‘Clay Tigers’ and the Potteries

IT was great to read David Ratcliffe’s feature in the July issue on PBA ‘Tiger’ wagons, which were used predominantly on clay workings from the West Country to the Potteries. I am very familiar with these distinct wagons and services, as they passed through my home town of Wednesbury using the Dudley line for at least 20 years up until closure of that line in March 1993.
The movement of china clay from the West Country to the Potteries must today rank as one of the longest-surviving (if not the longest) freight flow on the network. It began passing through the West Midlands as the ‘Clayliner’ in October 1973, when haulage was often provided by a Class 52 ‘Western’ as far as Bescot, from where an electric worked the train forward (the service had previously been ‘Western’-hauled via Westbury, Oxford and Bletchley, from where it was electric-hauled).
Based on Working Time Table information, the initial trunk service between the West Country and the Potteries using the new PBA ‘Tigers’ commenced as a 6M26 direct company train from Drinnick Mill to Cliffe Vale (Staffordshire), which was routed via Bescot for a crew change (as did the 6V40 return empties to Exeter). This would appear to have been a relatively short-lived arrangement, lasting less than 12-months (ending around July 1983), as the Potteries traffic was subsequently amended to being Speedlink-hauled from the West Country via Severn Tunnel Junction (STJ) and Bescot yards. The trunk Speedlink-haul from South Wales to the West Midlands required a forwarding Speedlink feeder connection from Bescot to Cliffe Vale (6K30).
This feeder arrangement was later dispensed with, and the trunk Speedlink between STJ and Bescot (6M72) was simply extended through to Cliffe Vale, but still called at Bescot for operating purposes. At the same time, the service was also being used for conveying South Wales steel traffic to the West Midlands. This mainly consisted of Allied Steel & Wire (ASW) business from Cardiff, which was detached en route at Brierley Hill and Wednesbury, the empties being collected later in the day by the return working from Cliffe Vale to STJ (6V70).
By the 1990s, the service to Cliffe Vale (6M72) had been amended to start from St Blazey (STJ Yard had closed in 1987), by which time the traffic stops at Brierley Hill and Wednesbury had been omitted. This was the era of rail freight sectorisation and bottom line accountability, and the ASW steel traffic was now being hauled direct to the West Midlands using dedicated Trainload Metals services from Cardiff Tidal Yard.
Very little changed with regards to the St Blazey to Cliffe Vale working post-Speedlink. However, there was a period when the PBA ‘Tigers’ were replaced for a while with Traffic Services ‘Polybulk’ type wagons. This was around the time Tiger Rail went into receivership in 1992, and I believe this may well have been the reason for the PBA ‘Tigers’ temporary replacement.
From about the mid-1990s, the St Blazey to Cliffe Vale service (still running as 6M72) would form part of the expanding Enterprise wagonload network, initially launched by Transrail in September 1994 and later expanded upon by English Welsh & Scottish Railway (EWS), and was used for conveying miscellaneous wagonload consignments as far as Bescot. This included clay slurry from Burngullow destined for Sittingbourne – a traffic flow which itself, interestingly enough, was once an air-braked block train operation launched and marketed as the ‘Clayfreighter’ some 50 years ago in February 1967!

David J. Hayes
Wednesbury, West Midlands

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