Class 73

As already mentioned such was the success of the EDL concept that in 1967 10 surplus class 71 straight electric locomotives were converted into "big" EDLs capable of a higher power output in both modes. These were primarily intended for the heavy Southampton Boat Train traffic and also through services to Weymouth Quay. However they proved to be consistently unreliable and were withdrawn after only 10 years, leaving the 73s as they started - the sole EDL class.

The first regular prime passenger workings for the 73/1s came in 1984 with the commencement of the premium Gatwick Express service. The class was selected to power in a push pull mode mark 2 trailer formations (class 488) with a powered Gatwick Luggage Van (GLV/class 489) on the other end. Initially locomotives were not dedicated to the service and any 73/1 could be called upon.

It was whilst working this intensive service that the only major problem with the class emerged. A problem associated with electrical locomotives picking up from the third rail is that the length between their pickups is considerably shorter than that on an EMU. Thus the locomotive can lose traction power - become "gapped" - when the length of a gap in the conductor rail exceeds the length between the locomotive's pick ups. This is commonly experienced through complex pointwork. The Southern's pioneer electrical locomotives CC1/2/20003, and the class 71 overcame this by the traction power driving a motor generator set in which a large flywheel was inserted, thus earning the pioneer locomotives the nickname "boosters". However this solution was not adopted on the class 73s (and removed when the 71s were converted to 74s). The Gatwick Express route encounters a number of significant gaps particularly in the Battersea Park, Purley Oaks, Stoats Nest and Coulsdon areas and it has to be remembered that in the Gatwick Express unit configuration there is no connection of traction power - other than via the third rail - between the EDL and the GLV. Two minor fires in 73s in the Battersea Park vicinity culminated on the 5th August 1984 in a serious fire in the celebrity "Royal" EDL 73142 Broadlands. This resulted in the temporary withdrawal of the Gatwick Express formations and substitutions by EMUs until the cause could be traced and rectifications made. The cause of these fires was arcing within the locomotive due to adjacent conductor rails at gaps having differing voltages. 73s were fitted with flashguards to their bogies and modifications to how the control gear operates when traction power is lost and then restored. 73142 was rebuilt and returned to service.

73001 In the prevailing large logo blue livery and with the "wrap-round" yellow cabs of the 1980s, the very first EDL NºE6001/73001 is seen at Waterloo on 22nd November 1986.

photograph by Colin Duff

Nº73204 in Stewarts Lane depot on 10th April 1988. Note the 73A shed plate and the absence of a high intensity headlight which is a later addition. Appropriately as Nº73125 this EDL was named Stewarts Lane 1860-1985 on 22nd September 1985 during the open day to celebrate the depot's 125th anniversary.

photograph by Colin Duff

73001 Nº73001 and an ultra-lightweight heating oil train making its way east through Berwick. The oil was destined for a small depot at Galley Hill, not far to the east of Bexhill: with spring just around the corner, demand was obviously quite low! The depot closed in 1993, along with similar local facilities at Selsdon, High Brooms and Redhill, with the oil now moving by road.

photograph by Mark Westcott

Here is an end-of-era shot, taken in May 1988 before that year's summer timetable came into force - and with it the end of this working.

The loco is Stewarts Lane 1860 - 1985 again and is about to leave with an empty van working from Eastbourne to Brighton, timetabled to leave around 8:25am. The corresponding down working had arrived early in the morning with the day's papers - yet another traffic the railways were abandoning.

photograph by Mark Westcott

73131 Taken at Eridge during the October 1988 Uckfield line 'Gala Day' when an intensive service ran on the route, with attractions at various stations, including the chance to have a cab ride in this combination, running up and down along the down siding from the down bay platform - used until 1985 by trains arriving from Tonbridge.

The class 73 is Nº73131 County of Surrey whilst the Crompton is unidentified - but the funny white objects are - as balloons!

photograph by Mark Westcott

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Modern Railways' March 1967 article on these engines

This page was last updated 22 February 2004

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