On 29 October 1965, the then chairman of the British Railways Board, Lord Beeching, officially opened the new marshalling yard at Tinsley, in Sheffield.
Whilst Beeching is often portrayed as the ‘axeman’ who oversaw the elimination of much of Britain’s passenger railway network, it is sometimes overlooked that his thoughts on freight traffic were perhaps even more radical. There is an irony in the fact that he officially opened Tinsley in that the type of traffic that it was designed to cater for, the marshalling of wagonload freight, was exactly the type of freight that he thought had no future on the railway. To Beeching, the future of freight on the railways lay largely in the development of block trains and containerisation. The major investment that BR undertook in the creation of massive new marshalling yards — such as Tinsley and Millerhill — was therefore wasteful. In the end Beeching was probably proved right; none of the major marshalling yards lived up to expectations and most of them have largely disappeared.
The origins of Tinsley yard predated Beeching’s appointment to the BRB. With its massive steel industry and other trades, the Sheffield District generated something like 10% of the freight traffic carried on the whole BR network. To serve this and reflecting the varied ownership of the railways prior to Nationalisation, this traffic was handled by a number of small and increasingly inefficient yards.
In order to streamline the operation, a plan to rationalise the existing yards and to create a single new marshalling yard alongside the Sheffield District line at Tinsley was formulated. Work started in 1963 and new connections were built at Treeton, Broughton Lane and Tinsley South. Linked to the development were the new Sheffield Freight Terminal at Grimesthorpe and the also new freightliner terminal constructed on the site of the former Masborough Sorting Sidings near Rotherham.
Tinsley was designed to be one of the main ‘Network Yards’. The concept was that the BR network was to have a number of these yards, where local freight traffic was sorted and consolidated for onward movement to other Network Yards, where they would again be sorted for onward movement to local destinations via ‘trip’ workings.
When completed, Tinsley Yard was more than two miles long and quarter of a mile wide, occupying a space of some 145 acres with some 60 miles of track. Costing £10 million at the time, it was estimated that up to 4,000 wagons per day could be handled. On the east side of the site there were 11 reception sidings; these fed more than 50 main sorting sidings plus a further 25 secondary sorting sidings. There were two ‘humps, one serving the main sorting roads and one the secondary roads. In addition, there was an express freight and departure yard of 10 sidings on the west side of the complex. Located to the south of the reception sidings was a new locomotive depot; opened in 1964, Tinsley depot was one of the major diesel depots in the area and replaced the earlier sheds at Grimesthorpe, Darnall, Millhouses and Canklow. At its peak, the depot accommodated some 200 locomotives; these included the three Class 13 shunting locomotives that were unique to Tinsley. Nos 4500-02 were permanently couple master and slave units converted from Class 08 shunters, with the cab of the slave units being removed and with additional weight being added for improved adhesion. No 4500 was formed from Nos D3698/D4188, No 4501 from Nos D4189/D4190 and No 4502 from Nos D3697/D4187. Renumbered 13001-03 under TOPS, No 13002 was withdrawn in June 1981 and the other two in January 1985. All three were scrapped. Tinsley MPD passed to Railfreight Distribution when British Rail was sectorised in the 1980s and, at Privatisation, the facility passed to EWS. With its network of other depots — Bescot, Doncaster and Toton — all capable of handling Tinsley’s diminishing workload, the 34-year-old depot closed in 1998 and the site was subsequently cleared.
At the core of the marshalling yard was the hump wagon control system at served the main sorting sidings. This had been supplied by Dowty was used as a complete installation for the first time in the world at Tinsley. However, it was to prove very complex and required almost constant maintenance. More importantly, it was designed to handle the traditional small, largely four wheel, wagons that were usual in wagonload freight. It was unable to handle longer bogie wagons that were becoming increasingly common.
In order to control the yard, two control towers were constructed. One of these was located at the eastern end of the main sorting sidings and the other, smaller, tower was sited immediately to the east of the secondary sorting sidings. In addition, three new power signalboxes were also installed — Shepcote Lane at the westernmost extremity of the yard, Tinsley Park, between the express freight and departure sidings and the main sorting sidings, and Tinsley Yard, between the reception sidings and the main sorting sidings.
To provide a link with the Manchester-Sheffield-Wath 1,500V dc electrified network, the line in from the west was electrified as part of a 17-mile scheme to extend the dc network from Woodburn Junction to Darnall Junction via Broughton Lane to the reception sidings at Catcliffe.
The yard at Tinsley was effectively redundant from its opening and was never used to its full capacity. The rapid decline in wagonload freight from the mid-1960s allied to the decline of much local industry and the rapid shift to road haulage all reduced the need for hump shunting. By the early 1980s, with the exception of services such as Speedlink (launched in 1977), wagonload freight had largely become history on British Rail. The yard’s usefulness was further reduced in late 1981 with the closure of the MSW 1,500V dc network as the line between Penistone and Dinting was closed.
With the demise of wagonload traffic, the arrival sidings and main hump were closed on 17 December 1984 and the Dowty system, installed with such a fanfare in the early 1960s, was removed. The track layout at Tinsley was modified to permit greater use by block trains but the decline in the coal and steel industries locally resulted in this traffic also disappearing.
Over the next 20 years the facilities at Tinsley, along with is connections, were reduced. In 2007 the yard was remodelled to form the Sheffield International Rail Freight Terminal linked to the ex-Great Central line from Rotherham Central to Woodburn Junction. In addition, there is still some steel traffic to sidings occupied by Avesta Sheffield.