Blog : Let’s hear it for the Class 37…

Ian Nicholls

D6722 AKA 37608 at London Liverpool Street mid 60's.

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!

37608 AKA D6722 in May 2015

Ian Nicholls
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  1. Best place to see them now is on the Cumbrian Coast Line where they haul Barrow- Carlisle services and DRS freight trains for Sellafield. They really are an impressive sight compared with the Sprinters that are used on the line and can be heard half a mile away.

  2. I saw one only last week going across Southend High Street on the c2c line. The contractor for the MOD still uses them to do their weekly delivery to the QinetiQ depot at the Shoebury Firing Ranges.

    • Dave H, that one you saw last week was on NR rail measurement duties (1Q head code) I know because I signalled it on the c2c! I dread the measurement trains (NR yellow peril fleet) because of the speed restrictions imposed the day after they have run.

      Terrible bloody view from inside the cab of a 37′ however!

  3. In an era when “EE” just represents just another mobile phone network to younger people, it’s magnificent to see another example of solid British engineering standing the test of time.

    Tipped off by the “real time trains” website, I watched a pair of them putter-putter past me only last week, hauling the usual nuclear flask or two up from Dungeness. Living almost lineside and – better still – at a point where the driver can open up the throttle, I always take pleasure in inhaling a lungful of 1960s ‘full fat’ diesel fumes – none of these 21st century ‘skimmed’ fumes, thank you very much.

    The 37s share this duty with the unique-looking class 20s; now there’s a loco…

  4. I’ve worked on the railway for over 30 years, starting at Thornaby in the north east. I now live in Norfolk working for DRS.
    Although I’m long term sick at present, when I am at work I drive a lot of the same loco’s we had up north and I travel to work in the same kind of vehicles I had up north, my BR maestro van ,metro turbo and when it’s back on the road maestro EFi
    37401 has been painted in 1980s large logo blue, hopefully will get some pictures of it posed with my van.
    Give me a 37 any day over a GM 66

  5. Although I’m a big fan of all the early diesels, I think it’s worth mentioning that although the diesel hydraulics were withdrawn relatively early in their career, they are the only type that had connections with the British automotive industry. The Maybach engines that were fitted in the ‘Western’, ‘Warship’ and ‘Hymek’ locomotives were built under licence by Bristol Siddeley, the parent company of the Bristol car company before it was sold off in the early 60’s.

    Reliability of the hydraulic fleet was an issue when they first entered service as there was a shortage of fitters with the expertise needed to look after what was a highly stressed, high revving engine that had a much higher power to weight ratio than the English Electric and Sulzer equivalents. Once this problem had been resolved they settled down to give good reliability and excellent performance, although notably heavier on fuel consumption, particularly when left idleing between workings.

    The reason they were scrapped was mainly due to the inability to find crews familiar with them outside of the Western Region and the general surplus of locomotives on the network. Diesel hydraulics that strayed too far North or East were quickly despatched on a return working at the first opportunity, as there was no engineering support for them either.

    I believe that the one thing BR had in common with BL is that although there were many successes as well as failures, the lack of direction and future planning caused by incessant interference from politicians resulted in a major waste of their assets and resources.

  6. One problem BR had with the early diesels & electrics was too often ordering too many different classes off the drawing board rather than trying out with prototypes to get all the bugs out.

    Some classes ended up being withdrawn as “non-standard” even before the end of steam.

  7. I have always regarded the 37s as being accidental heroes, they were fundamentally a freight design that suffered the same fate as many others as traffic levels fell between the 1960s and 1980s. It was only then that they started to move towards passenger use, because they had lower axle loadings than some of the early Type 2s that were then being retired. By the 1980s they were the only mid-powered passenger design still working other than the distinctly less brawny ’31s’ and ’33s’, and as a result tended to be on more minor lines, like the Cardiff-Manchester workings. When locos and stock were reintroduced to some Manchester – Blackpool/ Barrow/ Southport workings in the late 1980s most were hauled by a motley collection of electric-heat 31/4s and 37/4s. The 37s were considerably quicker, but I was a passenger one day when a class 45/1 (!) was substituted on the Blackpool turn and we had to wait time for five minutes at Preston (previous stop Chorley) because we’d beaten the timings by so much. I knew a Regional Railways driver who was a bit of a thrash merchant, he had the white socks and everything, who said that 37s were good up to about 60mph and then they just hit a wall! He also treated me to a cab ride in one once from Bolton to Manchester Victoria and I was genuinely amazed how little I could see through the tiny windows and over the long bonnet compared to a flat-front engine. It was like trying to drive your car while sitting in the boot!

    • The view out of them isn’t too bad,but as time goes by more stuff seems to get put in front of the centre screen the GSMR cab radio being the latest. The good thing about the 37s nose is that it does give you a certain amount of protection if you hit something.
      If you want to see a driving position where actually seeing anything seems to have been a the bottom of the requirements list, try no1 desk on a class 20

  8. We called them “Ingys” in the early 1970s but apparently they are known as “Thumpers” now?.I saw one a couple of weeks ago behind a south coast steam excursion giving either a hand pushing or braking?.

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