Ellesmere Port Docks Lines/Sidings

Adrian Barr

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2 Jul 2020
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Doncaster
Can't comment on pipelines but they have a lot of lorry tanker work.

Another branch runs off the dock branch right behind my house, track was lifted some years ago now. Used to branch off the dock line between the mainline and the M53 bridge, then heads off to what is now Ellesmere Port Scania. I live in a new build house (Ellesmere Park Persimmon), the wasteland behind (now building industrial units) I believe used to be a gas works. Assume this branch went there? The line up to Vauxhalls/Eastham runs parallel to it on the opposite side of the M53. I can see the railway bridge this branch passed under on Rossmoor Rd East from my window.
Ah yes, there's a trackbed clearly visible on google maps curving off just before the branch passes under the M53. On one of the aerial pictures from 1981 (that LNW-GW Joint linked in post #18) this area near the motorway junction looks completely different and there are oil storage tanks there. Looking at the 1990 London Midland Quail map, this must have been the Gulf Oil terminal (possibly a gas works before that). This article mentions the terminal was dismantled in 2002 - https://www.placenorthwest.co.uk/ne...ere-port-industrial-project-set-for-approval/
Gulf Oil (then owned by Chevron) wound up their UK operations in 1997, closing Waterston refinery and selling "three wholly owned fuels terminals, which are located at Cardiff, West Bromwich and Ellesmere Port" to Shell - http://www.gasandoil.com/news/europe/568a8742e4e3f12d74f3a59d45082f1b

Given that Shell had the massive Stanlow refinery nearby, they must have decided that the Gulf Oil terminal at Ellesmere Port was surplus to requirements. On the "Some Wirral Industrials" RMWeb thread linked in post #25, there are Gulf Oil tanks pictured coming off the branch with the caption "This was taken from by Ellesmere Port No2 box and shows a train that has come from the Gulf refinery. the loco will shunt it into the sidings to the left (West End Yard) for later collection by BR." I think the Gulf terminal was a storage facility rather than a refinery, but this gives some idea of the traffic. An RMWeb thread on "Oil Terminals no more" mentions that "Albion initially took product from Ellesmere Port then Cardiff then the new refinery at Robeston."

Albion was the terminal near Sandwell & Dudley which is not far from West Bromwich. These locations match up to the list of terminals that were sold by Gulf - Cardiff, West Bromwich and Ellesmere Port (Robeston is probably being confused with next-door Waterston here). My guess is that the Gulf Oil rail traffic mainly consisted of deliveries to the Albion terminal. The photo of gulf tanks at Ellesmere Port was dated "late 70s" so perhaps the terminal saw little traffic once the source had switched to Cardiff and then Waterston.

Some info & photos on the Albion tanks when they were running from Waterston (the flickr link is to an interesting set labelled "On the Albion tanks.")

I seem to recall that the Eastham rail facility was used for chemical handling/storage rather than 'oil refining'. Target 56 from Warrington used to bring caustic soda tanks from Runcorn on an intermittent basis. There were exchanged with the MSC railway in Ellesmere Port West Yard.

There was also a small Gulf petroleum storage facility, nearer Ellesmere Port that also had an MSC rail link but this saw very little use.

An additional siding was put into another chemical facility near Eastham (called PanOcean or similar) but this also seemed to see little use.

There was regular coal traffic into the Bowaters paper mill, usually from Newstead in HBA wagons.

(These recollections from the late 1970s.)
Interesting. I guess the Bowaters traffic would have used Manisty Wharf?

I've just been down a google rabbit hole looking at Eastham Refinery and the Ellesmere Port facilities, trying to relate them to the sidings shown in the first edition (1990) of the London Midland Quail map.
This is roughly the layout of terminals shown on the quail map, very schematic and not to scale!

Ellemere Port 1990 approx layout.png

The Eastham Refinery appears to be alive and well, despite some conflicting info on wikipedia. It's owned by a Swedish company called Nynas and produces bitumen and some specialist products:
The Eastham refinery
Located on the River Mersey, the refinery was constructed on a greenfield site in 1966. It has been operating as a 50/50 joint venture (Nynas/Shell) since 1992.
  • The refinery was built as a dedicated bitumen refinery to meet the demand for bitumen at the time of the motorway expansion in the UK in the 1960’s and 70’
  • The Eastham refinery has the combined capacity to produce almost 50% of the current UK demand for bitumen.
According to Paul Shannon's "Bulk Freight" book (in the "Rail Freight Since 1968" series) despatch of bitumen by rail from Ellesmere Port ceased in 1990 (with all other traffic from Stanlow ceasing in 1998). The reason given is that "Shell moved its bitumen production to another, non-rail-connected, site." On the "Some Wirral Industrials" RMWeb thread linked above, there is a photo of a Shell shunt loco within Stanlow refinery and the caption mentions that "The Shell locos were passed to run on BR lines as to get to the Bitumen plant they had to cross from the refinery site (on the up side) to the MSC lines (on the down side). This happened about once a month. It was done to swap the engines around." A photo of a bitumen train at Skipton on flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/lickeybanker/24377609797/ mentions that "The tanks would have been delivered from Shell Stanlow Refinery via Ellesmere Port as a block train." From this it would appear that the bitumen dispatched from Ellesmere Port came from a Shell bitumen plant within Stanlow refinery on the north side of the line, east of Ellesmere Port yard. My old quail map shows a "Shell No.2 entrance" in this area. Presumably this bitumen plant within Stanlow closed and Shell then became involved with the Eastham refinery which wasn't set up to dispatch by rail.

The terminal at Eastham on the 1990 quail map is marked as "PanOcean Storage and Transport" with another terminal labelled "Unitank Storage" in the same area. For some context see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastham_Oil_Terminal
There are still tank farms near Eastham Refinery, which on google maps are marked as Exolum Terminals. On google maps the Eastham branch follows North Road before crossing it and reaching a disused terminal next to one of these tank farms. Judging from the old quail map this was the Unitank terminal. There is also possibly another bit of track visible among undergrowth running alongside Eastham Refinery and stopping just south of the other tank farm. This must have diverged close to the point where the track crosses North Road - the 2010 pictures of the branch (linked earlier) show a line diverging here. This must have been the actual Eastham terminal (marked as Panocean on my quail) but developments around "Hooton Bio Power" make it difficult to follow the old trackbed. Not sure what the traffic was here, but it does look like it was to storage sites / tank farms rather than for transporting bitumen from the refinery at Eastham.

Apparently there was also a separate Burmah refinery at Stanlow which closed in 1981 (the "Some Wirral Industrials" thread shows a Sentinel loco bringing tanks from it). I'm not sure where exactly this was, possibly on the north side of the line. A Castrol lubricants plant (Burmah-Castrol then BP-Castrol) next door survived until 2008. Can't find any info on rail movements (there are some old photos of "Lobitos" tanks, previous owner of the refinery, on the HMRS website, but no other info). A couple of posts on "Urban Exploration" websites with interesting (non-rail) photos are the main search results for "burmah refinery ellesmere port" - see https://www.abandonedyorkshire.com/home/2020/3/12/burmah-oil

One of my google searches gave a google books result for "Stolen Heritage: The Strange Death of Industrial England" - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stolen-Heritage-Strange-Industrial-England/dp/1838593985
Published in 2020, it has chapters on the history and decline of different UK industries (such as oil refining or paper production) and looks very interesting. It's not a railway book but the decline of these industries is so tied up with railfreight that I think it would appeal to anyone reading this type of thread - I think I'll buy a copy anyway!

Based on the info from various places so far (not necessarily 100% accurate), these are some relevant dates for industry in the area:
1924 - Stanlow Shell refinery opens, initially with a small bitumen plant
1932 - Bowaters Paper Mill opens
1934 - Lobitos (later Burmah) refinery opens at Stanlow
1962 - Vauxhall Car Plant Opens
1966 - Eastham Refinery opens
1967 - Line to Eastham laid at Ellesmere Port
1981 - Burmah refinery closes (Castrol lubricants production continues)
1990 - Bitumen rail traffic from Ellesmere Port ceases
1992 - Eastham Refinery (owned by Briggs Oil) sold to Swedish firm Nynas. Operated in a joint venture with Shell
1996 - Ellesmere Port MSC operations cease
1997 - Gulf Oil (owned by Chevron) sold to Shell.
1998 - Petroleum traffic from Stanlow ceases
2002 - Gulf Oil terminal dismantled
2008 - BP Castrol (formerly Burmah-Castrol) lubricants plant closure announced
2010 - Bowaters plant closure

Some links to general info on UK oil facilities that I found interesting:
 
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Dr Hoo

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An excellent summary from Adrian Barr. It brings a lot back to someone who once worked in the area.

The Burmah/Castrol plants were south of the line and did have MSC railway access via a very sharply curved 'tramway' style track in the middle of a narrow road under an arched bridge but they fell out of use well before plant closure.

There were some disused wagons in the plant and I dimly remember a story about how they had been blown by a gale and 'escaped' from the plant by crashing through the gates. (I cannot vouch for the truth of this tale.)

The bitumen traffic was definitely from the part of the Stanlow complex north of the line, served by the MSC railway into East Yard.

There was a Branch Line Society (or possibly another club) tour of the separated Ellesmere Port MSC systems around 1979.
 

Adrian Barr

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2 Jul 2020
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15
Location
Doncaster
I've just been looking at Paul Shannon's 2010 book "Rail Freight Since 1968: Containers, Cars and Special Traffics" which includes chemicals traffic. Should have looked at this earlier! Very good book and the index is helpful when looking for info on specific locations.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rail-Freight-Since-1968-Containers/dp/1857943473
Also available direct from Morton's Books who took over Silver Link - https://www.mortonsbooks.co.uk/product/view/productCode/15180

Info taken from that book:

Containers - I mentioned earlier that I'd seen a photo of Freightliner using the Cawoods terminal for regular Freightliner traffic to/from Basford Hall. Apparently this was Anglo-Irish traffic which had partially switched from Holyhead, starting in 1989 with 2 trains per week but increasing to 3 a day in 1990 and 4 in 1991 after Sealink's freight sailings from Holyhead stopped. In 1992 the Irish traffic switched to Seaforth.

Cars - Apparently in 2000 Vauxhall trialled railing Astra Estates to Purfleet but the traffic stopped due to issues with vandalism. A picture I linked / mentioned in an earlier post from the 1990s showed Opel-badged cars en-route to Garston for export, and the 2016 trial was through the tunnel, so it looks like the rail traffic out of Vauxhall was all European-bound.

Chemicals - Unitank and Pan-Ocean tank farms at Eastham are described as handling "a wide variety of traffic over the years, mainly in wagonload quantities."
Shell chemicals (on the other part of the MSC system nearer Stanlow and the Associated Octel Plant) despatched alcohols to Grangemouth and acetone to both ROF Bishopton and Glaxo at Plumpton Junction.

The Associated Octel traffic is better known because of the distinctive tanks, moving liquid chlorine to Amlwch and ethylene dibromide in the other direction (traffic ceased in 1993). Trainloads of liquid Chlorine were also sent to Langley Green until the traffic ended in 1993. Anti-knock compound was dispatched from Ellesmere Port to various UK refineries (presumably wagonload traffic) and to Europe until 1995 when the Dunkirk train ferry was withdrawn.

Apparently the last chemicals traffic handled on the MSC system was caustic soda from Eastham to Sellafield which ended in 1996.
Propylene traffic from Humber to Stanlow (a distinctive block train of white tanks) survived until 2003.
 

Baxenden Bank

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I seem to recall, from a photograph in a rail freight book, that coal was exported from Cawoods to the Isle of Man (in containers), but I may be mis-remembering and it was coal to Ireland, as mentioned above.

Meanwhile, use of Google Streetview, and loading the historic views, shows the beginning of the Eastwood Refinery siding, as suggested where the line crosses North Road, the disused line disappears into the vegetation.

Also, a close look at Google Aerial shows, where the Cawoods and Bowaters tracks split there is a third line which heads across the road where the concrete section is then into a yard where there is a small industrial building. Was this the MSC loco depot?
 

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Adrian Barr

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Doncaster
I seem to recall, from a photograph in a rail freight book, that coal was exported from Cawoods to the Isle of Man (in containers), but I may be mis-remembering and it was coal to Ireland, as mentioned above.

Meanwhile, use of Google Streetview, and loading the historic views, shows the beginning of the Eastwood Refinery siding, as suggested where the line crosses North Road, the disused line disappears into the vegetation.

Also, a close look at Google Aerial shows, where the Cawoods and Bowaters tracks split there is a third line which heads across the road where the concrete section is then into a yard where there is a small industrial building. Was this the MSC loco depot?
Ah, I didn't think of using the streetview!

The Isle of Man sounds plausible as a destination for the Cawoods coal, but the volume of coal sent into the terminal would surely be too much for that to be the only destination. Penmorfa linked some good shots of the Cawoods terminal in post #16 and the destination is mentioned there as Northern Ireland which matches up with what Paul Shannon says in his books.

That Penforma "Trains in the Mersey Docks" page also has a photo showing the MSC loco shed.
In "The Changing Face of Railfreight" bookazine, the same building is visible in a photo of the junction where the Cawoods branch diverges, taken from the road bridge.

Dr Hoo mentions a tour around the MSC system in 1979 and I found some photos of it on the Transport Treasury website:

This links to photo JMT33055. Click on the right arrows and there are more photos of the MSC system up until JMT33061 (JMT33057 shows the MSC loco stabling point near the junction).

This links to photo JMT33142. Click on the right arrows and there are more photos of the MSC system up until JMT33157

Apparently there were 5 MSC Sentinel locos introduced in 1963 at Ellesmere Port, numbered MSC 3001 to 3005.
 
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Very interesting. As a child our family home backed onto the Helsby to Mouldsworth line and a lot of the Ellesmere Port freight headed up that way. I certainly remember the traffic from Stanlow and Vauxhalls passing the end of our garden and at times a lot of chemical freight, coal and stone. Good to see where they all came from.
 

Baxenden Bank

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My turn to get lost down a rabbithole this afternoon.

For anyone interested in detailed, current, OS mapping of an area (which often throws up old rail sidings and facilities) I recommend the site of the relevant Local Planning Authority. Their 'search and comment on planning applications' usually has a map search function. Zoom right in and you get the very detailed map data. Then look up old planning applications for the site you are interested in. Applications must by law be accompanied by a location plan. This will often show things as they currently are (or were prior to demolition).

On this basis:
Branch on the south side of the M53:
PLP new development, former Gulf Oil storage terminal – trailing connection from left. Single track becoming two plain line sidings.
Pioneer Point warehouse, former Mobil terminal – facing connection becoming three plain line sidings.
Alongside North Road - a run round loop.

Branch on the north side of the M53:
Bowaters Paper Mill - facing connection just after the M53 junction roundabout. Run round loop and various sidings into the works.
Eastham Refinery - facing connection prior to crossing North Road as discussed previously, the line into the undergrowth (2009 Google Streetview) contained a run round loop between the oil tanks, then a long straight siding to the far end of the site. Essentially between the site labelled as the refinery and that of Hooton Bio Power. Detail here on the Cheshire West and Chester planning site P/2007/114/XX/123.
Exolum, the final terminal had a run round loop just after it diverged from Bankfields Drive (just about visible on Google Aerial south/below the road tankers then two plain line sidings in the terminal itself south/below the tank farm.
 

markymark2000

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In a world of decarbonisation more incentives are needed to use the railway, Vauxhalls should use the railway. Look at JLR halewood & the ford import terminal at Halewood which is always busy.
Vauxhall has been in decline for years. There are threats of closure every other week, the plant isn't very stable. Most automotive companies that I have spoken to dislike the idea of moving vehicles via the railways The consistent reasons given by them are because there is a higher risk of damage due to the 2 additional movements (on and off the train).

There are numerous oil terminals with rail acccess that are unused but send lots via road, I know stanlow has pipelines but couldn't some of the remaining chemicals go by rail ?
Do you know of any large customers whereby rail could be used? Of the details above, most of the inland terminals are linked by rail already and so it would just be a case of Stanlow competing for the existing opportunities. I am struggling to see any new opportunities.

At present theirs a big recycling centre being built at Ince marshes close to stanlow, the waste is planned by barge but there is planned added road traffic aswell.
The glass & fertilizer sites use mostly HGVs except for the sand arriving at the glass factory.
The glass factory has said (admittedly in a private email) that they don't think they will be able to expand their rail usage because they don't feel like the investment is worth it for incoming goods as their current suppliers are not rail linked and so they think that in the end, there would be higher costs which would be passed onto them which in turn makes them less competative. From what they said, it would be mostly containers needed to transport remaining goods so they have the cost of containers, both supplier and them need to invest in reach stackers and shuttle vehicles to get containers to the terminals. Further they added that the gauge is too low and so they would need specialist wagons.

The big recycling centre, the issue here is that most waste companies don't see rail as a viable way of moving goods. I would certainly be interested into knowing if Suez gets grants for their movements and also how their contracts work as they seem to be the main company for using the railway to transport waste.
 

furnessvale

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Vauxhall has been in decline for years. There are threats of closure every other week, the plant isn't very stable. Most automotive companies that I have spoken to dislike the idea of moving vehicles via the railways The consistent reasons given by them are because there is a higher risk of damage due to the 2 additional movements (on and off the train).


Do you know of any large customers whereby rail could be used? Of the details above, most of the inland terminals are linked by rail already and so it would just be a case of Stanlow competing for the existing opportunities. I am struggling to see any new opportunities.


The glass factory has said (admittedly in a private email) that they don't think they will be able to expand their rail usage because they don't feel like the investment is worth it for incoming goods as their current suppliers are not rail linked and so they think that in the end, there would be higher costs which would be passed onto them which in turn makes them less competative. From what they said, it would be mostly containers needed to transport remaining goods so they have the cost of containers, both supplier and them need to invest in reach stackers and shuttle vehicles to get containers to the terminals. Further they added that the gauge is too low and so they would need specialist wagons.

The big recycling centre, the issue here is that most waste companies don't see rail as a viable way of moving goods. I would certainly be interested into knowing if Suez gets grants for their movements and also how their contracts work as they seem to be the main company for using the railway to transport waste.
Correct. It all comes down to cost and while road haulage is so heavily cross subsidised by that mug, the private motorist, nothing will change.
 

Rail Ranger

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The big recycling centre, the issue here is that most waste companies don't see rail as a viable way of moving goods. I would certainly be interested into knowing if Suez gets grants for their movements and also how their contracts work as they seem to be the main company for using the railway to transport waste.

The Runcorn Energy from Waste plant receives most of its feedstock by rail because Halton Borough Council has specified a maximum quantity that can be brought in by road. Otherwise road would be used.
 

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