The Last North British Type 1 Diesel


In 1958, the North British Loco Co in Glasgow delivered the first of the company’s last Type 1 diesel electric loco for British Railways, which was also one of the very last orders for the company, before its demise just four years later. Order L78 was the third of a group of four placed by BTC on 16th November 1955, and was for the ten Bo‑Bo Type 1 freight locomotives.

North British had made an unsuccessful transition into designing and building the new form of traction, not helped by British Railways decision to commit to electric rather than hydraulic transmissions. NBL had teamed up with Voith of West Germany, and built hydraulic transmissions for the BR designed diesel-hydraulic locomotives based on the German V200 designs.

But, it must be noted that the first truly British Railways main line diesel locomotives were the North British Built “Warship” class, Nos. D600 to D604 with hydraulic transmissions and put to work on the Western Region.

The company’s first work in Britain for the main line railways actually came from the LMS in 1947, with the design and building of No. 10800, and finally delivered in 1950. This was ordered for branch and secondary line work by the LMS, and outshopped from NBL’s Queens Park Works to works order L977, with an 827hp Paxman engine, British Thomson Houston traction motors, and perhaps the forerunner of all BR designs for this type of work until the 1980s. It did have some intriguing means of operation, with the main engine turning the main generator through a chain drive, and the BTH control and electrical systems were electro-pneumatic – later common to all AEI designs.

©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections. Permissions beyond the scope of this licence may be available by contacting This Creative Commons License can only be used with 72dpi images.

BR’s first Type ‘A’ / Type 1 Bo-Bo diesel was built by North British Locomotive Co. in Glasgow. The similarity with the later design is obvious in this view.

Mitchell Library copyright notice

This first Bo-Bo Type 1 design was sold to Brush Traction after 1959, and used as a test bed under the Brush “Hawk” project, before finally being scrapped in 1976.

However, from both North British and BR perspectives, its legacy lay in the Glasgow company’s final main line diesel orders, and the BR Modernisation Programme gave the company the opportunity to compete for work in the ‘new technology’ era. Under the programme, the railway industry was required to produce examples of various types of diesel and electric locomotive, for pilot scheme trials and evaluation in a range of options, designated by type-letters “A”, “B” or
”C”, covering various power ranges and operational needs.

The company already had agreements with diesel engine builders, hydraulic, and electric transmission suppliers, and had built BR’s first mixed traffic diesel locomotive, with electric transmission.

NBL Type A Diagram

Three of the original British Railways Type “A” weight diagrams, which ultimately became Type 1 from 1957/58

For North British this was the third of a group of four placed by BTC on 16th November 1955, and became Order No. L78 for 10 Bo‑Bo Type ‘A’, (later designated Type 1) freight locomotives. The agreed delivery schedule was 21 months from the date of settlement of technical details, which would have been August 1957.


As it turned out these NBL Type 1’s did not appear until the late summer of 1958, a year behind schedule, which in itself given the lack of experience of main line diesel traction on Britain’s railways, and operating conditions was not such a surprise.


D8406 built by nbl copy

As new from NBL’s Queens Park Works, carrying BR No. D8406 – this would carry works number 27677, to order L78

Mitchell Library copyright noticeWhen they finally arrived, in overall appearance they were similar to the solitary 827hp locomotive, delivered to BR in 1950 as No. 10800.

Principal Dimensions

D8400 - dimensions

Their construction was based on fabricated mainframes, running the full length of the locomotive – almost clearly following steam locomotive practice. This in layout in turn supported a single Paxman 16‑cylinder 16YHXL engine, and was carried on a pair of four‑wheeled bogies, with a single driving cab.

The engine itself was Paxman’s preferred vee form, and at 1250 rpm, it developed 800bhp, driving the GEC main and auxiliary generators, with the same arrangement adopted in the D6100 series design from North British.

Electrically, the six‑pole, self‑ventilated main generator, was running at 1250 rpm, and developing 550kW, 1700 Amps, designated type WT881. The traction motors were identical with the D6100 series, but were downrated to 152hp, running at 420 rpm, with the electro‑pneumatic control system, as in the D6100 series.


The class were all built at the Queens Park works, formerly the works of Dubs & Co., but amalgamated with the other two main Glasgow companies in 1903 that formed the North British company. During the 1950s, the company found it very difficult to translate their steam era engineering skills to meet the modern diesel and electric needs. That said, the company’s successful arrangements with Voith and MAN saw the Queens Park Works manufacturing hydraulic transmission systems and engines in the 1960s, although few of these were used on BR.

d8409-stratford-slide-Grahame Wareham

The last of the class at Stratford in 1969 shortly before being scrapped, in BR plain green livery, with half-height yellow warning panels, and of course, the NBL diamond works plate has been removed. This is definitely one of those diamonds that did not last forever!
Photo: © Grahame Wareham

In service, with British Railways Eastern Region, they carried running numbers D8400‑D8409, but were not equipped with train heating boilers. They were allocated at first to the Devons Road depot in London – which was BR’s first depot to be converted to diesel only operations, and then moved to Stratford where they spent the remainder of their working lives.

Although allocated numbers and a classification of ‘16’ under the TOPS scheme, but they were never carried.

The Paxman engines fitted to the class reportedly suffered from frequent engine seizures that were put down to inadequate ventilation, along with similar reports of other engine problems. It was also noted that the type used electro-mechanical control, where increasing numbers of BR locos from other builders were fitted with an electro-pneumatic system.

They spent all of their working life at Stratford depot, in North London, and once again, like their NBL built contemporaries, suffered an early withdrawal under the criteria of the 1967 National Traction Plan. They barely reached a 10-year lifespan – though much of that was out of use, and they were withdrawn between February and September 1968, and by the end of 1969 all of the class had been scrapped.












30 Years of Docklands Light Railway (DLR) – New Trains To Come


This month TfL has announced the 4 pre-qualified bidders to design and build the new trains for the DLR including Alstom, CAF, Bombardier and a Siemens consortium, with the contract due to be placed in autumn 2018, and delivery in 2022.  5 Years to deliver 43 ‘walk-through’ trains, replacing the existing stock, and including features such as on-board real-time information, air-conditioning and mobile device charging points.

DLR at Canary Wharf Station

DLR unit 23 at the Canary Wharf Station in today’s livery – (c) Transport for London

It is worth remembering that 2017 also marked the 30th anniversary of the opening of the DLR by HM The Queen on 30th July 1987, and in the same year, GEC-Mowlem were awarded a £50 million contract to extend the line, even before it was opened.  All of this was in response to the huge level of investment in reshaping London’s Docklands – a process that continues to this day.

GEC-Mowlem were tasked with designing, building, and handing over to the DLR, a fully operational railway, and within a cash limit of £60 million, following placement of the order in 1984.

This was achieved in 3 years, so why does it now take 5 years to provide new rolling stock?

Whilst the DLR was an entirely new construction, extensive use was made of former British Rail lines, since the railway was to be built to standard gauge, with the old London & Blackwall Railway followed for some of its route  in phase one.  The Beckton extension was planned in to support what is now the London City Airport.

DLR Original No. 1

The original DLR colours seen on this view taken in 1987

Trains for the initial railway were twin-car articulated units, with bodies supplied by Linke-Hoffman-Busch, and powered by GEC Traction. The Germans won the order on their strength, and reputation in the rapid transit market, since in the UK there was little experience at that time.

DLR Train Diagram

General arrangement of the twin car articulated units.

The vehicles collected power at 750V d.c. from a bottom contact, steel faced conductor rail, insulated from accidental contact on the top and two sides. The innovative contact systems were supplied by Brecknell-Willis, and described by the Railway Industry Association in April 1987:

“On two new urban transit systems, more than 10,000km apart, a modern development of one of the oldest electric traction technologies is enhancing the performance of dc electrification. Both the Singapore Mass Transit Railway and the Docklands Light Railway in East London are being equipped with Brecknell, Willis aluminium/steel composite conductor rails to supply direct current power to trains.

DLR Contact System diagram

(c) Railway Industry Association

The conductor rail, of aluminium, is steel faced, to reduce wear from the under- running contact shoe, and the contact systems were supplied by Brecknell Willis.

Other UK companies involved in this automated railway were Brush Electrical Engineering, who were brought in to provide power equipments on the extension project.  GEC Transmission & Distribution Projects and GEC Telecommunications were all heavily involved in this work.

The new light railway was designed to operate automatically from day one, but were provided with the essential – at that time – control panels for use on the vehicle in an emergency.  The ATP and ATO control systems in the original railway were independent of each other, controlling and operating the railway from the the Operation and Maintenance Centre.  Information is fed to the train’s on-board computers by means of Data Docking Links (DDL) at each station, and update the train computers. The ATP system ensures trains observe speed limits and prevents unsafe train movements, with operating speeds regulated by the rate at which transponders are crossed on the trackbed.

The original layout looked like this:

DLR Route Map 1987

This was of course later expanded, and now looks like this:

dlr-route-map 2017

(c) Transport for London

The DLR was not the first of GEC’s major light rail projects in the UK, but, like the Manchester Metrolink, was one of the UK’s earliest, and ranks alongside Birmingham’s ill-fated Maglev as one of the most innovative.



Kestrel – A 50 Years Old Flight of Fancy??


Happy birthday to the world’s most powerful single engine diesel locomotive – the HS4000 – “Kestrel”. Well it was the most powerful when it began its short working life in 1968. The design also served to pioneer later used in the immensely successful HST power cars, and which still provide the Brush Traction legacy to this day.

50 years ago, in January 1968, Brush Electrical Machines handed over the 4,000hp Co-Co diesel locomotive to British Railways. It has been described in some quarters as a “technology demonstrator”, powered by a Sulzer 16LVA24 diesel engine, and fitted with an alternator instead of the usual generator. The traction motors were still DC, but supplied through an advanced design of silicon rectifiers, which helped increase the power output and overall performance of the power train.

British Rail’s requirement was for a high-powered locomotive suitable for heavy freight and express passenger services. The Sulzer power unit, which had also been deployed in the Class 47, and which was also built at Vickers’ works in Barrow-in-Furness, drove the dc traction motors through an alternator, and not a generator. The control systems made extensive use was made of modular electronic units for power control, wheelslip detection, dynamic brake control and other functions.

Kestrel diagram from Railpower Jan 1968

Cutaway view from ‘Railpower’ January 1968 (Courtesy of the Railway Industry Association)

Whilst the design was begun in 1966, and built in 1967, completed at the company’s Loughborough factory in November/December 1967, where extensive technical tests were undertaken, before being handed over to British Railways at Marylebone Station on 29th January 1968.

Service trials proved the value of 
the ac/dc transmission adopted 
for the High Speed Train prototype 
in 1970 and for the class 56 freight 
locomotive in 1974. Further orders for Brush for this same power equipment came from British Rail for the production High Speed Trains and the remainder of the Class 56
 locomotive fleet,

The running gear, with six axle hung traction motors shared a common design practice with the Brush Type 4 (Class 47), however, with the body as a stressed skin (Warren Truss) construction – common in the aerospace industry – no underframe/chassis was used. All of which provided an impressive power to weight ratio – 4,000hp in an all up weight of 133 tons.

Principal Dimensions

Overall Length 66ft 6ins
Overall height 12ft 9 3/4 ins
Overall width 8ft 9 3/4ins
Bogie Wheelbase 51ft 8ins
Weight in w.o. 133 tons
Axle loading 22.5 tons
Engine Sulzer 16LVA24
Max. Output 4,000hp (2,985kW) @ 1,000 rpm
Main alternator Brush (flange mounted to engine)
Continuous output 2,510kW / 2,520kW @ 1,100 rpm according to loading
Traction motors 6 x Brush 515hp, 4-pole, series wound, force ventilated
Braking systems Vacuum, straight air, automatic air and dynamic, with hydraulically operated parking brake
Brakes Mechanical clasp brakes
Max speed 110 m.p.h.

However, this came with an axle load of 22.2 tons – more than 3 tons greater than the amount specified by Britsh Railways. The bogie side frames were of one piece cast construction with coil spring suspension, connected by 4 transverse members; two internal and two at either end.

After the Hither Green rail crash, British Rail issued a directive that all locomotives should have an axle weight of no-more than 21 tons. In an attempt to comply with this, Brush fitted the locomotive with modified British Rail Class 47 bogies.

So, we have a reputable manufacturer who delivered a prototype / technology demonstrator that did not meet the buyer’s specification. A design fault or too much technology??

In this prototype, extensive use was made of the then state of the art electronics, controlling much of the locomotive’s operations, including traction motor field settings, electrical load management, control of wheel slip, automatic voltage regulation. The braking system too included automated load and proportionate load regulation, determined by the loco’s speed.

Operationally Kestrel spent a great deal of its time on freightliner services between Hull and Stratford, along with coal trains betyween Shirebrook and Whitemoor. The modified bogies to meet the BR axle load requirements rode well, and for a six week period, Kestrel was rostered for the 08:00 Kings Cross – Newcastle service & 16.45 return – normally a ‘Deltic’ duty. HS4000 on the ECML was comfortably able to maintain the Deltic diagram timings.

HS4000_Derby Sulzers

HS4000 after bogie modifications at Cricklewood Open Day, 12th July 1969

Despite this success in main line service after its modifications, BR did not place any further orders, and in 1970, the loco was sent to Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness, where the company refurbished the Sulzer diesel engine. On its return to Brush, the loco was sold to the USSR for £127,000, and in July 1971 left the UK from Cardiff docks on board the MV Krasnokansk.

Kestrel at Barrow 1971 - Jordan Aspin Facebook

This view taken in 1971 shows Kestrel being shunted by a class 25 approaching Devonshire bridge at the western end of the Barrow Dock system.

derby Sulzers at Barrow hs400016lva24

The 16 cylinder engine seen outside the Barrow Engineering Works of Vickers Ltd in 1971 where it had been removed for overhaul, before being refitted into the locomotive. Photo. Courtesy of Geoff McEwen

Of this hugely powerful design, only 5 engines were built, one was used as the type test O.R.E. engine, but was later scrapped by Sulzer at their Oberwinterthur site, the other three were used as standby generators for power stations at Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and Dunkirk, France.

In Russia, the locomotive came to something of an ignominious end.

Kestrel in Russia 1980s - Facebook Stephen Powley

British Rail had a wealth of experience with Sulzer power in its diesel fleet – most obviously for main line passenger duty, the Brush-Sulzer Type 4 (Class 47) – and with Vickers construction and maintenance experience, it is a mystery why BR chose the complexity of the “Deltic” over “Kestrel”. But, of course, BR were also developing fixed formation train sets, such as the HST (InterCity 125), which arrived a couple of years after “Kestrel” was sold, and the ill-fated APT. So maybe the locomotive hauled services, with Mark II, then Mark III were not in the future plans, and it was only a flight of fancy to see what could be possible.


Further reading:




Towards Nationalisation – Transport Act 1947


On the 6th August 1947, the “Transport Act” was given the ‘Royal Assent’, which created the Transport Commission, who were empowered to – “…to provide, or secure or promote the provision of an efficient, adequate, economical and properly integrated system of public inland transport and port facilities within Great Britain for passengers and goods …”.   This included the railways, road passenger and freight transport, docks, canals and coastal waterways, and established the Transport Consultative Committees – both national and regional – to monitor and report on the performance of the services.

The main management bodies were the “Executives”, and at the start these consisted of:

  1. Railway Executive
  2. Docks and inland Waterways Executive
  3. Road Transport Executive
  4. London Passenger Transport Executive

Later the Hotels Executive was set up to manage the establishments and hotels created by the former privately owned railway and transport companies around the country.

The first members of the British Transport Commission, appointed in 1947 were:

  • John Benstead – NUR General Secretary
  • Lord Ashfield – Chairman of London Passenger Transport Board, Director of Midland Bank & ICI
  • Sir Cyril Hurcomb – Secretary to Minister of Transport, Chairman of Electricity Commission
  • Sir William V. Wood – President of the LMS
  • Lord Rusholme – General Secretary of the Cooperative Union

BTC Original Commission Members 1947

In the same year, and just 4 months earlier, the LMS had produced artists impressions of the new diesel locos they were planning to introduce. An illustration appeared on the cover of the company’s magazine for April 1947, as shown below:

Cover of April 1947 LMS Magazine

It is clear from this illustration that this shows the 10000 and 10001 classic diesels, and the bottom illustration shows what became 10800, as built by the North British Locomotive Co.

10000 with post 1956

Of course much of the argument against nationalisation was based on finance and compensation to shareholders. A particular point of concern was how to determine the value of the assets being taken into public ownership. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Glenvil Hall (MP for Colne Valley) made it pretty clear in one debate:

  • There were people in the party to which I have the honour to belong who believed that, in taking over certain industries and services, there was much to be said for confiscation. On the other hand, for many years it has been the settled policy of the Labour Party that right, proper and just compensation should be paid. When we faced the electors at the last General Election that principle was made clear in the document familiar to us all as “Let us face the future.” Therefore we say that in our view, in taking over industries and services mentioned there, just compensation should be paid.


The arguments to and fro continued, but the bill did finally receive its assent from the King on the 6th August, and from the railways’ perspective the next round of struggles would centre on whether LMS, LNER, GWR, or Southern practices in running the railways would take the upper hand. Those who perhaps think that the inter-war years and even the last years of the “Big Four” were success, should consider perhaps that the Government was subsidising private companies in the late 1940s, and even before World War II, company revenues were “managed”. As British Railways came into being, this comment made by Ernest Davies the labour MP for Enfield, during a debate in the House of Commons when opposition MPs were trying to reject the “vesting date” of 1st January 1948 is interesting:

  • “…There are many reasons why we should fix this target of 1st January, 1948, for the transfer of the railway and canal undertakings to the Commission. The first is that this country cannot afford to delay the transfer, because at present the taxpayer is subsidising the railways to the extent of £11,500,000 a year.”


So, the Government was subsidising private railway companies in the 1940s, just as it is today – we are back to where we were 70 years ago.

Last Days of “The Big Four”

On the matter of locomotives, steam was still king, but on the Southern the electrification works had progressed to cover – literally – a lot of ground, whilst the LNER had embarked on main electrification using overhead contact systems.

Small steps in adopting new technology perhaps, and with diesel shunters taking on increasing amounts of work, the LMS was the first to enter the fray with main line designs. It has to be said too, that both the LMS and GWR began flirting with less conventional propulsion systems – hence the arrival of gas turbine powered locomotives.

Steam traction was being converted to oil firing in many places, and with the shortage of coal, as many as 1,217 locomotives were planned for conversion to oil firing. The process was initiated by the Big Four in 1946, with the old GWR being first to start the process, when No. 5955 “Garth Hall” was converted in that year, and the North British Locomotive Co. was authorised by the then Minister of Transport to supply 1200 sets of oil-burning equipment.

This project was not a success, and all of the locomotives planned for conversion, and those which had been converted, were re-converted in less than a year after British Railways started operations in January 1948.

After the end of the Second World War, the railways in Britain – as in the examples above – were planning major, and in some cases, revolutionary changes. The majority of people still travelled by rail, although the trains, manpower and structures, had all suffered from the ravages of the recently ended hostilities. Steam was still the principal means of motive power, although elsewhere, in the USA in particular, the diesel-electric locomotive was making rapid progress, and it looked set for a promising future here too, as the LMSR had been demonstrating.

Electric traction was already a force to be reckoned with, notably the third rail systems, whilst electrification at1500Vd.c, with overhead catenary was gaining in popularity, as the lines from Liverpool St. to Shenfield, and across the Pennines between Manchester and Sheffield bore effective testimony. Very little real change was evident in the first couple of years after nationalisation, as the newly formed Railway Executive got down to the task of managing British Railways from its headquarters so recently vacated at 222 Marylebone Road – ‘TheKremlin’. The members of the 1948 Railway Executive included:

Sir Eustace Missenden W.P.Allen
Sir Wilfrid Ayre V.M. Barrington-Ward
C.Neville R.A.Riddles
J.C.L.Train Field Marshall Sir William Slim

The military connection was continued throughout those early years until Slim was replaced in 1949 by General Sir Daril Watson, and later, and perhaps more widely known, General Sir Brian Robertson, who presided over the early years of dieselisation.

The public face of the new organisation was given these early brand images as we call them today, but back then they were referred to as ‘totems’. Needless to say they soon acquired more colourful nicknames – the “double sausage” and the “cat on a mangle wheel”. The lion and wheel emblem was eventually applied to the sides of tank engines, and the tenders of main line locomotives, whilst the double sausage was used on station name signs, and a great deal of documentation.

Nationalisation was not of itself, a panacea to cure an illness which had dogged the industry for many years before 1948. The four main line railways had each earned themselves nicknames, which demonstrated the regard in which they were held by the travelling public the LMSR for instance was the ‘Long, Miserable &Slow Railway’, the GWR was not known as frequently as some would have us believe, as ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’, but more commonly, the ‘Great Way Round’. Punctuality featured heavily in the companies’ names, with the LNER becoming the ‘Late and Never Early Railway’, and the Southern was the ‘Slow Railway’. The latter particularly apt perhaps for the 21st Century equivalent in the latest incarnation of the Southern!

Changing Operations

BR Double Sausage

On the passenger front, in1948 the total number of passenger journeys made had fallen below the 1,000 million mark, since pre-war days, and remained at that level until 1955.   Freight carried by British Railways was always heavily weighted in favour of coal traffic, which made up around 60% of the total between 1948 and 1955, even showing a slight increase until the early 1960s. In contrast, there was a general decline in freight traffic between 1948 and 1962, from 273 million tons a year to 228 millions a year, a reduction of 16 1/2 %.

So 70 years ago, the massive programme of nationalisation of all the country’s transport undertakings was begun, and throughout the decade that followed, many changes were made, in both organization and technology – some at a rather quicker pace than others. Perhaps some of the most negative effects on the operation of railways – for both passenger and freight were to come after the mid 1960s – and the unfair competition with heavily subsidized road building schemes in particular.

The irony of today’s “privatised” railways is that they are even more fragmented in their operations than the pre 1948 railway companies had been, and they too are not meeting the needs of transport in the 21st century in the UK.



BTH Type 1 Bo-Bo – Happy 60th Birthday


This design was another of the ‘Pilot Scheme’ diesels that was not so much a failure in design, but a product of the lack of clear definition of requirements, and the reliance on the electrical industry in the UK to design, and deliver systems that functioned well on the 1950s and 1960s railway. They were too, it has to be said, very much at the mercy of Government policies that were in a state of flux, and driven by the rapidly changing economy of the times.

So, we have in the BTH, or AEI if you prefer, Type 1 diesel-electric locomotive intended for use primarily on freight traffics, and especially the wagonload, and non-bulk traffics.

BTH Advert 1958Between 1955 and 1965, the modernisation and re-equipment programme had resulted in many changes of direction, the very public trials and tribulations of comparing the different diesel engine and transmission systems, and the over optimistic electrification plans. At the same time, the massively increased competition from road freight transport companies saw dramatic reductions in the railways’ share of the market, and operating costs that were rapidly rising.

This in turn led to some very unwise, or not thought through decisions, under pressure from dwindling financial resources, and the appearance of too wide a variety of designs, and decisions made to bulk manufacture products that were unproven to the railway environment.

In the early days the 174 pilot scheme diesels were going to be built and tested before fleet orders were placed – this was abandoned only part way through. Some of the manufacturers were failing to transform from steam traction to diesel and electric, and the railways were forced to rely on a collection of – in particular – existing electrical industries, with limited rail experience.

AEI Type 1 DieselThe arrival of a contract with British Thomson Houston, for the 44 locomotives, designated Type 1, with a Paxman diesel engine, powering four DC traction motors and all the ancillary and control equipment would have been very welcome in those uncertain economic times. Did the Rugby factory have enough capacity, or indeed capability to build the locomotives – not really. As was the case with numerous other designs of the day, they subcontracted the design and manufacture of the mechanical parts such as bodies, running gear, bogies, etc., to others.

At the same time, the engineering and manufacturing industry in the UK was undergoing some upheaval too, with acquisitions and mergers, and the arrival of Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), bringing together Metropolitan Vickers and BTH back in 1928 didn’t benefit anyone. Although part of the AEI Group when the order for the new Type 1 was placed, BTH was still quoted on the stock exchange as a separate, rival company to the likes of Metro Vick and English Electric. BTH subcontracted most of the mechanical works to the Clayton Equipment Co. in Derby, and the Yorkshire Engine Co. in Sheffield.

They were ordered in 4 separate lots, the first 10 in 1955 under the Pilot Scheme, then 3 more orders in lots of 10, 17, and 7 in 1959, all equipped for multiple unit operation, and numbered from D8200 to D8243. They were intended for service on the Eastern Region, covering North East London to East Anglia

With the first 10 locomotives appearing between November 1957 and November 1958, Clayton Equipment supplied the bogies and superstructure to Yorkshire Engine Co. in Sheffield, where the frame construction and final assembly was completed. The remainder were built by Clayton at Hatton, Derbyshire, and delivered between October 1959 and February 1961.

Neither of these two companies had much experience of designing or building main line diesel locomotives, and were focussed on industrial and mining and battery driven products. The Yorkshire Engine Co. had built main line steam locomotives in the past, but Clayton’s of Derby were perhaps even more of a niche engineering company.

AEI Type 1 side viewSo, in 1957 – 60 years ago – the new British Railway Type 1 took its first steps – beaten to the number 1 spot of course, by English Electric/Vulcan Foundry design – the ubiquitous Class 20 as it is known today.

BTH Type 1 leading dimensions table

1964 Allocations

1974 AllocationsThe 1967 National Traction Plan resulted in the loss of many of these ‘Pilot Scheme’ types, but also made other mistakes, one of which included ordering the centre cab Class 17 locomotives from the Clayton Equipment Co. With BTH placing work with Clayton for the ill-fated Class 15 for the mechanical components, it does seem an odd thing to do, even more so considering that the later Clayton design was even more unreliable than the BTH design.

In the Class 15, the Paxman engine was a pressure-charged engine with sixteen 7inch x 7 ¾ inch cylinders in “V” formation, but generating a mere 800hp at what was essentially a high-speed engine, compared to many other around at that time. This engine proved to be a source of numerous problems in service, from general unreliability to excessive maintenance, and the poor visibility from the location of the cab didn’t help.

Class 15 2A major contributory factor for the withdrawal of the class was the decline in suitable freight working in the North East London to East Anglia area, and they were all withdrawn from operational service between April 1968 and March 1971. All except the four allocated for departmental service were scrapped by the end of 1972, and D8233 has been saved for preservation, and undergoing restoration on the East Lancashire Railway.

A lot of work has been done, and it is good to know that in its 60th anniversary year, an interesting design from BR’s early dieselisation years has survived.


Useful links:

Class 56 – 40 Years on …


The first 30 of the Class 56 diesel-
electric Co-Co heavy freight locomotives supplied to British Rail by Brush Electrical
 Machines Ltd were built by the Romania subcontractor “Electroputere”, and entered service 40 years ago. These were classed as a “Type 5” and fitted with a Ruston-Paxman 3,250 bhp (2,423 kW) 16RK3CT diesel engine, with a Co-Co wheel arrangement. The diesel engine was the final development of the old English Electric CSVT series, under the GEC Diesels badge, which brought together both English Electric and Ruston-Paxman at Newton-le-Willows.

Brush Falcon on test run Bush Type 4 publicity shot

The Brush family likeness – “The Falcon” prototype and the ubiquitous Class 47 Co-Co

Class 56 in build - Jim Mason

Class 56 under construction at BREL – (c) Jim Mason

The electrical and control equipment in the Class 56 is a really interesting and innovative development, with a Brush three-phase, twelve-pole main alternator to provide power to the traction motors, and an auxiliary supplying the cab air-conditioning equipment, blower and compressor motors and battery charger. Both alternators are brushless, each with a rotating diode assembly to rectify the ac supply from the exciters for excitation of the alternators. This separately excited, or –‘sep-ex’ – technique was the next logical step to the full AC drive systems in place today.


Class 56 Diagram

British Rail Weight Diagram for Class 56

Leading Dimensions

Length over buffers 19,355mm
Total wheelbase 14,580mm
Bogie pivot centres 11,480mm
Bogie wheelbase 4,100mm
Bogie type CP2 (One loco was fitted with type C3 for test before fitting to Class 58)
Overall height (to rail) 3,960mm
Overall width 2,790mm
Weight (in working order) 125.25 tonnes
Maximum tractive effort 275,000 N
Continuous tractive effort 240,000 N at 27 km/h
Minimum radius curve 74 m
Maximum permitted speed 130 km/hr

Engine and Transmission


GEC Diesels / Ruston


Max. Continuous output (each engine)

2,460 kW at 900 rpm

Cylinders; Number.


Traction motors; No, make and type

Six Brush Type TM 76-32

Final drive

Single reduction spur gearing

Main generator; No, make and type

Brush three-phase, twelve-pole brushless main alternator
Braking equipment Davies & Metcalfe Type E70 system
Fuel tank capacity 5,228 litres

Mechanically they were very much the same as the earlier Brush Type 4 (Class 47) design, with an all- welded monocoque superstructure assembly using a stressed skin form of construction.

56002 - Jim Mason photo

Class 56 number 56002 in the earlier style BR blue livery with the small logo.                                      Photo Courtesy: (c) Jim Mason

No less than 105 of these were built between 1976 and 1984, and although the first 30 were built in Romania, the remainder were built at Doncaster (70, Nos. 56 031 to 56 115) and Crewe (30, Nos. 56 116 to 56 135), but with significant modifications, from the poor experience with the first batch.

Unsurprisingly perhaps they bore a strong similarity to the Brush Class 47 /Type 4, as the photos and diagrams show, and are the last of what might be described as the British Railways style of double ended locomotives, with a full width body. They were later joined by BR’s final diesel design, the Class 58, and although this also featured a cab at each end, it followed a perhaps more traditional freight loco design, with only a simple casing/hood over the engine.


Class 56 No. 56026 under heavy repair at Doncaster Works in 1982, alongside the Class 58 locos under construction.  (Photo (c) Rodger Bradley)

The Doncaster built Class 56 were the penultimate diesel design built in a BR / British Rail Engineering Ltd works for British Rail, with the works building BR’s final home designed and built locomotive, the Class 58. The first 30 locomotives Nos. 56 001 – 56 030) were found to be a poor quality build, with many being withdrawn from service early for extensive rebuilding, and then re-entering re-entering service.

The first Class 56 3,250hp Co-Co diesel-electric heavy freight locomotive to be built by BREL was handed over to British Rail on 29th April 1977, shipped from Romania through the port of Harwich. It was planned to outshop 20 locomotives per year.

Since BR had indicated there would be a follow-on order after the first 30, Doncaster Works resources would be severely stretched to meet these targets. Despite the fabrication facilities available at Doncaster, it was the lack of numbers of skilled staff to build the mechanical parts that was the most difficult challenge.

For this reason, the use of Ashford, Eastleigh and Swindon Works to fabricate sub-assemblies proved essential to meet the building programme timetable. Roofs, fuel tanks and cab frames were produced at Ashford, with cab desks from Eastleigh, and radiator housings from Swindon.

56114 on MGR - Mandy Sharpe photo

56114 in old style BR Blue with large double arrow logo on an MGR coal working. Photo courtesy: (c) Mandy Sharpe

At that time – the mid to late 1970s, the big railway workshops were still in existence, although there had of course been many closures, loss of skilled staff, and re-organisations that were to come would prove even more costly to railway engineering in the UK as a whole.


The final batch of 30 were built at Crewe Works, and with the BREL works across the UK coming together to supply the sub-assemblies, skills, knowledge, experience and programme timings were maintained. Brush and their subcontractors supplied the type CP2 bogies, whilst the power and control systems were designed and provided by the Loughborough company.

In operation they were hit by the BR privatisation, and became part of the newly formed EWS (English, Welsh & Scottish railway Ltd) from 1996, which comprised four divisions of British Rail’s rail freight operations – Rail Express Systems, Loadhaul, Transrail Freight and Mainline Freight. EWS later bought the National Power Rail Unit and British Rail’s European division – Railfreight Distribution, using the Class 56 in their primary role, until the arrival of many of the new Class 66 locomotives. By 2004, the Class 66 were in the majority operationally, and EWS took the decision to withdraw these Brush designs, although some were used in France to help build the then new LGV for TGV-Est, and other European work.


Classic shot of the second of the second Doncaster built engines, 56032 on a typical MGR working in EWS livery in 2001
© 53A Models of Hull Collection

After EWS withdrew the Class 56 in 2004, they were stored at Crewe, Toton, Warrington, Barrow Hill and Eastleigh, and when DB Schenker bought EWS they continued to focus on the Class 66 as their preferred main line freight type.


DB Schenker, now DB Cargo sold 27 Class 56s for scrap to European Metal Recycling in 2011, but 11 were bought by Colas Rail, and remain in service on traffic for which they were originally built. Colas is effectively a subsidiary of French engineering company SECO. UK Rail Leasing own and operate a further 15 class 56 locos, which operate on a range of services.

The Class 56 proved operationally superior when compared with the later Class 58, and a number have been preserved, whilst others are still in service with other train operating companies, including:

Owner Numbers
British American Railway Services 56 091/103/128/303(125)/311(057)/312(003)
Colas Rail 56 049/051/074/078/087/090/094/096/105/113/302(124)
UK Rail Leasing 56 007/018/031/032/037/038/060/065/069/
Class 56 Locomotives 56 301(045)

Whichever way you look at the Class 56, it has been both successful and unsuccessful, as BR’s last Type 5 locomotive, and in effect brought back to life after privatisation, effectively saying that BR had done a good job in the design and operation of this locomotive.

Many are still with us 40 years on, through occasional lease to rail freight operators, but the design does bring to an end that era of British diesel locomotive building, and the legacy from Brush Traction/Brush Electrical Engineering.


Useful links

60 Years of Modernisation


In 1955, the then British Transport Commission announced its programme for the modernisation & re-equipment of British Railways.  This was set against a backdrop of a worn out rail network, which had had little or no investment since the end of WW2.  The programme included the building of no more steam locomotives, and the use of diesel and electric traction for commuter as well as main line services.

More importantly it included a massive programme to electrify main lines, rebuild stations, workshops, signalling and telecoms systems that were out of date and falling apart.

The programme was simply announced by the BTC in 1955, with Government support. The following year, the Government issued a white paper “Proposals For The Railways”, which was intended to review the financial prospects and strategy for the railways.  The BTC had put in a request to increase freight charges, partly to cover the financial troubles which were becoming ever deeper.

On reflection, you might think it ironic, considering that the railways were generating operating surpluses of between £29million and £55million between 1948 and 1955.  The cause of their losses was simply the capital interest charges they were required to pay – amounting to £50million annually.

When the BTC was set up in 1947 they were hampered from the start by having no capital reserves, and constrained by fixed interest borrowing to allow replacement of expired assets (valued at pre-1939 prices), with new at increased post-war prices.  The amount of spending and type, and volume of assets that could be replaced was also constrained….

Until the modernisation and re-equipment programme was approved.

The 1956 “Proposals For The Railways” white paper recognised these difficulties and introduced a more flexible freight charging arrangement to try in some way to enable British Railways to compete on a more commercial footing.

The modernisation plan had already shown some clear benefits with the introduction of new diesel multiple unit trains on selected routes/services.  They were still a novelty as this excursion handbill from 1959 shows:

BR Ingleton Diesel Excursion May 1959 copy

The 1956 White Paper certainly seemed to provide evidence of very considerable uplift in both passenger numbers and receipts on the new services.   The choice of the West Cumberland lines gave an interesting comparison with the ‘city centred’ commuter lines around Leeds and Birmingham.

    % Increase
Service Inaugurated Journeys Receipts




Carlisle-Silloth 29.11.1954 66 44
Carlisle-Penrith-Workington 3.1.1955 84 104
Carlisle-Whitehaven 7.2.1955 44 62
King’s Lynn-Wells-Norwich 19.9.1955 40 30
Bury-Bacup 6.2.1956 132 164
Birmingham-Lichfield 5.3.1956 210 208

Clearly the modernisation plan was working in these examples, and the investment in new equipment continued to be justified.  However, only 3 years later, the “Re-Appraisal” white paper set the scene for some memorable errors, and paved the way for the perhaps greater errors delivered through Ernest Marples in 1963, with Dr Beeching’s report.