FROM THE ARCHIVES: How to drive a ‘Class 37’

Locomotive-hauled trains may be making something of a comeback in the UK, but in East Anglia they never really left.

But how the locomotives are used is changing. Class 47s, first introduced into the region on passenger trains in 1965, are being replaced by Class 37/4s that were first introduced to the region five years earlier!

The reliability of the ‘47s’, which are hired from Direct Rail Services, has forced the change. And it is one that requires Abellio Greater Anglia, which operates the locomotives, to re-train a select band of drivers.

Locomotive-hauled coaching stock (LHCS) has been used regularly in Anglia since 2011, when a shortage of diesel multiple units forced what was then National Express East Anglia to hire top-and-tail Class 47s from DRS to haul NXEA Mk 3s between Norwich and Great Yarmouth.

This lasted until late 2011, and was then sporadic the following year. It returned with a vengeance in 2013, and hasn’t really left since. Currently, if there is a shortage of DMUs (and because of overhauls, refurbishments and failures this is often the case), LHCS is used between Norwich, Great Yarmouth and also Lowestoft. There were also Summer Saturday trains to Yarmouth.

With enough Class 37/4s now available, AGA will use DRS ‘37s’ from mid-April. Initially they will operate in the same top-and-tail fashion as the ‘47s’ are at the moment, unless DRS sends a rake of through-wired Mk 2s in time. Until then, a driver will be needed in each ‘37’, although once the modified Mk 2s arrive, that will be reduced to one driver.

The majority of drivers in the Mixed Traction Link (the Link that currently drives the ‘47s’) are experienced men who have already driven ‘37s’ on the main line. There are 18 in the Link.

One, Kevin Brown, has worked on the railway since 1973 and laments today’s lack of variety. Another, Mick Lloyd, drove them until 26 years ago. They remember the locomotives, but cannot drive them on the main line unless their traction cards are renewed in time. Mark Middleton is the ‘new boy’ of the Link - he drives Class 37s on the North Norfolk Railway (where he is Driver, Guard, Inspector and diesel organiser), but not on the main line. Therefore he must learn the same as the others.

Training is provided by DRS staff when possible, and if not by senior driver managers. It takes three days, the first of which is classroom-based and involves a tutorial on the ‘37’ (on March 16 it is conducted by DRS Traincrew Leader Russell Piggott).

Once that is completed, the drivers (four on March 16) are taken from Norwich station, where 37419 Carl Haviland 1954-2012 is stabled, to Crown Point station, where Piggott walks them through a PowerPoint presentation.

This details all the mechanical aspects of the locomotives, and the differences between the sub-classes within the DRS fleet. Although only Class 37/4s are scheduled for the training, it is possible that ‘37/0s’, ‘37/5s’ and ‘37/6s’ could also be used. This has been approved by AGA. Another possibility is 37423 Spirit of the Lakes - its cab interior is different to DRS’ other ‘37/4s’, with its controls akin to ‘37/6s’.

AGA is expected to have three dedicated locomotives, although neither Piggott nor AGA could confirm their identities. On March 16, Driver Manager Mark Holmes said that 37419 was not expected to be one, whereas Piggott said he was under the impression that it was to be fitted with DRA (Driver’s Reminder Appliance), which is an AGA group safety standard requirement.

This is a defence against SPADs (Signals Passed at Danger). Drivers are supposed to ’set it’ every time they stop at a station or red signal. Once set, they are unable to obtain power. Once they receive ‘right away’ from the Conductor and have a proceed aspect on the signal in front of them, or once the Conductor gets a proceed aspect when restarting from a red signal not at a station, they reset the DRA, check the aspect of the signal once more and it applies power. It is not a major task to fit to the locomotive - indeed, it only requires one switch.

Holmes is passed to drive ‘37s’ and is involved in the training, although not today. He tells RAIL that as he understands it, the format for the trains will be Class 37s operating in push-pull format with a Driving Brake Standard Open (DBSO) by the end of the summer. They will be based at Norwich Crown Point. DRS will provide two sets of Mk 2s, but only one will be in traffic, with the other acting as a maintenance spare.

On the second day (March 17) the four men undergo handling training, which involves light locomotive trips to Cromer and Lowestoft. In traffic the locomotives won’t serve Cromer, but the route is used because there are free paths available.

Each driver gets one trip. Once that is completed, they undergo an exam that takes around an hour (Holmes describes it as like a tick sheet), and then they are passed to drive ‘37s’. However, they need a third day’s training on brake handling with the carriages (Holmes expected the first set to arrive during April).

This week has four days of training, with Lloyd and Middleton carrying out their classroom work on March 18 and light locomotive trips on March 19.

Holmes says that driving the Class 37s is a different challenge to the ‘47s’, but not a massive one. And he’s impressed with the work DRS has had done on the ‘37/4s’.

“They have had a total re-wire - thousands spent on them. They need to be fitted with fire-suppressant equipment and DRA.” He adds that because of the nature of the contract, DRS covers the cost of fitting the Driver’s Reminder Appliance): “They have to meet our standards.”

There will be two fitters to maintain the locomotives and carriages (currently there is one, supplied by Arlington Fleet Services). Maintenance will be carried out on Sundays.

Typically, traction competency will last for six months before it is considered lapsed and the drivers must re-train. However, all drivers in the Link will drive ‘37s’ regularly, so that will not be a problem. Most have already driven them before, but not in the past six months - hence the training.

Climbing into 37419’s cab, Piggott is there to show the drivers around and to show the trainees how the locomotives work. He gives them a tour of the cab and then of the engine room, followed by a walk around the locomotive. “The main difference is the Westinghouse brake,” he tells them.

DRS ‘37s’ also have a panic button fitted that calls the emergency services, because of the nature of their work (they haul nuclear trains). During training, this button was pressed by accident (we promised to keep the name of who did it a secret), so nobody was called out.

Once Piggott has shown the drivers the cab, he takes them into the cramped engine room. He points out the various areas and equipment, including the two alternators fitted, and recounts what to do in the event of a failure. He highlights equipment such as main line circuit breakers, which he says shouldn’t be used.

He speaks in easy to understand terminology: “If you remember them of old, there used to be equipment that looked like a washing machine. That went in the refurbishment in the 1980s.”

Piggott also warns of the problems that can be caused by a temperature gauge: “If the alternator goes over temperature, then the light goes out and it shuts down.”

He adds that if anyone considers the inside of 37419 to be dirty, then the inside of the ‘47s’ is much worse, and dishes out more advice: “If the circuit breaker trips it’s a failure, so take it steady.”

Piggott is not teaching the trainees to ‘suck eggs’, but merely imparting his experience. He learned to drive at Thornaby in 1988, and suggests that it may even have been with 37419. Certainly he drove it during his BR career. He’s worked for DRS in two spells, as well as for Central Trains and GB Railfreight.

After the tour of the engine room, we head to Norwich Crown Point for the classroom work. This involves a PowerPoint presentation by Piggott, who takes the trainees around the ‘37s’ in more detail. Time for a cup of coffee - learning how to work the coffee machine seems a far more daunting challenge than learning how to drive the Type 3s!

The presentation includes a history of the ‘37s’, and Piggott tells the trainees: “They are dated from 1960, but they are not old and decrepit. I’m sure you’ll like them.” He mentions the differences between the sub-classes within the DRS fleet, and highlights how Class 37/7s cannot go to Sheringham, for example, because of their higher route availability caused by additional weight.

He explains various technical aspects of the locomotives: their electric train heat index is 30; they have Napier banks; there are two alternators (the main and auxiliary - the main powers the traction motors, and the auxiliary powers the pumps and the feed for the main alternator). He also mentions the differences between the ‘37/6s’ and the rest of the DRS fleet, but doubts they will be sent to AGA.

“You will get used to the locomotives and how they handle,” he briefs them, before giving an example: “The throttle response is awful at times. They do erupt. But it will come to you.”

Piggott also reassures the trainees: “These refurbished ‘37s’ came out in 1985. I have never had them do badly. I was at Thornaby when they came out. They were good. I am driving the same locomotives - in some cases the same locomotive - now that I did at Thornaby.”

Next comes the fault finding presentation. Piggott tells them: “High water won’t cause a failure… if you have a red hot day you can open the bodyside door inwards… with two locomotives and three carriages you won’t notice if there is low power… if the water level is lower than a quarter it won’t start…”

He then offers his own advice: “I will show you how to go through the ‘prep sheets’. If you keep it with you, that’s OK. A good ‘prep sheet’ eliminates 99% of all faults.”

He says it takes 20 minutes to prepare a locomotive for traffic, but that he thinks AGA will allow an hour for the top-and-tail ‘37s’.

After lunch, Piggott takes the team back to 37419, where they themselves will prepare the locomotive and look for faults. If there aren’t any, they will start it up. He goes through the ‘prep sheet’ with them again, before they head off into 37419.

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  • AndrewJG8918 - 30/09/2019 04:17

    Thanks for your hard work on providing a temporary service in East Anglia Class 37. Very sad to see you go.

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  • Lloyd Conway - 03/02/2020 02:02

    Could you please tell me what the handle is for, located on the side of the cab nose on 37/4's usually surrounded by a white square and red lining?? I have combed the net and cannot find an answer..Highland Region Nut!!

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