Pictures from the Downside Hump before and after Modernisation in 1939


A community project 2016 - 2018

supported by Heritage Lottery Fund

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Hump Shunting The Downside (Northbound) before 1939

Toton Down side was originally a flat shunting yard with horses employed for the many 'fiddly' shunting movements that were needed to deal with incoming trains. It was converted into a hump yard in 1901. Alterations were then made from time to time to improve working. The problem was that there were only two "High Level" arrival lines known as 'West' and 'East'. One was used for trains arriving via the High Level lines via Toton East Junction. The other was used for drawing up trains from the 'Low Level' and to provide a run-round road for the hump engine to get behind arriving trains ready to push them over the hump. Slow working of trains in the yards soon resulted in freight trains backing up on the approach roads.

Looking towards Long Eaton on the Down Side Hump. Wagons would roll down the hill towards the camera. You can see the starting points and the ground levers used to change them thus directing the wagons into their correct destination sidings. The large buiding in the far distance is a hostel for railwaymen needing overnight accomodation. At one time it seved as Long Eaton High School. Here we are looking at the top of the Down Hump around 1910 taken from the Long Eaton end. Several Point Boxes can be seen. A good provision of gaslights allowed shunting to continue into the evening and night shifts if necessary. On the left can be seen the culvert built to take the River Erewash under the sidings. (SSL 8873)

Again at the early down hump, this shot shows a long train being propelled up the hump.

The train had to be 'cut' into blocks of wagons with the same destination label so that they would run down the hill in batches. Each batch of returning empty wagons would be directed into its correct colliery destination siding. This time saving technique is often called 'gravity shunting'.

Production of coal from the pits would often exceed demand from customers particularly in the summer months when there was less demand from domestic heating.

This picture of the Down Meadow Sidings shows the very large storage capacity of the yards which enabled Toton to accept trains without an immediate recipient. (SSL 9222)


Here again we see the capacious storage sidings. Notice from some of the labels on the wagons shown that while some wagons belonged to the Midland Railway (MR), others were owned by collieries as the one shown belonging to Clifton Colliery. (SSL 9223))

This old picture reminds us of the large number of horses that were needed to do the shunting before the hump was introduced. Once the train engine had departed for the loco shed, the wagons would be chalked with the number of the siding they had to go to. In those days there were 17 and it was horsemen who were responsible for taking them there.

Mechanisation of the Down Hump 1939

With the increasing traffic dealt with it is not surprising that a fundamental redevelopment of the Toton complex was planned by the LMS in the 1930s. The purpose in choosing the Down Side first was to speed up the return of coal 'empties' back to the collieries vital in keeping up full production.

Below you can see the gradient profile achieved for the mechanisation. It is extraordinary that this re-profiling of the Down Yard took place while day to day marshalling continued with only a few closures at weekends. Of course the changes to the down hump were very small compared to whaat was achieved later on the Upside.
This image also gives you an idea of the change in gradient after the downside hump .. large indeed by railway standards. Note this train has wagons from Birmingham and so would have arrived on the low level line. A shunting engine would have pulled it up on to the hump approach road before starting the humping. (SSL 26081)
Once the couplings had been unhooked between wagons of different destinations, the leading wagon in each cut was chalked with its siding number large enough for the hump operator to see as the wagon passed.When the operator was ready to shunt the train, he would give the 'proceed' indication on the 'Toton' signals, and the shunter driver would start slowly pushing the train up the hump. The shunters were 350hp and carried enough fuel for a week.

Normal humping speed would be just under 2 mph, indicated by a vertical line of white lights.The signal could also indicate a slow shunt (about 1 mph) indicated by a diagonal line of white lights.

The shunter driver would obey the 'Toton' signals throughout 'humping'. Remember he could not see ahead to where the front of his train had reached! The shunters had accurate 0-2 mph speedometers.

Here we see the operator in the Hump Room placed at the top of the rise. Looking through the wide windows of this room, he could plainly see the siding number chalked in large letters on the leading wagon of the 'cut'. He set the first 3 points (called king, queen and jack) and then sent the siding number and number of wagons in the cut on to the Control Room (next image).

He would repeat this for every cut till the train had all been shunted.

The Control Tower was a tall building with a commanding view of the fan of sidings further down the yard. In the Control Tower, watchful and very skilled operators controlled the speed of the wagons descending towards the sidings. The structure replaced 3 Points Boxes used formerly. It was oprerated by a Brake Man and a Points Man.The Control Tower housed all the power plant, electrical switch gear and communications for the retarders and point setting plus receiving info from the hump room operators.

The 4 retarders were placed between the second "Queen" and third "Jack" points. They were 62 ft long of the Frolich (German) type working on compressed air. Brake-rails on each side of the running rails grip the wagon wheels at pressures determined by the operator of the brake levers in the control tower. Above we see a control room operator standing at the brake console. There are 4 levers, one for each retarder. The operator watched each cut descend the hump and had one chance only to modify their descent speed before they entered the siding selected by the points man seen on the far side of the room.

One of the many factors operators had to bear in mind was that greased axle boxes wagons moved much slower than oiled ones especially in winter. At night special high intensity lighting was essential to give operators a clear view below. If the cut was destined for a siding that was nearly empty it would need more momentum to reach to the end. If the siding was nearly full, heavy braking was essential to avoid a harmful jolt when the moving wagon met the end of its train!

Here you can see a wagon passing over a retarder and the rail brake gripping the wheels to brake the wagon. This 'cut' has 3 wagons. This picture was taken during the construction of the new hump with an engineer's train going over. You can easily see the abrupt change of slope after the summit is reached.