50s in view

The manufacturers had guaranteed an availability of 84% and they were penalised heavily during the first years in traffic by failing to meet this target. Regrettably, it has not been possible to find out whether diagramming actually called for this percentage but at times the Operating Department did call for 90% of the fleet to cope with peak traffic. It was during 1968 that the Achilles Heel of the class emerged with failures of the main generator at an unacceptably high rate. Steps were taken to improve commutation but right to the present day main generator failures have served to reduce availability.

Maintenance was primarily the responsibility of Crewe Diesel Depot through the allocation system then used by the LMR for its fleet did not show the class as actually based there, being D05, Stoke division. Many other depots became involved in maintenance, arising of their daily work across the North West and Scotland. EE had engineering representatives based at Crewe, Carlisle and Pomade in the early years to assist depot staff and keep ‘down time’ to a minimum. Tire turning was often carried out at Tyseley, sometimes Willesden, so appearances away from the usual routes were possible. With their additional features, such as dynamic braking and slow speed control, there was more to go wrong and so more to maintain, but BR certainly got its money’s worth for this cost in terms of savings in brake and tyre wear and the versatility and ease of operation. This versatility was increased during 1969 and 1970 when the decision was taken to fit external jumper connections to allow all the class to operate in multiple; previously only D400 had a full set of jumpers and connections, whilst D401 had connection ports only. It then became possible to schedule pairs of locomotives on main Anglo Scottish daytime trains.

The gradients north of Carnforth are such that a single Type 4 hauling the booked 13 coach loads could not maintain, by a long way, the line speed limits. Using two Class 50s in multiple would relieve the problem and the schedule of the Royal Scot from May 1970 was reduced by over three quarters of an hour to under six hours; the train called intermediately at Crewe and Carlisle. All five of the daytime Euston-Glasgow workings were double headed, as also were the morning down Birmingham and Liverpool to Glasgow and return evening services. Ultimately it was planned to schedule the Royal Scot at a level five hours. These faster schedules only lasted twelve months, for Government approval for electrification through to Glasgow brought the addition of large amounts of recovery time to cope with the disruption to running due to the consequent engineering work. Double heading continued until the full electric service was introduced in May 1974.

Without details of diagramming in 1969 it is not possible to see what duties the class gave up to allow the use of extra locomotives for the double-heading but it seems likely that from 1970 rostering would have required a high level of availability. Certainly there were instances of only one locomotive being available instead of the booked pair but these were not as great as some commentators would have us believe. A further relevant point here was the appearance by the class during the day on MGR trains to Fiddlers Ferry, lronbndge and Rugeley power stations, not booked for them, but covered due to the non-availability of a slow speed fitted Class 47. There seems to have been some variability in power outputs between individual machines, judging by published performance data, but when the Operating Department laid the blame for late running at the door of the class, a survey of running over a two week period showed that this was unjustified and that sloppy operating was the cause. By early 1974, with most of the electrification work complete, a single Class 50 in good form could easily keep time on the accelerated timings booked for a pair.

Meanwhile other daily activity continued as before, with dominance of the Class 1 duties north of Crewe and other Class 3 and 4 work. This ensured that examples could still be seen all over the North West, sometimes straying into the East and West Midlands and, when on track from Crewe works, along the North Wales coast. In those days there were very few haulage fans and the front coach was invariably devoid of enthusiasts; what price today for a 50 from Manchester to Blackpool then a daily occurrence. Introduction of the full electric service in 1974, with transfer of 35 units to the WR, brought a downgrading for the remaining 15. Except during Sunday diversions there was very little Class 1 mileage for them to run, save for the Liverpool/ Manchester to Preston legs of trains bound for Scotland. Instead there were now appearances on as wide a selection of duties as possible, from track lifting and local trip freights to Class 6 and 7 freights booked over the Settle to Carlisle and freightliner traffic.

More appearances were made at power stations on MGRs, vindicating the decision to install from new the necessary slow speed control gear. During the succeeding two years, before final transfer of all 50 to fhe WR mileage would have been low but both availability and reliability were extremely high, perm1tt1ng favourable comparison with any other Type 4 and very little difference to the redoubtable Class 37s.

WR ownership did not bring to an end the association of the class with the LMR, for from the start on that region Class 50 has worked regularly on the Penzance/Plymouth to Birmingham road on services going forward to the North West and Scotland. Training of Birmingham men in 1976/7 saw limited diagramming on the Paddington/Reading to the West Midland route and once at Sattley there have been numerous instances of the LMR borrowing one to cover for a non-­ available Class 47 on freightliner work, though the odd night time turn has been fitted into the diagrams over the years. Equally on Sundays the LMR has used a spare Class 50 for dragging electrically hauled Class 1 trains between Birmingham and Nuneaton or Rugby whilst they have also been fairly regular visitors on the Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury road. Whilst works repairs continued to be the responsibility of Crewe the LMR was prone to borrowing an overhauled machine for a short while after its release by the WR demanded it back. Inevitably it was freight in the Cheshire area which was involved. During the 1980s winter timetable diagramming brought a class member to Crewe on the 2000 Cardiff mail, the return working being at 0204. By using Birmingham drivers it had been possible for the class to revisit old haunts in Liverpool and Manchester when nothing else was available to replace them at Birmingham. On July 30, 1987 50002 worked a Paddington to Oxford, extended through to Manchester s a relief to a late running service train, possibly the first instance of a loco and coaches all in Network SouthEast livery appearing at Piccadilly. During the winter 1987 timetable on 0703 Paddington to Manchester and 1401 return found a Class 50 covering for a non-­ available Old Oak Common Class 47/4 on a number at occasions; No. 50036 was apparently the last during early May.

With the class now in decline and InterCity preferring Class 47/4 for inter-regional work from Birmingham to the South West, there is less opportunity for LMR running than for a long while. One wonders whether the association between the fleet and the LMR will reach 25 years but certainly the last 20 have provided plenty of variety, interest and a few surprises to enliven the rail scene on the region. Who knows,m it is quite feasible that a preserved example may find a final resting place at Bury or Butterley, continuing the long relationship.

  • This feature was published in RAIL 85 in October 1988.

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