Water trough locations

A (one day) comprehensive listing

Last update 7 March 2022

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What are water troughs for?

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.

Water trough use

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.

Constraints to using water troughs

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:

Owing 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:

1.        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:

Where 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:

Complaint 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.

Water trough locations

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.

ELR Trough Name Mileage Length Notes
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 506⅔yd Installed 1860s; 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 560yd Installed 1860s
CGJ7 Hest Bank 3m 18ch to 3m 41ch 503yd Lowest troughs in Britain; installed 1860s; may have been extended to 562yd
CGJ7 Tebay (Dillicar) 31m 22ch to 31m 47ch 31m 23ch to 31m 46ch 554yd 503yd Installed ≈1861, Up Installed ≈1861, Down
CNH1 Chester 177m 60ch to 178m 5ch 557½yd
CNH3 Flint 189m 66ch to 190m 11ch 560yd Installed 1895
CNH3 Prestatyn 205m 63ch to 206m 6ch 510yd Installed 1885, 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 508yd Installed 1871 to replace 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 Up fast; installed 1870s Down slow; installed 1870s Up slow; installed 1870s
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 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 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? Installed 1890
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 Up north; installed 1878 Down south; installed 1878 Up south; installed 1878 In Standedge Tunnel, the only troughs in a tunnel
MVN2 Rochdale Near mile post 17? Installed 1885
MVN2 Luddenfoot Near mile post 27? Installed 1885
MVN2 Horbury Near mile post 46? Installed 1885
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 Installed 1885
WBS3 Hoscar Near mile post 26½? Installed 1885
WCM1 Floriston Near mile post 6¾ to 7¼ 560yd Installed ≈1927
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? Installed 1885
WJL2 Halebank 183m 53ch to 183m 76ch 510yd Installed 1870s