The Class 40 Story

This is a brief history of the English Electric Type 4 (British Rail Class 40) locomotive and its origins. It is intended to cover most significant points in their history, but this is not the complete story. Please see the bottom of this page for recommended books on the subject.

In the beginning

To trace the origins of a Class 40, we go back to 1945. In the immediate post-war period all the ‘Big Four’ UK rail companies were rumoured to be investigating an alternative to steam rail traction to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

An interested UK delegation visited the USA to see how their well-established diesel-electric motive power fared in comparison to steam. Following this, in 1946 the Southern Railway planned to build three prototype diesel-electric locos rated at 1600 hp, but the scheme was soon shelved. In the same year, the LMS proposed two 1600 hp locos capable of being driven singly, or as two units together “in multiple” using one set of driving controls.

At that time, English Electric were building locos for the Egyptian State railway of a similar power rating. The LMS had good experience of diesel-electric traction for shunting locomotives, and so approached the English Electric company with the proposal. A design was agreed and work commenced, with Derby Works building the mechanical parts and body shell while English Electric produced all other items.

Number 10000, the first British Main Line diesel-electric loco, emerged from Derby Works on 8th December 1947, just prior to nationalisation. The loco design/build used proven steam loco principles, but the result was somewhat heavy, weighing as much as a Duchess steam loco. Styling took American influence having ‘nose ends’ with two driving cabs on a Co-Co wheel arrangement. The power unit was an English Electric 16 cylinder turbocharged 16SVT Mk 1 diesel engine, driving a d.c. generator and powering six d.c. traction motors via control equipment.

10000 soon proved its worth on Manchester/Derby/St. Pancras passenger services. It was joined by sister loco 10001 in July 1948. Much experience was gained from the ‘Derby Pair’, e.g. using a steam generator for train heat, and power unit control under different load and rail conditions. Their ‘trial’ period ended in 1951, followed by regular passenger service use on the London Midland Region.

Meanwhile, the Southern Region began building three prototypes numbered 10201, 10202 and 10203. The internal layout of the locos was different to 10000/1. They had a flat-fronted design, and rode on cast frame bogies with a 1Co-Co1 wheel arrangement to reduce axle loading. 10201 was exhibited at the Festival of Britain in 1951. The EE 16SVT Mk 1 power units used in 10201/2 were also uprated to 1750 hp.

The third SR loco, 10203, emerged in 1954, held back to incorporate experience from trials with 10201 and 10202. This loco was not quite so heavy at 132 tons, and had the later 16SVT Mk 2 power unit rated 2000 hp. By 1957, records show the prototypes were returning approximately twice the annual mileage of similar powered express steam locos.

The SR trio worked on London to West of England and other Southern Region passenger services until transfer to the LMR in 1955, where they worked until withdrawal.

Pilot Scheme diesels – D200 to D209

In 1955 British Railways implemented the start of its Modernisation Scheme. In applying this to motive power, they ordered 174 diesel prototype locomotives from various UK manufacturers, to evaluate the most suitable types over a three year trial period. Power classification became a numbered sequence, Types 1 to 5, with Type 4 covering 2000 – 2999 hp. For their bid, English Electric proposed a 2000 hp. loco based on the layout of 10203, but with the appearance similar to a restyled 10000. With the order placed, the first British Railways main line diesel-electric locomotive, the English Electric Type 4, came to be…

English Electric opted to use their proven 16SVT Mk 2 medium-speed power unit, rated at 2000 hp, to ensure long term reliability from reduced stresses. As a result, despite generally good reliability, the locos soon gained a reputation for being under powered for their immense weight. Later locos from other manufacturers offered higher output from smaller power units, but some proved to be unreliable, requiring de-rating to stop failure and excessive wear of engine components.

The first of the ten prototypes, D200, was accepted into BR stock in March 1958. After acceptance trials and various crew-training work, Its first well-documented demonstration run was on 18th April 1958, from London Liverpool Street to Norwich.Of the first ten EE Type 4’s D200 to D209, half were allocated to the Great Northern Region and half to the Great Eastern Region. The GNR machines worked out of Kings Cross to Sheffield, Newcastle and Edinburgh, covering such famous named trains as the “Flying Scotsman” and the “Master Cutler”. The GER locos were employed on upgraded services from Liverpool Street to Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich.

The press at the time commented on how well the locos performed generally, but also on their disappointment at the lack of power for acceleration at medium and higher speeds, being little better than the steam locos being displaced. The operational advantage was, however, immediately obvious. Careful GER diagramming enabled locos to achieve weekly averages of 3600 to 3900 miles, 50% higher than the best steam locos being replaced. GNR diagrams on longer haul services averaged even higher weekly averages of approximately 4500 miles, which may have been over-ambitious considering the lack of operating experience in the early days.

Production locos

With the Pilot Scheme still in progress, political pressure was still mounting for urgent improvements and cost savings on the railways. The Government sanctioned wholesale dieselisation, and large production quantities of locos were ordered from the builders of the Pilot Scheme locos, with some designs unproved, coming almost straight from the drawing board.

A further 190 EE Type 4’s were ordered in several batches, allocated to various areas in England and Scotland, to upgrade passenger services, e.g. on the West Coast Main Line (London Euston to Birmingham, the North West and Glasgow). By the time the last batches were ordered, English Electric had improved the 16SVT power unit further, but the offer of uprated 2400 hp. locos was declined in view of the proven reliability at 2000 hp. EE went on to produce another prototype locomotive, DP2, using the same power unit rated at 2700 hp, leading to an order for the 50 Class 50 locomotives.

The majority of EE Type 4’s were built at the Vulcan Foundry, Newton-le-Willows. One batch of twenty locomotives, D305 to D324, were built at the Robert Stephenson and Hawthorn factory in Darlington. This allowed capacity at Vulcan for manufacture of the 22 production Deltics. Delivery of production locos began with D210 in May 1959.

Amongst the various detail differences in the batches, experiments were tried out on some locos. Most notable of these was probably D255, delivered in 1960. In addition to a steam heat generator it had an auxiliary generator for electric train heating (ETH). This equipment was removed after running trials and no other 40’s ever had this modification.

The most visible difference among the batches was the variation in headcode/train identification markings. The early batches up to D324 carried four white marker lights and white background discs on their nose-ends to identify the type of train being hauled – this followed traditional steam methods. Locomotives D325 to D344 carried two two-digit headcode describers at each end to identify the exact train being operated. All locos up to D344 also had interconnecting gangway doors at the nose-ends to allow crew changes en-route when two locos were working in multiple. The final variation, from D345 to D399, featured a central four-digit headcode panel but no interconnecting doors, giving a much neater appearance. Some Scottish disc-headcode locos were modified to follow this design in the 1960’s, having their disc indicators removed, nose end doors plated over, and the four digit centre-headcode panel installed.

Early problems

The EE Type 4’s (and other diesel loco types of the time) suffered more than their fair share of criticism for reliability. Few appreciated that the new diesels were expected to perform while stabled alongside steam locos with all the inherent grime and neglect, with little or no specialised maintenance facilities or skills to hand. Time-served steam drivers were retrained on diesel motive power, with a whole new language of fault finding and ‘get you home’ problem solving. The train heating boilers were a particular problem on the EE type 4’s and other early diesels, being fairly complicated to operate, and requiring strict maintenance to ensure reliability.

Late Autumn 1958 was a miserable time for the GNR fleet: on six out of ten days the Flying Scotsman failed to produce an EE Type 4, and ran late with a steam loco deputising. Efforts were made to ensure the Master Cutler was a priority working, but this was not always possible. After another failure there were calls for a steam loco standby to be arranged at the Sheffield end. D209 failed on a Newcastle working on 30th October. On November 1st D207 failed at Kings Cross on the down Flying Scotsman, replaced by D208, which failed later in the journey with traction motor problems. Similar problems were still being experienced in the autumn of 1959. The first year’s running figures showed GER and GNR availability at 71.5% and 79% respectively.

Livery, numbers and names

The production series locos followed the same numbering sequence, from D210 to the final loco D399, delivered in September 1962. The majority followed the Pilot Scheme livery of all-round Dark Brunswick Green with a grey roof, black bogies and red bufferbeams. Problems with the safety of permanent way staff soon led to all BR diesel locos having the cab fronts or nose-end fronts painted in half warning yellow, to help make approaching trains more visible. The last batch of EE Type 4’s were duly delivered already painted in this scheme, while others were treated during works visits or on depots. By the late 1960’s the yellow ‘warning panels’ began to be extended to cover the full nose ends, improving visibility further.

From 1966, locos overhauled by works began to be repainted in the new ‘corporate’ rail blue livery with full yellow nose-ends. One example, 40106 was kept in green, becoming the preferred choice for use on enthusiast specials. 40106 was withdrawn in 1983 after 40122 was reinstated to traffic, itself repainted into Dark Brunswick Green with full yellow ends.

With the end of steam on BR in 1968, the diesel prefix ‘D’ was gradually dropped from all loco numbers. Also in 1968, a new locomotive classification system was devised, based on the power rating. These EE Type 4’s became Class 40’s. In 1973 the BR TOPS computer system was introduced, and from the autumn all locos were renumbered according to their class. The Class 40’s were renumbered in sequence 40001 to 40199. Pioneer D200 was renumbered 40122, filling a number gap left by D322, withdrawn after the Acton Bridge crash in 1966.

The Named 40’s

Twenty five of the class carried the names of famous ocean going liners on cast brass plates, signifying the importance of passenger workings to and from Liverpool. Only the first three of these, D210, D211 and D212, were named during ceremonies in 1960, the remainder of nameplates being fitted during works overhauls up to 1963. These nameplates began to be removed from around 1970, as the locos were no longer working such trains, and were attracting unwanted interest from “collectors”.

Locomotives in the range D210–D235 were to be named after ships operated by the companies Cunard LineElder 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.

Names of Class 40 locomotives D210–D235 & D306
Loco Name Shipping line Date named
D210 Empress of Britain Canadian Pacific Steamships May 1960
D211 Mauretania Cunard Line September 1960
D212 Aureol Elder Dempster Lines September 1960
D213 Andania Cunard Line June 1962
D214 Antonia Cunard Line May 1961
D215 Aquitania Cunard Line May 1962
D216 Campania Cunard Line May 1962
D217 Carinthia Cunard Line May 1962
D218 Carmania Cunard Line July 1961
D219 Caronia Cunard Line June 1962
D220 Franconia Cunard Line February 1963
D221 Ivernia Cunard Line March 1961
D222 Laconia Cunard Line October 1962
D223 Lancastria Cunard Line May 1961
D224 Lucania Cunard Line August 1962
D225 Lusitania Cunard Line March 1962
D226 Media Cunard Line Never
D227 Parthia Cunard Line June 1962
D228 Samaria Cunard Line September 1962
D229 Saxonia Cunard Line March 1963
D230 Scythia Cunard Line April 1961
D231 Sylvania Cunard Line May 1962
D232 Empress of Canada Canadian Pacific Steamships March 1961
D233 Empress of England Canadian Pacific Steamships September 1961
D234 Accra Elder Dempster Lines May 1962
D235 Apapa Elder Dempster Lines May 1962
D306 Atlantic Conveyor Cunard Line Aug 1984

On 11th August 1984, D306 (40106) was named “ATLANTIC CONVEYOR”, in memory of the Cunard cargo ship and those on board who lost their lives in the 1982 Falklands war. The name was dedicated by John Brocklehurst, Chief Officer of the ship.

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:

  • 40 060 ‘Ancient Mariner’ (while in departmental duties as 97 405)
  • 40 104 ‘Warrior’
  • 40 129 ‘Dracula’
  • 40 131 ‘Spartan’
  • 40 132 ‘Hurricane’
  • 40 134 ‘Andromeda’
  • 40 137 ‘Trojan’
  • 40 145 ‘Panther’
  • 40 150 ‘Crewe’
  • 40 155 ‘Vulcan Empress’
  • 40 164 ‘Lismore’

In the 1980’s with growing enthusiast interest, many of these locos had their names unofficially painted back on by depot staff, and several other locos gained unofficial names.

Early displacements

Even while the production locos were being built, improvements on the Great Northern Region saw more powerful diesels take over most EE Type 4 workings out of Kings Cross. By June 1961 the GNR diagrams were all but abandoned with the arrival of the Deltics and EE Type 3’s, and steam power was restored to the Flying Scotsman service for a while. By October 1961 all the Hornsey GNR machines were transferred to Stratford to take up Great Eastern Region diagrams.

Some GER changes saw EE Type 4’s working more freights and only the heavier passenger turns by winter 1963. From January 1965 the new, more powerful Brush Type 4’s took over prime East Anglia passenger services, and the EE Type 4’s were eventually transferred away in August 1967, to serve on the West Coast Main Line.

Throughout their history, the EE Type 4’s were used for periods on prime passenger services, only to be displaced by higher powered locos. Workings out of London Euston to the North were normally in their hands, until electrification in the mid 1960’s saw all services south of Crewe being hauled by electric locos. In 1967 the more modern 2700 hp EE Type 4’s (Class 50’s) took over accelerated services working north of Crewe to Glasgow.

Trans-Pennine services were also lost to the more powerful Sulzer Type 4’s (Class 45’s and 46’s) during the late 1960’s, while displaced LMR 40’s began to take up a stronghold on North Wales Coast passenger services. The 40’s also became favoured power for heavier freights in the Midlands, North West, North East and Scotland, where they could slog away on more generous timings. With their reduced passenger duties, many of the fleet had their train heat steam generators isolated, although secondary Scottish passenger work kept Haymarket-based locos busy until 1980.

The infamous D326 (40126)

This was probably the most famed diesel loco, but for all the wrong reasons. On Boxing Day 1962 it was hauling the up Midday Scot when it collided with the rear of a Liverpool to Birmingham express due to driver error, killing 18 passengers and injuring 33. On 8th August 1963 it was hauling the overnight West Coast Postal and became involved with the ‘Great Train Robbery’. In 1964 a secondman was electrocuted by the overhead wire while working outside the loco. Finally, in 1965 the loco suffered total brake failure on the approach to Birmingham New Street. Luckily in this case, the train was diverted into another platform at the last minute by a quick-thinking signalman, and smashed into the back of a freight train, injuring only the guard.

Royal Train duties

Class 40’s became the preferred locos for use with the Royal Train from the late 1960’s until 1977, when the train was replaced with an air conditioned set requiring electric train heating. A pair of pristine locos was usually provided from a limited ‘pool’ including some of the named examples. One of the most notable duties was taking the Royal Family to North Wales, for the Prince of Wales’ investiture at Caernarfon on 1st July 1969. Class 40’s nos. 216 ‘CAMPANIA’ and 233 ‘EMPRESS OF ENGLAND’ were used, double-heading the train from Euston.

The beginning of the end

As the 1970’s drew to an end, the recession hit BR freight traffic hard. Continuing delivery of new Type 5 Class 56’s and 58’s enabled other motive power to be ‘cascaded’, so the Class 40’s found less and less work. The first planned withdrawals had started in 1976, with several ‘life expired’ locos scrapped as they became due for classified works overhaul, along with some accident-damaged examples. Poor availability of other loco types thankfully kept withdrawals to a minimum, and works overhauls soon recommenced..

In 1980 a fleet run-down program was announced, along with the planned scrapping of many older locos of other types. First on ‘The List’ were those locos with high engine hours and vacuum-only train brakes, preventing them from hauling more modern air-braked freight wagons and passenger coaches. The next withdrawals sent shock waves through enthusiast circles. As major component failures occurred, locos were often withdrawn out of sequence due to the cost of repairs, regardless of their last overhaul date. Others were simply switched off, deemed ‘life expired’, despite being in perfectly serviceable condition.

The dreaded ‘List’ became less significant – the writing was on the wall for the whole class. While this realisation began to dawn on people, the embryonic CFPS was already recruiting members in a bid to save at least one machine from being scrapped.

Despite continued withdrawals, the Class were never far from passenger work, constantly deputising for non-available rostered locos of other types. By the early 1980’s, very few passenger trains were still booked for Class 40 haulage, but they still maintained their annual stranglehold on summer holiday trains to various locations, and other relief workings and excursions.

Passenger and freight work still provided Class 40 enthusiasts with an enormous variety of train destinations and places to view 40’s in action. Records for a typical Saturday in August 1982 show nineteen Class 40’s on passenger trains to or from such places as Manchester, Leeds, Llandudno, Skegness, York, Scarborough, Bangor, Holyhead, Blackpool and Newcastle.

Eastern Region Class 40’s were gradually reallocated to the London Midland Region in the early 80’s. With less passenger and freight work in Scotland, and to concentrate the dwindling class numbers, all remaining Scottish Region machines were also reallocated to the LMR by October 1981.

The following

The Whistlers (nicknamed from their distinctive exhaust and turbo charger sound) gained a fanatical following during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The following grew, ironically, with more and more locos being withdrawn, as enthusiasts tried to savour every chance to photograph or ride with them.

Although it was an all-year-round past-time, the summer months saw greater enthusiasm as rare, non-boilered locos were used on passenger turns, where their lack of train heating did not matter. Crowds of ‘bashers’ descended on locations such as Manchester, Preston, Leeds and Sheffield every summer Saturday to meet up, ‘get the gen’ on which 40’s were going where on what passenger trains, and then head off in pursuit. As with some other loco classes, the following that formed was a community of friends from all over mainland UK, all with a common interest. Information about rare and last-minute workings was spread on the grapevine as quickly as possible; but these were the days before e-mail, mobile phones and SMS.

D200 withdrawn and reinstated

The pioneer loco, 40122 (ex D200), was withdrawn in August 1981. At the time, everyone hoped and assumed it would be claimed by the National Railway Museum. Unfortunately the withdrawal coincided with a change in policy at the NRM, which stated no interest in saving the machine. This was understood to be principally because the chance to save one of the prototype Derby twins or Southern trio had been lost long ago. The CFPS itself was criticised for not attempting to buy the loco, however the mechanical condition deteriorated rapidly while dumped at Carlisle, which meant that a rescue bid would have been too expensive, even if the loco had made it onto the tender list.

A campaign was started by staff at RAIL Enthusiast magazine – a crucial initial success was to prevent the loco from being dragged to the Swindon scraplines. Its partner on the Carlisle scraplines, 40062, was not so lucky. A concerted effort was then made by the magazine staff, involving handing a set of documents to BR chairman Sir Peter Parker during a non-related public engagement. The reprieve was eventually granted, and D200 was reinstated to traffic. This also allowed the ageing favourite 40106 to be withdrawn, nearly five years after its last works overhaul and having only vacuum train brakes. To keep costs to a minimum, the restoration work on D200 was carried out as an apprentice training programme at Toton TMD, using withdrawn 40076 as the ‘donor’ loco for its power unit and bogies.

She re-entered traffic in April 1983, painted in original Dark Brunswick green livery with full yellow ends, numbered both D200 and 40122. Her condition was excellent, a tribute to the enthusiasm, care and hard work done by everyone at Toton.

After her restoration and return to service, D200 was assigned to special duties such as enthusiast railtour trains. The locomotive was also used for general freight and passenger traffic in the Carlisle area. A regular turn was the daily out-and-back Carlisle to Leeds passenger train. This helped bring much needed income and publicity to the famous Settle and Carlisle route at the time when it was scheduled for closure.

The End of an Era

With enthusiasts frantically following every last move, the few surviving ‘main fleet’ of Whistlers were withdrawn en-masse in January 1985. D200 was the last Class 40 left in service, and was withdrawn finally in April 1988, almost 30 years to the day after first entering service. Fortunately by that time the NRM had changed their views, and D200 took her rightful place in the National Collection, to be preserved for future generations.

Pictured above is the handing over ceremony for D200 at the National Railway Museum on 16th April 1988, shortly after the arrival of the final railtour. In front of the loco are representatives of British Rail Intercity and the NRM, with the driver and secondman from the final stage of the railtour.

Departmental reprieve

Four Class 40’s were reinstated during April and May 1985 to help with freight workings for the Crewe station remodelling. 40012, 40060, 40118 and 40135 were ‘patched up’ and re-entered departmental service with restricted working. This was more successful than expected, and despite the general lack of maintenance and attention, the locos continued in service after the work at Crewe, hauling local ballast and freight trains, and even assisting the odd passenger train failure. The final Class 40 in departmental service was 97405 (ex 40060), withdrawn in March 1987.

The dawn of a new era

Thankfully, the Class 40 preservation story was well underway before the end of their main line career.


Main references:
“Class 40s At Work” by John Vaughan
“Modern Railways Pictorial Profile 9: Class 40’s” by Colin Marsden
“The Allocation History of B.R. Diesels and Electrics” by Roger Harris.

Further reading

“Class 40s at Work” by John Vaughan, pub. 1983 by Ian Allan is the best all-round tribute to the Class, with excellent text and photographic content.

Also recommended are “Rail Portfolios 1 – The 40’s” by Murray Brown, pub. 1984 by Jane’s, “Power of the 40’s” and “Profile of the 40’s” by J.S. Whiteley/G.W. Morrison, pub. by OPC. All three are excellent photographic records.