Handling Goods Traffic
To understand Goods Engines, we must know what they were required
to do, so how was goods traffic worked?
In Victorian and Edwardian days almost the entire country was covered by a network of main lines and country branches with a yard for handling goods at almost every station. Only the highlands of Scotland and the mountain / moorland areas were not covered.
Consignments of goods were sent as parcels small and large, or complete wagon loads from local stations to destinations all across the country. Many factories, collieries and depots were connected by their own sidings to the line, often owning their own wagons. Boys were employed to write direction labels.
Let us imagine a set of crates on their typical journey from Walsall to Carlisle: At Walsall they would be loaded in a wagon together with many other items. If they had to be kept dry they could go in a van , or very likely in an open wagon covered by a tarpaulin sheet, securely roped down. The wagon was picked up by the daily ‘pick-up goods’. This stopped and shunted each yard in succession, dropping off wagons at their destination and picking up those starting their journey.
Next the wagon might be put in a long-distance goods, still unlikely to travel at more than 35 mph and frequently stopping to give way to passenger trains. A lot of time was spent stationary, increasingly so where congestion was bad. Most likely the wagon would be taken to the Tranship shed at Crewe, where it would be unloaded and all the items for each destination — Carlisle, in our case — gathered and loaded into empty wagons. The new wagon would then be marshaled into another long-distance goods up the West Coast main line , where it would be taken on to its final destination in another pick-up goods.
So most trains required frequent sorting to re-order the wagons: Shunting yards were built at the main sorting points, often carrying out their activities right around the clock. At Liverpool the ‘Grid Iron’ at Edge Hill was laid out at a gradient so wagons could be sorted and re-sorted as they descended. Tank engines were usually used in yards, being easy to buffer-up and to replenish fuel supplies. An LMS survey showed total hours: travelling — 7.0 million hours; shunting — 8.0 million hours: 14% more time was spent in shunting than travelling!
Where a colliery or factory could put together complete trains these could of course run direct but they were in the minority. Wagons normally had to be returned empty unless a return load could be found. Before the many private railway companies were grouped in 1923 all movements required a great deal of paperwork, processed manually, so each received and paid their share.