Beilhack Snowplough Profile
The origins of the bogie-mounted snowploughs can be traced back to the early 1980s when specialist German manufacturer Beilhack supplied several large plough blades to British Rail. Significantly more substantial than standard miniature snowploughs, these blades were originally planned to be mounted directly onto locomotive bufferbeams.
Trial fittings were carried out involving several different classes, for example a withdrawn Class 25 was noted with a plough in place at Toton during July 1981 while tests involving Class 37s were a failure as the blades proved to be too heavy for the bufferbeams. Success was achieved with Class 20s though and it was not uncommon to find a few Eastfield-based examples paired up cab-to-cab and sporting a plough at the bonnet ends during the winter months. However, the need to dedicate locos to plough duties for the duration and remove the buffers to allow the installation of the blade was operationally inconvenient.
20099 at Eastfield - Photo by Ron H
Seen at Eastfield on 7th April, 1984, 20099 displays the original concept for the Beilhack blades in having them mounted on a locomotive. Coupled cab to cab with 20108, the latter was also carrying a snowplough on its bonnet end.
Instead, a revised plan was devised to mount the blades on bogies from withdrawn Class 40s, a total of six snowploughs, ADB965576-581, being built at Stratford during 1984/85. In all cases, the plough blade was mounted on the former inner end of the bogie while other alterations saw the pony wheels removed and a conventional air brake system installed.
To provide additional weight, a ballast box was constructed on top of the bogie frame. On at least ADB965576 and ADB965577, this box was initially just a rectangular structure with a flat top, the upper triangular section being a later addition.
Although rarely pictured, the plough blade could be reconfigured with the central panel on one side or the other being extended outwards and downwards at an angle and then braced from behind with a substantial bar. This then allowed snow to be ejected clear of the line to one side only rather than both sides in the normal ‘V’ set-up. Seemingly only ever deployed on the Scottish-based Beilhacks, it is unclear whether the ploughs still have this ability.
ADB965577 at Carstairs - Photo by David Ratcliffe
With little in the way of branding, ex Class 40 bogie ADB965577 typifies the Scottish-based Beilhack ploughs during the British Rail era, it being photographed at Carstairs in May 1993.
During 1989, four additional Beilhack snowploughs were constructed at Ashford Crane Repair Depot, ADB966096-099 employing Class 45 bogies as their basis with resultant detail differences compared to their predecessors. Like the ex Class 40 ploughs, they were finished in all over yellow but with the application of Network SouthEast lettering atop the ballast box as the sector had paid for the conversion work.
During BR days, ADB965576/577/580/581 were typically found at the northern end of the West Coast Main Line, normal locations varying between Motherwell TMD, Mossend Yard, Carstairs and Carlisle Kingmoor Yard. Meanwhile, the other six were based in the South East with ADB965578/579 allocated to Stratford TMD in East London, ADB966096/097 based at Eastleigh and ADB966098/099 at Ashford.
ADB966098 at Ashford - Photo by Paul Wade
A newly converted and pristine ADB966098 sits in the autumn sunshine at Ashford Crane Repair Depot on 16th October, 1989. Like the other former Class 45 ploughs, it received Network SouthEast lettering on top of the ballast box.
With the break-up of British Rail commencing in 1994, ownership of the Beilhack ploughs passed to Railtrack. During the second half of the decade, the low height of the ploughs made them favorites for working under the overhead electrification of the West Coast and East Coast routes with stabling locations including Doncaster, Peterborough, Crewe and Motherwell. With the exception of Peterborough, these locations are still used today.
At some point in the 1990s and while still painted yellow, Scottish-based ADB965576 and ADB965577 both received electrically-powered head and tail lights atop the ballast box. This was seemingly a local initiative to save having to rely on portable battery lamps but remained unique to this pair of ploughs. To power the lights, a small generator set in a louvred box was fitted to the rear of the ploughs, the toolbox being reduced in width to accommodate this. The lights and generator were connected by electrical conduit running along the top of the ballast box and then by a flexible cable up to the lights. Both ploughs retain the lights and generator cabinet to this day but the latter is marked as ‘do not operate’.
ADB965579 at Stratford - Photo by Paul Wade
In the dying days of Stratford TMD, a heavily faded ADB965579 is seen at the East London depot on 27th April, 2001. On display is the unique painted shark’s mouth, which the plough became infamous for, while a non-standard headlight and mounting bar have been fitted between the lamp brackets.
ADB966099 at Peterborough - Photo by Gareth Bayer
When seen at Peterborough on 10th December, 1997, ADB966099 looked the worse for wear with faded paintwork, rusty bodywork and removed NSE lettering.
Much needed overhauls were carried out at the start of the 2000s, the snowploughs by now being extremely faded in their yellow livery. As well as repairs to body corrosion, the Beilhacks received a smart new black livery with the blade remaining in yellow while Railtrack logos and ‘Heart of the railway’ slogans were applied.
This work also saw the Beilhacks receive a number of modifications, these encompassing the fitting of solar panels to the slope of the ballast box and electrical boxes on a mounting plate to the front of the same structure. This formed an experimental global positioning system to enable the ploughs to be tracked by satellite, with a view to the equipment becoming a standard item on all rolling stock to give real time running information.
ADB965579 at Temple Mills - Photo by Gareth Bayer
Pictured at EWS’ short-lived Temple Mills depot in East London on 28th May, 2004, ADB965579 displays its new Railtrack livery along with the solar panel and adjacent electrical box modifications.
ADB966098 at Peterborough - Photo by Gareth Bayer
Another Railtrack-liveried example, this time a former ‘Peak’ bogie, is seen at Peterborough on 24th October, 2003. ADB966098 features the same modifications as its sister while the substantial bracing behind the plough blade can also be seen.
ADB965576 at Mossend - Photo by Tom Smith
Recorded at Mossend on 18th September, 2010, ADB965576 shows off the head and tail lights that were fitted prior to both the other modifications and black repaint. The Railtrack logo has also given way to non-standard Network Rail lettering but ‘The heart of the railway’ branding remains in place.
Under Network Rail ownership, the Beilhacks were given another refurbishment around 2011 at Brodie Rail, Kilmarnock, this seeing the solar panels and GPS electrical boxes removed in all cases. However, the extended mounting plate for the latter was left in place. A fresh coat of black was also applied, this including the application of full Network Rail logos. Two of the Beilhacks did not survive this refurbishment though, ADB966096 and ADB966097 being scrapped on site at Kilmarnock.
ADB965577 at Doncaster - Photo by Martyn Read
Doncaster West Yard played host to a group of four Beilhacks on 9th September, 2015, including ADB965577. This had been refurbished again, gaining Network Rail logos but losing its solar panels and GPS electrical boxes. Notably, the head and tail lights found on this plough are still in place as is the generator cabinet at the rear, although this is lettered with ‘do not operate’ red and white warning stickers.
Today, the eight remaining Beilhacks still form a key part of Network Rail’s snow clearing equipment, working alongside the larger independent snowploughs. Indeed, the prolonged bad weather of late February and early March 2018 saw the Beilhacks widely deployed, this including clearing the northern section of the East Coast Main Line, lines on Teesside and around Buxton and the Malvern Hills.
Earlier in the privatisation era, motive power for the Beilhacks was typically provided by EWS but in more recent years, Direct Rail Services has normally been the first choice. However, the ‘Beast from the East’ saw Colas Rail also provide pairs of Class 56s while Network Rail’s own Class 97/3s were deployed as well.
ADB965580 at Hindlow - Photo by Jim Scott
The widespread snow of March 2018 saw the biggest deployment of Network Rail snowploughs for many years. As part of this operation, the Colas Rail duo of 56087 and 56096 were paired up with the Crewe-based Beilhacks, ADB965580 and ADB965581, to work in the Peak District on 19th March. The formation is seen at Hindlow Quarry, waiting for departure back to Buxton, Peak Forest and then Crewe.
ADB966099 at York Dringhouses - Photo by Phil Precious
Spring had definitely not sprung on 1st March 2018 with the arrival of the ‘Beast from the East’ as the DRS pair of 66434 and 66422 pass York Dringhouses with the 1Z99 Doncaster West Yard-Berwick in an effort to keep the East Coast Main Line open in Northumberland. The ploughs are the sole remaining ex ‘Peak’ pair, ADB966098 and ADB966099, while DRS Class 66s have become familiar motive power for the Beilhacks in recent years.
Hattons OO Beilhack
You can now own your very own OO model of the Beilhack snowploughs, available in most of the major livery and detail variations throughout their lifespan. The models feature a diecast chassis for smooth and stable running, intricate printing and livery details, plenty of separately fitted detailing parts, sprung buffers and more.
Each plough is available for £43. Click HERE to explore the range and order yours.
Beilhacks In Action!
Below you can see some fantastic footage of the Beilhacks in operation on the network. Footage provided by Jon Gavin and Jim Scott.
All text in this article was created by Simon Bendall on behalf of Hattons Model Railways. Images and videos are the copyright of the original photographers as shown in the captions below them. Unauthorised use or reproduction of either the images or text in this article is strictly forbidden.