October 3, 1987, marked the 2oth anniversary of the commissioning of 0400, the first Class 50.
Indeed, 1987 proved quite eventful for the Class. Firstly, there was the withdrawal of 50011 on February 23 for use as a static engine test bed in Crewe works, followed by 50006 and 50014. Then the new timetable in May 1987 witnessed the downgrading from the hardest work on Class 1 trains, due to the InterCity Sector not wanting them, to more ''secondary'' activities such as Class 21ocals between Bristol and Cardiff and Swansea; there were also four diagrams involving freight haulage previously unknown during the summer months. The summer 1988 timetable has brought a further winding down in activity, with some locomotives spare and one allocated to Lickey bank loco work. Finally, there was the Railfreight Class 50/t conversion- quite a year!
Interest in the class is, to any great extent, a relatively new phenomenon. In their days on the LMR, they were generally disliked by enthusiasts, save for the odd connoisseur, and on the WR after 1974 they were positively detested by the hydraulic fans. Present day devotees are, therefore, largely newcomers who probably know very little about the history of the locomotives in which they are interested. Twenty years on, it is timely to shed a bit of light on the early years, for, aside from some vague ideas about double heading the Anglo Scottish services, no-one bothers to mention the hundreds of thousands of miles put in on other work. The story begins sometime in the first half of 1965 when BR sent out an enquiry for a further batch of Type 4s. Almost certainly this would have been before the problems with the Brush Type 4 had manifested themselves to any extent and so there would have been competition between, at least, Brush and English Electric for the order. The options to BR would have been more of the same from Brush or something on the lines of DP2 from EE. (Something on the lines because the stepped front of this loco was no longer acceptable to BR) EE submitted its tender on June 2, but there was a long gap before even a letter of intent was sent to them, possibly as BR was watching the power units of its D1500s (now Class 47) cracking before their eyes.
1966 was a year of decisions, both by manufacturer and customer. What type of control filtration, what duties should the class be expected to cover? Eventually a design emerged which was quite unlike what had been expected in terms of its sophistication. Some people say "complexity" but that is a relative term and this is inappropriate as features such as dynamic braking and inertia air filtration were already in use quite widely abroad. True, the electronic control. System employed was advanced and it enabled the class to claim to be the best in the world in that respect as regards main line diesel traction at the time. DP2 had, of course, been running around quite happily with a basic version of this system since June 1966, what was special was the use of the current and load control unit, CUT, as the "brain" controlling a number of sub-systems for current limitation, slow speed running and wheelslip, among others. Whilst there is no doubt that both the LMR's Operating Department and CM&EE's staff would have been happy with just a basic DP2 in prefere11ce to all this high-tech, the incorporation of the advanced features was far sighted and it is unfortunate that design philosophy in Britain when seemed tostagnate somewhat, otherwise the home manufacturers would have been quite able to match the Class 59 design in 1986. History shows Class 50 as marking a milestone in the world, let alone British, traction.
Why had such a design emerged at all? Well, it was clear in 1965 that electrification beyond Liverpool and Manchester was not going to progress for some time. St8am was lingering on in the North West and the LMR continued to deploy the first generation EE Type 4 (later Class 40) on the principal services to Scotland. It is a source of mystery why this was so, for the region had a fleet of more powerful Peaks (Class 45) at its disposal wh1ch were performing, by comparison, less arduous work on the Midland main line. True, there were some new 01500s but these were being spread between (primarily) the ER and the WR. More larger Type 4s were obviously needed for work over Shap and Beattock and
it was this which sparked off the enquiry issued by BR mentioned above. It is claimed by some commentators that the 0400s were built to maintain the same standard of average speeds over the northern bank as the electrics did south of Crewe; this is rubbish. For a start, the electrics then available could not themselves have maintained such averages if the line had been electrified, they lacked the power and the prevailing speed limits were too low. Thus if a 3600 hp prime mover would have been incapable of the job, how could a diesel offering only 60% of that potential cope. It is true that the new fleet was, from new, wired f0r multiple operation, but if it was intended in 1967 to use them in pairs then why were the external jumper connections not fitted during construction?
There is no doubt that construction at Vulcan got behind schedule, as the first deliveries were initially expected to be in traffic by early 1967. This was later revised to July but it was not until September that 0400 ran onto BR metals outside Vulcan Foundry to make its inaugural trip to Chester. This was followed by a programme of trial running under a variety of situations, high speed passenger,heavy load passenger, air braked freight, slow speed creep operation, over a variety of routes, both north and south of Crewe. Acceptance by BR on October 3 enabled the locomotive to be put to use on crew training duties. Meanwhile 0401 was being put through its paces and it was during the trial running, with instruments fitted to measure the performance of the electrical machines, that the unit was found to be overpowered. Obviously this was undesirable, especially as this discrepancy was of the order of 300 bhp, but yet the works could not confirm this finding. Eventually the cause was pinpointed and appropriate steps taken.
Problems such as that caused further delay in entry to traffic and by Christmas 1967 only three had been accepted, being spread between English and Scottish depots for crew training. Once these early teething troubles had been overcome four or five units per month were being turned out, with the whole fleet in service by the end of 1968. Whether · their late arrival prolonged steam in the North West, the last area to witness its operation, is not known, but by August 1968 when steam finally disappeared, the 0400s were certainly m a commanding role in terms of West Coast traffic movement. It is the demise of steam that did the class a disservice, for enthusiasts were so busy chasing t1e dying gasps of worn out Black Fives that they failed to notice a fare more interesting and significant (the Stanier 5s were successful but hardly significant) type and so much of the early duties performed by the 0400s have gone unrecorded especially photographically.
During the day the class took charge of tra1ns go1ng north of Weaver Junction to destinations such as Blackpool, Heysham Barrow, Windermere, Carlisle and Glasgow and Perth. Further north, the trains from Liverpool and Manchester to Glasgow were also turned over to 0400 haulage whilst other daytime use saw some Class 3 parcels diagrams covered. It is worth remembering that in those days there was far more parcels traffic, and trains than exist today. At weekends they took their turn on services from Liverpool and Manchester towards Birmingham and London during a period when the AC electrics could not be used, either due to the power being switched off or diversionary routes being followed. At night, apart from the overnight sleeper and mail trains, there were the large number of freightliners which traversed the West Coast line to haul north of Crewe. Included among these were the services from Longsight and Garston to Glasgow. It would be interesting to know what load limit a single loco was allowed up Shap and Beattock. A variety of short haul freight traffic was also moved around the North West be it over the Settle and Carlisle, round the ' Cumbrian coast or between Liverpool and Manchester; similar activity also went on in Scotland.
It would be nice to be able to say that the early service experience was good but that would not be true. A variety of failures occurred which were later reported "no fault found" and it was not until the problematic 0448, a real black sheep in its first few weeks of use, was taken out for special examination that it was appreciated just how full of "spikes" were the electronic control systems. These spikes could cause voltage surges which, 1n turn, could cause engine shutdown, for example, for no reason and 0448 was past master at this; indeed, so the story goes, on one trip the driver actually broke down in tears at having to press the engine start button for the umpteenth time. With suitable modification a couple of weeks but another problem was giving rise to a serious drop in availability, cracked cylinder heads. A manufacturing fault was the cause and the result was water ingress into the cylinders. Now water will not burn or compress and the cylinder compression stroke would result in the connecting rod bending. Further, excessive scraping of the cylinder liner left too little lubricating oil, causing piston seizures. The upshot was a programme of cylinder head changing and removal of one of the scraper rings on the pistons. This work was done, in the main, at either Crewe or Vulcan works with a power plant change. At the height of the troubles it seems there were only 48 serviceable engines, with damage sustained to one engine putting the block beyond economic repair. It was therefore ironic that the main reason for the order of the class, the successful operation of the t 6CSVT power unit in DP2, should prove to be the cause of so much trouble.