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A 'Conflat' Train for the GCR...?

Unrestored 'Conflat A' wagons at Quorn & Woodhouse in strict numerical order:
From front to back are B507397, B507489 and B737695.
Photo © P. Hetherington 25/3/05.


The Great Central Railway operates an 8-mile section of the former GCR main line in Leicestershire (UK). Its stated aim is to re-create 'the best years of British steam locomotives' and an essential part of the main line atmosphere is its superb collection of restored goods wagons.

Although these may, at first, seem something of an indulgence for a railway whose primary traffic is now passengers, in fact many of them also perform a useful function, either as engineers vehicles for maintaining the line or by providing handy covered storage space. In addition, most are now historic vehicles in their own right.

For many years, one of the glaring omissions from the GCR's collection was a Container Flat wagon or 'Conflat'. This was surprising, because several containers designed for this type of wagon have been used as storage sheds on the GCR for many years. With the advent of the Loughborough Loco Works Project, which proposes to move the locomotive workshops to a new site, it became apparent that their days in this role were numbered and a group of GCR volunteers discussed the possibility of saving them.

Since then the project has moved on apace, and the aim is now to preserve a representative selection of container types to 'tell the story' of the rise and fall of the traditional container traffic on Britain's railways. Possibly more than any other wagon type, these containers represent an amazingly diverse selection of cargoes - from house removals to fresh meat - almost all of which have now been eliminated from the railways in favour of road transport.

The container train, therefore, will be truly representative of a bygone age when the railway was the heart of the community and before Dr. Beeching swung his mighty axe. Despite the best of intentions, they also represent what appears today to be a hopelessly inefficient and outmoded means of handling goods, which may just explain their demise!

In late 2004 the opportunity arose to purchase the first 'Conflat A' wagon for use on the GCR and B737695 duly moved to the railway in January 2005. Subsequently three further examples have been sourced. Although ultimately we have enough containers for about 12 wagons, further arrivals are unlikely in the immediate future as the focus is now on getting the first vehicles working.

Despite rumours to the contrary published in a national magazine, the project is not a 'Windcutter' style appeal aiming to preserve 30 to 40 near-identical wagons. 'Conflat' wagons ran in (relatively) fast fully-fitted freight trains mixed in with other wagon types, so there is no need to preserve a full train of them in their own right. Rather, the wagons are essentially a means of displaying the far more interesting bits, the containers.

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You might like to visit the website of my other wagon, Palbrick B B462772.

There are some railway links here.

Phil Hetherington
Last Modified: 12.12.07