Blog : Let’s hear it for the Class 47…

Ian Nicholls


Continuing the rail-related theme here on AROnline, I get the impression that both Editor Keith Adams and Mike Humble are big HST/InterCity 125 fans – perhaps they had the Hornby model as kids? However, I think the Brush Type 4 or Class 47 is a more remarkable locomotive. Introduced in 1962, some 30 are still in service in 2015, an amazing 53 years later. The HST has only put in a mere 39 years service!

Probably everybody reading this has seen a Class 47, but didn’t know what they were looking at. The Class 47 was a workhorse that lacked the glamour of the steam locomotives they replaced and the high speed cache of the later HST, Eurostars and Pendolinos. They were everywhere on Britain’s railway network.

The Brush Type 4 was a second-generation diesel electric locomotive. The early designs like the English Electric Class 40 and the Sulzer Class 44/45/46 were 133-ton behemoths. The Class 47 were lighter and fitted with the Sulzer 12LDA28-C twin-bank twelve-cylinder unit producing 2750hp. A total of 512 Class 47s were built at Crewe Works and Brush’s Falcon Works, Loughborough between 1962 and 1968, which made them the most numerous class of British main line diesel locomotive.

D1670 Mammouth Old Oak Common August 1967


47813-Photo0008 (1)

With their 95mph maximum speed, they were soon chosen as British Rail’s standard Type 4 diesel locomotive. They were the anodyne, bland diesels so detested by diehard steam enthusiasts. Most of them were just numbers, but some eventually received names, some more than one. 47337 was named Herbert Austin on 24 April 1986 by Austin Rover boss Harold Musgrove, the name later being transferred to 47209. Serious withdrawals of the class did not begin until the 1990s as age took its toll, but it is still in service, just.

But what about some pictures? The locomotives first appeared in green, so here is an image of D1670 ‘Mammoth’ (above). This loco might be familiar to some as it was the subject of a 1970s/’80s Hornby model. The same locomotive now 47085, is seen in Rail Blue at Ipswich in 1980.

Finally, two more images: D1720 (top), seen here in green was delivered to traffic in March 1964. Here it is as 47813 at Norwich station in May 2015, a full 51 years later. So let’s hear it for the Class 47, the greatest piece of British engineering you have never heard of.

47085 AKA D1670 Mammouth at Ipswich June 1980


Ian Nicholls
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  1. How about the class 37, an even older workhorse which is still in use now? On the Cumbrian Coast Line, these 55 year old locomotives haul Carlisle to Barrow trains and have a distinctive engine note you can’t miss. Also they are the mainstay of Sellafield’s freight services and are popular for hauling charter trains.

  2. For my sins I was a spotter in the early 70s when many of these were still in their attractive two tone green albeit usually filthy dirty. Biggest buzz was being allowed to drive Isambard Kingdom Brunel a short distance at Reading! Wonderful noise on acceleration or when working hard. Many had names such as Vulcan, Thor Amazon and George Jackson Churchward…those were the days.

      • Yes checking my Ian Allan combine 1974 I saw and coloured in[yellow felt pen] all the “namer” Brush 4s
        including the one off variant 1200 Falcon!.

        • Falcon had the appearance of a 47, but internally very different, Falcon had two Maybach engines and electric transmission (from Brush). Falcon was really a diesel-electric version of the hydraulically driven Western not a 47

  3. What magnificent pieces of kit, dating from an era when we could design and build such machines with ease. Good looking in a bland-ish sort of way, there were (are!) the ultimate multi-tasker: freight, passenger, you name it.

    Let’s not forget the 47-derived Class 57s; if you include these, plus plenty in preservation, there must be 90-odd examples in usable condition in the UK.

    • The BR diesel fleet was not very good on an international scale, The USA had mastered diesel traction but were not interested in BR requirements, Politics reared its head in that “buy British” or “manufacture in Britain” overode quality and fitness for purpose considerations, witness the poor quality German MAN diesels engines built by North British under a license, and the Western region hydraulic fleets, again, engines and transmissions built under license in British workshops rather than imported from their suppliers

      • I never knew the US “mastered” anything to do with rail traffic ( or road either for that matter ) . They do have very long freight trains, but passenger services have all but disappeared, and those that I have been on would have been faster if hauled by Stephenson’s Rocket !

        • The USA were far more of a force in rail traction than we blinkered Brits realise, think of the BigBoy and the Challenger steam locos, the experimental Turbines, essentially a coal or oil fired electricity generating station on rails. Even Gresley took inspiration from the USA for his pacifics, Also look at the products of French Chapelon etc , the de Glenn compounds bought by the GWR for evaluation, ” machining to the tolerance of a watch”.

          The USA had 10 to 15 years of diesel fleet construction and operational knowledge by the time BR had the cash for diesel fleets.
          The modern railway, the ubiquitous USA class 66 everywhere

          • The Guinness Book of Railways (at least the edition I have form about 1992) mentions that a lot of railway technology was pioneered by the Americans, certainly a lot to do with long distance travel & mass haulage.

            Coming back to the 47 Brush made some similar locos for export for Cuba.

        • To be fair, whereas the UK railway is a passenger railway with some freight trains, in the US it’s a freight railway with (outside the big cities) a small number of passenger services!
          Freight locos are very much their speciality

          • That is the changing face of Railway, recall that Railways were invented to carry freight and freight dominated until the 1920s ( the decades of the General Strike and the Depression ) and that passenger traffic was an important second in many parts of the country. The USA had fast heavy very long distance passenger trains, lost to air travel. Passenger traffic on ex BR is now the primary function, it is said taht the recent downturn in coal haulage means there is less coal being carried on out network than the era of the 1850s

  4. If only the prototype EE DP2 had been ordered in fleet quantities, without the major interference to the design between testing and ordering, The interference produced the temperamental class 50 fleet. The 47 fleet had a high rate of serious engine and generator failures required a major bhp derating of the 47 engines, leaving substantially less pull at the coupling hook than envisaged. On east coast express passenger duties the 47 cost more to maintain than even the highly stressed Deltic locomotives

  5. @ Ian Nicholls, this class of locomotive really deserve a mention as they’re still going strong now.
    However, the mighty Deltic surely deserves an article.

    • Deltic most certainly does–when a lad I used to go down to Lime Street, Liverpool just to watch the blue Deltic prototype hauling huge lengths of coaches out of the station and up the slope towards Edge Hill on their way to London. They were mighty in the task –and never required the “pusher” that the steamers did!

    • Forty years ago the Deltic era ended on 31st December 1981, the date of the final public service passenger workings of the class

  6. Love the ‘Brush’ type 4 feature.
    Nice to know there’s lots of classic car enthusiasts,that enjoy British diesel/electric locomotives as well.
    A feature on either the Class 50 ‘hoover’ locos,or the ‘big daddy’ of classic diesel machines,the type 5 ‘Deltics’ would be good.
    Have many happy memories watching these fantastic engines,blasting up/down the east coast main line at Ranskill in 1978.
    55 001 ‘St Paddy’ RIP.

  7. Great Article,

    My personal favourite was the Class 40 – I live close to a depot that had lots of them around in the 80’s. Sometimes, I’m sure I can still hear the “whistling” of English Electric in the dead of night 🙂

    But the class 47 has to be the best all round loco (in my opinion)
    with the 37’s a close second.
    But there were so many other examples of great design and engineering..

    Sadly, it’s all gone to sh*t… thanks to so called progress…

    • Class 40s claim to fame [or notoriety] was the loco involved in the 1963 Great Train Robbery, usually portrayed accurately in films or dramas.

  8. Not my favourite class (I’m a huge fan of almost anything English Electric), yet a worthy topic.

    The 47 later donated some of it’s body shells to the Class 57, which were re-engined (and substantially re-engineered in other areas) using rebuilt GM diesels, although they never fulfilled their promise in terms of reliability. The basic shell design was also used for the Class 56, early ones shoddily built in Romania, which was a heavy freight loco using a modified Class 50 engine. Not particularly successful, but used because it was the best BR had at the time, but replaced with North American Class 66s after privatisation.

    Many old locos are still rattling around, quite a few brought out of retirement due to shortages of newer locos as demand continues to boom. Not helped by the increasingly strict emissions requirements, which mean that brand new diesels are almost impossible to source for the time being.

  9. Time for the bronline web site? Anyway you are all thinking too big, what about the humble class 08 shunter, first ones built at the dawn of the diesels in 1952. Built to replace steam shunters and still doing the same task 60 years later. Nobody has come up with a better replacement. Even had a GTI version (09) with an awe inspiring 27.5 mph from its mid mounted 6 cylinder English Electric engine.

  10. The interior of the cab of 47813 at Norwich station was like the inside of a battleship. No digital displays there. The driver was well under 40, which made the loco older than he was.
    47813 was named John Peel for all of 4 years.

  11. If you go to

    Hopefully you will find a marvellous 1978 BBC documentary called
    Seven Twelve : Ex Yarmouth

    It traces the journey of a Class 47 hauled train all the way from Gt Yarmouth to Liverpool Street via Norwich. See if you can spot animal impersonator Percy Edwards getting on at Ipswich!

  12. I do remember seeing plenty of Class 47s in the early nineties in Inter City livery around Coventry as they hauled trains that required a traction change at Birmingham New St to work on services on the non electrified line south of Coventry. Also in the eighties they used to haul boat trains to Stranraer and were used on London- Holyhead services.

  13. A good looking but flawed class. The problems with the engines led to them being de-rated in the mid-60s to 2,600hp which is why they are numbered lower under the 1968 TOPS system than the 2700hp Class 50s and Class 52s (Western). There were French diesel-electrics built around the same time (A1AA1A 68500 class) that used the V form of the Sulzer engine which were also in five of the Brush type 4s (and the Cuban export machines) which were given the Class 48 designation, but the engines were replaced with the standard versions before the TOPS numbers were applied.
    Of course, if you want a real Brush powerhouse you’ve got to look at the Class 60s which seem to be rising phoenix-like at present.

    • The class 60 is known for alist engine problems including cylinder liners, pistons, timing chains camshafts and cylinder heads, leading to an early demise at little more than 20 yeas of service

  14. Lets not forget the Western region Warship class of the 1960/s early 70s based on a German design with a Maybach/Siddeley engine all named but very few survive?.

  15. Thanks for this excellent and well-rounded article, Ian (thanks also to “mm” and Bernard Taylor for your interesting contributions).
    It’s refreshingly wonderful to see this article on our superlative AROnLine pages.
    Like Darren, I’m a huge and incurable 40 (Inghie 4) fan and, although admittedly not loving the Brush 4 for its looks (like I love Peaks and Inghie 4s), I’ve always had an unswerving respect for these “standard” workhorses, ever since I was just a bairn (in the NW // the Greater Manchester region).
    I also consider it was a ‘nice touch’ that the basic 47 construction was later to be used as donor loco for the fleet of heroic Thunderbird (national-)Rescue locos.

  16. They were downtuned to 2580hp pretty much straight after delivery and proved themselves largely reliable from then onwards. They were the most successful ‘standard’ design of mainline engines by a long chalk, and for a long time were so ubiquitous that very few parts of the network weren’t regularly visited by them. (Weight restrictions kept them off the West Highland and Far North lines in Scotland, and also away from the Cambrian coast in Wales.) They earned the not-particularly affectionate nickname of “Duffs”, not quite sure why, and when young haulage bashers (different from train spotting, don’t make that mistake!) were waiting for some favoured and rare machine you would often hear an audible groan as a ’47’ hoved into view on the front of whatever their desired engine had been meant to be hauling: “bowled by a Duff, again!”

    The 47’s bodyshell was also the basis for both the later Class 50 (which moved its headcode box up to the cab roof) and later still the freight-only Class 56; the nickname for the re-engined GM-powered class 57s, which used donor 47s, is “bodysnatcher.”

    Very few are still in regular use; they tend to be used for stock location, railtours etc – that said, if you’re in central Glasgow of an evening then you’ll find that 47847 has been leased to haul the empty stock of the Caledonian Sleeper between Polmaldie and Central station. Turn up at 11:30 and you’ll find it sitting against the buffers with making its completely distinctive “tonk tonk” idling sound while a space aged class 92 sits at the other end for the run south. One to trigger guaranteed nostalgia among those old enough to have worn anoraks in the 1970s and 80s!

  17. @Bernard Taylor – if the 47s were flawed I’d hate to see your definition of a successful class! By the 1980s they had the highest utilisation of any main-line diesel, and survived true front-line service longer than anything else. When Virgin took over the Cross Country franchise the long-range 47/8s were still being used and they were routinely thrashed to within an inch of their lives trying to keep out of the way of faster stuff. I remember timing mileposts between Didcot and Reading on one and finding we were doing 102mph! Of course, as soon as the horrible vibrating plastic Voyagers arrived in 2003 I lost interest…

    • They were flawed in as much as they were meant to be a 2750hp machine, derating was a way round the problem but it meant they were less powerful than had been intended. Indeed if this hadn’t happened the Class 50s may have never been built, not that they were without their own faults.
      Successful class? How about the Class 87s? Electric, I know, but they did seem to actually successfully build on the experience of the earlier classes without opening any significant new cans of worms.

      • Absolutely right. British Rail considered them a technical disaster. The Swiss designed, Barrow built Sulzer engines blew themselves to bits until being derated from 2750 to 2580 horsepower. They have remained in service so long because they there were the most prolific of the modernisation plan diesels, BR had no funds to replace them and the privatised railway took their time investing in replacements. The 30 still in service are with the small specialist operators like DRS, used mainly on charter trains. They are hardly still a mainstay.

  18. @ Davey G, they must have been completely thrashed by the time Virgin stopped using them on cross country trains. Remember even after HSTs were introduced in the early 80s, they were still used on services from Birmingham to the south coast( where a traction change was required)into the 21st century and prior to that were used on routes such as London- holyhead and the dieselised part of the European from Preston to Harwich.

  19. 47’s also had the nick-name spoon from the sound of the horns.

    There have been some good nicknames for locos & other aspects of railways over the years.

  20. On the Cumbrian Coast Line, in the seventies and eighties, the 47 was the principal freight locomotive, hauling coal trains, Marchon chemical wagons, Sellafield flasks and steel ingots. I think as it was one of the most powerful locomotives of the time, it was more suited to this heavy freight work, although Class 40s and 37s were used as well.
    The 40 at the time was used more for Barrow- Manchester trains and charter trains as these didn’t require particularly powerful locomotives( the Manchester run was only five coaches) and a the Cumbrian Coast Line was never known for being fast.

  21. The downrating really was not as much of an issue as some people were suggesting, indeed even at 2580bhp the 47s were always among the most powerful passenger diesel-electric locomotives in any region they worked in. There were only 50 class 50s remember, and they were always confined to limited use pools (WCML north of Crewe and then later the Western Region.) Yes, the Deltics were more powerful and quicker – but there were only 22 of them! The 47s were the only class that could keep even close to Deltic timing on limited stop ECML workings.

  22. Some survive now on the WCML as Class 57s, which are used to haul broken down Pendolinos and have been totally reengineered for this work, giving them the nickname of Zombies as only the shell is original.

  23. I spent too many hours sitting behind failed 47s in the 80s and early 90s to really appreciate them. Class 50s were probably even more troublesome, but more exciting with their warship names and thunderous noise at full speed.

    • The Class 50s were even more unreliable before they had their mid life refurbishment that stripped out the troublesome features. Ironically one thing removed was the slow speed control system, which might have given them a few more years in service on freight workings, especially merry go round trains. One was trialled as a freight loco in the late 1980s but it was decided it wasn’t worth converted them all, probably due to the amount of 47s available.

  24. The class 47 was the locomotive which satisfied most parties, a configuration of a single diesel engine and not two expensive engines, (the Westerns). The class 40 was heavy and under-powered , the Peak a step-up in power 2300/2500 bhp but still too heavy requiring 8-axles, the 47 had the desired horse power riding upon 6-axles, recalling that BR cancelled the final batch of Peaks allocated the series to numbers D199, diverting the equipment to build class 47s.
    My regret is too many Class 25 locos, BRC&W withdrew from locomotive manufacture to become a Finance Company, the BRC&W classes 26 and 27 were more than a match for the 25

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