The BR Years
The first Class 50s were introduced to British Railways service on the West Coast Main Line in 1967. Initially they largely saw service north of Crewe, but in the mid 1970s they transferred to the Western Region before refurbishment and setting to work on the Waterloo to Exeter route before end of life withdrawal in the late 1980s.
The fleet of Class 50 locomotives was built as a result of the successful trials of the English Electric Prototype DP2, which had taken place during the early 1960s on a wide variety of traffic types around the UK. DP2 incorporated in its design a number of electronic control systems designed to enhance the locomotive's performance.
In 1966 BR wanted fifty of these 2700 HP Co-Co locomotives for the West Coast Main Line to take over from electric traction at Crewe and handle trains north to Glasgow and Edinburgh. This was to be a stop gap situation until the electrification to these Scottish cities was completed. However, financial constraints prevented BR from outright purchase and the locomotives were leased from the English Electric Company to BR.
Construction took place at the Vulcan Foundry at Newton le Willows between January 1967 and December 1968. The locomotives were originally known as English Electric Type 4s. The finished locomotives were given running numbers D400 to D449.
Their use on the West Coast Main Line resulted in frequent double heading to make the most of their 100 mph capability and further improve journey times.
The new Warships
The new Warships
After 1972 with the completion of the West Coast Mainline electrification the locomotives were gradually transferred to the Western Region for use on the Paddington (London) to Bristol and the South West routes.
They eventually replaced the last of the diesel hydraulic types (class 52s) eliminating this form of power transfer locomotives from BR. At about this time all fifty locomotives were purchased by British Rail.
During the mid 1970s BR renumbered the locomotives into the T.O.P.S. series; 401 to 449 becoming 50 001 to 50 049, 400 became 50 050.
The Western Regions policy of naming locomotives after warships resulted in all members of the class taking the name of a Second World War Naval vessel. The first to be named was 50 035 which became Ark Royal on 10th January 1978.
After the introduction of High Speed Trains (H.S.T.) on to the main lines from Paddington in 1977 the locomotives were put to work on the Southern Region's Waterloo to Exeter route as well as turns taking them to Birmingham from both Paddington and Bristol. However the class 50s reliability by this time was appalling, and a major refurbishment of the class was undertaken in the early 1980s.
The rework simplified a lot of the complex electronics, and removed many redundant features of the control scheme. It also resulted in the change of the air intake fan arrangement which had produced the classic class 50 sound that had led to the nick name of "Hoover".
After refurbishment the locomotives returned to the Western Region until withdrawals resulted in fewer turns which were concentrated on the Waterloo - Exeter route.
Fall & Rise
Fall & Rise
The first locomotive to be withdrawn was 50 011 which succumbed in February 1987. The last were 50 007 and 50 050 after the final farewell railtour in March 1994. The tour, which ran from Waterloo to Exeter and back to Paddington, was appropriately called the "50 Terminator".
So to preservation, Ark Royal was the first of the class to be preserved, and Hood the first to haul a revenue earning train on a preserved railway. More details of what happened next can be found on the Preservation History Page.