The British Rail Class 40 (as robbed in the Great Train Robbery) is a type of British railway diesel locomotive. Built by English Electric between 1958 and 1962, and eventually numbering 200, they were for a time the pride of the British Rail early diesel fleet. Despite their initial success, by the time the last examples were entering service they were already being replaced on some top-link duties by more powerful locomotives. As they were slowly relegated from express passenger uses, the type found work on secondary passenger and freight services where they worked for many years, the final locomotives being retired from regular service in 1985.
The origins of the Class 40 fleet lay in the prototype diesel locomotives (Types D16/1 ordered by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and British Railways and D16/2 ordered by British Railways between 1947 and 1954) and most notably with the Southern Region locomotive No. 10203, which was powered by English Electric’s 16SVT MkII engine developing 2,000 bhp (1,460 kW). The bogie design and power train of 10203 was used almost unchanged on the first ten production Class 40s.
British Railways originally ordered ten Class 40s, then known as “English Electric Type 4s”, as evaluation prototypes. They were built at the Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire. The first locomotive, D200, was delivered to Stratford on 14 March 1958. Following fitter and crew training, D200 made its passenger début on an express train from London Liverpool Street to Norwich on 18 April 1958. Five of the prototypes, Nos. D200, D202-D205, were trialled on similar services on the former Great Eastern routes, whilst the remaining five, Nos. D201, D206-D209, worked on Great Northern services on the East Coast Main Line.
Sir Brian Robertson, chairman of the British Transport Commission, was less than impressed, believing that the locomotives lacked the power to maintain heavy trains at high speed and were too expensive to run in multiple – opinions that were later proved to be correct. Airing his views at the regional boards prompted others to break cover and it was agreed that later orders would be uprated to 2500 hp (a change that was never applied). Direct comparisons on the Great Eastern mainline showed they offered little advantage over the “Britannia” class steam locomotives, when driven well, and the Eastern Region declined to accept further machines as they deemed them unsuitable to replace the Pacific steam locomotives on the East Coast Main Line preferring to hold on until the “Deltic” Class 55 diesels were delivered.
The London Midland Region was only too pleased as the Eastern Region’s decision released additional locomotives to replace their ageing steam fleet, Class 40 managing Camden bank, just north of Euston, with apparent ease. The West Coast Main Line had been starved of investment for many years and the poor track and general lower speeds (when compared to the East Coast route) suited Class 40 as the need to hold trains at speed for long periods simply did not exist and it better exploited their fairly rapid acceleration.
Following the mixed success of the prototypes, another 190 locomotives were ordered by British Railways, and were numbered from D210 to D399. All were built at Vulcan Foundry, except a batch of twenty (Nos. D305–D324) which were built at Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns factory in Darlington. All the locomotives were painted in the British Railways diesel green livery, and the final locomotive, D399, was delivered in September 1962.
Batches of the class were built with significant design differences, due to changes in railway working practices. The first 125 locomotives, Nos. D200–D324, were built with steam-age ‘disc’ headcode markers, which BR used to identify services. Later, it was decided that locomotives should display the four character train reporting number (or headcode) of the service they were hauling, and Nos. D325–D344 were built with ‘split’ headcode boxes, which displayed two characters either side of the locomotive’s central gangway doors. Another policy decision led to the discontinuing of the gangway doors (which enabled train crew to move between two or three locomotives in multiple). The remaining locomotives, Nos. D345–D399, carried a central four-character headcode box. In 1965, seven of the first batch of locomotives, Nos. D260–D266, which were based in Scotland, were converted to the central headcode design.
From 1973, locomotives were renumbered to suit the TOPS computer operating system, and became known as ‘Class 40’. Locomotives D201 to D399 were renumbered in sequence into the range 40 001 to 40 199. The first built locomotive, D200, was renumbered 40 122, which was vacant due to the scrapping of D322 after an accident on 16 May 1966. It was withdrawn September 1967. Locomotives in the range D210–D235 were to be named after ships operated by the companies Cunard Line, Elder Dempster Lines, and Canadian Pacific Steamships, as they hauled express trains to Liverpool, the home port of these companies.
The only locomotive not to carry a name was D226 which was to carry the name Media but never did so. From approximately 1970, with Class 40s no longer working these trains, the nameplates were gradually removed. A series of unofficial names were applied to the Class 40’s by enthusiasts, and enthusiastic depot staff. Some locos ran in service with these names applied for many months, others were painted out within days. The locos to carry these unofficial names were:
• 40060 ‘Ancient Mariner’ (while in departmental duties as 97405)
• 40104 ‘Warrior’
• 40129 ‘Dracula’
• 40131 ‘Spartan’
• 40132 ‘Hurricane’
• 40134 ‘Andromeda’
• 40137 ‘Trojan’
• 40145 ‘Panther’
• 40164 ‘Lismore’
The Class 40s operated in all areas of British Railways although sightings in the Western and Southern Regions have always been exceptionally rare and usually the result of special trains and/or unusual operational circumstances. After the early trials, the majority were based at depots in northern England, notably Manchester Longsight, Carlisle Kingmoor, Wigan Springs Branch, Thornaby and Gateshead.
The heyday of the class was in the early 1960s, when they hauled top-link expresses on the West Coast Main Line and in East Anglia. However, the arrival of more powerful diesels such as Class 47 and Class 55, together with the electrification of the West Coast Main Line, meant that the fleet was gradually relegated to more mundane duties.
In later life the locomotives were mainly to be found hauling heavy freight and passenger trains in the north of England and Scotland. As more new rolling stock was introduced, their passenger work decreased, partly due to their lack of electric train heating (D255 was fitted with electric train heating for a trial period in the mid-1960s) for newer passenger coaches. They lost their last front-line passenger duties – in Scotland – in 1980, and the last regular use on passenger trains was on the North Wales Coast Line between Holyhead, Crewe and Manchester, along with regular forays across the Pennines on Liverpool to York and Newcastle services.
Throughout the early 1980s Class 40s were common performers on relief, day excursion (adex) and holidaymaker services along with deputisation duties for electric traction, especially on Sundays between Manchester and Birmingham. This resulted in visits to many distant parts of the network. It would be fair to say that few routes in the London Midland and Eastern regions did not see a Class 40 worked passenger service from time to time. Regular destinations included the seaside resorts of Scarborough, Skegness and Cleethorpes on the Eastern region, with Blackpool and Stranraer being regularly visited on the West Coast.
Much rarer workings include visits to London’s Paddington and Euston stations, Norwich, Cardiff and even Kyle of Lochalsh. The fact that 40s could turn up almost anywhere resulted in them being followed by a hard core of bashers, enthusiasts dedicated to journeying over lines with rare traction for the route. Withdrawal of the Class 40s started in 1976, when three locomotives (40 005, 40 039 and 40 102) were taken out of service. At over 130 tons the Class were by then considered underpowered. In addition, some were found to be suffering from fractures of the plate-frame bogies (due mainly to inappropriate use on wagon-load freight and the associated running into tightly curved yards), and spares were also needed to keep other locomotives running.
Also, many Class 40s were not fitted with air braking, leaving them unable to haul more modern freight and passenger vehicles. Despite this, only seventeen had been withdrawn by the start of the 1980s.
The locomotives became more popular with railway enthusiasts as their numbers started to dwindle.
Withdrawals then picked up apace, with the non-air brake fitted locomotives taking the brunt of the decline. In 1981, all 130 remaining locomotives were concentrated in the London Midland region of BR. Classified works overhauls on the Class 40’s were also gradually phased out, only 29 members of the class had a full classified in 1980, and the final two emerged resplendent from Crewe Works in 1981. The honour of the very last classified overhaul falls to 40167 being complete in February 1981.
After that, numbers dwindled slowly until by the end of 1984 there were only sixteen still running. These included the pioneer locomotive, 40 122, which having been withdrawn in 1981, was re-instated in July 1983 and painted in the original green livery to haul rail enthusiasts’ specials. The last passenger run by a Class 40 apart from 40 122 occurred on 27 January 1985, when 40 012 hauled a train from Birmingham New Street to York. All the remaining locomotives except 40 122 were withdrawn the next day.
The majority of Class 40’s were cut up at Crewe, Doncaster, and Swindon works. Crewe works dismantled the most 40’s, the totals are listed below.
• Crewe Works scrapped 65 locos
• Doncaster Works scrapped 64 locos
• Swindon Works scrapped 54 locos.
The other eleven machines were cut at Derby, Glasgow, Inverkeithing, and Vic Berry at Leicester.
1981 and 1983 were the worst years for Class 40 withdrawals, a total of 41 being withdrawn both years.
The very last Class 40’s to be cut up were 40091 and 40195 by A. Hampton contractors at Crewe works in December 1988.