The Class 50 is 50 this year


In the same year that the company celebrates its centenary – yes I know it no longer exists! – it is 50 years since the final EE built diesel-electric locomotive was delivered to British Rail.  They were ordered in 1967 and delivered in the space of a year, between 1967 and 1968, and described in glowing terms by the contemporary railway press as:

“The 50 English Electric Type 4 locomotives of 2,700 hp now entering service with the London Midland Region of British Railways as the D400 class represent a significant step forward in traction engineering because they embody a number of features combined for the first time in one design.”

English Electric were the principal suppliers of diesel and major electric traction equipment in the post-war years into the 1950s, but their dominance was under threat from changes in the AEI Group companies, which included Metropolitan-Vickers.  But the 1960s proved a watershed in the UK rail industry, and for English Electric.

Image From brochure

The new Class 50, or 2,700hp D400 series of locomotives were based on the DP2 prototype of 1962, which was used as a ‘testbed’ for English Electric’s new design of diesel engine; the 16CSVT.  The use of a ‘Deltic’ bodyshell as the locomotive was being built at EE’s Vulcan Works, was a bonus.  The 2,700hp was less than the existing 3,300hp ‘conventional’ Deltic, but DP2 was used on their workings and timing son the East Coast Main Line.  It proved to be better on acceleration, and included a number of innovative design features, such as automatic wheelslip and slide detection.  DP2 continued its workings on ‘Deltic’ timings until the 1967 accident at Thirsk, when it was severely damaged after running into a stationary cement train.  After this it was withdrawn from service, and engine parts were used as spares in what became the Class 50.


GEC Traction/R P Bradley Collection

English Electric’s engine design and its technology was a great success, and in addition to the BR order, in 1968, English Electric signed a £2.7 million contract, for the construction and supply of locomotives for Portugal, and based around the same power unit.  These new BR locomotives provided considerable improvement in power to weight ratio, being demanded by the railway, and following the tender invitation from BTC/British Railways Board, the order for 50 locos similar to DP2 was placed.

English Electric had hoped to use their original ‘Deltic’ style nose, and cab, and even offered alternatives, including wraparound windscreens, but the BR design team’s preferred layout of two windows and flat front end was approved.

Class 50 Dimensions

Class 50 DiagramWorks Numbers, Running Numbers and Build/Withdrawal Dates

Class 50 numbering

The Technology

EE Class 50 copyThese locomotives – quite apart from the impressive diesel engine design – included some interesting new electronic technology, including:

  • Slow-speed control; with precise control below 3 mile/hr for merry go round coal trains.  The driver could pre-set speeds, which would be automatically maintained.
  • Pre-set tractive effort control; this could be set by the driver, and the control system would maintain constant TE, through acceleration, which in turn was planned to further improve the loco’s operating efficiency.
  • Automatic integration of loco and train brakes; an electro-mechanical system, again designed to improve braking efficiency, and reduce wear on brake rigging.

Early diesel locomotives on BR benefited from developments in traction diesel engine technology, and these locomotives applied that to the maximum available at the time, from charge air cooling, to increase the volumes available for combustion, to turbocharging.  Even the radiator cooling fans were automatically controlled through electronic sensors, to match the needs of the engine when in use.


GEC Traction/RP Bradley Collection

The new English Electric Type 4 was fitted with the 16CSVT engine, a ‘vee’ form16 cylinder design, with charge air cooling (intercooler) and turbocharged to deliver 2,700hp at 850 rpm. The engine had been extensively tested in the DP2 prototype, and was a forerunner of the 16RK3CT from Ruston Paxman, as used in the Class 56 locomotives of the late 1970s, early 1980s. A 12-cylinder variant was produced for the last ever diesel locomotives built in Doncaster Workshops – the Class 58.

Getting the power to the traction motors, which were the same type as those supplied for the still successful EE Type 3 (Class 37), came via the same generator used on DP2. The EE538/5A motors were arranged conventionally, as axle hung, nose-suspended, driving the wheels through reduction gearing.

Electric train heating was delivered by means of a separate generator, so gone were the steam heating boilers for the train!

The whole thing was built on a pair of rolled steel joists, linked together with fabricated cross members to form the main underframe assembly. Beneath this platform a pair of cast steel bogies, of the same basic design used on the Type 5 and some EE built Type 3 locomotives, were provided. English Steel Castings, supplied the bogie castings with a 13ft 6ins wheelbase, whilst the wheels were given a modified Heumann profile. This was developed to protect against derailment and ‘hunting’ of wheels and wheelsets in service. Naturally, roller bearing assemblies from Timken and SKF were the order of the day.


GEC Traction/RP Bradley Collection

At the time these locomotives were introduced, BR still had its Design Panel, who had developed a standard interior layout. The Class 50 layout was based on this standard style, with heat and sound 
insulation, and forced-air ventilation
. One interesting aspect was a device that provided a delay when the engine was shut down and ‘parked’ at the end of its duty, which automatically switched off all the lights after 15 minutes – except tail lights.

The bodies were painted in the then standard rail blue, using a polyurethane paint, with full yellow ends, and bogies and running gear in black.  The paints used on locomotives has always come in for a great deal of interest – although mostly from the viewpoint of its colour.  But paint technology had moved on too in the 1960s, and the old oleo or synthetic resins of the 1950s, with coats of varnish overlaid had long since disappeared.

 The Subcontractors

Interesting to reflect that many of the subcontractors listed above have disappeared from the rail industry in the UK, though some like Skefko (SKF) and Oleo Pneumatics still have a presence.

Class 50 subcontractors


When these locomotives entered service, British Rail did not actually buy them immediately, and they were effectively rented through a company called “English Electric Leasing”.  Maybe this could be viewed as a forerunner of the many ROSCO’s that came into being in the 1990s.

They were used on the West Coast Main Line between Crewe, Preston, Carlisle and Glasgow, as a stopgap measure before full electrification in 1974. Initially working the main line expresses as single locomotives; they were responsible for a significant acceleration of timings north of Crewe after double heading was adopted from 1970. They worked the principal Anglo-Scottish services, including the “Royal Scot”, and on occasions were found as far north as Aberdeen.

Following the introduction of the “Electric Scots”, the fleet was transferred to the Western Region, whgere again they worked the principal Paddington to the West of England services, at least until the arrival of the IC125s (HSTs) took over these workings. They were also found on trains to Birmingham and the West Midlands, whilst during their time on the Western Region they began to acquire names.

Not long after British Rail bought the fleet of Class 50s – English Electric Type 5s – they began experiencing reliability problems, and a programme of refurbishment and modifications at Doncaster in the early 1980s brought improvements. They were re-delivered to the Western Region, and based at depots like Plymouth Laira and West London’s Old Oak Common.

Later in the 1980s, they acquired a ‘sector’ colour scheme, with the garish “Network Southeast” livery applied a to a number, whilst true to GWR and Western Region form, one was painted in a green livery.

The Class 50 continued to work on West of England trains, some engineering and work trains too, whilst 50049 was modified still further in an attempt to use the type on freight services. It was not a success. At the start of the 1990s, the class was becoming troublesome again, and on some services were replaced by Class 47 and multiple unit trains.

In 1992, just eight remained in service with BR – 50007/008/015/029/030/033/046/050 – whilst by 1994, the few that had been specially repainted for railtours had also come to the end of their working life. In that year 50033 (D433) was dispatched to the National Railway Museum for preservation.


50026 at Bridgnorth

50026 resplendent in Network Southeast Sector livery on the Severn Valley Railway.                         (c) RPBradley


Perhaps as a result of the pedigree of the original builders, and the affection they had acquired from the professional as well as the enthusiast community, a number of locomotives have been preserved, and remain in use on specials today. The lion’s share of ‘preserved’ Class 50s are on the Severn Valley Railway, with 5 of the 6 locomotives owned and operated by Alliance Rail, and the other by Paul Spracklen. In the north, the East Lancs Railway has D408, whilst Peak Rail is the home of D429 and D430, currently under restoration by the “Renown Repulse Restoration Group”.

The West Midlands is home to another collection of 3 locomotives, including the first of the class, D400, and based at Washwood Heath, and all are approved for mainline operations.
Considering that this English Electric design was the last of its type, and the last wholly UK built locomotive, the preservation and railtour operators have delivered some remarkable working exhibits. It seems the English Electric heritage from Preston and Newton-le-Willows is continuing well into the 21st century, in the company’s centenary year, and this locomotive is fitting legacy for one of Britain’s greatest engineering companies.


Useful links:




Network Rail – Lots of Alliances


A Prior Information Notice (PIN) was published by Network Rail yesterday in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), for a tender exercise covering design and construction of track works on plain line track and switches and crossings. Alongside this the scope of work will include surveying, drainage, investigations and installation works for foundations, traction power, signalling systems, station and lineside works.

Well, everything associated with the infrastructure really.

The wording of the OJEU notice makes it clear that Network Rail is seeking suppliers and consortia to “pre-form partnerships” for this work. To this end the notice defines three “Lots”, which Network Rail’s press release describes as ‘alliances’, as below:

  • Alliance 1: North (Scotland Route)
  • Alliance 2: Central (London North West, and London North East & East Midland Routes)
  • Alliance 3: South (Anglia, Southeast, Wessex, Western, and Wales Routes)

This is a 10-year deal, worth some £5 billion, and represents a major portion of the recently announced Railway Upgrade Plan, and a significant chunk of the next five-year funding period – Control Period 6 (CP6) – between 2019 and 2024. It is obviously essential that suppliers and prospective bidders demonstrate “relevant expertise”. But given what has happened to ‘Carillion’, it is clearly even more important that whichever ‘economic operators’ are selected, that they provide economic stability and deliver value for money.

Crossrail milestones completed
The changes provided through Network Rail’s route devolution may bring some interesting challenges as well as opportunities to deliver the infrastructure improvements over the next 5 to 10 years. It is good to see this latest OJEU notice underpinning the UK’s commitment to improving the railway network – we’ve not seen too many such notices in recent years. Steve Featherstone, Network Rail’s director for Track made an interesting comment following this announcement:

“This tender represents a major milestone in the development of our strategy for our track infrastructure investment programme. It also represents a significant commitment by Network Rail to the rail industry and we are expecting high levels of interest in these contracts from the supply chain. In return, we will be looking for clear and firm commitments from the supply chain to deliver value for Network Rail.”

Network Rail’s published Railway Upgrade Plan and CP6 procurement strategy are well worth a read.

The original Network Rail Press Release can be found here .


English Electric – A Centenary Appreciation


In 1918 one of the UK and world’s most famous engineering companies was born – The English Electric Company Limited. In the year of its formation, it acquired the Coventry Ordnance Works Ltd., and the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company Ltd.; most importantly though – the shares of Dick, Kerr & Co. were exchanged for shares in the new business. At the time of its formation, it was fast becoming Britain’s major manufacturer in electrical technology, especially in tramways, light railways and general electrical engineering.


Prototype ‘Deltic’ – perhaps the most famous of English Electric’s diesels in the erecting shop, alongside locos for South Africa and BR shunters, amongst others.                      Photo (c) RPB/GEC Traction Collection

English Electric went on to become one of the most famous engineering companies that the UK had ever seen, and covering every conceivable product from railway locomotives, to household products, jet aircraft to computers. Its zenith was perhaps achieved in the 1950s, and the only possible comparison in the 21st Century would be if you added BAe Systems, IBM, and Siemens together.

English Electric went on to research, design, and develop products in all of the markets that those three companies are working in today.

In 1918 the new company had a capital of £3 million, and the board represented other major industries, from the Great Easter, London & North Western and Great Northern railways, to shipbuilders such as Harland & Wolff, John Brown and Cammell Laird. Announcing this new business in the January 3rd issue of The Railway Gazette, commenting:

“… the company will be one of the three principal electrical manufacturing concerns in this country.”

Something of an understatement perhaps, but with Dudley Docker’s achievements with the soon to arrive “Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co.” a year or so later, competition was strong in the aftermath of the First World War.

Head office was in Preston, and English Electric and the town would become almost synonymous, but the works along both sides of Strand Road existed because of the arrival of Dick, Kerr & Co. from Kilmarnock. Dick, Kerr’s was the first British company to specialise in tramways and tramcar building, and in 1897 bought the old works and land on the west side of Strand Road, to establish the “Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works Ltd.”, which was registered on 25th April 1898.

Dick Kerr & English Electric Works, Strand Road, Preston. Aerial Image, May 1951 copy

Aerial view of English Electric Preston works in 1951     Photo (c) BAE Systems


Such was the company’s success; they needed extra space, which was provided by building on land on the opposite side of Strand Road, to form the English Electric Manufacturing Co., in November 1899. The first time the words “English Electric” had appeared, and although Dick, Ker’s had spawned the new factory, the two works were managed as separate companies.

The tram building works manufactured their own trucks or bogies to fit under the tramcar bodies they built, but would also fit trucks from Brill or Peckham if the customer requested.   The works on the East side of Strand Road concentrated on making the electrical machinery alone, from traction motors, to switchgear and control equipment.

Just after the turn of the century, in 1903, the English Electric Manufacturing Co. amalgamated with Dick, Kerr & Co., whilst three years later, the works on the West side of Strand Road had its name changed to the “United Electric Car Co.”.

So at the outbreak of the First World War, Dick, Kerr’s works occupied one side of Strand Road, and the United Electric Car Co. the other. During the war, Dick Kerr’s built mainly shells, and employed over 8,000 people, whilst United Electric built wagons, shells, and even flying boats, with the workforce rising from around 600 to 800, to over 1,200.

The next major event occurred in 1917, and propelled the company towards its final form. In that year, Dick, Kerr & Co. obtained financial control of United Electric, and laid the foundation for English Electric Co., which finally appeared 100 years ago. Some 10 years later, this is what the Preston Works looked like:

EE Works Preston - 1926 copy

A plan of the Dick, Kerr Works in 1926

There is more to English Electric’s story than Preston Works, but this where it all began.

English Electric achieved many ‘firsts’, but even before the company began business in 1919, the Preston Works had equipped Britain’s first main line electrification between Liverpool Exchange Station and Crossens/Southport.   Dick, Kerr’s electrified this with a third rail system at 600V d.c., and the rolling stock constructed by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway themselves, at Horwich and Newton Heath.


English Electric/Dick Kerr’s first major electrification – the Liverpool to Southport line.  The first of many.                                                                                                                                           Photo: RPB/GEC Traction Collection

From a business point of view, the English Electric Co. Ltd., was established in 1918, and a spate of mergers followed quickly, as the demand for the new technology rapidly grew, both at home and abroad.

English Electric were pioneers and innovators in rail traction, electrical technology, computing, wireless and telecoms, until their protracted demise following the great GEC-AEI takeover some 50 years ago. Ironically 1968 too was a watershed year in the electrical industry in Britain.

The last owners and inhabitants of the Strand Road Works in Preston were of course Alstom, and the cliché of ‘end of an era’ was never so true as the factory is to close in July 2018, just over 120 years since Dick, Kerr & Co. set up the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works Ltd.

Rail Technology Magazine – Alstom To Close Preston Site

BBC News: Alstom To Close Preston Site


Snow = Subsidy for TOCs ?


As the so-called “Beast from the East” delivers its fall of snow across England’s southern and eastern counties, train services are delayed or cancelled.

According to a news report on the BBC, Network Rail is paying compensation to Train Operating Companies (TOCs) when services have to be cancelled.

This seems to be like paying Marks & Spencer compensation if bad weather prevents enough customers from buying clothes or food from their stores.

M&S take the risk of weather affecting sales of their products, why do the private train companies receive compensation from Network Rail for cancelling services because of bad weather?

In a National Audit Office (NAO) report from 2008, this statement is noted in the report’s summary:

“Under the delay attribution system, Network Rail is held responsible for delays caused by infrastructure faults and those caused by external factors, such as bad weather.”

Why would you hold a man-made business responsible for a natural event?

The 2008 report can be found here: Reducing Passenger Delays by Better Management of Incidents


In 2012, major newspaper reports noted that TOCs were “cashing in” on delayed services.  This was what the Daily Telegraph reported:

“The companies have profited out of industry rules which obliges Network Rail to pay train operators compensation if commuter services are more than five minutes late or long distance journeys are held up by more than 10 minutes.”

The report continued: Train-operators-cash-in-on-delays

Another newspaper – The Independent – carried a similar story, highlighting how private companies can claim compensation for late running and cancellations in 2012.

According to this report:

“Under Britain’s complicated rail franchise system, private train operators are able to claim compensation from the state-owned track operator Network Rail for problems on the line which cause disruption to services.”


Whilst it would be obvious to say that compensation was perfectly reasonable;le if over-running track or other infrastructure work was the cause of a delayed or cancelled train – bad weather affecting the track – really!!

Does it still happen today – 6 years later?  If it does, it seems to me that Britain is still, in a practical sense, still operating a nationalised railway.

Well, according to another NAO report from 2015, explains how Network Rail operates, then Network Rail is still responsible for weather delays:

“Network Operations is held responsible for any delays attributed to
the infrastructure, including some outside of its direct control like the
weather, trespass, vandalism or fatalities. Around 60% of passenger
delays were attributed to Network Rail in the year to May 2015. The rest
were attributed to the train operators.”

The rest of this NAO report can be found here: A Short Guide to Network Rail

Fascinating – but why?


Flying By Rail


Exactly 20 years ago, in the Spring of 1998, the German Government approved the project to build the world’s first high-speed maglev railway line.  The plan was to link Berlin and Hamburg with what was effectively a development of British Railways Research Dept., and Professor Eric Laithwaite’s “Linear Rotating Machine”.  The invention by Eric Laithwaite took place in the 1960s, and a little over 30 years later, in 1997, the world record speed for this form of traction achieved a speed of 450 km/hr.  In effect, rendering the Japanese ‘bullet’ trains to what might be described as ‘semi-fast’!!

Transrapid 08 for DBaGTransrapid 08 for DBaG_Close ViewThere has of course since then been a lot of development of high-speed rail on conventional tracks, but the UK has still not caught up with what it had essentially begun over 50 years ago.  There have been claims, notably referred to in “Wikipedia” that the idea was first put forward in or around 1904, and under a US patent, followed by a similar series of “patented inventions” in Germany during the 1930s, and yet another attempt in the late 1960s in the US.  All of which proved to be simple experiments along the way, with the greatest rail based advances taking place in the UK and Germany between 1978/79 and 1984/85.

The “Transrapid” project in Hamburg in 1979, and the simple Birmingham ‘maglev’ people mover built on the linear induction motor concept devised by Professor Laithwaite some years earlier.  The Japanese also embarked on the development of magnetically levitating high-speed trains, but the technology they adopted required super-conducting electro magnets, which was perhaps a limitation on its prospects for mass transportation.

Shanghai TransrapidToday there is only one implementation of the original Transrapid design, the one linking Shanghai to Pudong International Airport – a distance of 30.5km.  There had been plans to expand within China, but costs proved excessive, and existing high-speed rail provides the solution across China’s rail network.  In Germany, the original plan to build a line across to Denmark and Holland was also ruled out on the grounds of costs.

It seems unlikely that – given the improvement in conventional steel wheel on steel rail technology – that the maglev idea will be anything other than a might have been.

It was all looking so much different back in the 1990s, when I wrote this article for Electrical Review:

Electrical Review Nov 1998 Maglev Feature


Some further reading:




The Great North Rail Project


As part of Network Rail’s £1 billion, 25-year “Railway Upgrade Plan” there are 7 projects that form the  “Great North Rail Project” sub-project which is intended to be complete by 2022 – only 4 years from now.  They include:

  • Liverpool City Region upgrade
  • Manchester to Preston improvements
  • Preston to Blackpool North
  • Transpennine Route upgrade
  • West Yorkshire signalling upgrade
  • Ordsall Chord
  • Calder Valley improvements

These seven projects are highlighted as the infrastructure improvements in the north of England.  Fair enough, Network Rail doing infrastructure work – but these projects seem to suggest Network Rail may be providing new trains – in particular there is a reference to those trains as part of the “Railway Upgrade Plan”.

The key benefits include longer, faster, more frequent trains; a better, more reliable infrastructure; and better facilities for passengers, especially at stations.

To be fair, and maybe I am being picky but isn’t it the job of the rolling stock leasing companies to buy and offer the new trains to the train operating companies – Transpennine, Northern Rail, etc. – not Network Rail.  Or perhaps since the physical infrastructure is being upgraded, is this going to be a first step towards re-nationalisation?

However, amongst the key projects of this grand plan, electrification is being progressed – yet not in the North.  The new “Azuma” trains have already encountered a problem, since the East Coast Main Line franchise is soon to be terminated, so they may not enter service at all, or be delayed, or under a publicly owned railway.  Similarly, Network Rail indicate that HS2 is one of their key projects – but I thought this was another privately funded scheme.

So where are we today?  There is still a lot of infrastructure work to be completed before Blackpool can be reached by a new electric train service, and Liverpool Lime Street is being closed in the summer for a couple of months, and the Chorley “Flying Arches” appear to be uplifted.

Here are a few snaps of work in progress in the North West:



Wrong Kind of Snow Warning?


Some 25 years or more ago, an unfortunate BR spokesman when asked about why snow was affecting trains, causing delays and cancellations, replied with the immortal phrase indicating it was …. “the wrong kind of snow”.

Naturally, this provoked a flurry of commentary by the newspaper media, and even TV and radio, but with little attention to detail or consideration of facts.  At the time, the electrified railways in the south of England were hampered as much by the use of 3rd rail contact systems; a technology dating from pre First World War days, as by anything the weather could provide.

But, in a feature for ‘Electrical Review’ in 1993, I wanted to explore the problem further, and wrote the article below.  It’s interesting to see how Britain tackled the problem compared with our European neighbours, who had far worse conditions to deal with.  So, are we any better at out today than we were then…. maybe I’ll have a look at this after our next bout of “arctic blast” – due next week I believe.

March 1993 - Wrong Kind of Snow - 2

Read the rest of the feature here:

Wrong Kind of Snow

Originally published in “Electrical Review” 25 Years ago in March 1993 – will history repeat itself ??