Remembering the UKF trains
Having documented the BOC trains operating out of Ditton in TRACTION 261 and 262, David J. Hayes now turns his attention to the fertiliser workings that once emanated from Ince & Elton.
It is sometimes mistakenly thought that UKF was an abbreviation for United Kingdom Fertilisers and I have even seen it used that way in print. It’s an easy mistake to make, but it was actually an abbreviation for Dutch company Unie van Kunstmest Fabrieken. The company had its UK manufacturing base (originally opened in the mid-1960s under the aegis of Shell/ Armour Star) at Ince Marshes, also known as Ince & Elton, in Cheshire and about five miles south (as the crow flies) of the British Oxygen Company’s (BOC) main production plant at Ditton near Widnes.
Indeed, like BOC, which operated dedicated block trains of nitrogen and oxygen to specific BOC terminals, and also used the Speedlink wagonload network to distribute less than trainload tonnages of liquified atmospheric gasses to other parts of the UK, the UKF company did likewise, but for the nationwide distribution of its palletized sacks and large bulk bags of fertiliser products.
The UKF company had previously traded as Shellstar which had invested heavily in a new specialised fleet of air-braked wagons for its fertiliser business in the late 1960s. The initial batch of wagons were of curtainsided construction with Shellstar company branding and logo. Known as pallet vans, or ‘Palvans’, subsequent new builds were fitted with sliding side doors, as were, later, the initial curtain-sided wagons; all were coded PWA.
The different variants of ‘Palvans’ will be covered in detail in an article by David Ratcliffe’s in a future issue ofTRACTION. The accompanying map (by Andy Williams) shows the various fertiliser locations once served from Ince & Elton by its Company block trains and by Speedlink.
Early trunk trains
The trunk services operated by Shellstar, and later by UKF, were usually formed of uniform trains of ‘Palvans’, which often consisted of portions for two or more destinations. Much of Shellstar’s railborne block train output was routed via the West Midlands for a while, with several such services in the early 1970s being booked for electric haulage to Pleck Junction, about a mile south of Walsall station, from where they were diesel hauled via the Sutton Park line to gain the North East to South West main line at Castle Bromwich (situated between Birmingham and Water Orton).
Table One details the loaded Shellstar fertiliser workings from Ince & Elton that were routed via Walsall as of May 1970. As will be seen, all operated on a once weekly basis and, in most cases, utilised the same headcode (6V35) and path to reach the West Midlands. The electric to diesel traction change timings at Pleck Junction were 21:13-21:33 SSuX (20:18-20:38 SO). The return empties (coded 6M54) were electric hauled from Walsall station where they called from 02:25-02:45 MSuX to facilitate the loco change over.
In addition to those services tabulated, the working timetable for that period also shows fertiliser departures from Ince & Elton to Braintree (6E40, dep. 16:30 FO) and to Whitemoor (6E40, dep. 16:30 FSSuX). There was also a weekly departure to Akeman Street (6A30, dep. 12:47 WO), but this was shown as ‘Suspended’ as of May 1970, possibly because this traffic was now to be conveyed as a ‘portion’ by the Horsham train.
Further additions to the Shellstar fertiliser train plan in the early 1970s included block train departures to Carlisle, Darlington, Horsham and Perth. By that time, the electric hauled trains shown in Table One had been amended for diesel haulage throughout, the exception being the Saturday service to Carmarthen, but even this soon succumbed to being diesel hauled throughout.
SHELLSTAR began trading as UKF in 1975 and rail operations remained relatively unchanged, with company block trains still continuing to be dispatched from the Cheshire plant to various destinations in England, Scotland and Wales just as they had done under the auspices of Shellstar, with most trains, again, conveying traffic for two or more destinations.
TableTwo shows the UKF train plan as of October 1978 and also gives details of the portions conveyed by these services at that time.The thrice-weekly 6E40 MTWO block train to Whitemoor is particularly noteworthy, as it conveyed traffic for no fewer than six destinations, many of which were also mirrored by that of the Sunday 6E40 block train departure to Braintree. The delivery of some of these portions to their end destinations was dealt with by utilising Speedlink tripping resources or by trips catering for traditional wagonload traffic or perhaps a mixture of both.
The number of trunk services being dispatched, as per October 1978, amounts to eleven block trains per week, equating to two departures each on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and single departures on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Excluding Whitemoor, a total of eight destinations were served during the week, with portions being conveyed for a further 15 other locations (as well as being served by a direct block train, Plymouth was also served as a ‘portion location’ by the Truro train).
Although outside the main scope of this feature, it is worth mentioning at this point that traffic generated by Shellstar and UKF at Ince & Elton at various times also included inbound and outbound chemicals, such as anhydrous ammonia to Barton-on-Humber (for Associated Chemicals), Normanby Park (for Nypro) and Seal Sands (for Monsanto); nitric acid to British Nuclear Fuels at Salwick and Sellafield; nitric acid fromThames Haven; and phosphoric acid from Avonmouth, Corkickle and Immingham. The majority of these chemical flows operated as block trains, although some were relatively shortlived because certain chemicals used in the manufacture of fertilisers were later produced ‘in house’ at Ince & Elton.
Akeman Street portioning moves
Probably the best known and most frequently photographed UKF portioning movement on the network was that between Bletchley and Akeman Street, Buckinghamshire, which was a regular Saturday morning runner. As can be seen fromTableTwo, the traffic was conveyed by Friday’s Horsham bound train (6O48), which, as of October 1978, was booked to call at Bletchley from 21:23-21:38.The service was electric hauled from Crewe Basford Hall (dep. 18:17) to London where it recessed overnight (22:41-06:55) at Acton Lane Sidings before being diesel hauled across the capital on the Saturday morning by way of the West London Line (see features in TRACTION 224 and 252). It was booked to reach its Southern Region destination at 08:48.
The portioning moves to and from Akeman Street used the now demolished Bletchley flyover, the loaded delivery run being a relatively straightforward operation. Returning the empties to Bletchley, however, was a little more complicated. Lack of run round facilities at Akeman Street required the empty wagons to be propelled to Grendon Underwood Junction from where they proceeded to Aylesbury to perform the required run round manoeuvre. It was not unknown for the empty fertiliser vans from Akeman Street to be accompanied by empty coal wagons from Aylesbury on the return run to Bletchley.
The Akeman Street UKF empties connected into 6M69, which, again, as of October 1978, ran as the 14:20 SO Horsham to Ince & Elton. This was electric hauled from Willesden Brent Sidings, where it called from 15:45-16:02 for traction change purposes, and made a further call at Bletchley from 16:50-17:38. The last leg of the journey ‘home’ was diesel-hauled from
Crewe station (dep. 21:02).
Fertiliser deliveries to Akeman Street in later years, as with various other UKF fertiliser destinations, began using a mixture of PWA ‘Palvans’, OCA opens and high capacity international ferry vans (used for big bulk bag traffic).The latter were similar to the IPA (later coded IWA) ‘Holdalls’ used for the Norsk Hydro fertiliser business operating out of the former Fisons plant at Immingham (like UKF, this rival company also ran dedicated block trains and utilised the Speedlink wagonload network).
Another variant of van used by UKF for a short while were Procor two axle curtain sided PVA types, which were very similar to those used for the Campbell’s Soups traffic originating from Kings Lynn.