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LMSS Masthead

Fostering Interest in Research & Modelling of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway

LMS Freight Working

Rakes of coal wagons A yard full of wagons loaded with many different grades of coal all to be sorted and fowarded. The date is 1940 and the location, although not recorded on the photograph (no doubt for war-time security), is believed to be Cricklewood.

This article looks at how the LMS used its wagon stock, what kind of services it ran and what an LMS goods train looked like. But first of all there are three general points on wagon stock.

  1. The LMS freight train consisted of everyone's wagons. Almost all general service wagons were common user. By 1933 the list of NON COMMON USER wagons had been whittled down to:
    1. Wagons exceeding 12 tons capacity, except end door mineral and pig iron.
    2. All wagons belonging to Bishop's Castle Railway Felixstowe Dock and Railway Manchester Ship Canal Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway
    3. All vacuum and Westinghouse piped and fitted wagons.
    4. Cask wagons, Deal wagons, Hopper wagons, Twin wagons not fitted with bolsters, Plate, Long Low and tube wagons, Coke wagons.
    5. Specially constructed vehicles.
    6. Service vehicles.
    7. Double Bolster wagons (except SR) and 6 or 8 wheeled bolster wagons.
    8. GWR China Clay, Cattle and 20-ton end door mineral wagons.
    9. Gunpowder Vans, Meat Vans, Refrigeration Vans, Insulated Vans, Banana Vans.
    The list is formidable but in practice the numbers involved were not great especially since the LMS and LNE had a private arrangement making their fitted covered vans common user between themselves. As from 1st March, 1941, virtually all wagons other than special vehicles became common user.

    Apart from this non-common user wagons could still be back loaded to:
    1. Stations on the owning line;
    2. Stations beyond (but via) the owning line;
    3. Stations on an Intermediate company's route on a direct route home.

    For all these reasons there was a good mixture of wagons on almost any LMS freight train.

  2. Vacuum fitted wagons were comparatively rare beasts by today's Standards. At nationalisation the relevant figures were:
    CompanyNo. of fitted wagons

    This was out of a total of 1,223,634 wagons or just about 1 in 10.

  3. In 1939 there were also some 583,789 requisitioned private owner wagons (plus 21,310 not requisitioned mainly tankers) allowed to run on British Railways. Just how many would be on the LMS we do not know. The only indications available are some returns of privately owned wagons stopped for repair. If we take these as a (very) rough guide and working back from the 583,789 total they give:

    P.O.Wagons stopped for repairAssumed total of P.O. wagons on each railway

    The repair figures are from Railway Executive Committee minutes and cover the period 8/11/39 to 28/2/40.

The average LMS freight train in 1938 consisted of 33.68 wagons, 22.98 loaded and 10.70 empty. It travelled an average of 8.88 miles per hour including time spent in loops, under examination, waiting for paths etc.

These figures are a little misleading, put as bald statements just like that because on most lines where traffic warranted it mineral traffic and corresponding returned empty wagons ran separately from merchandise traffic. In reality LMS freight trains could be grouped as follows:

  1. Local freights, stopping freights, pick up freights and such like. A very mixed bag, also covering trip workings and inter-yard workings these latter two being much more common than the pick-up goods so beloved of railway modellers. All could produce a very varied assortment of stock and motive power.
  2. Mineral trains. The classic LMS train could load up to 70 wagons. For example, in 1938 the LMS brought 2,712,000 tons of coal into London alone. This is about 1,000 wagons per weekday with corresponding empties. Signalled as Class 8 but empties were often signalled as Class 5 Express Freight.
  3. Merchandise trains. Most LMS merchandise traffic was between large centres and was thus concentrated into through freight trains and Express Freight trains. The various classes of merchandise freight train were -
    1. FF1 - No. 1 Fully fitted. No. 4 headlights. Max. 50 wagons and brake. All wagons piped at least and vacuum brake had to operate on not less than half, all had to have screw or instanter couplings and oil boxes. In 1934 there were 40 FF1s run daily on the LMS.
    2. FF2 - No. 2 Fully fitted. No. 4 headlights and could load to a maximum of 55 wagons and brake. Automatic brake must operate on not less than ONE THIRD the wagons which must have screw or instanter couplings. All wagons must have oil axle boxes. In 1934, the LMS ran 97 FF2s daily.
    3. Express freight (Maltese Cross). Class 5 headlights and signalled 2-2-3. Must have four vacuum braked vehicles connected to the engine and all wagons had to have oil boxes. In 1934 again the LMS ran 147 Maltese Cross trains.
    4. Express Freight - signalled 3-2. Had to have oil boxes on all wagons. Even so, the term Express was decidedly relative. For example, in 1946 the 6.35 p.m. Express Freight from Edge Hill to Copley Hill did not reach Edgeley Junction until 8.36 p.m. - an average of 17.5 m.p.h.!
    5. Through Freight. Class 5 headlights and about all one could say was that it was slower than an express freight. As an example, again in 1946, the 4.25 p.m. through Freight train from Crewe was due at Nuneaton (T.V) at 9.56-p.m. giving an average speed of 10.9 m.p.h.

The through freight and the express freight were really the backbone of the LMS goods service. Many lines saw nothing more important than a sole Maltese Cross freight per day.

To give some idea of the volume of traffic on the various divisions here are the wagon mile figures for 1938 - In Millions of wagon miles.

Merchandise (Classes 7-21)31662254151783
Minerals & Merchandise (Classes 1-6)5775622142
Coal etc.914517838352
Percentage loaded70.3066.2165.1872.6968.24

Finally, it is interesting to compare the freight train performance of the various divisions. The figures for 1938 are in train miles per train hour.

Western Division8.94

Despite this seemingly poor performance, the LMS could still claim that ... "By 1933, 70 per cent of the freight consignments forwarded were delivered on the day after despatch and 94 per cent by the second day."

In modern terms, the LMS freight service put up a performance equal to First Class letter post!


The average LMS freight train, assuming such a thing existed would be about 30-40 wagons and brake van. It would be 0-6-0 or 0-8-0 hauled and would break few speed records. It would be either a mineral or empty mineral train or a through freight.

Finally, despite all the glamour associated with passenger services do not for one moment forget the position of freight traffic on the LMS. In 1938 for example -

Receipts from passenger train traffic22,076,728
Receipts from goods train traffic36,485,663
Total traffic receipts63,562,391

Freight was the life blood of the LMS!


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