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photograph by Colin Duff

Preserved class 50 Nº50050 Fearless in "large logo" livery.

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 leading to new cylinder heads being 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 D401 had been fitted with front mounted MU jumper cables from new so the rest of the class then had them retro-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 r emainder 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.

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 problematic. A major refurbishment of the class was therefore undertaken at Doncaster works between 1979 and 1983. During this refurbishment the headcode boxes were plated over, though number of the class had 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 workings 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.

Of little relevance to Southern workings but brief mention should be made of the bold experiment in 1987 of modifying 50049 Defiance to a dedicated freight locomotive. Railfreight had previously rejected the class on account of the its low tractive effort, high maintenance costs and poor reliability and these trials were an attempt to convince the Sector otherwise. Perhaps the choice of this particularly named loco was deliberate! In this modification Defiance gained re-geared bogies, was renumbered 50149 and repainted into Railfreight livery. The experiment was not a success due in part to the removal of the wheelslip protection and sanding gear needed for heavy freight work during the refurbishment! 500149 was converted back to a standard 50 early in 1989 and finished its days working for NSE.

The final use of 50s in regular service was on 24 May 1992 with 50007 and 50050. This pair plus 50033 were retained until early 1994 for railtour use. The 50s have proved popular with preservationists with a remarkable 22 surviving, though not all are operational and it is possible that some may never be restored. All are naturally in refurbished condition though 50044 has been cosmetically restored as D444.

Click on the thumbnails for a larger image.
  • 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.
  • Class 50
    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.
  • 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.
  • 50007
    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.
  • 50022
    50022 Anson at the head of a train at Exeter St Davids during April 1982. The photographer admits that this is unlikely to have been a Waterloo-Exeter working!
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 50031
    The "large logo" livery suited the boxy shape of the class well. Preserved and  main line certified 50031 Hood was displayed at Old Oak Common on 6th August 2000.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 50035
    Illustrating the upswept stripes of the original NSE livery 50035 Ark Royal is seen here at Waterloo on 22nd November 1986.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 50035
    In preservation 50035's owners have turned back the clock on its livery and restored it to its previous "large logo" livery.  Ark Royal was also one of the 50s on display at Old Oak Common on 6 August 2000.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 50048
    A somewhat grubby 50048 idling in the carriage sidings at Clapham Junction in February 1986.
    Photograph by Mark Westcott.
  • 50149
    As detailed above 50049 was experimentally converted into a dedicated freight loco as 50149. At Old Oak Common on 6th August 2000 preserved 50049 was cosmetically portraying 50149.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 50049
    50049 Defiance is seen here in its later BR days at the head of a train at Waterloo.
    Photograph by Jonathan Hall.

This page was last updated 3 December 2002

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