Wednesbury 1993

The freight line between Bescot/Pleck Jct and Round Oak was closed with effect from Monday 22nd March 1993, and the last trains ran on Friday 19th March. When the end came there were still three sources of traffic on the line between Bescot and Stourbridge. The steel terminal at Wednesbury had closed in late 1992, but the spoil tip was still in use right to the end. The site was subsequently used for the Midland Metro tram depot and railway spoil traffic from Bescot was re-directed to the tip at Honeybourne.

The second source of traffic was the steel terminal at Round Oak. This was operated by Round Oak Rail, a private firm. Traffic here consisted of steel, mainly in the form of coil, mostly manufactured at Llanwern (Newport) and Port Talbot (Margam) in South Wales. Round Oak remains open to this day, and still receives trains on a daily basis. Trains must now reach Round Oak from the south, but as all the current traffic comes from South Wales this isn't much of a problem.

The third traffic source was Brierley Hill, a steel terminal operated by British Rail itself. It also handled steel, but mainly in the form of wire and rod. In 1993 most of Brierley Hill's traffic emanated from the Allied Steel & Wire (ASW) plant in Cardiff docks, although traffic from other sources (including imports) was routed through Bescot. Brierley Hill survived the 1993 line closure, and remained open as a steel terminal, with traffic from the north routed via Stourbridge.

Brierley Hill was mainly operated by EWS in the post-privatisation years. It led a chequered existence in the first decade of the 21st century, being closed and re-opened on a couple of occasions. In later years anything coming from northern locations other than Bescot would often run via Camp Hill, go down the Lickey, and run-round at Worcester before reaching Brierley Hill via Stourbridge. Trains from Bescot ran via Soho and Cradley Heath, running-round at Stourbridge Jct.

For a year or so in 2004/05 Brierley Hill received roadstone from Peak Forest, in addition to steel from Scunthorpe which was the staple traffic. However the stone trains ceased early in 2005, and in September 2006 Brierley Hill closed again - the Scunthorpe traffic having been diverted to Wolverhampton. There were also a few outgoing scrap trains to Southampton and Cardiff in the mid 2000s, but these never developed into a regular flow.

The loss of the steel traffic wasn't the end though, in the second half of 2007 stone trains started running from Croft Quarry (Leicestershire). Initially operated by EWS these trains went over to Freightliner Heavy Haul for their last couple of years. Although they ran sporadically the Croft trains were still operating as late as 2011, but when this flow dried up the terminal closed yet again.

In November 2016 Freightliner ran a couple of what appeared to be road-learning trips to Brierley Hill. By this stage the remaining sidings were impassable, overgrown with saplings and other vegetation. Only the access road nearest the running lines was usable, and the locos reversed there. Whatever the purpose of these trips was they didn't result in any subsequent trains.

There were further developments in the summer of 2017. This time plans emerged to run steel trains once more from a terminal in Kent, and some site clearance work was undertaken, primarily vegetation removal. The steel would be imported through a new facility at Thamesport operated by the the Armitt Group. Paths were created for GBRf to operate trains from Grain to Brierley Hill once the new terminal was completed, but it never happened. Dudley Council indicated that planning permission would be needed for the new development, and the proposal seemed to be abandoned at that point. After these two "false starts" Brierley Hill went back to sleep. Still connected to the network in 2021, but not having seen a train for a decade.

Meanwhile back in 1993, amongst the other traffic running via Wednesbury was 6E58, a steel service originating from the ASW plant at Cardiff. During the final months this was the only train booked to take the direct Wednesbury - Walsall route rather than go into Bescot. Another regular train was the china-clay service from St Blazey (near Par) in Cornwall to Cliffe Vale in Stoke-on-Trent. This was a long-standing railfreight flow which had no special reason to use the freight line through Wednesbury, other than the fact that it was the traditional and most convenient route. When the line closed it was simply re-routed to run via Bromsgrove, the Camp Hill line, Washwood Heath, Sutton Park and Walsall.

In its final years the line was busiest during the morning, and even at the end there was a reasonable amount of traffic early in the day. Afternoons were normally quieter. As in 1989 the signal boxes were still open Monday to Friday on a two-shift pattern, but although the line was nominally open until about 21:00 the loss of the evening Speedlinks meant that the man on the afternoon turn could often get away early. As can be seen from the table 6V70 was usually the last train of the day in 1993.

It should be evident from the movements recorded below that trains from the south were unable to get into the sidings at Round Oak due to problems with the signalling and trackwork there. Consequently these trains were routed into Bescot where the locomotive would run-round the train and head back south to Round Oak. This arrangement inflated the number of trains through Dudley and Wednesbury. Look out too for the problems involved in getting the final spoil train out of Wednesbury on Friday 19th. This also increased the number of movements that took place on the last day.

The tables below list all the movements through Wednesbury during the final week of normal service. Where the loco is shown in grey this indicates that this is the engine that should have worked the service according to the diagrams, but I wasn't able to confirm it. For the uninitiated the four-character train codes such as "6M11" are used to identify particular services. The first character identifies the type of train, the second character the destination (usually defined in very broad geographical terms) and the last two numbers are an arbitrary value to identify a particular service. The significant thing to note here is that codes starting with "0" such as 0T46 are locomotives without a train in tow - "light engines" in railway parlance. Those starting with any other number include one or more wagons behind the locomotive. On the line through Wednesbury "up" trains ran southbound (towards Stourbridge) and "down" trains ran northbound (towards Bescot and Walsall).

Trains through Wednesbury on Monday 15th March 1993
Train Wednesbury Loco Comments
6E58 Cardiff - Wakefield 06.02 56064  
6M11 Margam - Bescot 06.17 56038  
6T46 Bescot - Round Oak 07.26 56038  
0T46 Round Oak - Bescot 08.09 56038  
6T50 Bescot - Brierley Hill 08.34 47310  
6V05 Bescot - Llanwern 10.26 56038 Probably dropping traffic from Bescot at Round Oak and collecting empties there.
0M12 Cardiff - Bescot 10.40 56040 Traffic deposited at Brierley Hill on way north.
7Z09 12.25 Tamper Down direction.
6T50 Brierley Hill - Bescot 12.42 47310  
6V69 Bescot - Cardiff 13.28 56040  
0X00 16.22 08xxx Up direction. Believed to be a shunt-engine turning move from Bescot via Wednesbury and Pleck Jct.
0X00 16.23 08xxx Down direction.
6V70 Cliffe Vale - St Blazey 18.48 47200  
Trains through Wednesbury on Tuesday 16th March 1993
Train Wednesbury Loco Comments
6M11 Margam - Bescot 07.31 56038  
6M72 St Blazey - Cliffe Vale 07.48 47200  
6T46 Bescot - Round Oak 09.07 56038  
6T50 Bescot - Brierley Hill 09.48 47330  
6T46 Brierley Hill - Bescot 10.26 56038 Probably with traffic from Round Oak.
0M12 Cardiff - Bescot 10.54 56040 Traffic deposited at Brierley Hill on way north.
0V05 Bescot - Round Oak 11.37 56038 For 6V05 Round Oak - Llanwern.
6Z67 (South Wales) - Bescot 13.00   Additional steel train, probably ex-Llanwern or Margam, bound for Round Oak.
6T50 Brierley Hill - Bescot 13.24 47330  
6Z67 Bescot - Round Oak 14.37    
0Z67 Round Oak - Bescot 15.30    
0Z67 Bescot - Round Oak 16.33   Presumably for the empties out of Round Oak back to South Wales.
6V70 Cliffe Vale - St Blazey 18.07 47200  
Neither 6E58 nor 6V69 ran on this day.
Trains through Wednesbury on Wednesday 17th March 1993
Train Wednesbury Loco Comments
6M11 Margam - Bescot 05.49 56038  
6M72 St Blazey - Cliffe Vale 07.28 47200  
6T50 Bescot - Brierley Hill 08.53 47359  
0M12 Cardiff - Bescot 10.29 56032 Traffic deposited at Brierley Hill on way north.
6T46 Bescot - Round Oak 12.10 56040 Running several hours late. Note change of loco from 6M11.
7T90 Bescot (?) - Wednesbury 12.15 31459+31273 This was the last load of spoil to the CCE tip.
0T46 Round Oak - Bescot 13.03 56040  
6T50 Brierley Hill - Bescot 13.33 47359 47359 on Bescot Curve This train stood on Bescot Curve from 13.38 until 15.30 waiting access into the yard.
6T46 Bescot - Round Oak 13.40 56040  
6T90 Wednesbury - Bescot 13.46 31273+31459 A permissive signalling arrangement allowed trains to stack up on Bescot Curve awaiting access to the yard. It was not uncommon to see this happen in the 1970s, but reducing levels of traffic meant it was a rare event by the late 1980s. But it happened one last time on this afternoon, with the 31s buffered right up behind 6T50. They were held on the Curve from 14:45-15:35.
6V69 Bescot - Cardiff 15.09 56032 56032 on Bescot Curve The last 6V69 with traffic from Bescot provided the unlikely sight of three trains on Bescot Curve simultaneously. The BDA on the back-end of 6T50 can be glimpsed to the left of 56032, with the 31s on 6T90 buffered up behind.
9X55 15.59 Tamper? Up direction.
6V70 Cliffe Vale - St Blazey 18.22 47200  
No 6E58 on this day.
Trains through Wednesbury on Thursday 18th March 1993
Train Wednesbury Loco Comments
6E58 Cardiff - Wakefield 05.55 56064  
6M11 Margam - Bescot 06.25 56053 Carried a headboard.
0T84 Bescot - Wednesbury 07.59 31407+31512  
0F80 Bescot - Gloucester 08.06 56053 The loco had failed and was returning to the Western Region under its own power. The destination is assumed from the headcode, 0F80 being the normal code for light engines to that location.
6M72 St Blazey - Cliffe Vale 08.34 47200  
8T84 Wednesbury - Bescot 09.17 31512+31407 Penultimate rake of empties from the CCE tip.
6T46 Bescot - Round Oak 09.37 56060 Fresh loco provided to replace 56053.
0T46 Round Oak - Lawley St (?) 10.33 56060  
6T50 Bescot - Brierley Hill 10.35 47344 Running a bit late.
0M12 Cardiff - Bescot 11.21   Traffic deposited at Brierley Hill on way north.
6T46 Lawley St (?) - Round Oak 12.04 56060 Details for this are a bit sketchy but it was believed to be a train of steel on container flats originating at Hull and sent to Lawley St in error. Assuming it did originate at Lawley St it would have been the last train to traverse the Pleck Jct - Bescot Curve Jct section of track heading south.
6T44 Bescot - Round Oak/Brierley Hill 13.00 37884  
6T50 Brierley Hill - Bescot 14.03 47344  
0T44 Brierley Hill - Bescot 14.25 37884  
0Z26 Bescot - Round Oak 17.26   For the empty flats, which appear to have gone south from Round Oak.
6V70 Cliffe Vale - St Blazey 17.46 47304  
No 6V69 on this day.
Trains through Wednesbury on Friday 19th March 1993
Train Wednesbury Loco Comments
6E58 Cardiff - Wakefield 06.10 56048 The last train to use the Bescot Curve Jct - Pleck Jct section of track (see also the "Up Dudley Siding" below).
6M72 St Blazey - Cliffe Vale 07.03 47304 The last china-clay train via this route.
0T84 Bescot - Wednesbury 07.24 31178+31415 The first of three attempts to remove the last rake of spoil empties from Wednesbury tip. This was foiled because one of the locos was discovered to be losing fuel.
0T84 Wednesbury - Bescot 08.42 31415+31178 31415 and 31178 leaving Wednesbury The 31s returned to Bescot without the train, and are seen here passing Wednesbury signalbox. Immediately in front of the leading loco is the motor for the 16A points which were to cause problems later in the day.
0Z98 ? - Bescot 09.51 58003  
0M12 Cardiff - Bescot 10.37 56032 Traffic deposited at Brierley Hill on way north.
0T84 Bescot - Brierley Hill 10.58 31417 The second of three attempts to remove the last rake of spoil empties from Wednesbury. This one was foiled by the 16A points at Wednesbury which couldn't be reversed to allow the loco into the sidings. It was eventually sent to Brierley Hill to cross over to the down line.
6T50 Bescot - Brierley Hill 11.20 47238 Running late again, and further delayed because 31417 spent some time standing on the up line at Wednesbury waiting for the points to be reversed for it. 47238 was obviously fixed for this working because of its name: "Bescot Yard". It also carried two headboards.
0T84 Brierley Hill - Bescot 11.28 31417 This might conceivably have reversed into the sidings at Wednesbury if the points were fixed, but it didn't.
6T44 Bescot - Round Oak / Brierley Hill 12.58 37884  
0T44 Brierley Hill - Bescot 14.04 37884  
6Z11 Llanwern? - Bescot 14.28 56053 A special formed mainly of steel coil on Freightliner flats bound for Round Oak. It was the last loaded northbound train.
0V69 Bescot - Cardiff 14.31 56032 This loco would probably have collected empty steel wagons at Brierley Hill.
0T84 Bescot - Brierley Hill 14.45 31155 This loco was actually bound for Wednesbury to collect the last spoil train, but it went to Brierley Hill to cross-over because the points at Wednesbury hadn't been fixed.
6Z11 Bescot - Round Oak 15.25 56053 56053 on Bescot Curve The steel special turned out to be the last southbound train.
0T84 Brierley Hill - Wednesbury 15.43 31155 This third and last attempt to get the final rake of spoil empties out of Wednesbury was successful.
6T50 Brierley Hill - Bescot 16.43 47238 Running very late. This was the last "revenue-earning" train, although it would have been formed of empty wagons.
8T84 Wednesbury - Bescot 17.00 31155 31155 on Bescot Curve The last train of spoil empties out of Wednesbury, and also the last train.
0Z11 Round Oak - Bescot 17.11 56053 The last movement. 56053 stood on Bescot Curve until 17.34 awaiting access into Bescot.
Friday turned out to be the busiest day of the week, all the messing about with T84 combined with the steel special made the afternoon unusually busy.

6V70 didn't run on Fridays. It ran on Saturday mornings instead, but the Saturday train reached Stourbridge via Smethwick and Cradley Heath because the Wednesbury line wasn't open at weekends.

There was at least one other movement on the line after it had formally closed. A cable-laying train traversed the northern section later in 1993, reaching as far south as Dudley Port. It was top-and-tailed by Class 31s. Over subsequent years the line began to fall into increasing disrepair. Vegetation slowly began to take over, with mature trees eventually growing on the trackbed. For the first couple of years after closure there was evidence of vegetation clearance on the southbound track, but by the time Railtrack took control all signs of maintenance disappeared. The signalling equipment was removed shortly after closure, and the signal boxes at Wednesbury and Eagle Crossing (Great Bridge) were both subsequently destroyed by fire.


Almost as soon as the line closed there was talk of re-opening in the air. For many years a Midland Metro route from Wednesbury to the shopping centre at Merry Hill (via Dudley) had been planned. This would use, or at least share, the South Staffs trackbed for much of its route.

By summer 2008 the Centro website had quietly introduced the possibility of running tram-trains on the Wednesbury - Brierley Hill route, but the most significant development in subsequent years had been the apparent loss of interest in this route - originally described as line 2 - in favour of extending the Metro a few hundred yards around Birmingham and Wolverhampton city centres.

Railfreight had been in slow decline for many years, but there was a brief period of growth and optimism towards the end of the 1990s following the takeover of most British railfreight operations by EWS (English, Welsh and Scottish Railway). This led to talk of re-opening the line for freight, in large part as a way of bypassing the congested tracks around Birmingham for freight trains running on the south-west/north-east axis.

This would make much more sense if it was to occur in conjunction with the re-opening of the Walsall - Lichfield line, which closed as a through route in 1984. However this is another aspiration which isn't going to happen for many years, if ever. In early 2005 the Strategic Rail Authority released a document entitled West Midlands Route Utilisation Strategy (bottom of page 55). This document briefly mentions the line and concludes thus: "The Route Utilisation Strategy does not propose to promote the reinstatement of the Round Oak - Bescot route but confirms the need for the route to be protected for the longer term".

Despite all the talk nothing much happened on the ground. Twenty years after closure the trees continued to grow unchecked, and the local roads got more and more congested - even outside commuting times. By 2016 the requirement for a freight line to bypass Birmingham no longer seemed relevant. The conventional route to the south-west via the Lickey incline was as busy as ever with passenger trains, and the electrification of the Lickey incline to allow electric units to reach Bromsgrove would add more trains to that part of the route. However freight traffic was in serious decline, due in part to a massive reduction in the movement of coal referred to above. The number of daytime freight trains on the Birmingham-Gloucester axis could usually be counted on the fingers of one hand. Matters improved slightly in the early 2020s, with GBRf running daytime cement trains from Avonmouth to Clitheroe and Penyfford which are routed via Camp Hill, Sutton Park and Walsall - but it doesn't change the big picture.

There seemed to be brighter news on the Metro front, with an announcement in autumn 2016 suggesting that work on the line between Wednesbury and Merry Hill would finally commence in 2017. Evidently the changes in financial arrangements resulting from local government devolution would make the funds available. However closer reading of the relevant documents revealed a slightly different story. 2017 would actually see more preparatory work rather than full-blown construction, and indeed that summer saw the trackbed cleared of vegetation and track in a number of locations.

Despite the talk of devolution a new business case still had to be submitted to central government, and the original transport and works orders would need to be re-visited given that they were now more than a decade old. In fact the proposed timetable wouldn't see the actual construction work start until 2021. All being well it would be completed in 2023, a full thirty years after the last trains ran.

July 2022 saw the opening of the Birmingham west side extension, with trams running through from Wolverhampton to Edgbaston Village. Preliminary work was also underway on the east side extension to Curzon St, effectively an HS2 project. With exquisite timing the very same month saw bad news for the Black Country though, cost inflation and lack of funds effectively ending any prospect of trams to Brierley Hill in the foreseeable future. A decision was taken to split the South Staffs/OWW route into two phases: firstly Wednesbury to Dudley, with a revised opening date of 2024; and then Dudley to Brierley Hill, with no target date this is effectively back to aspirational status.

See the Pleck Jct - Round Oak page for more pictures of how the line looked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, compared with how it looked around 2004. I had originally intended to re-visit each location about five years later, but further vegetation growth made that project pointless. In most places the views would simply have been of scrub or trees, with no trackbed or infrastructure visible at all.

See the infrastructure page for changes to the infrastructure both before and after the start of Metro construction work.