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The Windcutter Project

Lengthy trains of mineral wagons were a common feature on British Railways and the Windcutter Project set out to recreate such scenes. The idea of preserving a long train of mineral wagons was first aired in Steam Railway early in 1992 and following an encouraging initial response an appeal was launched in the August issue to purchase suitable wagons for use on the Great Central Railway. The appeal was a huge success, Steam Railway readers and supporters of GCR raised over £14,000 to purchase and restore the wagons. Very few mineral wagons remained in service with BR by this time and it was necessary to scour the country to find suitable vehicles. The first wagons, from Onllwyn Washery in South Wales, arrived on the GCR in late August, 1992 with others coming from the Rover car plant at Longbridge in Birmingham. Over the next few years further wagons were added to the fleet from various sources bringing the total number preserved by the project to 39 although subsequently three wagons have moved on and are now at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

The origins of the BR mineral wagon date back to the Second World War when the Ministry of War Transport placed orders for steel bodied mineral wagons. It was these designs, many of which eventually saw service with BR, which formed the basis for the BR 16 Ton mineral wagon. With a 9ft wheelbase the wagons feature an end door, to facilitate emptying the wagon by end tipping, a large side door and a smaller drop down flap above it. The early batches also featured bottom doors but this feature was soon discontinued. More than 220,000 of these wagons were built both in BR works and by private builders between 1950 and 1958 and they were still common throughout the BR network well into the 1980s. In the late 1970s many of the wagons remaining in service were fitted with new bodies. The most noticeable difference on these vehicles was the omission of the top drop down door on the wagon side. Wagons in the Windcutter fleet represent most of the major variations, including one of the early wagons originally fitted with bottom doors, although the majority carry the later body style as fitted in the 1970s.

In 1947 a service of regular fast freight trains was inaugurated by the LNER between marshalling yards at Annesley, near Nottingham and Woodford Halse. These trains, travelling over the GCR route, carried coal from the Nottinghamshire coalfield and steel products from Yorkshire and the North East destined for the London area or South Wales. This regular service gained a reputation for fast running and the nickname of “Windcutters” was adopted by enthusiasts while enginemen generally referred to them as “Runners”.  From the 1950’s until the end of through freight services long trains of BR steel bodied mineral wagons would have been an everyday sight along the GCR and it was these trains that gave some of the inspiration and a name for project.

The Windcutter wagons first appeared in public, after initial repairs had been carried out, in November 1992, when a special event was organised as a thank you to Steam Railway readers and everyone else who had contributed so generously to the appeal.  On 19th June, 1993 a small group of GCR volunteers started work on restoring the wagons. Thirty seven wagons had been repaired by 1999 and wagons are now being overhauled for the second time. In early 2012 18 wagons are available for service with the remainder awaiting repairs or undergoing repair.

In November 2018 a request was made to the GCR about the possible use of some of the Windcutter fleet. After discussion with the DCRT, it was agreed that 6 “Out of Service” wagons from the Quorn sidings would be placed “On Loan” with the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway. They left the GCR in January 2019.

This has left the GCR with 30 wagons and, by early 2020, 21 wagons are available for service with the remainder awaiting or undergoing repair.

A combination of open air storage, age and the legacies of a hard life in industrial ownership means that ever more complex and extensive repairs are required to keep the wagons in service. In addition to rectifying corrosion of the wagon body and frames, repairs are also required to the running gear and braking systems. If we are to keep a lengthy rake of wagons in operation we urgently need additional volunteers to help with repair and restoration work. Whilst much of the work does not involve any special skills, Project Manager Philip Herrick would be especially pleased to hear from anyone who has welding/fabrication expertise. Most of the workdays are held on Saturdays at Rothley.

If you want to find out more please contact Philip Herrick on 07921376351 or by e-mail philipherrick1bb@btinternet.com

 

Wagon Number

Previous owner

Operational Status

B99163 RD Not Serviceable Stored in Quorn sidings
B273798 BCO Not Serviceable Stored in Quorn sidings, restoration started
B562230 RCL Serviceable
B279702 RCL Serviceable
B555696 RCL Serviceable
B556436 RCL Serviceable
B595104 RCL Serviceable
B595185 RCL Serviceable
B279707 RCL Serviceable
B589163 RCL Serviceable
B279711 RCL Serviceable
B279713 RCL Serviceable
B279716 RCL Serviceable Black PO livery (B 589254)

 

B279718 RCL Serviceable
B279719 RCL Serviceable
B64020 RCL Serviceable
B279721 RCL Serviceable
B279722 RCL Not Serviceable
B279723 RCL Not Serviceable Tyre Flanges
B279724 RCL Not Serviceable
B279725 BCO Serviceable
B279742 RCL Serviceable
B551846 RCL Serviceable
B565224 RCL Serviceable
B570618 TL Serviceable
B573124 RCL Serviceable
B573403 TL Serviceable
B581241 RCL Serviceable
B589204 RCL Serviceable
B596329 RCL Serviceable Bauxite livery
M501438 RD Serviceable LMS designed box van used as spare parts storage

 

Notes : Additionally, there are 6 wagons on long term loan to P&B Railway

Previous owner : Although all the wagons were at one time owned by British Railways, all but two were sold to industrial users. The two that were bought direct from the national network were B570618 and B573403 which came from Transrail (TL). The majority of the remaining wagons came from Rover Cars Ltd (RCL) at Longbridge with others coming from Rosyth Naval Dockyard (RD) and British Coal Onllwyn washery (BCO)

Wagon Numbers : The wagons are lettered with their correct BR number where this is known. A number of the mineral wagons from Rover had no identification and so were given numbers in the B2797XX series, the final two numbers being their Windcutter fleet number. This number series was an unused sequence within that used by BR for the various batches of mineral wagons produced over the years. In recent years considerable research has been undertaken to try and identify the original numbers of the wagons in the fleet and where these have been ascertained they will be applied to the wagon at its next overhaul.

It was also not possible to establish the original number for the LMS designed box van and so this was given the number of a similar vehicle.

Wagon Liveries : With the exception of the two un-restored wagons, all the mineral wagons in the ‘Windcutter’ fleet are either fitted with vacuum brake or have been through piped to run in a vacuum braked train. This means that to be fully authentic all the wagons should carry British Railways ‘Bauxite’ livery. However the original aim of the project was to recreate the sight of long trains of unfitted mineral wagons as seen on the GCR in BR days and all over the BR network in the days of steam, and in some areas even as late as the early 1980’s. All BR un-fitted freight vehicles were painted grey and hence to recreate the overall appearance of a steam era mineral train the majority of the wagons in the ‘Windcutter’ fleet have been restored in this colour.

Operational Status : All but two of the wagons purchased for the Windcutter project have been restored and have run on the GCR at some time. Only two of the original wagons, purchased from Onllwyn washery at the start of the project, have never been restored. A number of wagons have now been overhauled for a second time in preservation, however the age of these vehicles and the abuse they have received in the past, means that the repairs needed become ever more complex and time consuming. This means that a number of wagons are now in long term storage awaiting the availability of resources to carry out the repairs necessary to return them to operational condition.

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