Last update 8 August 2023
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Water troughs enabled a locomotive to take water whilst on the move. Although designed and installed for steam locomotives, they were also used by diesel locomotives to replenish their steam heating boilers. Troughs were laid between the rails and were typically a little over a quarter mile long; a scoop on the locomotive was lowered into them where the train's movement caused sufficient pressure to force the water up and into the locomotive's tank. The signs to inform train crew of the trough location can be found on this Railsigns page. With the demise of steam locomotives and steam heating there is no longer a requirement for troughs and all were removed by the late 1960s/early 1970s.
This film from 1898 includes a clip around 1:33-2:45 showing a train taking water at Bushey troughs (the scoop hits the water immediately after a goods train passes by). Should the link not work, the same film appears here (with optional subtitles in five European languages). Other parts of the film are worth watching in their own right.
Most railways installed troughs at just a few key sites to allow for non-stop running of their prime expresses. As a result, they built large tenders and had to drag them (and a huge mass of water) around because of the sections of their networks which did not have troughs.
It will be seen that a large proportion of trough locations were on L&NWR lines. This railway used troughs differently from most other railways. The L&NWR sited them at roughly 30 mile intervals on its main lines, allowing it to have quite small tenders for its engines. Once most of the troughs were in place it reduced the capacity of new tenders from 2000 gallons to 1500 gallons. Even in the company's later days, with large engines such as 'Claughtons', it never built tenders with a capacity of over 3000 gallons.
The troughs naturally had to be on dead level track. The ideal speed at which to collect water was around 45mph; railway regulations limited trains to 70mph (75mph on the West Coast Main Line) whilst passing over troughs whether or not taking water.
As can be imagined, dropping a scoop at speed into water would waste a good proportion. This was recognised in official operating regulations, for example in 1951 the Western Region rules had:
WATER ENTERING CARRIAGES FROM WATER TROUGHSOwing to the risk of water entering compartments when engines are taking water whilst passing over water troughs, passengers in the leading vehicles should be warned of the advisability of keeping the windows closed when the troughs are being approached.The responsibility for issuing the warning will rest with: (1) Train Ticket Collectors where employed. (2) Guards where Train Ticket Collectors are not employed. (3) Restaurant Car Conductors when the Restaurant Car is in front of train and conveying passengers.
Very similar text appeared in the 1942 L&NER rules.
Regularly spraying water at high force over the formation could disturb the ballast, so the surrounding sleepers were covered with further sleepers. This did not help drainage and trough locations were known for 'wet bed' problems where the underlying ground turns to soft mud allowing the track to sink, exacerbating the problem.
The rule book also gave instructions on what to do in winter when ice formed in the troughs, in 1954 reading thus:
CLEARANCE OF ICE1. The Length Ganger will be responsible for keeping ice broken and cleared from the troughs.2. The Length Ganger must use his discretion when the ice thickens as to when the troughs should be closed, but must not allow the ice to become more than 1/8 in. thick before arranging for the troughs to be closed. If the temperature is so low that the water freezes as quickly as it is cleared the troughs must be closed.3. If ice collects in the four foot to a depth of 1 in. due to spillage the troughs must be closed.4. When the Length Ganger finds it necessary to close the troughs as set out in Clause 2, he must advise the nearest Signalman who will notify the District Controller. In turn the District Controller will immediately notify the following: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer's Outdoor Machinery District Mechanical Foreman or Local Mechanical Chargeman and responsible Water Fitter whichever is most convenient. Motive Power Depots. District Motive Power Superintendent. Mechanical & Electrical Engineer's Works Manager. District Engineer. The Length Ganger must also advise his Permanent Way Inspector.5. When a thaw sets in after prolonged frost the Mechanical and Electrical Engineer's Outdoor Machinery District Mechanical Foreman or Local Mechanical Chargeman or responsible Water Fitter, whichever is most convenient, after consulting with the Ganger, will say when normal taking of water can be resumed. The Ganger will advise the nearest Signalman who must advise the District Controller, and he will notify the Departments listed in Clause 4 that normal working of the trough can be resumed.6. The District Operating Superintendent or District Traffic Superintendent to notify promptly the Operating Superintendent, who will issue the necessary instructions in regard to the taking of water while the water trough is out of use.
In 1937 the LMS encouraged its crews, if the troughs were frozen, only to make unscheduled stops at Bletchley, Crewe, Leighton Buzzard, Llandudno Junction, Preston, Rugby, Stafford or Tebay (as appropriate). No doubt the other railways had similar preferences and constraints.
Infrastructure maintenance near troughs could be difficult. Despite the Southern never having any troughs, the 1960 South Western lines Sectional Appendix cautioned firemen against lowering the scoop at the wrong moment:
LOWERING OR RAISING WATER SCOOPWhere water troughs are in close proximity to Distant signals or multiple aspect colour light signals special care should be exercised when lowering or raising scoops to ensure that the latter do not come into contact with the A.W.S. ramp.
Similarly, there could be problems with locomotive detritus falling into the troughs affecting maintenance. A 1932 LMS notice stated:
WATER LEVEL, LOCOMOTIVE WATERING TROUGHSComplaint is made of difficulty in maintaining the Water in the Locomotive Water Troughs at a proper level through the presence of ashes interfering with the adjustment.Care must be taken by all Enginemen to prevent ashes falling in the Troughs, as far as this can be done, and it is a desirable expedient to close the damper doors when passing over the Water Troughs, whether water is being taken or not.
It could be difficult for a fireman to see trough locations, particularly at night. It took to 1957 for the railway to install marker lights:
Marker Lights at Water TroughsIlluminated marker lights are being provided at the following locations and situated at or near the commencement of the water troughs on the cess side of the line concerned.Where there are four lines of way only one marker light will be provided for either direction:— Moore — Up and down lines Brock — Up and down lines Hest Bank — Up and down lines Tebay — Up and down lines Floriston — Up and down lines Christleton — Up line Flint — Down line Prestatyn — Up and down fast and slow lines Aber — Up and down lines Halebank — Up and down fast and slow lines Eccles — Up and down fast and slow lines
This list is based on 1936 information, supplemented by L&NWR information dated 1899 and updated with additional entries and research. Mileages are given to the most accurate figures known; please contact the editor if you can assist with greater precision.
|BEI||Eckington||50m 28ch to 50m 64ch||Installed 1904|
|BHL||Aldermaston||45m 35ch to 45m 60ch||620yd||Installed by 1904|
|CGJ2||Moore||178m 70ch to 179m 13ch 178m 70ch to 179m 13ch||506⅔yd 506⅔yd||Installed 1860s; down; still in use 1957; may have been extended to 579yd Installed 1860s; up; still in use 1957; may have been extended to 579yd|
|CGJ6||Lea Road||Near mile post 4 to 4¼||561yd||Installed 1885; taken out of use 8 May 1967|
|CGJ6||Brock||7m 73ch to 8m 18ch 7m 73ch to 8m 18ch||560yd 560yd||Installed 1860s; down; still in use 1957 Installed 1860s; up; still in use 1957|
|CGJ7||Hest Bank||3m 18ch to 3m 41ch 3m 18ch to 3m 41ch||503yd 503yd||Installed 1860s; down; still in use 1957; may have been extended to 562yd Installed 1860s; up; still in use 1957; may have been extended to 562yd Lowest troughs in Britain|
|CGJ7||Tebay (Dillicar)||31m 22ch to 31m 47ch 31m 23ch to 31m 46ch||554yd 503yd||Installed ≈1861; up; still in use 1957 Installed ≈1861; down; still in use 1957; taken out of use 9 June 1951|
|CNH1||Chester (Christleton)||177m 60ch to 178m 5ch||557½yd||Up|
|CNH3||Flint||189m 66ch to 190m 11ch 189m 66ch to 190m 11ch||560yd 560yd||Installed 1895; down; still in use 1958 Installed 1895; up; still in use 1958|
|CNH3||Prestatyn||205m 63ch to 206m 6ch 205m 63ch to 206m 6ch 205m 63ch to 206m 6ch 205m 63ch to 206m 6ch||510yd 510yd 510yd 510yd||Installed 1885; down fast; taken out of use 4 October 1965; removed 1967 Installed 1885; down slow; taken out of use 4 October 1965; removed 1967 Installed 1885; up fast; taken out of use 4 October 1965; removed 1967 Installed 1885; up slow; taken out of use 4 October 1965; removed 1967|
|CNH3||Mochdre||Near mile post 221||508yd||These were the first installed by Ramsbottom in 1859; removed 1871 and replaced by Aber [Abergwyngregyn]|
|CNH3||Aber [Abergwyngregyn]||232m 62ch to 233m 6ch 232m 62ch to 233m 6ch||508yd 508yd||Installed 1871; down; still in use 1957 Installed 1871; up; still in use 1957 Replaced Mochdre|
|DBP1||Tamworth (Wigginton/Haselour)||22m 43ch to 22m 68ch||Installed 1909|
|DCL||Aynho||81m 28ch to 81m 53ch||560yd||Installed ≈1895|
|DCL||Rowington (Lapworth)||114m 27ch to 114m 52ch||440yd||Also called Kingswood. Installed by July 1902 (possibly by 1898); extended to 560yd from 1908|
|DSE||Eccles||27m 61ch to 28m 4ch 27m 61ch to 28m 4ch 27m 60ch to 28m 5ch 27m 61ch to 28m 4ch||501yd 504yd 554yd 502yd||Down fast; installed 1870s; still in use 1957 Up fast; installed 1870s; still in use 1958 Down slow; installed 1870s; still in use 1958 Up slow; installed 1870s; still in use 1958|
|ECM1||Langley||27m 3ch to 27m 30ch||694yd||Installed 1918; removed 15 March 1964|
|ECM1||Werrington||79m 48ch to 79m 75ch||638yd||Installed 1900|
|ECM1||Muskham||121m 53ch to 122m 5ch||704yd||Installed 1900|
|ECM1||Scrooby/Bawtry||146m 12ch to 146m 44ch||704yd||Installed 1902|
|ECM5||Wiske Moor||31m 63ch to 32m 11ch||613yd||Installed ≈1901|
|ECM7||Lucker||50m 3ch to 50m 31ch||613yd||Installed 1898; taken out of use 18 August 1969|
|FCO||Rufford||Near mile post 16?||Installed 1885|
|GSM2||Melton (Brentingby)||104m 9ch to 104m 34ch||557yd||Installed 1905; removed 1966|
|GSW||New Cumnock||≈58m 13ch to ≈58m 39ch||564yd||Installed 1927; still used in 1966|
|LEC1||Bushey||15m 23ch to 15m 22ch 15m 23ch to 15m 22ch 15m 23ch to 15m 22ch 15m 23ch to 15m 22ch||503½yd 501½yd 502½yd 502½yd||Down slow; installed 1860s; taken out of use 22 July 1956 Down fast; installed 1860s; taken out of use 13 October 1956 Up fast; installed 1860s Up slow; installed 1860s|
|LEC1||Castlethorpe||53m 66ch to 54m 10ch 53m 66ch to 54m 10ch 53m 66ch to 54m 10ch 53m 66ch to 54m 10ch||518½yd 518½yd 502½yd 502½yd||Down fast; installed 1860s Up fast; installed 1860s Down slow; installed 1860s Up slow; installed 1860s|
|LEC2||Newbold (Rugby)||83m 72ch to 84m 18ch||554yd||Installed 1860s|
|LEC2||Hademore||113m 49ch to 113m 78ch||642yd||Installed 1860s|
|LEC4||Whitmore||147m 77ch to 148m 19ch||502⅔yd||Installed 1860s; may have been extended to 563yd|
|LTN1||Halifax/Bentley Junction||67m 48ch to 67m 71ch||Installed 1897|
|LTN1||Tivetshall/Burston||99m 49ch to 99m 74ch||Installed ≈1896; removed June 1945|
|MCJ3||Woodford (Charwelton)||134m 67ch to 135m 24ch||Installed 1903|
|MLN1||Goring (Basildon)||43m 32ch to 43m 60ch||620yd||Installed 1 October 1895; first GWR troughs|
|MLN1||Keynsham (Foxes Wood)||114m 45ch to 114m 70ch||620yd||Brought into use 30 June 1899 some sources say 1 October 1895; taken out of use May 1961; removed August 1961; second GWR troughs|
|MLN1||Creech||159m 13ch to 159m 37ch||560yd||Installed March 1902|
|MLN1||Exminster||199m 78ch to 200m 23ch||560yd||Installed July 1904|
|MLN3||Lostwithiel||One source claims troughs in use by 1908; out of use or omitted from official documentation by 1936. Perhaps only planned, never installed?|
|MVE2||Lostock||Near mile post 13? Near mile post 13? Near mile post 13? Near mile post 13?||Installed 1890; down fast Installed 1890; down slow Installed 1890; up fast Installed 1890; up slow|
|MVL3||Diggle||15m 17ch to 15m 43ch 15m 17ch to 15m 43ch 15m 12ch to 15m 35ch 15m 12ch to 15m 35ch||560yd 560yd 502⅔yd 495yd||Down north; installed 1878; still in situ 1958 Down south; installed 1878 Up north; installed 1878 Up south; installed 1878; out of use by 1962 In Standedge Tunnel, the only troughs in a tunnel|
|MVN2||Rochdale||Near mile post 17?||Installed 1885|
|MVN2||Luddenfoot||Near mile post 27? Near mile post 27?||Installed 1885; down; out of use by 1962 Installed 1885; up; out of use by 1962|
|MVN2||Horbury (Thornes)||Near mile post 46 Near mile post 46||Installed 1885; down; still in situ 1958 Installed 1885; up; still in situ 1958|
|NAJ2||Ruislip (Denham)||2m 18ch to 2m 43ch||560yd||Installed 20 November 1905|
|OWW||Charlbury||77m 70ch to 78m 15ch||560yd||Installed ≈1895|
|RBS1||Holbrooke Park (Long Lawford)||84m 22ch to 84m 47ch||559⅔yd||Installed 1860s|
|SAC||Hawes (Garsdale)||255m 63ch to 256m 8ch||554yd||Installed 1907; highest troughs in Britain|
|SHL||Ludlow||26m 22ch to 26m 43ch||561yd||Installed ≈1900; sometimes reported as 613yd|
|SPC2||Oakley||53m 54ch to 53m 70ch||557yd||Installed ≈1903|
|SPC5||Loughborough||112m 32ch to 112m 57ch||557yd||Installed ≈1904|
|SWB||Chipping Sodbury||103m 70ch to 104m 14ch||524yd||Installed 1 January 1903|
|SWM2||Magor||150m 8ch to 150m 34ch||560yd||Installed 1906|
|SWM2||Ferryside||240m 44ch to 240m 72ch||620yd||Installed 1906; removed 1961|
|WAG1||Whitley Bridge||Near mile post 61¼ to 62||Installed ≈1890|
|WBS1||Walkden||Near mile post 7 Near mile post 7||Installed 1885; down; removed 1962 Installed 1885; up; removed 21 April 1962|
|WBS3||Hoscar||Near mile post 26½?||Installed 1885|
|WCM1||Floriston||Near mile post 6¾ to 7¼ Near mile post 6¾ to 7¼||560yd 560yd||Installed ≈1927; down; still in use 1957 Installed ≈1927; up; still in use 1957|
|WCM1||Strawfrank (Carstairs)||72m 15ch to 72m 42ch||557yd||Installed 1927; renewed about 1957 Often reported as the only water troughs in Scotland (but see New Cumnock)|
|WEY||Westbury (Fairwood)||111m 29ch to 111m 52ch 111m 27ch to 111m 52ch||495yd 553yd||Up; installed 1906 Down; installed 1906|
|WJK||Kirkby||Near mile post 30? Near mile post 30?||Installed 1885; down Installed 1885; up|
|WJL2||Halebank||183m 53ch to 183m 76ch 183m 53ch to 183m 76ch||510yd 510yd||Installed 1870s; down fast; still in use 1958 Installed 1870s; down slow; still in use 1958 Installed 1870s; up fast; still in use 1958 Installed 1870s; up slow; still in use 1958|