Background

With the decline in domestic and industrial coal traffic as a consequence of switching many energy needs to natural gas British Rail found themselves with a surplus of relatively new air braked coal hoppers. These hoppers (TOPS code HEA) had been constructed in the late 1970s to enable facilities that were unable to handle merry-go-round trains to be served using modern wagons. With a surplus of HEA wagons available a number of different experiments were undertaken to try and find useful work for the underused assets.

One of the conversions which were attempted with the HEA hoppers from 1987 was for scrap traffic as there was a distinct shortage of suitable wagons at the time. This shortage was possibly as a consequence of the removal of vacuum braked and unfitted trains from the network which meant that the 16T mineral wagons that had previously been used for scrap traffic were no longer available. It should also be remembered that at this time British Rail were actively encouraging customers to own or lease their wagons rather than them being supplied by the railway.

With this situation in mind, a very basic conversion of HEA hoppers was attempted for scrap traffic. The main aim of the conversion was to produce a flat bottomed wagon and to take the hoppers out of use as loading and unloading at scrap processors would be via mechanical grabs and magnets. This flat bottom was achieved in two ways, either a steel plate was welded across the bottoms of the hoppers at approximately under-frame height or a similar level of ballast was dropped into the wagon. The latter wagons can be identified by an increased tare weight that was patch painted on to the data panel.

Inevitably the end of Speedlink saw the end of the majority traffic for which the wagons had been converted but some do appear to have remained in use well into the 1990s.

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