Class 50 Locomotives
Active – each locomotive varies
The SVR is home to no fewer than six class 50 locomotives in the care of The Fifty Fund: four are owned by The Class 50 Alliance, with 50031 Hood and 50033 Glorious operated by the Fund on behalf their owners.
The class was built for the London Midland region by English Electric at Vulcan Foundry Works in Newton-le-Willows between 1967 and 1968 and totalled 50 locomotives. The EE design can be traced back through the Class 40 to the pioneer mainline diesels, with the 16-cylinder diesel engine by now rated at 2,700hp. Uniquely, EE offered a leasing deal and the new locos carried a plate stating: “THIS LOCOMOTIVE IS THE PROPERTY OF ENGLISH ELECTRIC LEASINGS LIMITED”.
Much of the locomotive was based on a prototype Type 4 locomotive released in May 1962 carrying the identity ‘DP2’, which used the underframe, bogies and many components of the ‘Deltic’ class, allied to the EE engine.
Initially, they hauled express passenger trains on the then unelectrified section of the West Coast main line between Crewe and Scotland, over the testing Shap and Beattock summits. This frequently involved two locomotives working in multiple with a single driver, delivering 5,400 hp.
When built they were numbered in the D400 series. They later became, appropriately, BR’s Class 50.
By 1974 the northern WCML had been electrified and the Class 87s on ‘Electric Scot’ services displaced the 50s. The fleet was transferred to the Western Region to work main line passenger services out of Paddington, hastening the elimination of the diesel-hydraulic Western class locomotives.
Following a tradition of naming locomotives after Royal Navy vessels, from 1978 BR named locomotives after notable ships from the two World Wars.
As built, the class made greater use electronics in the control system and in such areas of wheelslip detection and slow speed control. The class was nicknamed “Hoovers” because of the distinctive sound made by the inertial air-filters with which they were originally fitted. This modern technology was a cause of some unreliability for much of their early life. A general overhaul programme from 1979 significantly improved matters.
Within a few years the class was in turn superseded by the then new High Speed Train. The 50s took over working the LSWR route to Exeter, as had the classes 47, 33 and 42 successively before them, where they gained a large following. Withdrawals commenced in 1987 and, extraordinarily, 19 are preserved.
The ‘Diesel Bash’ features three of the Class 50 Alliance locomotives (the other being 50044 Exeter).
50007 was first named Hercules, before in 1984 it was painted Brunswick Green and renamed Sir Edward Elgar for the 150th anniversary of the GWR. It hauled the final BR Class 50 railtour before withdrawal and preservation in 1994. It first visited the SVR in 2000 and has been based here since 2017.
50035 Ark Royal has two claims to celebrity. As D435 it was the final diesel locomotive delivered before the end of BR steam in 1968, and in 1991 it was the first Class 50 to be preserved. It moved to the SVR in 1996.
50049 Defiance was the last-built of the class in 1968 and the last diesel locomotive until the Class 56s in 1977 (HST power cars were designated by BR as multiple units). In 1987, it was experimentally converted for heavy stone and china clay use, re-equipped with modified bogies and outshopped as 50149 in Railfreight trainload grey livery. It reverted to 50049 before withdrawal in 1991, and moved to the SVR in 1999.
At the Class 50 Golden Jubilee in 2018 it was formally rededicated at Kidderminster by Commodore Robert Bellfield, Royal Navy, Commander Devonport Flotilla, Devonport Dockyard – the former home to training base HMS Defiance.
Both Hercules and Defiance are mainline registered and carry GBRf livery, often operating on the ‘big railway’ carrying out stock moves and other duties. They have also frequently hauled railtours.