The Working and Management of an English Railway/Chapter 9

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The Working and Management of an English Railway by George Findlay
Chapter 9 — Rolling Stock:—III. Goods Waggons


Rolling Stock (iii.)—Goods Waggons.

Prior to the year 1881, the railway companies, generally speaking, only provided waggons for the conveyance of ordinary merchandise, and coal and coke, lime, salt, and some other commodities were carried in waggons belonging to the colliery proprietors and other traders, the companies making an allowance off their authorised tolls, for the use of the vehicles, and the owners performing all the services of loading and unloading. To a very considerable extent, this state of things still prevails, but in the year previously mentioned (1881) the Midland Company decided upon the new policy of becoming the owners of nearly the whole of the waggons running upon their railway. They accordingly obtained Parliamentary powers to raise a large sum of money for the purpose of buying up waggons from private owners, and building others for the conveyance of coal, and other traffic, and they now possess nearly 38,000 coal and coke trucks of their own.

The London and North- Western Company have also provided waggons for coal traffic, but not to so large an extent, as at the present time they have only some 6,000 coal waggons (including nearly 3,000 which are used for the conveyance of their own coal for locomotive purposes), and the bulk of the coal traffic upon their railway is still conducted by means of waggons owned by the traders. Of course, where the railway company find the waggons, they make a fair charge for their use, which charge varies from 6d. to 1s. per ton according to distance and other circumstances.

It must be confessed that the Midland Company's new departure was not without some justification in the fact that private owners' waggons are, always have been, and probably always will be, a fruitful source of trouble and anxiety. A railway company, in building its stock, has too much at stake to risk sacrificing efficiency to economy, and the vehicles are constructed with the utmost solidity and perfection of workmanship, without regard to cost; but the same considerations do not apply with equal force to private traders, and the companies are obliged to exercise the most stringent precautions, both in the matter of imposing a certain standard of construction and maintenance, and in keeping up a watchful system of examination, in order to guard against unsuitable waggons being run in their trains. The breaking down of a waggon may endanger the safety of a whole train, and cause the loss of valuable lives and property, and a very complete and elaborate system is adopted, with a view to guarantee that every private waggon shall be properly built and maintained. The system is as follows:—

A "Standard Specification," accompanied by drawings and dimensions, is drawn up, and private owners are required to build their waggons strictly in accordance with it, down to the minutest details, working drawings and descriptions of the waggons being first submitted for the approval of the Company's waggon superintendent before the work is 'commenced. When the waggons are complete and before they are permitted to run upon the railway, they are examined by the same official, and if he is satisfied that all the requirements of the specification have been faithfully complied with, be affixes to each side of each waggon a register plate, bearing the name of the Company, the registered number, the date of registry, and the maximum load to be carried. The waggon, with the plate so affixed, is free to work over the Company's, or any other, line of railway, the arrangement being a mutual one between all the railway companies in the Kingdom agreed to at the Railway Clearing House.

The registration in no way affects the right of any railway company to inspect a registered waggon, and if found in any way defective, to stop or refuse it, and when a waggon, which has been approved, is repaired, or any of the parts renewed, the work must be carried out in accordance with the standard specification. The owners of the vehicles are required to keep them in a perfect state of repair, and to have them thoroughly greased and properly examined before each journey, any station-master being authorised to detain a waggon which appears to him to be unfit to travel.

Careful precautions are taken to see that every waggon, whether private or belonging to the Company, is in a fit and proper state of repair and efficiency while running in the trains, and the instructions issued to the men who are charged with this duty are of the most minute character. A staff of 220 examiners and greasers is employed, and these men are posted singly or in gangs at every important station and junction throughout the system. They are held responsible for seeing that every vehicle on commencing its journey from their station is in good and safe running condition, that the wheels, axle-boxes, springs, buffers, draw gear, brakes, and all other working parts are in perfect order, that the axle-boxes are well greased, and that any waggon in which a defect is discovered is promptly shunted out of the train, and a red card affixed to it to indicate that it is not to run until the necessary repairs have been attended to.

When a through train is standing at a station or junction, where it is required to stop, it is met by an examiner, whose duty it is to pass along each side of it and examine every wheel, not only by means of the tapping hammer, but by personal inspection. He also examines the axle-boxes, to see that they are well greased, and are not running "hot," and watches the revolving of the wheels, in order to detect a bent axle, stress being laid upon the fact that in the event of a waggon being stopped with a bent axle, no attempt is to be made to straighten it while cold, but the wheels are to be taken out and sent to a repairing shop where the axle can be heated, and thus properly and safely straightened.

The following are the minimum dimensions of axles to be allowed, which a long experience has dictated as representing the limits of safety, and any waggon found running with an axle of less dimensions is stopped and treated as a defective vehicle:—

  Wheel Seat. Middle. Journal
  Ins. Ins, Ins.
For 6-ton waggons
 „ 7-ton  „ 3 
 „ 8-ton  „ 4 
 „ 10-ton  „ 5 

No tyres are allowed to run if they are less than 1 in. thick on the tread.

The London and North- Western Company possess in all upwards of 56,000 waggons of various descriptions, including the 6,000 coal waggons previously referred to, and the whole of these have been built, and are kept in repair, at their own waggon works at Earlestown. Of the total number nearly 34,000 are open goods waggons, 15 ft. 6 in. in length, and 7 ft. 8 in. in width, 20,000 of these having low sides only 9 in. in height, while the remaining 14,000 have sides 1 ft. 8 in. in height. There are 4,000 covered goods waggons, 15 ft. 6 in. long, 7 ft. 8 in. wide, and 5 ft. 8 in. in height, at side. The rest are vehicles of some forty different descriptions constructed for special classes of traffic, and having varying dimensions. The frames are all constructed of well-seasoned English oak, and the bodies of oak, teak, or red pine, the carrying capacity of the bulk of the waggons being 7 tons. The wrought iron work in the under frames is of the best Staffordshire iron, with the exception of the couplings, for which iron from the Low Moor furnaces is found to be the most suitable. The axle-boxes, buffer-shoes, and bearing spring shoes are of the best cast iron, and the wheel tyres and axles are of Bessemer steel.

The Earlestown works, although not quite so extensive as the carriage works at Wolverton, yet cover an area of thirty-five acres, and employ at busy times about 1,600 men, who are engaged in constructing and repairing, not only waggons, but the whole of the carts and vans required for cartage purposes throughout the Company's system. The works comprise a waggon-maker's and wheelwright's shop, 463 ft. long and 291 ft. in width, a saw mill 200 ft. in length, two smithies containing over one hundred fifes, a timber shed, turning and spring-making shops, foundries and forges, and numerous other shops devoted to various purposes, all fitted up with the most powerful and efficient machinery for minimising labour and ensuring accuracy of workmanship. The capacity of these works may be judged from the fact that when the full complement of some 1,600 hands is at work, they can turn out about eighteen finished waggons during the working day, or at the rate of one waggon every half-hour!

Most of the institutions which exist at Wolverton for the benefit of the men employed are represented by kindred institutions at Earlestown. Thus, there is a commodious dining-room, capable of seating 400 persons, where the men and boys employed in the works can have their food cooked free of charge. There is also a Mechanics' Institute, erected by the Company, where lectures on scientific and other subjects of general interest are given during the winter months, with free admittance for the workmen and their families. Four nights in each week are devoted to the classes held under the auspices of the Science and Art Department at South Kensington, and of the Lancashire and Cheshire United Institutes, preference being given to those subjects which have the most intimate relation to the avocations of the men. A circulating library with upwards of 3,300 volumes has been established, and a reading room has been provided, where all the leading newspapers and the best magazines are available for the use of the members. A spacious recreation ground, adjoining the Institute, and covering an area of six acres, contains three bowling-greens, lawn-tennis courts, and a cricket-ground, together with a miniature park tastefully laid out with flower-beds and trees, so that healthful recreation and manly sports are far from being neglected, and, by the liberality of the directors, all these advantages are secured to the men and boys engaged in the works in return for a payment of one penny per week by the men, and one halfpenny per week by the boys.