Introductory History of Toton Sidings


A community project 2016 - 2018

supported by Heritage Lottery Fund

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Further Reading

How It Began in 1856

In 1870 Britain made more than a third of the world's manufactured goods. This industry was powered by steam and steam production needed coal and lots of it. Soon lots of pits appeared north of Toton in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire after many rich coal seams were discovered. Of course, the demands for coal also came from domestic sources where it was used for heating, cooking and lighting the streets. What started in 1856 as two sidings by the side of the Erewash Valley Line near Toton village soon became a bustling railway facility. Its purpose was to shunt incoming trains of coal wagons coming from the colleries into trains sorted according to customer ready to move on south to London and elsewhere.

Collieries sprang up all over the East Midlands financed by the many investors wanting to cash in on this burgeoning industry Every town had its own gasworks but they did more than produce coal gas for the towm. Other important products were coke, benzene and coal tar.

The Iron Roads 1884

Remember that most of the loose coupled coal wagons arriving at Toton were owned by private collieries who had their own salemen and private contracts with customers demading certain types of coal in various quantities.

In a book by F.S.Williams "The Iron Roads", written around 1885, there are several pages singing the praises of Toton and it states that by then, Toton was marshalling an average of 26,000 wagons each winter month. By this time it was already attracting international interest with the shunting carried out by both horses and locomotives.

Some of the many horses stabled at Toton in the early years For a short extract from "The Iron Roads", click here.

Gravity Shunting

The amount of shunting needed at Toton just kept on growing and by 1900 something needed to be done to speed it up. So gravity shunting was introduced with the use of gradients leading up and over what was called 'the hump'.

A train of wagons would be examined on arrival and divided into 'cuts' according to destination labels by uncoupling where needed. A shunter engine would push the train from behind up the hump and when the first cut was over, the engine could stop and let the cut of say, 3 wagons all destined fot the same place and the same siding, roll unaided down the slope into the right siding.

The engine would start up again pushing the wagons along until the next cut rolled on down but this time points were changed to direct the cut into a different siding. It saved an enormous amount of time because the engine was no longer going backwards and forwards into the various sidings.

The down hump at Toton seen here before modernisation in 1939. Wagons rolled down the hill past the men here posing by some of the points which would direct the rolling wagons into the designated sidings.

Motive Power at Toton

Toton Motive Power Depot had to provide the engines for several different undertakings. They had to haul trains collecting coal from the pits to Toton Sidings for marshalling and then take the marshalled trains, often long and heavy (and loose coupled), to London and elsewhere. The empty wagons were then returned to Toton again for marshalling. The shunters for these 24 hour marshalling operations came from the depot as did the engines required to take the trains of marshalled empty wagons back home..

In the 1960s, Toton received a sizeable number of diesel electric locomotives (Peak class) to begin to replace the steam locos which were disappearing under the British Railways Modernisation Programme. The old steam sheds were pulled down and a brand new Toton Traction Depot was constructed nearby to house and maintain the growing diesel fleet

The famous British Railways 9F heavy freight locomotive very popular with drivers at Toton Depot.

picture by late Brian Amos

Toton's Heyday

The yard became at one point the largest in Europe, handling 2 million wagons a year with a wide variety of loads and destinations by the 1950’s. This huge task was only achieved by the introduction of semi-automatic hump shunting in the 1930s and 1940s. Both Down and Up yards had their own Hump Room and Control Tower to oversee operations. A unique design of articulated 2 boiler locomotive (Beyer-Garratt) was commissioned especially for the Toton-London coal trains. Many were based at Toton Motive Power Depot.

The upside retarders in action Toton Sidings was a 24/7 operation

The Demise of the Yards

The decline of the coal industry and rail freight traffic in general led to the closure of hump shunting yards in 1984. Coal was now moved from large efficient and modernised collieries to power staions in the Trent Valley by so called Merry Go Roiund Trains which remained intact being continuosly filled and empied several times a day.

The site, currently run by D.B.Schenker, continues in railway use with an important diesel loco depot.

If, as is likely, HS2 choose the site for their East Midlands Hub, very little of the original yards will remain.

The Toton Site is well positioned for development in the future maybe providing a hub for HS2