Well, by popular demand I seem to have been cajoled into paying tribute to Britain’s long-lasting diesel locomotive fleet. Next up, then, is the English Electric Type 3, later known as the Class 37.
Being born in Flitwick, Bedfordshire, on the Midland Main Line, the Class 37 was never a part of my formative years, as the London Midland Region of British Rail did not employ them. However, I did see them at Harwich Parkston Quay when I ventured into Eastern Region territory. I did get the Tri-ang Hornby model of a Class 37 at Christmas 1976, and not only do I still have it, it also still goes.
The Class 37 has had an even longer career than the Brush Class 47, but because it was more of a mixed traffic locomotive and less powerful, it never hauled the crack expresses. The locomotive was a product of the English Electric company, which in the 1950s was riding high. During World War II, English Electric had built Handley Page Halifax bombers under licence at their Warton plant.
After the war, English Electric decided to move into the aviation business proper. Their Warton design offices produced the Canberra bomber, at one time the highest flying operational aircraft in the world, and followed this with the awesome Mach 2 Lightning, a Bunsen burner with wings.
When the Macmillan Government bludgeoned various aircraft manufacturers to merge into the British Aircraft Corporation to develop the ill-fated TSR2, it was the Warton team that took the design lead. Warton was also where the later Tornado and Typhoon were developed. From nowhere, English Electric had become technological pacesetters.
British Railways, as part of its modernisation plan, had decided to categorise its new diesel fleet by power output. Type 4 diesels like the later Brush Class 47 were 2000bhp and above. However, a need was identified for a number of Type 3 locomotives of power output 1500hp to 2000hp. English Electric was already building a 2000hp Type 4 locomotive for BR, later known as the Class 40, and were also exporting locomotives to Africa.
However, the Class 40 was overweight at 133 tons and, after a short period hauling the prestige expresses, was relegated to secondary work as more efficient engines like the Class 47 became available. English Electric did not make the same mistake with the Class 37. Powered by a 1750hp English Electric 12CSVT diesel engine and weighing 100 tons, the Class 37 was an efficient piece of kit. With a high power to weight ratio, it was ideal for routes inhibited by weight restrictions.
The first English Electric Type 3 was delivered in November 1960 and 309 were built, the last example entering service in November 1965. English Electric split the construction between their Vulcan Foundry at Newton-le-Willows and Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns of Darlington. With the passing of time, the English Electric Type 3 was re-designated the Class 37, and changed liveries from green to Rail Blue with yellow ends. In the 1980s, the class was refurbished to extend its life and, in the post-privatisation era, wore the liveries of EWS, Colas and DRS.
With the withdrawal of most of the smaller types of diesel locomotive, this left the Class 37s as the only main line type available in significant numbers for lines with weight restrictions – for a number of years, they handled almost all locomotive-hauled services on the West Highland Line, the lines north of Inverness and in parts of Wales. The Class 37 has Route Availability 5 and this is one of the main reasons they are still in use on Britain’s rail network.
And now the pictures. Here is D6722, which entered service in July 1961, in green at Liverpool Street in the 1960s. And here is the very same locomotive, now renumbered 37608 and in DRS livery, in May 2015. A remarkable testament to British engineering…
So let’s hear it for the Class 37, may it go on forever!
Latest posts by Ian Nicholls (see all)
- History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Two : May to October 1968 - 13 February 2020
- Essay : Austin Maestro styling – the real killer - 6 January 2020
- Opinion : How British Leyland shaped modern Britain - 17 December 2019