- a brief look back.
Although these wagons have been well recorded, particularly during their later years, there seems to be some confusion over numbers so I’ve researched this carefully. The story began in the early 1980s when it became apparent that the 13-ton wooden-bodied end-tipping open wagons, built by BR Swindon from 1955 to replace much older wagons to a similar design and which had become the familiar ‘clayhoods’ from 1973/4 with the addition of protective tent covers, were rapidly approaching the end of their lives – and in any case such small vacuum-braked wagons had become an anachronism on the modern railway so modernization became inevitable, including the discharge facilities at Fowey Docks. The first sign that change was in the air came in 1986 with the arrival at St Blazey of a specially-cleaned HAA hopper wagon, 351297, borrowed from the Midlands ‘merry-go-round’ power station coal delivery circuit, to test the suitability of this wagon design for the transport and discharge of dried china clay. This must have been a success as in early 1987 another HAA wagon, 353224, was modified with a G Nevilles Ltd roller-type canopy and cradle-mounted end vents (to aid discharge while keeping the canopy closed) and ladders for further testing. This showed that the concept was sound, although the end vent arrangement required a redesign and the ladders were found to be unnecessary.
Construction of a fleet of 124 CDA hopper wagons commenced at BREL Doncaster in mid-1987, five years after Shildon had turned out the last HAA. These were numbered 375000-123, with the first, 375000, arriving at St Blazey for assessment in September. This wagon displayed the revised end vent arrangement but was unique in having the smaller side vents diagonally offset, positioning one of them above the air brake distributor which on the CDA was placed above the chassis with a protective top shield, unlike the HAA where it was carried below. Although subsequent wagons had these vents on the same side, 375000 was never modified to conform. All 124 new-build CDAs had been delivered by February 1988 allowing the change-over from the old ‘clayhoods’, rounded up to 125 by the addition of 353224 which had received the new end vents in lieu of the original cradle-mounted design but retained all other HAA-derived features including the underslung brake distributor, as well as the end ladders which made it readily identifiable within a rake. The body was also mounted on the chassis the opposite way round to the production wagons.
In 1989 a further 14 CDAs were supplied by Doncaster, these being conversions from redundant HAA coal wagons which, unlike the prototype 353224, lost their original identities becoming ‘follow-on’ 375124-37 – however they did share that example’s reversed body mounting (some sources say not all 14 were like this, personally I find it hard to believe a BREL works would be this inconsistent but on the railway anything is possible!) and other HAA features. So at its peak the CDA fleet reached 139 wagons. Interestingly the CDAs’ dominance of the local china clay traffic was challenged in 1999 when CEA wagons (a covered version of the HEA hopper type used to deliver coal to the power station at Drinnick Mill in the 1980s) were briefly trialled in their place – why this was considered necessary is unknown.
A downturn in traffic saw 353224 and the final 14 additional conversions sidelined in 2004 – perhaps these ‘non-standard’ wagons having their bodies mounted in reverse compared to the new builds caused operational issues, as the CDAs always ran with their roller canopies one way round for loading purposes. After an extended period in store at St Blazey most went for scrap, but 375125/35/37 have lived on as ‘reach wagons’ or wheeled buffer stops at Fowey Docks, and after a period in splendid isolation at the far end of St Blazey Yard the prototype conversion 353224 was purchased by the National Wagon Preservation Group in 2017, remarkably still carrying its unique end ladders. As traffic has continued to dwindle the situation leading up to the end was 38 in service, 40 stored at St Blazey, 57 scrapped, three at Fowey and one preserved. So at the time of writing there are (presumably) 78 CDAs in St Blazey Yard with a few of these hopefully destined for preservation on the Bodmin & Wenford Railway. Since the last of the 11,162 HAA coal wagons upon which the CDA design was based disappeared from British metals in 2009 things eventually came full circle, with the 4-wheel CDAs becoming an anachronism on the modern railway just like their little wooden 13-ton predecessors four decades earlier.
I was extremely fortunate to call in at St Blazey on 14th September 1987 – my first visit in just over 10 years – and find the first CDA, 375000, on display in the yard. I took two photos at the time, sent one of them away never to be seen again and the negatives also went missing, to be fortuitously rediscovered just a few months ago. So I have been able to scan these properly, and the results are attached. The fortunate timing of my visit led to me checking rakes of passing CDAs for 375000 whenever I had the opportunity (usually only once or twice a year at the time) and it was whilst doing so at Lostwithiel in April 2000 that I managed to capture the prototype 353224 on its way to Fowey for unloading – this was a big surprise as I was unaware of its existence at the time (and had assumed that Hornby numbering their first OO gauge CDA model 353224 had been a mistake – they clearly knew more than I gave them credit for!) I did eventually catch 375000 passing through Par in August 2002, looking somewhat different to its near-pristine appearance 14 years earlier. The latest word is that this one will survive and won’t be travelling very far - although it will require some additional restoration after sitting idle in St Blazey Yard for at least the last 3½ years and is now missing some parts, including the canopy winding gear. Luckily there are plenty of ‘parts donors’ nearby…….
1 – First Production CDA 375000 at St Blazey 14th September 1987
2 – First Production CDA 375000 at St Blazey 14th September 1987
3 – CDA 375000 passes Par station bound for Fowey Docks August 2002
4 – CDA 375000 withdrawn at St Blazey on the last day of CDA operation 11th August 2023
5 – Prototype CDA Conversion 353224 (note ladder visible extreme left) at Lostwithiel April 2000
6 – For the record, Hornby-based model of 353224 as initially converted in early 1987 – note the ladder and very short-lived single cradle-mounted vent. Photos of the real one in this condition are extremely hard to find – I have only seen one!
Also while there, FGW Blue liveried 150238 was stabled in the former Mail bay behind Platform 3, sadly a victim of 'Tagging' by graffiti artists (idiots), reported as happening while in the Par area at the weekend, not what you want to see of course but still worth recording as part of our area's History
All the Best
They had a great day.
Best wishes , Craig