Iron Ore Trains

Prior to 1954…

In the 1940s and early 1950s, iron ore was transported from Tyne Dock to Consett using a fleet of around 400 LNER designed 21 ton hopper wagons with bottom opening doors.  These typically ran in rakes of 22 wagons plus a brake van hauled by class T3 (later reclassified as Q7) 0-8-0 locomotives.  Loading at Tyne Dock which, at the time, had no storage facilities for the iron ore, was done with mechanical grabs and buckets and had to be done immediately on the arrival of the iron ore carrying ship. Using this method, a maximum of 3,000 tons per day could be handled.

From 1954…


On 8th July 1966, Class 9F 92065 at South Pelaw Junction with a train of loaded 56 ton iron ore hoppers for Consett. Photo copyright Roy Lambeth.

In the years immediately prior to 1954, co-operation between, British Railways, Consett Iron Company and the Tyne Improvement Commission saw the introduction of a modernised system of discharging ore from ships at Tyne Dock and the subsequent unloading at Consett.  British Railways and the Consett Iron Ore Company signed a 20 year contract for the movement of the iron ore from Tyne Dock to Consett.

iron ore hopper

A Shildon built iron ore wagon used on the ore trains from 1953 to 1974. Photo copyright Howie Milburn

At Tyne Dock a new quay was built with a minimum water depth of 35ft allowing ships of up to 20,000 tonnes to berth and be unloaded.  Five electrically operated 10 ton ‘kangaroo’ cranes were installed each capable of unloading 300 tons of ore per hour on to a system of conveyors which carried the ore to ten storage bunkers.  From the bunkers, the ore was discharged into mobile hoppers where it was weighed and then discharged in to a lower line of eighteen hoppers.  Each of these hoppers had pneumatic doors allowing the contents to be discharged directly in to wagons below.  Each of the new wagons had two compartments each of which received the exact amount of ore from the hoppers.  A video of ore loading facility at Tyne Dock can be viewed here.  A nine wagon trail could be loaded in less than a minute.


A brake van would always bring up the rear of the train with, occasionally, a second one conveying railway enthusiasts. Photo copyright Howie Milburn

Thirty of the 56 ton wagons were built at Shildon starting in 1951 and were introduced in 1953 originally alongside the existing wagons which were finally replaced in early 1954.  Air operated doors allowed for quick unloading at Consett and required dedicated Westinghouse air pumps to be fitted to the locomotives that pulled the trains.  To haul the trains, five Q7 locomotives (Nos 63460/63/65/69/73) and five O1 class locomotives (Nos 63712/55/60, 63856/74) were fitted with the air pump equipment.

Originally, ten trains per day were timetabled to run but this was increased to 14 trains per day in June 1954.

Due to their weight and the severe gradients on parts of line, the iron ore trains required a banker for the first mile from Tyne Dock and then from South Pelaw to Annfield Plain.  For the first mile, the banking locomotive was usually a shunting engine allocated to Tyne Dock.  From South Pelaw, the banking locomotive was often another 9F or, in later years, a Type 4 (later Class 40) diesel locomotive.  The train engines would return to Tyne Dock shed after each return trip to Consett and the banking engines based at South Pelaw would return to Tyne Dock after three runs to Annfield Plain.

Iron Ore Wagon. Photo copyright Arthur Kimber

Iron Ore Wagon. Photo copyright Arthur Kimber

Iron Ore Wagon. Photo copyright Arthur Kimber

Iron Ore Wagon. Photo copyright Arthur Kimber

Iron Ore Wagon. Photo copyright Arthur Kimber

Iron Ore Wagon. Photo copyright Arthur Kimber

Iron ore wagon with doors open after discharge at Consett on 17 September 1966. Photo copyright Tony Lambert

Iron ore wagon with doors open after discharge at Consett on 17 September 1966. Photo copyright Tony Lambert

Detail of air and vacuum pipes on iron ore wagons. Photo copyright Tony Lambert

Detail of air and vacuum pipes on iron ore wagons. Photo copyright Tony Lambert


End of Line – the unloading gantry at Consett. Photo copyright Ernie Brack


A close up of the Westinghouse Pumps fitted to the 9Fs to operate the doors on the iron ore wagons. Photo copyright Howie Milburn

Originally run in rakes of 8 wagons plus a brake van, the introduction of the 2-10-0 9F locomotives in 1956 (10 9F locomotives Nos 92060-92066 and 92097 – 92099 were fitted with the Westinghouse pumps and were based at Tyne Dock shed) with their greater tractive effort than their predecessors allowed for an additional 9th wagon to the be added to the trains (the unloading facilities at Consett could handle a maximum of 9 wagons).

Unloading at Consett

Having reached Consett, the iron ore trains would make use of an unloading gantry. Twenty two bunkers, each capable of holding thirty tons of ore, sat underneath the gantry over which a single track passed.

The gantry was reached from a line to the right which was taken just after passing the signal box at Carr House West. The line formed part of a triangle and ran to Fell Box.

Whilst Fell box was owned by the Consett Iron Company, it was staffed an operated by British Railways Staff. Beyond the signal box were three reception lines and the loaded ore trains were usually received in the right hand (No. 1) line.

Access to the unloading gantry was controlled by the Consett Iron Ore Company and, to gain access, the train guard would provide one set of the train’s documents to the Traffic Agent and the other to the Consett Iron Company’s gantry leading man.

Once stopped the Consett Iron Company staff would release all the safety levers on the gantry and advise the guard when this was completed. Only then would the train be allowed to move forward onto the gantry under the control of the Gantry Leading Man for unloading.

When the train was positioned correctly for unloading the guard notified the driver to open the doors. Once unloaded into the hoppers the ore was then transferred to a mobile hopper and then on to a conveyor which took it to the storage bunkers. From the storage bunkers, measured amounts of ore were loaded in to steel tubs which then delivered it to the blast furnace at the Steelworks.

Once the wagons had been emptied, the guard would advise the driver to close the doors after which he would operate the ground frame to allow the train to reverse from the gantry. Once clear of the gantry line Consett Iron Company staff would re-instate all the safety lock handles and pins on the gantry. After the reversal was completed a couple of ground frame operations and shunting moves would position the now empty train for its journey back to Tyne Dock.

Approach to Stella Gill 1

Having negotiated South Pelaw Junction a 9F passes Stella Gill sidings at the beginning of the climb to Consett. Photo copyright Keith Hoult

In the years between 1956 and 1963 almost 8 million tons of ore was carried to Consett involving more that 15,500 round trips from Tyne Dock to Consett.  However, in an indication of things to come, shipments dropped from 1.3 million tons in 1956 to just over 716,000 tonnes in 1963.

From 1966 onwards the ore trains would arrive at South Pelaw via Ouston Junction and the line to Washington was mothballed in 1970.  The 9Fs, some of which were little over 10 years old were withdrawn from 1965 onwards with the final 9F hauled train, named the Tyne Docker running to Consett on 19 November 1966 behind a specially cleaned and adorned 92063.  The train consist also included an additional brake van to accommodate some railway enthusiast.  92063 was withdrawn in November 1966 so this may have been it’s final train.

92097 with a loaded ore train at Low Fell on 14th August 1965 with the ECML in the background. At the weekend, iron ore trains would reach South Pelaw via Gateshead and Low Fell rather than via Washington. Photo copyright Trevor Ermel.

Q6 63431 and a single ore wagon at Pelaw 26th May 1967. The chalk inscriptions read ‘Tyne Dock Shops’ so presumably it’s on its way to Simonside Wagon Works for repair. Photo copyright Trevor Ermel

The demise of steam, 1966 onwards…


On 30th September 1970, Class 24s 5103 and 5110, both still in green livery hauling a fully loaded iron ore train from Tyne Dock to Consett. Photo Copyright Bill Jamieson

The early 1960s saw experiments with diesel hauled traction on the line.  This included to use of two Class 17 ‘Clayton’ locomotives from Scotland which proved wholly inadequate for job.  They were also used to propel a train pulled by a single Sulzer Type 2 (later Class 24) locomotive.  At least one test was also run with a Type 4 diesel before double headed Type 2s became the standard traction for the trains.  These locomotives, like the 9Fs before them were modified with air pumps to work the doors on the wagons.  With the associated additional pipes on the buffer beams and modifications to the underframe tanks, the Tyne Dock 24s were easily distinguishable from other members of the class.

24andclaytons @southpelaw1

One of the early experiments into using diesel power on the iron ore trains produced this unusual combination of a Class 24 at the head of the train with two Class 17 Claytons bringing up the rear. Photo copyright Bill Watson


D5107 leads an unidentified class mate on an iron ore train at Low Fell. Photo Author’s Collection

The twenty year contract for the movement of iron ore from 1954 ended in 1974. However the steelworks at Consett, now owned by the British Steel Corporation (BSC), still required delivery of iron ore, up to 1.6 million tons a year.

BSC concentrated the import of iron ore at its Redcar facility which meant that the facility at Tyne Dock was now surplus to requirements.

On March 26 1974, two trains were used to clear the bunkers at Tyne Dock, the first, at 10:45 was pulled by 24106 & 24110 whilst the second, due to run at 12:00 but delayed until 14:00 was pulled by 24109 & 24103.

As with the 9Fs before them, the Gateshead based Class 24s were no longer needed resulting in 24107/108/109/111 quickly being transferred to Haymarket whilst the wagons were placed in storage at Heaton. A month later the four 24s were moved to Eastfield.

In May, the remaining locomotives were moved, 24102/03/04 went to Inverness, 24105/06 to Eastfield and 24110 to Haymarket.

The iconic iron ore wagons which had, of course, been designed specifically for the Tyne Dock to Consett line were of no use on the main rail network but, as I understand it, some of the wagons were used internally at Scunthorpe (Corby Steelworks) and some of the underframes and bogies went on to further use in Teesside, one photo here and another here.

An iron ore train at Consett in 1970 with the unloading gantry in the background. Photo Authors Collection

An iron ore train at Consett in 1970 with the unloading gantry in the background. Photo Authors Collection

D5107 and D5102 passing Low Fell with an iron ore train in August 1968. Photo copyright Trevor Ermel.

Only a couple of weeks before the service from Tyne Dock ended, 24106 and 24105 leave Tyne Dock with an iron ore train on 6 March 1974. Photo copyright Trevor Ermel

All change, March 1974 onwards…

An official British Rail publicity photograph from 1975 shows two Class 37s on an ore train. Photo Authors Collection

An iron ore train hauled by two Class 37 in 1975. Photo Authors Collection

Following the transfer of the Class 24s to Scotland and the storage of the 1950s ore wagons, the iron ore now arrived from Redcar in trains of nine 100 ton PTA bogie wagons each capable of carrying up to 675 tons of ore, always hauled by pairs of Class 37s.  One hundred and fourteen of the wagons were built from 1972 at British Steel’s own Redpath Dorman and Long works in Middlesbrough.  After less than 10 years service, with the closure of the steelworks, the wagons were sold to Procor, a wagon hiring company.

The loading of the wagons at Redcar was similar to that at Tyne Dock, with the use of overhead gantries that could load the nine wagon sets in about fifteen minutes.

From Redcar the trains made their way through Teesside to join the East Coast mainline for a short distance before turning off at Tursdale Junction and joining the Leamside line to reach the former Tyne Dock – South Pelaw route at Washington. This route had been closed in 1970, when the ore trains joined the Consett line at Ouston Junction, but now the section from Washington to South Pelaw was re-opened for the iron ore workings.

At Consett the unloading process was different, the former unloading gantry was no longer used.  As the new wagons were equipped with rotating couplers, they were emptied using a rotary tippler which allowing the entire train to remain coupled as each wagon was unloaded. The unloading of these trains was slower than the former method of using the gantry at Consett as all the wagons could no longer be unloaded at once.  A peculiarity of the ore trains was that, due to the design of the tippler at Consett they had to arrive at Consett in reverse formation which is why they were always routed via Washington to run round.  If the Leamside was blocked for any reason they ran via Tyne Yard to reverse.

The ore trains were very reliable, at least from a railway point of view. Any disruption was usually caused by problems with BSC at either Redcar or Consett. The Thornaby Class 37s ran like sewing machines. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there wasn’t a single loco failure on the Consett ore services between 1974 and 1980.

At their height, there were eight loaded ore trains from Redcar Ore Terminal to Consett, Mondays to Fridays, and four on Saturdays.  As closure loomed, the blast furnaces were run down and ore flow dwindled to just one train a day when the last service ran on 10 September 1980.  A week later a loco was sent light from Thornaby TMD to Consett to collect the set off the last loaded service, the wagons were still half loaded…

The loss of work at Thornaby depot alone was devastating. Eight full crews a day, about forty jobs altogether allowing for relief cover, and three pairs of Class 37s, were displaced.

For many years there was a dispute between Gateshead and Tyne depots over the allocation of work, resulting in Tyne locomen only working class 6, 7, 8 and 9 trains. But, as soon as the closure of Consett works was announced, the Tyne drivers Local Departmental Committee realised the writing was on the wall for many of their jobs, lifted the restriction and would once again work any classification of train.

And finally…

On 10 September 1980 it all came to an end with the running of 6K60, the 18:15 Redcar to Consett ore train hauled by 37053 and 37055, the final ore train to run to Consett.

The photographer who took the photographs of the last train below and to the right who was an Assistant Freight Controller responsible for the Redcar to Consett ore trains, sent me the following notes:

“One aspect of the Redcar to Consett Ore trains, and the sole reason why I was able to record the passing of the last one, was that they consistently ran early.

The crew diagrams and train working were packed with spare time. The driver was allowed enough time to prepare two 37’s on depot, then light diesels to Tees Down stagings, attach the set of the previous working from Consett, work to Redcar Ore Terminal, load the same set, work to Consett, slip work onto the set off the previous working, then return to Tees Down stagings, detach the set then light to the shed. But, in practice, they walked across to Tees Down Stagings, relieved the inward working from Consett, at Redcar Ore Terminal they detached their set and took one that was already loaded, as there were more than enough sets of wagons to do this, then ran round at Washington in such a short time that I find it hard to believe that a brake test was conducted. To this end they ran amazingly early, right to the last. When I photographed 6K60 it was approximately 110 minutes early!

The light was fading fast, and another ten minutes or so would have been too late. I was mightily relieved when 6K60, which was timed to leave Redcar at 18:25, appeared around the sweeping curve from Annfield Plain just in the nick of time.” 

An iron ore train passes Oxhill, near Stanley, in the late 1970s. Photo Author’s Collection, used with permission

An iron ore train passes Oxhill, near Stanley, in the late 1970s. Photo Author’s Collection, used with permission

37080 and 37010, heading past Stanley with a loaded ore train for Consett on a wintry 11th January 1977. Photo copyright Stephen McGahon

Consett to Redcar iron ore empties kick up the snow while descending the 1 in 50 gradient between Annfield Plain and Stanley, behind 37080 and 37010, on a wintry 11th January 1977. Photo copyright Stephen McGahon

37053 and 37055 at East Castle on 10 September 1980 with the very last iron ore train to Consett. Photo Authors Collection

37053 and 37055 at East Castle on 10 September 1980 with the very last iron ore train to Consett. Photo Author’s Collection, used with permission

37053 and 37055 at East Castle on 10 September 1980 with the very last iron ore train to Consett. Photo Authors Collection

37053 and 37055 at East Castle on 10 September 1980 with the very last iron ore train to Consett. Photo Author’s Collection, used with permission


10 thoughts on “Iron Ore Trains

  1. Pingback: Evening Star and the morning goods | Steam Age Daydreams – Trains of thought

  2. John Hooper

    Fascinating piece nicely put together. However, there is always somebody who wants a little more information. So, in the hope that you might be able to oblige, my question is – What happened to the Shildon-built 56-ton vehicles once they were withdrawn and stored at Heaton?

    Thanking you in anticipation.

    John Hooper

  3. Keith

    Brilliant article, I lived in the north east for sometime and cycled the old routes, I just wish I had looked for the pellets. Do you know where the wagons were scrapped and do any pictures exist of this happening.

  4. Jon Musgrove

    I used to go to the Secondary school at Pelton which backed onto the line, and would see these go by. Going even further back, I can recall hearing the repeated thump-thump of the loaded trains battling up the incline at Pelton. It seemed so late in the night, I must have been only in single number years to be in bed at that time of the day. The photos and article here are awesome and certainly bring memories flooding back.

  5. Leslie Lowes

    I used to cycle from Blackhill to Pelton just to watch the 9f’s haul their loaded wagons up the steep grade towards Consett. A second 9f used as a banker at the rear of the train was a bonus! This would be about 1960 or 61.

    1. Richard Straughan

      Hi we lived at lime villla farm in beamish from 1958 until 1975 i used to see the sparks and glow off the fire in the exaust off the 9fs and q class engines while in bed of a night time the line almost went under the house and the windows used to rattle like hell but i was only a kid born in 1955 so really thought it would always be there …..

  6. Allan Coultish

    My uncle , Frankie Moore was a fireman and I think he went on to be a driver in the 60’s on these trains
    He did take me round Tyne Dock shed one day , but I cannot remember much.
    I am envious of the folk who rode in the Gaurds van on the “ Tyne Docker “ that last steam Day

  7. Steve Partlett

    There was at least one major accident at Redcar Ore Terminal sidings while I worked there as an electrician.
    Two class 37’s left their empties and moved forward to the BSC signal box to collect their paperwork. The next
    move should have been to return through the sidings on the transfer road to collect their full wagons. The points had not been changed for this move when the loco’s set off and they collided with the wagons that they
    had just left. The leading class 37 cab was totally destroyed and three wagons were seriously damaged. One wagon rode over the roof of the 37 and landed to one side, minus it’s bogies. The loco crew escaped injury
    because they remained in the original leading loco cab. My part in the incident was to prove all points and
    signals were working OK. There was a route indicator for this move, and it was found to be working OK. The
    signalman admitted his error, but what was said to the BR loco crew about failing to observe the RI I do not
    know. There was a whole load more problems sorting out the damage, but I have run out of space………

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