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<< Profile 41 >> MCO/MCV 16t Mineral Wagons
Build Details: 1944-1959 by various firms
Numbering: B3002-B199307, B203000-B279658, B550000-B596393, all with gaps
Bogies / Suspension:
Dimensions: 16ft 6in over headstocks, 9ft wheelbase
Published Drawings: 'BR Wagon - the first half million' and 'An Illustrated History of BR Wagons'
Areas of operation: Nationwide
Main liveries: grey, brown, rusty
Summary: What can you say about the humble BR 16 ton mineral wagon that hasn't been said before? How about the fact that, if made up into a single train, they would stretch over 1,100 miles! It is likely that they were never all in service at the same time of course, the building programme lasting from 1944 to 1959. The vast majority of BR 16 ton minerals had metal bodies with doors in the sides and one end (and in the floor on many), mounted on 9ft wheelbase underframes with plain bearings and unfitted Morton brake gear. The type survived in revenue use until the late 1980s, and a few years longer in departmental service.

History: The earliest wagons were actually built for the Ministry of War Transport from 1944 onwards, but were taken over by British Railways upon nationalisation in 1948. These 55,000-odd wagons were given B-prefixes to their MoWT numbers and can thus be considered to be part of the BR fleet. A further 10,000 wagons were built in 1945/1946 for use by the SNCF in France but soon proved outdated. Over 9000 were purchased by BR between 1950 and 1953, overhauled and given numbers in the B-series. Recognisable by their continental-style 'cupboard' doors, all were withdrawn by the end of the 1960s.

The main building program for BR started in 1950 and involved a large number of contractors. The type was intended to replace the huge fleet of wooden bodied open wagons inherited from the regional railways and private owners, the primary traffic being coal. A variety of diagram numbers were issued to cover detail differences although most (85%) were to diagram 1/108. The orders were impressive, with lots of 1,000, 1,500 and 2,500 wagons being common. Quite late in the program, Pressed Steel was awarded an order for 27,500 wagons, split across 4 lot numbers.

An interesting aspect of the size of the 16ton Mineral fleet was the way in which numbers were allocated. The earliest wagons took numbers in blocks starting at B64000, these being the only B-prefixed type to have just 5 digits rather than 6. Even lower numbers, starting at B3002, were assigned to wagons taken over from the MoWT. By the mid 1950s, the build programme had reached number B189866. The ex SNCF 16ton wagons had been numbered in the B19xxxx range while the B200000-B202499 series had been used for 21ton Mineral wagons. The main series for new-build 16ton wagons therefore resumed at B203000 and ran, with a few gaps, to B279658. Most of the higher numbers had already been used for other types and the build programme continued from B550000 in 1957, running to B595699 over the next two years. The B6xxxxx series was presumably left free to allow for further builds but this was not to be and these numbers later appeared on Freightliner bogie container wagons in the 1960s.

Rebodying of wagons (with new bodies) had started almost before the main build programme was completed, and this continued into the 1970s. Most wagons retained their existing numbers but one small batch of new numbers was issued in 1975 for bodies fitted to former Palbrick wagons. 394 were produced under lot number 3863, and these were the only 16ton Minerals built on 10ft wheelbase underframes (all others being 9ft). As well as the wheelbase, the underframe was 1 foot longer than standard at 17ft 6in, and the body was redesigned to fit. Numbered B596000 to B596393, these wagons were barely distinguishable from the more numerous, shorter wagons.

There is little point in going over the detail differences here. Apart from being well covered in publications, the vagaries of repairs and rebodying programs meant that, by the TOPS era, the remaining wagons were often quite different to when new. TOPS codes of MCO and MCV were allocated to the type, with code MXV added in 1981 to differentiate those wagons fitted with push brakes (one shoe per wheel) rather than clasp (two shoes per wheel). Many MXVs were never physically recoded as such. As well as ongoing rebodying there was also a program to fit vacuum brakes to many of the wagons starting in the 1960s. Between 1966 and 1977 the number of vacuum braked wagons rose from 11,104 to 18,863, while the unfitted fleet was decimated, falling from 247,266 to 37,100. As well as age, the arrival of modern coal hopper wagons displaced large quantities of 16 tonners. Many were withdrawn but there were also some new traffics, including scrap metal. The last MCOs were taken out of use in 1984 leaving around 4,900 MCVs and MXVs still in traffic. By spring 1986 the total was down to 1,435 (846 MCV and 589 MXV), dropping further to 297 a year later. Another year on and the once vast fleet was gone, just a couple of wagons remaining on TOPS either long withdrawn or 'lost'. Indeed TOPS was still showing a single MXV in 1998.

Several thousand 16ton Mineral wagons were transferred to departmental use in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These were initially unfitted examples, which were recoded ZHO, soon being followed by numerous vacuum-braked wagons, recoded ZHV. They were used by the civil engineers for general spoil carrying and, due to the denser nature of these loads compared to coal, most had rectangular holes roughly cut in the bodysides. As well as providing a visual guide to the safe loading depth, these physically prevented overloading. Once full, any additional spoil would fall through the holes. Most of the wagons were in a very rusty and worn condition but many had the holes edged with white paint. By late 1987, some 3,600 ZHVs were in use but fleet contraction and the cascading of slightly newer wagons saw this gradually decrease until just 26 were left in 1992. Four remained on TOPS in 1999 but these were most likely long gone by then.

It is worth mentioning that two batches of wagons sold for private use survived into the TOPS era. Bought by C C Crump and hired to ICI Mond for the transport of soda ash from 1971 onwards, they were given numbers CC5500-5599 and CLWD5600-5819 with the slightly unfortunate TOPS code of POO. All were withdrawn in 1979. The only place to see 16ton Mineral wagons today is on preserved railways.

Links: Photos of various BR Mineral wagons on Paul Bartlett's website

Updates: 04/04/2013: Photo links (finally) updated.
For more pictures see the Links section at the bottom

Page added: 01/01/2008 Spotted an error? Got some additional info?
Please e-mail me at tom (at)
Last edited: 14/07/2008