The 22 ‘Deltics’ lasted 20 years in high-speed main line service between London and Edinburgh, until they were replaced by the equally successful HSTs. The English Electric Type 5, later Class 55 has achieved as much fame and respect in the eyes of rail and engineering enthusiasts as the equally famous steam locomotives of Class A3 ‘Flying Scotsman’ and Class A4 ‘Mallard’ steam era 4-6-2 pacific locomotives.
D9019 “Royal Highland Fusilier” at work on the East Lancashire Railway in the 1990s, seen here at Bury in classic two-tone green, but with full height yellow warning panels. © Rodger Bradley
Aside from their innovative engine design, and impressive power output, they turned in some quite remarkable performances with heavy trainloads over long distances. One of the most impressive was that of D9008 (55 008) “The Green Howards”, which, in 1978 hauled 10 coaches (343 gross tons) between York and London at an average speed of 97 mph – start to stop! (This is on record by a J. Heaton of the Railway Performance Society).
Thankfully 6 of the class have been preserved and are operating on a number of heritage lines, from the East Lancashire Railway, Great Central, Keighley & Worth Valley, and Severn Valley, amongst others, to numerous rail tours around the country.
Half of the preserved examples are now available for running on the main lines once again, although one of their number D9016 “Gordon Highlander” is undergoing a major overhaul, but back in the late 1990s it was used, along with sister locomotives on charter rail tours and specials, including the Venice Simplon Orient Express.
It is perhaps something of an irony that 16 of the class were scrapped at BREL’s Doncaster Works between January 1980s and August 1983, just as BREL was building the Class 58 freight locomotive, and Doncaster Works itself was finally closed in 2007 – though it had been run down for some years before.
When the class was built at Vulcan Foundry, the railway industry was still home to major engineering concerns – not least of which were the works at Newton-le-Willows, where these 22 locomotives were completed to the order from English Electric. Oddly perhaps, the order was placed through English Electric’s Bradford electrical works, and not from the nearby Dick, Kerr works at Preston, which had a long established relationship with the company, and where the original Deltic was built. The production version, with the design ‘tweaks’ to the bodysides and appearance, were completed at just under two locomotives per month between March 1961 and April 1962, and were to have an operating life of just 20 years.
D9015 “Tulyar” on a normal express service, at high-speed on the East Coast Main Line, where they were the definitive high-speed train of their day. The locomotive is in full original livery in this view. © RPB/GEC Traction Collection
Build & Operations
The Deltics were all built at the Vulcan Foundry, Newton-Ie-Willows, between March 1961 and April 1962, though the order was placed with English Electric for their construction in 1960. Listed here are the building dates:
From new the Deltics were allocated to three depots; Finsbury Park in North London, Gateshead in the North East and Edinburgh Haymarket in Scotland.
The original allocations up to and including 1964 were:
- 34G Finsbury Park – D9001 /3/7/9/12/18/20;
- 52A Gateshead – D9002/5/8/11/14/17;
- 64B Haymarket (Edinburgh) – D9000/4/6/10/13/16/19/21.
The allocations in 1978 were:
- FP Finsbury Park – 55001/3/7/9/12/15/18/20;
- GD Gateshead – 55002/58/11/14/17;
- HA Haymarket (Edinburgh) – 55004/6/10/13/16/19/21/22.
Essentially they remained at these locations until their withdrawals began in 1980.
By June1961 the first six locomotives had commenced regular long distance passenger workings, but rostered in true steam locomotive style, since a Finsbury Park Deltic would work the down ‘Aberdonian’ on Sundays, returning the following day with the up ‘Flying Scotsman’. Similarly, Scottish Region Deltics worked out on the 11.00am Edinburgh to King’s Cross as far as Newcastle, returning with 11.00am ex King’s Cross. Later, their range was extended to work through to London and return on th e ‘Talisman’ and ‘Aberdonian’ services. Working what were traditional steam locomotive diagrams alongside English Electric Type 45, was undoubtedly an under-utilisation of Deltic power.
The first impressions of Deltic capability was displayed with some substantial accelerations of the principal East Coast services in the summer timetables introduced from June 18, 1962. It was widely recognised that the inclusion of a six hour timing between London and Edinburgh was an achievement on a par with the pre-war lightweight, streamlined ‘Coronation’ train – but. the Deltic diagram included no less than six such workings. The trains concerned in the in initial speed up were the ‘Elizabethan’, ‘Flying Scotsman’ and ‘Talisman’, the last two covering the 268.35 miles between King’s Cross and Newcastle in just one minute over four hours; an average speed of 66.8mph. Other named trains included in the accelerations were the ‘ Heart of Midlothian’, ‘Tees Tyne Pullman’, ‘ Yorkshire Pullman’, ‘Car-Sleeper Limited ‘ and the ‘Anglo Scottish Car Carrier’. Of these, the up ‘Tees Tyne Pullman’ was booked to provide the fastest average over the 44.1 miles from Darlington to York of 75.6mph. Of the night runs, some of these provided examples of the most dramatic accelerations, including no less than 77 minutes for the down ‘Car Sleeper Limited’ between London and Edinburgh with Deltic haulage. Deltics were also booked for both the 8.20pm down ‘Mail’ from King’s Cross, and the corresponding 8.20pm up train from Newcastle. With an average rostered load of over 450 tons, these services were accelerated by 40 and 33 minutes respectively.
D9013 “The Black Watch” (later 55 013) in BR two-tone green livery and ½ height yellow warning panel enters Kings Cross in July 1966 with “The Flying Scotsman” from Edinburgh Waverley complete with the then new headboard which was carried for only a few years. By Hugh Llewelyn CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24383446
The pattern of high speed Deltic hauled services was continued into the winter of 1962 and beyond, their reliability and availability built into a reputation for all round performance a success second to none. Of the pilot scheme diesels, many were dropped, though despite the early unreliability of the medium speed engines with electric transmission, a BR report of 1965 came down firmly in favour of that arrangement. Even so, the Deltics remained, a lone example of the successful mating of a high-speed diesel engine with electric transmission.
Standardisation in 1967 kept these 22 locomotives in the BR fleet as Class 55,and with the emphasis on higher powers, the National Traction Plan listed a basic main line stud to comprise classes; 20, 25, 27, 31, 33, 37, 40, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 52 and 55, to be achieved by 1974. An interesting inclusion was the Class 48, an improved Brush Type 4 that never materialised.
By the time of this particular spate of rationalisation, the Deltics had of course eliminated steam from all the principle East Coast workings, and operated intensive cyclic diagrams, and broke completely from steam traditions in not being allocated to any particular depot or Region, working throughout as required. With the introduction of the Brush Type 4 locos, much secondary work was taken from the Class 40s, the Deltics early stable mates, and occasionally, the Brush types would deputise for Deltics in the relatively rare event of a failure of the latter.
Class 55 English Electric ‘Deltic’ diesel locomotive No. 55 009 “Alicydon” roars up Holloway Bank out of Kings Cross with an Inter-City express for the North East in the mid 1970s. The green livery has gone, and full height warning panels in use. By Barry Lewis CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44987568
Mechanically, the Deltics were required to achieve a standard life expectancy of 25 years, even allowing for the fact that they were the most intensively worked of all the BR diesel types. From new this meant that they would become life expired in 1986-7, and al though the rate of deterioration was virtually nil over a period of ten years, between say 1966 and 1976, in the last couple of years of operation withdrawal began to increase steadily. The last were taken out of service in May 1982. It is interesting to note that the first five years of the life of the Deltic engines – the running in period were guaranteed by the makers. With the introduction of the IC 125s, or HSTs on the East Coast main line the Deltics were gradually relegated to lesser duties, including excursions and inter-regional running, being latterly quite frequent visitors to the LMR. On 28th February, 1981, Deltic No 55022 (D9000), Royal Scots Grey, had completed 20 years service, the first of the class to do so, perhaps not surprisingly since it was the first production loco to enter service. In the event the occasion was marked by loco No, 55022 working the 12.20 King’s Cross to York with a special headboard provided by the Deltic Preservation Society, and a photographic exhibition was opened at the National Railway Museum by Deputy Keeper Mr P. W. B. Semmens. One loco is officially preserved at the NRM, 55002 The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
There were two main liveries carried by the Deltics, with some detail variations. The first schemes carried by these locomotives were what might be termed the standard green livery for diesel types as introduced with the first pilot scheme classes of 1957-8. The first BR schedule covering the painting of diesel locomotives in green livery was issued in 1956, and although some of the details were not really applicable to the Deltics, the basic treatment and processes were the same. It is interesting to note that in that first schedule, the green livery included a black roof (specification 30, item 36), and steam style express passenger lining and transfers – the lining being in orange and black at waist and skirt level on the body sides.
The Deltics were initially painted to the modified specification 30A, and covered by a schedule produced at the time of their introduction in 1961-2. This divided the painting processes into a number of areas, but those of principal interest to the modeller are of course the superstructure (exterior surfaces), roof, bogies, running gear and underframe. Wheels, axles and bogie frames were given one coat of primer to specification30A, item 1, and one coat of black lacquer, to item 40 of the same specification- though not of course to the wheel treads! Brake gear and exterior surfaces of the main framing .was treated to a final coat of general purpose black. Bufferbeams and stocks (with the exception of the short section of fairing covering part of the stocks) were red to Specification30A, item 9, with the colour a close match to BSS 2660-0-005. On top of this was a single coat of varnish. All exterior surfaces of the fuel and water tanks were given a coat of general purpose black whilst the battery boxes were given two coats of Black Acid Resisting Varnish (Specification 30A, item 4l).
Cab interior of Deltic in build. © RPB/GEC Traction Collection
Following various preparatory processes, the main livery areas of the body side panels were treated to one coat of primer, one coat of grey undercoat, one of locomotive green sealer/undercoating paint and a final coat of locomotive green enamel. This latter was Specification30A, item 34, and extended over the entire loco bodyside panels from skirt to gutters. A deep skirt or valance on the lower bodyside stopping just short of theca b door entrance sills, was picked out in a lighter colour, known as Sherwood Green. This was carried completely around the locomotive, and following the application of running numbers and crest, a single coat of locomotive exterior varnish was applied.
The roof area between the gutters was grey, and described officially as Diesel Locomotive Roof Paint, Specification 30A item 57. Cab windscreen and side window surrounds were picked out in white, originally with small yellow warning panels applied to each nose end, surrounding the four character train indicator boxes. The colour was to BSS2660-0-003, and most of the class although built without having warning panels had them applied later, only D9020 and D9021 had them painted on from new. Other non-standard details displayed originally included white buffer heads and drawgear on some members of the class; similarly axlebox end covers were picked out in yellow, as were the equalising beams on D9020 Nimbus – for a time. Window surrounds and boiler room air intake grille beadings were bright finished metal.
Block style running numbers were carried under each of the four cab side windows, in white, and below these were affixed crests of the type first introduced in 1956. Nameplates were carried on the bodysides mid-way between the cabs, and were cast in brass, with the lettering raised from a red background. Though before the locomotives received names a large crest was carried on the bodyside in the nameplate position. Soon after the Deltics were introduced, no more than two years to be precise, the first application of standard Rail Blue livery was made to a Brush/Sulzer Type 4 locomotive, and this standard rapidly became established on principal main line types.
On the Deltics, the use of Rail Blue to BR Specification 53, item 13, covered the entire body, including the roof areas. It was alleviated only by the yellow nose, which itself was more extensive than the earlier warning panel, over-running the corners for a few inches. The underframes and bogies remained the conventional black. In recent years however, there has been a trend away from the rather dull uniform appearance of BRs blue locos, initiated largely on the Eastern Region, and resulting in a number of Deltics sporting white cab window surrounds again.
During the change over period from green to blue livery in 1968-69, D9005/17/18 had full yellow ends whilst still in green livery: D9010 also in green, had the new double arrow symbol. In the standard form on blue liveried locomotives this was 2 foot 6 inches long, and fixed under the cab side windows at each of the four corners, with the asymmetric running number behind each cab door. The ‘D’ prefix was dropped at this time also, and with the introduction of the ‘TOPS’ re-numbering scheme in 1972, the 6 inch high numbers of Class 55, in white, were positioned behind the cab doors on the driver’s side only.
The last variation on the Deltics livery has been the repainting for preservation of D9002 (55002), King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, in the original standard two-tone green livery. A pleasing comparison with the standard Rail Blue, and perhaps with just a twinge of nostalgia, it doesn’t appear quite as dull as it did in the early 1960s, when steam was still to a great degree, supreme!
Life After Service & Preservation
No less than 6 of this unique class have been preserved, two D9009 and D9019 are operational for main line service, one D9002, is on permanent display at the National Railway Museum, whilst the remaining three (D9000, D9015, D9016) are under restoration or overhaul. Two of the cabs from D9008 “The Green Howards”, and D9021 “Argyll & Sutherland Highlander” are also preserved as static exhibits.
After withdrawals took place in the 1980s, British Rail banned all privately owned diesels from operating on its network, but the work towards securing and returning to operational service a member of this historic design began. However, despite an occasional run out to open days, and a trip for D9002 to its final resting place at the National Railway Museum in 1982, nothing further was seen of a Deltic in full service mode until after the privatisation of BR in the 1990s.
The prototype DP2, with its new English Electric 2,700hp 16CSVT engine hauling then Yorkshire Pullman on a trial run. © RPB/GEC traction Collection
Whilst heritage railways had always been a home for these and many ex BR diesel types, it was not until the arrival of open-access train operations in the 1990s, that, for a fee, the owners of these powerful machines could take to main line running again, under Railtrack, and today, Network Rail.
Of course, as we are all aware, there was a spare Deltic body that gave birth to another famous English Electric diesel design – intriguingly at first carrying the number DP2 – later of course becoming the British Rail Class 50, with a new design of 4-stroke, 2,700hp diesel engine from the same maker. These are described in some detail in the post from the link below.
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