasgow I seem to remember) but was then 'parked' in a siding to allow the passengers a full nights sleep, finally moving to the station in the morning. Dining cars were attached to some services, on others a pre-prepared meal on a tray was available if you paid a supplement to the fare.

To access the car carrying coaches there was usually an end-loading dock, these could either be the existing arrangements at a station or they might be a purpose built terminal. Some redundant carriage sidings at Olympia in London were converted into a two-track Motorail terminal in 1961. This terminal remained in use until 1981 when it was knocked down and the site became a car park for the Olympia centre. Carflats had fixed side rails and could only be end-loaded. Where there was no suitable end-loading facility a wagon could be adapted to permit side access to a platform and end access to the flats or covered vans. As platforms are usually slightly lower than the deck of the car carrying wagon a drop centred vehicles was used for this. The cars were driven onto the wagon and down into the well, bringing them to the right height for driving over the side onto the platform.

In 1961 Eastern Region built some interesting car carrying vehicles which resembled windowless passenger coaches. These had a centre section which lowered down between the bogies allowing additional cars to be carried in a 'double decker' arrangement. These vehicles were TOPS coded TCV, I have seen references to either eight or fourteen of these being built and although equipped for ferry working I believe they were only used on the Anglo-Scottish motorail services (I could not see the securing lugs in any pictures I have seen but they have the 'ferry' anchor marking and ferry data plate as shown in the sketch). They required an elevated access ramp as the entrance was in the upper half of the end (the drop flap at the bottom of the doors is shown in the sketch below, its open position is shown to the left of the lower full coach sketch). They were presumably originally painted maroon with yellow lettering, changing to rail-blue and white in 1964. The sketch is based on this later livery.

Fig ___ Eastern Region Motorail TCV

Eastern Region Motorail TCV

As the British Railways standard coach designs began to appear in some numbers BR converted old Big Four coaches into carflats for both Motorail and also for delivering new cars to dealers both in the UK and (via the train ferries) in Europe. New ex BR Mk1 coaches still being converted to carflats for Motorail services in the early 1980's but they were also routinely used for new car and van traffic, travelling in goods trains but still carrying the full Motorail markings. I am not sure when the Motorail carflats were phased out but by the later 1980's BR was once again using bogie vans for (at least some) Motorail services.

The upper drawing in the sketch below is based on a photograph on Paul Bartlett's web sire (see Bibliography) and shows the early intercity livery of white and blue. Most GUVs were pain all over blue but those designated to run in passenger trains had this livery applied. The marking in the lower right are the number (96153) above the code (NXX) above 'Tare 30 Tons'.

I believe the GUV vans used in the later years were often plain blue but some were painted in the revised 'intercity' livery (officially called the 'executive intercity livery' I believe, introduced in 1983), grey upper side, white lower side with red stripe and below the stripe toward the left hand end the word Motorail in black. Some GUV vans in this revised Intercity livery simply had the word Motorail added to the chalk boards at each end of the body as shown in the bottom drawing below, one of these was parked outside the Eurostar depot in Ardwick (South Manchester) in 2004.

Fig___ Motorail GUV vans

GUV vans in Motorail livery

The development of the motorway network and the improved reliability of motor cars all counted against Motorail and the service was not sufficiently popular to justify the investment in depots. The number of cars carried peaked in the mid 1970's and the last BR Motorail services ran in 1995.

The Motorail concept has proved popular in Europe, where passengers sometimes travel in their cars loaded onto special car-carrying vehicles. This idea was adopted for the cross-channel tunnel services transporting people sitting in their cars between Britain and Europe.

Recent developments

In 1999 a new Motorail service between London and the South West was launched by First Great Western. The Motorail service, from Paddington to Penzance, will carry cars in special rail vehicles attached to the "Night Riviera" sleeper service.

Also in 1999 Great North Eastern Railway announced an intention to launch a cars-on-trains Motorail service between London and Scotland.

Finally I came across an announcement, again dated 1999, that 'Motorail' had announced plans to transport 20,000 cars a year to Scotland by rail, for distribution by dealers in the Highlands. As far as I am aware Motorail does not exist as a separate company however GB Railfreight were in talks with GNER regarding their motorail service so GBR may be operating this service using Motorail branded stock.

There is a photograph on the Wagons on the Web website showing another van connected with motor car traffic. Coded NVA they appear shorter than a standard coach and may have been re-bodied full brake vans or GUV vans. They had no windows but three pairs of doors occupied most of the vehicle side. I do not know what the ends were like but they were all black, the sides were Rail Blue with a white strip in the upper section containing the words Car Carrier (presumably to run with GNER stock). Some were in use in late 1999 and they may have been built for the revived motorail services. The side doors would presumably allow side-loading, which would save having to provide and end-loading facility.

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