Class 50 (English Electric 2,700hp Type 4 Diesel-Electric)

One of the most popular classes of diesel locomotive, the Class 50 was built in the late 1960s and initially hired by British Rail from English Electric to power the remaining non-electrified portions of the West Coast Main Line from Crewe to Scotland [1] on passenger trains and freightliners. The Class 50, a development of the English Electric DP2 prototype, often worked these WCML trains in pairs (though they could also work in multiples of 3) to provide sufficient performance to match the timings of the electric locomotives they shared their trains with. The locomotives were bought outright by BR in 1973 but by the mid-1970s were being displaced from the WCML by the completion of electrification and the arrival of the Class 87. They were sent to Western Region to work in the South and South West of England.

Number built: 50
Built: 1967-68
Builder: English Electric, Vulcan Foundry
Engine: English Electric 16CSVT diesel
Power: 2, 700 hp (2, 013 kW)
Wheel arrangement: Co-Co

At first the reliability of the Class 50 was poor with failures often due to problems with the then-novel electronic systems fitted. Crews joked that they were called the Class 50 as there was only a 50:50 chance they would make it to their destinations! [2] They received a full refurbishment in the late 1970s/early 1980s to improve reliability by removing little used and redundant equipment such as the slow speed control.

Much of their time was spent on West of England express passenger trains out of Paddington and Waterloo and other passenger services. This made them vulnerable as multiple units became the favoured mode of people mover in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the supply of work dried up. There were attempts to utilise the class for slower freights and one locomotive was modified with lower geared bogies though the experiment was not a success.

The Class 50 was withdrawn from service by 1994 though no less than 18 have been preserved (36% of the fleet) and several are mainline certified. The Class 50s were the first class of diesel locomotive to only carry BR blue livery (and later variations) though one preserved locomotive was given a "what might have been" BR green livery. One British Rail exception came in the 1980s when one Class 50 was renamed Sir Edward Elgar and repainted in Brunswick Green to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the GWR.
50 049 at Kidderminster, in BR large logo livery

50 027 at Ropley in Network South East livery

50 035 at Kidderminster in original BR blue condition

50 031 in Intercity livery (which was never actually carried by a Class 50 in BR days!)

50 008 at Kidderminster with a 4-TC

50 044 at Kidderminster

[1] Brian Haresnape, Production Diesel-Electrics Types 4 and 5 (Ian Allan, 1984) p. 67
[2] Michael Welch, Diesels on the Western (Capital Transport, 2013) p. 107