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Class A Petroleum Products Tanker No. 1603

This two-axle, Class A petroleum products tanker was built as part of a major tank building programme after the major oil companies had signed long-term contracts with British Railways in 1963. No.1603 was built by private wagon builders Metro-Cammell in 1965, although their build plate reads 1966. (Class A tanks were designed to carry volatile fuels such as petrol and aviation spirit). Built for the Shell-Mex and British Petroleum joint rail fleet to the maximum capacity possible within the constraints of a 22.5 Ton axle loading, these "monobloc" type tankers could carry over 30 Tons of liquid and were originally fitted with vacuum brakes. As shut-off valves had become far more reliable by this time, these tanks were fitted with bottom discharge valves.

Being a privately-owned vehicle, the wagon had to be registered with a railway "company" in order to run on the national network. 1603 was registered with BR London Midland Region in 1965 as No. 187240. After the British Railways 1955 Modernisation Plan, tanks that were designed for use in higher speed freight trains (and having wheelsets with roller axle bearings fitted) were denoted by two stars on the tank body and a similarly marked cast registration plate on the solebars.

1603 later had its vacuum brakes replaced by twin-pipe air, when this was accepted as the future BR braking system - single-pipe air was later adopted as standard. When the Shell/BP rail fleet was divided, this vehicle was allocated to the Shell company and, following the introduction of the TOPS system on BR, was renumbered SUKO 67341 and was designated as a "TTA" (tank type "T" with air braking only).

Shell-BP Tanker No. 1603

1603, still numbered SUKO 67341 is seen at Kingscote on 18th. February 2005. The outline of the old Shell and BP decals can be seen on the upper tankside, Chris Dadson

Much of rail's domestic fuel traffic was lost to road during the recession of the 1980's, when minimum profit requirements were applied to the BR freight business by the Government. In addition, the gradual introduction of pipelines significantly reduced the volume of aviation fuel being carried. The majority of these 4-wheeled tanks became redundant. Many were sold on and converted to carry different cargoes. Some were donated to preservation societies.

1603 was one of a pair of similar tanks donated to the Bluebell Railway by Shell, being delivered by road from Crawley New Yard. This tank became an emergency water supply for engines and was based at Kingscote. The TOPS-era "Hazchem" signage has been removed and the stars repainted onto the tank sides in an effort to blend it into the 1950's atmosphere of Kingscote, but little else has been done in the way of restoration, the role of this vehicle being principally utilitarian.

Recommended reading:

British Goods Wagons From 1887 To The Present Day, by Messrs. Essery, Rowland and Steel;
published by David and Charles, 1970. ISBN 7153 4739 X
This book is no longer available new. Try the Carriage Shop at Horsted Keynes for a used copy on your next visit.

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