Freight Trains of the Western Region in the 1980s by Kevin Redwood
I think my interest in freight trains stems from a very early age, as the house in Exeter where I was born was within sight and sound of Exmouth Junction. The marshalling yards there were still busy round the clock, and we could hear the clanging and clashing of buffers and couplings as the shunting took place. When I was still small my mum Ruth Redwood would take me in the pushchair for a walk, and we often ended up in a lane that overlooked the yards at Exmouth Junction. Consequently the shunting of freight wagons holds a fascination for me to this day.
We had no family car until the late 1960s and so day trips to the seaside or family holidays to places like Cornwall were made by train. My dad Norman Redwood was a fourth generation railwayman, and on train journeys he would point out things and places of interest, and answer my endless questions. By this stage of his career he was working for the civil engineers so I quickly became familiar with the sealions, dogfish, catfish and mermaids of the civil engineering wagon fleet. In due course he would sometimes take me with him to work, visiting yards and depots around the Western Region, and this continued after I too had started a career with British Rail in 1977.
My interest in freight trains led me to a job in the Area Freight Centre in Bristol as a TOPS clerk making computer data inputs for freight traffic in the Bristol and Avonmouth area. I was fortunate that among my colleagues were several older supervisors with many tales to tell of railway life over the recent decades. When I bought my first decent camera I was able to arrange with the local staff to make trips to yards and sidings around Bristol and record some of the freight activity. With the inside information available to me I was able to record some special workings, and trial loads. I was already well aware by then that the freight scene was changing, with many yards and sidings closing as local factories closed, or traffic transferred to road.
In order to try and capture some of the vanishing scenes around the rail network I would use my rest days from work to travel around the Western Region. Some journeys, to Cornwall or West Wales were long trips, but Newport and Cardiff were easily reached from home, and provided many things of interest to photograph. In particular I realised that in the South Wales Valleys I was witnessing the end of an era with pit closures and a diminishing number of traditional coal wagons remaining in use. The South Wales allocation of class 37 locos worked coal trains up and down the valleys, and I was fascinated to see loaded coal trains often heading back up the valleys as coal was taken to coke works or patent fuel plants. In contrast to the busy routes of South Wales down in Devon and Cornwall there was much less traffic, and so more of a challenge to find trains to photograph. Here china clay, and ball clay, were the major commodities moved by rail, in a variety of wagon types old and new. I also visited my home town of Exeter quite a few times, and although traffic was declining there were still some familiar sights from my childhood.
Some of the later photographic trips were made in the company of my friend and BR colleague Roland Carp, where he kindly did the driving in his Ford Capri. Roland also made available his photos from the later 1980s which has enabled me to give a fuller coverage of freight traffic across the decade.
At the time I was taking the photos my job in the Area Freight Centre meant that I often had prior warning of a train movement, quite often these were locally arranged workings that were not common knowledge. I would like to thank those railwaymen and women I worked with for their help, and also the railway staff I met in my travels who gave me advice or directions. Choosing the photos for this book, and researching details of the trains involved, has brought back many happy memories from my travels in the 1980s. I am also grateful to my mum and dad who started me out ‘on the right track’.
Kevin Redwood's new book Freight Trains of the Western Region in the 1980s is available for purchase now.