Blog : Remembering the Westerns…

Ian Nicholls

D1028 Western Hussar at Dawlish

Killed before their time? A technological dead end? A waste of resources? I fully realise that in profiling the Class 52 AKA the Western diesel locomotive I may be opening a can of worms. So here goes…

When the Conservative Party returned to power in 1951 it realised there was no realistic prospect of returning the railways to the private sector, such was the maintenance arrears resulting from six years of war. However, they did decide to grant greater autonomy to the regions with consequences for future motive power policy.

The Western Region of British Railways was the state-owned descendant of the Great Western Railway – GWR – God’s Wonderful Railway. Whether it was justified or not, the GWR had a reputation for customer service. They had set the pace in steam locomotive development. In comparative trials in the 1920s, they had shown the LNER Pacifics a clean pair of heels and the LMS had poached William Stanier off them to revitalise their motive power. The new British Railways Standard steam locomotives coming into service were by and large evolutions of LMS design philosophy, itself derived from that of the GWR.

The GWR had also pioneered diesel railcars on branchlines. In terms of average speed, the GWR ran some of the fastest trains in Britain. The early British main line diesels, the LMR 10000, 10001 and the SR 10201,10202 and 10203 all used diesel electric transmission. However, the Western Region opted to use hydraulic transmission for their fleet of diesels.

The theoretical advantage of diesel-hydraulic was simple: it resulted in a lighter locomotive than equivalent diesel-electric transmission. This provided better power/weight ratio and decreased track wear. Unfortunately, it had two key disadvantages: the technology was proven in continental Europe, particularly Germany, but was new to Britain. At the time, it was considered politically unacceptable for the British Government to order railway rolling stock from foreign companies, especially German companies so soon after the Second World War. This resulted in most of the engines and transmissions being manufactured in the United Kingdom under licence from the German manufacturers.

The most robust hydraulic transmissions were only capable of handling engines with power output of around 1500 hp; to build a more powerful locomotive would involve two diesel engines and two transmissions. The first diesel-hydraulics locomotives were the North British-built D600 to D604, retrospectively known as the Class 41. Introduced in 1957, they were equipped with two 1000hp MAN V12 diesels, connected to a Voith transmission.

They were followed by the much lighter Class 42 in 1958, a 38-strong class which used twin Maybach engines, most licence built by Bristol-Siddeley, connected to Mekydro hydraulic transmissions. Then there was the similar looking Class 43, which used twin MAN engines and Voith transmissions – because they were named after Royal Navy vessels, the class became known as ‘Warships’.

With around 2200hp available and weighing less than 80 tons, these locomotives, seemed to prove the point about the superior power to weight ratio of the diesel hydraulic over the diesel electric. The 2000hp Class 40 diesel electric weighed in at 133 tons. However, the Western Region needed more power and this was to lead to the development of the ‘Westerns’.

Experience had shown that the Maybach engines were superior to the MAN engines used in the ‘Warships’, particularly in power output. Also Maybach were able to offer their 12 MD655 engines rated at 1350hp allied to a Voith L630RV transmission; a Mekydro transmission designed to handle such power could not be fitted into the British loading gauge.

The order for 74 locomotives was placed by the British Transport Commission in September 1959, just prior to the completion of the final design. The actual look of the locomotive was the work of Misha Black, one of the leaders of industrial design in Britain. Construction was divided between Swindon and Crewe. The first example was delivered in December 1961.

With 2700hp and weighing 108 tons, the new ‘Westerns’ were on paper the best Type 4 locomotive yet. The decision was taken to name all the locomotives, with the prefix ‘Western’, hence the popular name of the class. The first member of the class was painted Desert Sand, and other early examples in Brunswick Green. However, Western Region eventually settled on all-over maroon livery for the class, which distinguished them further from other classes and regions. They were certainly handsome locomotives.

While capable of 100mph, the official top speed was 90mph. Due to a mismatching between the engine and the Voith transmission, the locomotives found it very difficult to hit their top speed. The last locomotive, D1073 Western Bulwark, was built at Crewe in December 1963, but the sun was already setting on the diesel-hydraulic experiment. The Chairman of British Railways, Dr Richard Beeching, sent Gerry Fiennes, an ex-LNER and Eastern Region man, to run Western Region. Fiennes decided that the next batch of new diesels for the Western Region should have diesel-electric transmissions and ordered Brush Class 47s and English Electric Class 37s.

Although the ‘Westerns’ settled down to give sterling service over the next few years, the writing was on the wall. Later classified as the Class 52, they suffered their fair share of mechanical maladies, so did other locomotive types, regardless of their transmission type. Some rail observers calculated the best horsepower delivered by the ‘Westerns’ at the drawbar was in the region of 1500hp, something like 56 per cent efficiency through the hydraulic transmission compared with nearer 80 per cent with the diesel-electrics.

In a haulage comparison between the Class 52 ‘Westerns’ and other diesel-electric Type 4s, the Class 52 fared worse when pulling a load up a hill, despite it having nominally the best power-to-weight ratio and being more powerful than the ‘Peak’ Class 45/46s, which weighed in at 133 tons. That said, if the ‘Westerns’ were so bad, why did they continue on top link expresses?

As rail traffic collapsed in the aftermath of the Beeching Report and the onslaught of competition from road transport, British Rail found it had a surplus of diesel locomotives. It began weeding out the sub-standard types, a lot of them were diesel-electrics, and then looked at what it deemed were non-standard. The Western Region Diesel Hydraulics came into this category. The ‘Warships’ went in 1972, and the smaller Class 35 Hymeks went in 1975.

By this time the ‘Westerns’ had lost their distinctive maroon livery and were now painted Rail Blue with yellow ends. By now the Paddington to Bristol route was also facing competition from the new M4 motorway. In May 1974, London Midland Region at last completed the London to Glasgow electrification – it had only taken 15 years! This released 50 English Electric Class 50 diesel-electric locomotives for use on the Western Region. Since 1968 the Class 50s had hauled trains from Crewe, where the overhead wires ended, onto Glasgow. This 100mph design replaced the ‘Westerns’ on top link expresses. Class 52 withdrawals commenced as and when they came up for serious repairs, which were deemed to be uneconomical to proceed with.

The external condition of the locomotives declined as British Rail became reluctant to clean what was now a doomed fleet. In October 1976, the Class 50s were themselves displaced by the High Speed Train/InterCity 125, thus freeing them for other duties. This meant the end for the ‘Westerns’ and they had all been withdrawn by the end of February 1977.

The whole diesel hydraulic saga had lasted a mere 20 years, the locomotives having a working life half as long as the GWR Castle and King steam engines they replaced. In their later years, the ‘Westerns’ had been relegated to freight duties and they had a much higher tractive effort than the rival Class 47 diesel-electric. At the time of their withdrawal, British Rail were in the process of buying the Class 56 freight locomotive, initially built in Romania. It does invite the question: would it have not been more economical to keep the ‘Westerns’ in service and not have bothered with the Class 56?

So what are we to make of the Class 52 ‘Westerns’. Were they the folly of a British Railways region that arrogantly thought it knew better, or were they withdrawn far too soon by a management that did not appreciate them? Were they as bad as the critics made out? Even as they were being withdrawn they were developing a rail fan base, a tribute to Sir Misha Black’s design. Black himself died in October 1977, only months after the withdrawal of the last ‘Westerns’. The Misha Black Awards were created in his memory, in order to honour people and organisations involved in design education. The winner of the 1997 Misha Black Medal was none other than Alex Moulton, a well-known name here on AROnline.

And so to the pictures. First we have D1041 Western Prince at Paddington in its glorious maroon 1960s heyday. Many colour images of maroon ‘Westerns’ evoke idyllic 1960s holidays in the West Country, when the sun always shone. The traditional English seaside holiday was, like the ‘Westerns’, doomed, as cheap Spanish package holidays gained in popularity.

Then onto the later Rail Blue era. Here we have D1028 Western Hussar at Dawlish. I have chosen this image for the fine display of automobilia parked below, in particular that rather magnificent two-tone BMC 1800 Landcrab. I have never seen one in that livery before. The fact that there appears to be no spare parking spaces also, of course, illustrates how the car was rapidly becoming the preferred means of travelling to the seaside. On returning to a car left in the hot sunshine, the owner would discover that the Vynide seat covering was unpleasantly rather warm to the bare skin!

But I digress – if the ‘Westerns’ are to be considered a failure, then they were a glorious failure.

D1041 Western Prince at Paddington


Ian Nicholls
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  1. Regarding not bothering with the 56s – tbh the Class 9F steam locos – some of which were under ten years old when scrapped – should have been retained and used on the heavy coal and MGR traffic , they could easily have had a 40 year service life. Concentrated on one depot (Toton perhaps) with a specialist maintainance team and driver pool – they may have actually have earned some of the taxpayers money back that was wasted in their short life!

    • IIRC orignal plans were to phase out steam by 1980, so most 9Fs would have been 20-25 years old by then.

      BR would have still needed coal & water facilities wherever the 9Fs were expected to work to, along with sheds equipped for running repairs & turntables.

      I guess having to keep 3 types of motive power was too much for BR so the withdrawal of steam was speeded up, especially as a lot of steam infrastructure had been run down during WWII.

    • One major reason the Westerns were withdrawn was after managing to squeeze in the added brake equipment for Air braking as well as the original vacuum system there simply was no room for Electric Train Heating (ETH). Although they could have been kept for freight work. I worked for 18 years at Westinghouse brakes and repaired jobs for Foster Yeoman, they told me they wanted the Westerns kept for their workings didn’t get on with the 37s, 50s & 56s. That’s why they ordered their own engines from GM class 59s. By the way remember D 1010 was preserved by Foster Yeoman. It was this actual Loco that they sent a picture of to GM and asked the 59s to look like, that’s why they have 2 large windows and a pointed look similar to the Westerns (66s are nicknamed sheds because of this design)

  2. I presume the same issues with the Deltics were also the reasons the Westerns were withdrawn early rather than cascaded down to freight duties.

    • The Westerns, being diesel-hydraulic and lacking electricity generating machinery were incompatible with the electrical heating and air-conditioning systems of the modern Mk 2 coaching stock introduced all over the network

  3. There are a few westerns in preservation, if you are into that sort of thing the sound of those twin maybachs on song is just glorious.

  4. Interesting handsome locomotives, but they were the subject of a great deal of in-house politics and in-fighting from inception. From the autobiography of a Senior Chief Mechanical Engineer ( I think it was E.S.Cox or Robert Riddles), the Western Region pushed for them despite the reservations expressed by the British Transport Commission.
    The C.M.E, soon to retire, therefore an Observer to the proceedings, wrote that the British Transport Committee, already under formal notice of abolition, signed-off the Order, fully-aware it would be their successors problem. As the C.M.E. dryly remarked, the fate of the Westerns was sealed before the ink of the signatures had dried.

  5. The Western Region’s answer to the Deltic, but the writing was on the wall by the end of the sixties as WCML electrification was releasing more powerful class 50s and the early seventies saw the HST under development. However, the Westerns were a handsome locomtive, but sadly doomed after the first few years.

    • Class 50 was only delivered in 1968 as an interim measure to speed up West Coast services North of Crewe. Electrification was authorised and construction started in 1970, with WCML Anglo Scottish Services then being hauled North of Crewe by double headed 50s to provide incremental time improvements in anticipation of Electrification and to make up any time lost due to construction work. The 50s where cascaded to Western Region in 1974 upon completion of Electrification.

    • The West Coast LMR were only too glad to see the back of the Class 50 fleet,such were their many flaws and temperament. The Western Region inherited a detriment, the destruction of the Class 50 on the Great Western mainline service was discussed by Parliament!
      The level terrain of the Bristol = Paddington route suited the class 47 and their nominal 95 mph ceiling, “Nominal” as locomotive speedometers were viewed by “Nelsons right eye” unlike today where data logging technology records the Drivers every intake of breath. I recall some rather brisk rides behind 47s in the interlude between the demise of the Westerns and the arrival of the HST fleet

  6. Diesel-hydraulic locomotives may now be extinct from our railway system passed over in favour of Diesel-electric loco’s, but the irony is that as far as passenger services go, the diesel-electric locomotives and the carriages they hauled behind them have now been replaced by fast modern diesel multiple units. The transmission of choice for these trains….. hydraulic! Most all DMU’s are fitted with Voith turbo transmissions and are now regarded as standard equipment all over the network.

    The words p!ss ups and breweries can’t help springing to mind.


    • I have tried to be fair in the article to the Westerns, but I lack the in depth technical knowledge to comment on their performance.
      But if they couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding, why have operators like Colas hired preserved Westerns to haul freight trains?
      Also how much did the ego’s of senior BR engineers play a part? Riddles designed the BR standard steam locomotives even though his erstwhile employers, the LMS, were experimenting with diesel traction. Is there an Alec Issigonis syndrome? To get to the top in your chosen field you have to be arrogant, confident and single minded.

      • I think that a big thing in these sorts of decisions is that government funding often comes in lumps which don’t necessarily fit well with the timescales required to deliver things well – particularly infrastructure. As such, I think one of the reasons that there were so many modernisation era diesel classes is because it was much easier for the BR regions to deliver new locomotives than it was for them to deliver complex infrastructure like electrification. The sensible thing would have been to electrify the whole network and phase steam out over 30 odd years from 1955 – however, it probably became obvious pretty early in the delivery phase of the Modernisation Plan programme that this was going to be extremely difficult to do – so BRB was the faced with either admitting it couldn’t deliver its programme (with the risk that funding might be withdrawn by government, with the effect that the modernisation opportunity was lost) – or they could try and spend as much as possible on diesel locomotives and hope they delivered the same thing as electrification. The domestic industry didn’t have any firms large enough to meet this demand with a standard design in the time available – hence lots of designs ordered with the attendant problems of non-standardisation (although to be fair this was not uncommon with steam locos where there were numerous examples of classes of less than 50 locos with a specialised role). The current problems with Network Rail not being able to deliver all its electrification projects is just the same – the only difference being that the funding has only been made available to support those named projects and hence, as the projects are delayed, the funding is not available for alternatives (and one might argue the need to modernise the network is far less urgent than it was in the 50s/60s, anyway).

        • Dieselisation started off with a sensible policy of evaluation of various types, *The Pilot Scheme” but as the Railway Financial situation deteriorated, a turnaround mentality of money throwing on the “fire of modernization” took hold, that together with the demise of certain types of traffic left some of those locomotives without work, especially the type 1 and 2 classes off diesel.

        • Network Rail has lost the ability to manage, obvious benchmarks such as rate of sinking of piles, (the bases for the masts or portals to support the 25kV catenary) of the GW mainline project is a fraction of that achieved by the East Coast mainline team in the 1980s Hence costs go out of control

          • Network Rail isn’t given the funding to employ its own staff, hence we get contractors in. Contractors don’t get the same leeway/possession access/quality of staff so the rate of work ebbs away. It’s not a Network Rail problem, it’s a generic Britsh thing – this site is testament to that! Of course when contractors pile through a 650V cable and then swear they didn’t, doesn’t help. Ever seen 10 miles of PSB panel go blank with several trains still in section? It’s not what you want on a night shift!

      • The General Manager of the Western Region brought along his car industry experience to the railway, he was happy with fast-revving diesel engines such as the Maybach under his watch, as for their pulling power, their brutal 72,000 lbs tractive effort was almost 50% greater than a diesel-electric, the brutality of a Western buffering up to the coaching stock at Paddington or Penzance was often memorable.
        For freight train shunting, drivers would run a Western one engine for an easy life

  7. The reason as to why the Diesel-Hydraulics were better suited to freight workings than their Diesel-Electric counterparts is because they had a higher tractive effort rating from a standing start which is what you need for hauling heavy trains. The Westerns were rated at 297KN (max) as opposed to the Brush 4’s 245KN.(max)

    The thing to bear in mind is that Diesel Electrics are fitted with DC motors that have a continuous torque output whether pulling away from a standing start or at high speed. Diesel-Hydraulics however produce maximum effort at start and it decreases as the speed increases to about two thirds of maximum at high speed. Also you have to take into account that the axles on a Diesel Hydraulic are tied by cardan shafts, so for any wheelset within the 3 axle bogie to slip on a Western for example, they would all have to slip. Whereas the axles are independently powered on a Diesel-Electric, with one traction motor per axle, so getting the power down on to the track can be a lot harder on a wet or greasy rail.

    I remember at one of the Diesel galas we took the Hymek to being asked to assist a Deltic in front of the shed as it couldn’t get a purchase on the steep grade out of the yard on a very humid misty morning.

    I think your article is fair to be honest. Performance wise both types were adequate for the duties they performed, and both had their successes and failures. It would have been nice to see some of the less successful types avoid the cutters torch such as the ‘Baby Deltic’ (Class 23) and the ‘Baby Warship’ (Class 22), but at least most of the classes had at least one of their examples preserved.

  8. Tim
    You mentioned you had a Hymek, where are you based?
    Was it the blue Hymek at the NNR diesel gala at Sheringham.
    I notice the Class 158 DMU is a diesel hydraulic, but the transmision only has to deal with 400bhp.

  9. @Ian Nicholls

    Yes it is the one that was ‘on tour’ this summer. I’m not sure if any of the others are operable at the moment. I used to own D1041 Western Prince as well as D7076 but I sold the Western to the other members of the group that were maintaining our fleet of hydraulics at ELR Bury at the time. Locomotive ownership can be an expensive hobby for the individual, so it made sense to spread the financial load throughout the group so to speak. We are planning to set up a trust so as to guarantee the long term operating future of D1041, D832, D7076 and D9531 on the ELR.

    Your comment regarding the later generation hydraulics is correct they are smaller engines but the principle remains the same, it’s just that every other carriage is powered so you might have 2 four car sets in multiple with a combined power rating of 1600 hp. No locomotive weight to add in and modern lightweight carriage building makes them faster and more fuel efficient. You can drive it from either end and you can easily split it down to 2 four car sets both self powered for more flexible usage outside of rush hour demands.

    Locos for passenger workings are almost obsolete nowadays with both diesel and electric multiple units making for much easier and efficient methods of working particularly in and out of terminal stations.

  10. The class 158’s that operate between Norwich and Sheringham can wind up to speed far quicker than any steam loco could.

  11. In the top photo, I notice the Landcrab in a distinctive black and red colour. I doubt this was non standard on the range.

  12. Fast acceleration under load is possibly the main attribute of D/H over D/E transmissions in that it’s more tractable particularly for trains that do a lot of stopping. It was no surprise to me that when the first ‘Sprinter’ DMU’s came along journey times were noticeably improved for trains that had to service the intermediate stations. Since then they built Super Sprinters and then the Networker turbos that have revolutionised the services for local trains that can’t stay ‘under the wires’.

    All these technologies have their place in the evolution of a network of services and we have to accept that in a lot of respects it has gone through a similar period of change as has the motor industry. Heavy engineering is out for all but a few applications where it is necessary. People want efficient cheap to run lightweight motive power with all the on board comforts that are expected in this consumer driven society.

  13. @ Ian, the Landcrab seems to stand out as its colour is non standard. I wonder if this aggressive colour scheme means this model is either an 1800 S or a 2200, which were both powerful cars for their day, and not the sluggish single carb model.

  14. A couple of extra things to add to the piece.

    Owing to the symmetrical layout of the Western, the engine/ transmission units were mounted around the opposite way with the transmissions closest to the cab. When the locomotive was moving forward the rear most transmission nearest to the train was actually running in reverse, as it was mounted around the other way to the leading transmission which was of course going forward.

    The Western had a complex and cramped engine room layout with precious little space for equipment. The lack of space for an alternator to provide electrical power for heating meant that it was never fitted, although, where there’s a will there’s a way. Indeed, some fuel/ water capacity was lost when air brakes were fitted, in order to accommodate the compressors and reservoirs.

    The demise of the hydraulics on the Western Region was the first nail in the coffin of the GWR works at Swindon. The works was geared up for the hydraulics locomotives and on their withdrawal, lost much of its work. The replacement diesel electrics were maintained off the region at Crewe and Doncaster, so after spending its final years refurbishing multiple units, BREL Swindon finally closed in 1986.

  15. @ Alasdair, you spell your first name the same way as the Director General of the BBC 30 years ago, Alasdair Milne.
    However, Swindon now is far better known for producing Honda cars. At one time they also produced Garrard turntables, which were fitted to most British music centres in the seventies, but Japanese competition forced them out of business.

  16. Recall visiting Swindon works in September 1974 where several were being scrapped and it was a free for all “if you could remove it you could have it”, I came away with a numbered head code roll and “danger overhead live wires” plastic sign from the front of 1018 Western Buccaneer?.

    • The Hymek I bought was the last D/H sold for preservation by BR. The only reason was that it had been in departmental use and consequently had lain derelict for several years. Whilst carrying out the restoration a guy who had attended that same event in Swindon donated a complete driver’s chair that he had removed from a hymek cab and carried out of the works on his shoulder.

      I remarked whilst accepting the chair that it was lucky he’d travelled to the event by car, as they are surprisingly heavy items, to which he replied that he hadn’t, he’d carried it to the station and took it back on the train with him. He said that he didn’t half get some funny looks from the staff on the stations on the way as he had to change trains twice with it on his shoulder. Now that’s dedication for you!

    • I suppose I could Ian, however other than the fact that they were built by Beyer-Peacock, the story would be much the same as the ‘Westerns’. The only thing that could be worth mentioning is that like the Westerns they also didn’t have electric train heating generated fitted in them. As was the case with the Westerns they were fitted with steam heat equipment as when they were built they were intended to take over from steam locomotives.

      The reason they didn’t last as long as the Westerns was because on top of the train heat issue they weren’t retro fitted with air braking equipment so they wouldn’t be able to haul the Mark 2 air brake fitted carriages. The air pipes you see dangling either side of the buffers on them are for control air only, so as two can run in multiple with only one driver controlling both loco’s. A bit of a ‘double whammy. for them there.

      Many diesel electrics including Class 47’s were supplied without air brakes and electric train heating too, as steam loco’s have vacuum brakes but the decision had already been made and BR didn’t have money to waste on retro fitting upgrades on locomotives that weren’t expected to be needed by the mid 70’s.

    • The Grumbling single-engine Hymeks were the most succesfull of the Western Region Hydraulic fleet, and were very dashing in their two-tone green livery

  17. I did get confusing that some locos were retrofitted with air brakes & electric heating, & some rolling stock was dual heated too.

  18. Interesting suggestion for keeping the Western rather than the ‘designed by comittee’ Class 56- in essence, a Class 50 power unit in a Class 47 body.

    Would Westerns be heavy enough to have used their starting torque to good enough effect- one theoretical advantage (as a freight loco) that the 56 had was its weight to hopefully lend adhesion. If the Western had been retained instead of building the 56, it could have had very far-reaching ramifications- as possibly it would not have prompted Foster Yeoman to take the highly unprecidented and, no doubt extremely expensive, step of commissioning an entirely new build Class 59- which even though it used existing GM technology, would no doubt had caused a lot of headaches in the GM engineering office. And no Class 59 would have meant no Class 66.

    • After the Westerns had been demoted from express passenger duties by the class 50’s, they were often seen working Foster Yeoman trains in the mid 70’s. However, by this time around half of the class had all ready been withdrawn and a policy of no major overhaul or heavy repair works being undertaken on the class had been in place for several years and was now starting to bite. There was no interest by BR management in keeping a small number of non-standard locomotives on as the works facilities had already been removed so as to provide the space required to undertake heavy repairs on the diesel electric fleet that had replaced them.

      It was really only the limited resources of the depot fitters that kept them going as long as they did. Once the ‘no overhaul’ policy had been implemented, any of the hydraulics that had a failure that was beyond the scope of a depot to repair were shunted into the scrap line. There they provided a source of parts for the depot fitters for ‘running repairs’. No ‘works’ visits were allowed, so as a consequence no heavy repairs were undertaken.

      As I understand it the 59 was seen as the answer to the Class 56’s poor availability and not so impressive performance for a heavy freight loco, but nationalised industries rarely learn much anything from their mistakes. Buying in tried and tested design technology from foreign suppliers would appear to have been inevitable eventually.


      • Thanks for your reply, Tim. Although I grew up in Bath, I was too young to recognise a Western when they were still in service, yet I probably both saw and rode behind them on occasions.

        No idea they propelled stone trains- seems almost absurd to think of the lightweight and very elegant (surely the most handsome of all British diesels) hauling a rake of what would then have been 4-wheeled stone wagons.

        Still, even if superior to the 56- I doubt whether they could have realistically compete with a 59- especially with the longer and much heavier bogied stone wagons in use more recently- so their demise would probably have come about by now. Perhaps they might have handed over their duties to the Class 60 or similar. Of course- the 60 only came about because of dissatisfaction with the 56 and 58s- so the 60 may not have even materialised in the form that it took.

    • Wheelslip was always the bug bear of D/E heavy freight designs (particularly under damp/greasy rail conditions), and continued to be so until the introduction of micro-processor axle power control which came as standard with the later American designed units. If you check out the Wiki Class 58 entry it actually mentions an experimental wheelslip prevention system that was tested on the prototype 58 but removed before entering service.

      It also says…. “Despite claims made at the time, their performance was actually inferior to Class 56s on many types of freight train due to their increased tendency to wheelslip, largely as a result of bogie design.” Notice it says ‘increased’ tendency to wheelslip. All the earlier D/E designs had a tendency for it, it’s just that some were better than others.

      Theoretical power outputs are all very well but if you can’t get it down on to the rail as tractive effort under load, then it becomes irrelevant. The ability to achieve this was inherent within the design of the D/H’s final drive unit that transmits power to all the axles on the bogie, in effect ‘tieing’ all the wheelsets together.

      No doubt this is a concept that Land Rover owners are already familiar with when they are called upon for maximum tractive effort under poor ground conditions.


  19. The Western Region certainly was interesting, having unique locomotves and colour schemes, then pioneering high speed rail in this country on the GWML. Interestingly until the Heathrow line was electrified in the early nineties, the Western Region was the only region to be fully diesel, and even now the former region only has a minimal amount of electrification.

  20. I believe I spy a two tone black over red Landcrab? Did the Tardis have a senior moment? It looks like the two tone style that was done in Australia so it might be a special order factory job.
    Slightly different from my version – an Ivory/BRG done in a similar way to the two tone Rootes cars, the bootlid/drip channel trim strip is the colour change point. Don’t talk to me about 9 coats of Rustoleum.

  21. I’m not even a proper rail enthusiast, my late father was, but even I thought retaining such a powerful diesel for freight duties instead of shelling out money on the 56 made sense.

    Even if it was like Red Rum pulling Steptoe’s rag&bone cart it would have saved loads of dosh.
    I’m sure the sizeable cult following the beautiful Westerns attracted wouldn’t have minded too much..better than condemned for scrap..great article, I’m not technically minded but I understood the just of the westerns my favourite diesel, so sad, like a pop star that had an early demise yet their appeal grows stronger with the passing of time.

  22. There is one thing that GWR, the current franchise for the West, does differently and very well to other franchises is offering a restaurant car on its services to Penzance and Swansea, something that has been done away with by the bean counters on other franchises. For £25, passengers in first class, and standard class if there are seats available, can have a very nice two course meal served on real plates with cutlery with a selection of wines. This must be one of the few rail related things on Trip Advisor that is rated good to excellent.

  23. Vernon,

    Thanks for the comment, I heard Foster Yeoman were having problems with Class 56s being unreliable, & the shed profile came about to fit in the British loading gauge.

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