Class 50

D400 The first member of the class D400 Fearless, here repainted into its original overall blue livery but obviously not restored to its original condition, was displayed at a Wimbledon Traincare Depot open day. When the class was renumbered into TOPS D401-449 became 50001-50049 consecutively but D400 became 50050.

photograph by Jonathan Hall

In 1965 British Rail needed a high powered diesel locomotive to speed up services on the West Coast Main line between Crewe and Glasgow prior to completing the electrification. The relatively new Class 47s, which would have been an obvious choice, were proving unreliable at the time due to engine problems. However DP2 - a one off prototype produced by English Electric for evaluation by British Rail - was proving very successful in trials. An order for 50 locomotives was placed with English Electric based on the DP2 power plant and mechanicals but with a BR designed bodyshell and additional electronic systems. These electronic systems were new to Britain and largely untried at the time. They included dynamic braking, wheelslip protection, electronic power control with automatic control of tractive effort and slow speed control for MGR (coal Merry-go-Round) working.

The 50 locomotives, then numbered D400-D449, were built at EE's Newton-le-Willows Vulcan Foundry between September 1967 and November 1968. BR initially leased the fleet from English Electric and it was not until 1973 that BR bought the locomotives. Upon introduction there were initial problems with their engines resulting in poor availability and new cylinder heads were fitted. Between 1969 and 1970 track improvements permitted higher speeds so the locomotives were required to work double headed. Although all were wired for MU working only D400 and 401 had been fitted with front mounted MU jumper cables from new so the rest of the class then had them fitted.

The entire WCML had been electrified by 1974 so the locomotives were re-deployed as had originally been planned. Fifteen were initially retained by the MR for secondary passenger duties in North Wales and the North West, the remainder were allocated to the WR as part of the drive to replace their non-standard diesel hydraulics. The introduction of TOPS saw the locomotives designated class 50 and renumbered 50001-50050. Having had their idiosyncratic motive power removed from them the WR decided to impose some of their style by naming the class after British Warships, thus replacing the original WR Warship class.

In a once-common scene an unidentified class 50 in "large logo" livery idles in platform 4 at Exeter St David's station awaiting its departure to Waterloo, seen here during April 1982.

photograph by Colin Duff

Class 50
50002 Carrying the early Network SouthEast livery preserved but not operational 50002 Superb was displayed at Old Oak Common on 6th August 2000.

photograph by Colin Duff

By the mid 1970s the class was suffering from unreliability partially due to poor design and maintenance but also because of inadequate air circulation in the engine room. The specially introduced electronic systems were proving problematical. A major refurbishment of the class was therefore undertaken at Doncaster works between 1979 and 1983. During the refurbishment the headcode boxes were plated over but number of the class had this work done prior to refurbishment. Also during refurbishment the bodyside window closest to the number 1 end was replaced by a grille. However the bulk of the work concentrated on improving the engine room airflow which included modifications to the roof and removal of the sanding apparatus and complex electronics. This generally cured the common Class 50 ailments and they settled down to provide a reasonably reliable service . The introduction of High Speed Trains on Western services in the late 1970s saw the Class 50s again relegated to secondary duties and this is where the class becomes associated with the Southern. The "new Warship" class replaced the native (but under-powered for the task) class 33s, which themselves had replaced the original Warship class, on Waterloo to Exeter services. The bulk of the fleet was inherited by Network SouthEast (the rest went to Departmental sectors) who continued to run them on Waterloo-West of England and Paddington-Thames and Chiltern working until replaced by Class 47/7s in the early 1990s - the 50s lasting on Waterloo services until spring 1992. Their latter days were again plagued by unreliability and major frame cracking.
50007, originally named Hercules, was in 1984 renamed Sir Edward Elgar and repainted into lined Brunswick green GWR livery to mark the 50th anniversary of his death. It is seen here on display at the Greenwich 150 event at Cannon Street on 23rd August 1986.

photograph by Colin Duff

50007 Looking somewhat cleaner and smarter in preservation, almost 14 years later 50007 is still operational and was on display at Old Oak Common on 6th August 2000.

photograph by Colin Duff

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This page was last updated 3 December 2002

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