The British Rail Class 47 is a class of British railway diesel-electric locomotive that was developed in the 1960s by Brush Traction. 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 mainline diesel locomotive.
They were fitted with the Sulzer 12LDA28C twin-bank twelve-cylinder unit producing 2,750 bhp (2,050 kW) - though this was later derated to 2,580 bhp (1,920 kW) to improve reliability - and have been used on both passenger and freight trains on Britain's railways for over 50 years. Despite the introduction of more modern types of traction, a significant number are still in use, both on the mainline and on heritage railways. As of October 2016, 81 locomotives still exist as Class 47s, with further examples having been converted to other classes; 30 retain "operational status" on the mainline.
The Class 47 history begins in the early 1960s with the stated aim of the British Transport Commission (BTC) to remove steam locomotives from British Rail by a target date of 1968. It therefore required a large build of lightweight Type 4 locomotives to achieve this aim. This required locomotives producing at least 2,500 bhp (1,900 kW) but with an axle load of no more than 19 long tons (19 t). However, the BTC was not convinced that the future of diesel traction lay down the hydraulic transmission path of the Western Region, and began looking at various diesel-electric designs.
Despite the construction of two demonstration locomotives (D0260 Lion, produced by AEI and BRC&W using a Sulzer engine, and D0280 Falcon, built by Brush Traction using Maybach engines), the need for a large number of locomotives quickly was deemed paramount, and the pilot build of what would become Class 47 began before the prototypes could be comprehensively assessed. This initial build of 20 locomotives (Nos. D1500 to D1519) were mechanically different from the remainder of the type, and would be withdrawn earlier. However, based on these and the success of LION, an order for 270 locomotives was made, which was later revised upwards a number of times to reach the final total of 512. Five locomotives, Nos. D1702 to D1706, were fitted with a Sulzer V12 12LVA24 power unit and classified as Class 48s; the experiment was not deemed a success, and they were later converted to standard 47s.
Eventually, 310 locomotives were constructed by Brush in Loughborough, and the remaining 202 at BR's Crewe Works. The first 500 locomotives were numbered sequentially from D1500 to D1999, with the remaining twelve being numbered from D1100 to D1111. The locomotives went to work on passenger and freight duties on all regions of British Rail. Large numbers went to replace steam locomotives, especially on express passenger duties.
The locomotives, bar a batch of 81 built for freight duties, were all fitted with steam heating boilers for train heat duties. The initial batch of twenty, plus D1960 and D1961, were also fitted with electric train heating (ETH). With this type of heating becoming standard, a further large number of locomotives were later fitted with this equipment.
In the mid 1960s, it was decided to de-rate the engine output of the fleet from 2,750 bhp (2,050 kW) to 2,580 bhp (1,920 kW), significantly improving reliability by reducing stresses on the power plant, whilst not causing a noticeable reduction in performance.
In the early 1970s, the fleet was renumbered into the 47xxx series to conform with the computerised TOPS systems. This enabled a number of easily recognisable sub-classes to be created, depending on the differing equipment fitted. The original series were based on train heating capability and were as follows;
- Class 47/0: Locomotives with steam heating equipment.
- Class 47/3: Locomotives with no train heating.
- Class 47/4: Locomotives with dual or electric train heating.
However, this numbering system was later disrupted as locomotives were fitted with extra equipment and were renumbered into other sub-classes. For an overview of the renumbering see the Class 47 renumbering page. This section summarises the main sub-classes that were created.
Class 47/0 No. 47 293 with a relief passenger train at York station
Originally TOPS numbered from 47 001 to 47 298, these locomotives were the "basic" Class 47 with steam heating equipment fitted. In the 1970s and 1980s, with steam heating of trains gradually being phased out, all locomotives fitted with the equipment gradually had their steam heating boilers removed. Some were fitted with ETH and became 47/4s, whilst the others remained with no train heating capability and were therefore used mainly on freight work. In the 1990s, the class designation 47/2 was applied to some class 47/0s and class 47/3s after they were fitted with multiple working equipment. The locomotives involved also had their vacuum braking systems removed or isolated, leaving them air braked only. This was mainly a paper exercise, however, and the locomotives were not renumbered; in this article they are included in Class 47/0.
Originally TOPS numbered from 47 301 to 47 381, this sub-class was originally built with no train heating equipment and therefore remained as freight locomotives almost exclusively for their working lives. They were all fitted with slow speed control for working MGR coal trains (as were a number of Class 47/0s). However, during the summer months when train heat was not required, 47/3s could regularly be found hauling the extra trains that the holiday season brought. The sub-type remained stable until withdrawals started, although an "extra" 47/3, No.47 300, was created in 1992 when No.47 468 had its train heating equipment removed and was renumbered. This was a direct replacement for collision damaged 47 343. Also, No.47 364 was renumbered to 47 981 in 1993 for use on RTC test trains.
The designation for standard locomotives fitted with ETH and therefore used for passenger, mail and parcels use. 133 locomotives had been fitted by the time renumbering occurred, and shortly afterwards the sub-class had settled down to 154 locomotives, numbered 47 401-47 547 and 47 549-47 555. Later, further class 47/0s were converted to class 47/4s and renumbered into the series from 47 556 onwards, which eventually reached 47 665.
Class 47/6 and Class 47/9
After being severely damaged in a derailment near Peterborough in 1974, locomotive 47 046 was selected to be a testbed for the projected Class 56, and was fitted with a 16-cylinder Ruston 16RK3CT engine rated at 3,250 bhp (2,420 kW) for assessment purposes. To identify it as unique, it was renumbered 47 601 (at the time the number range for Class 47s only extended as far as 47 555). Later, in 1979, it was used again for the Class 58 project, fitted with a 12-cylinder Ruston engine (this time of 3,300 bhp (2,500 kW)), and renumbered 47 901. It continued with this non-standard engine fitted until its withdrawal in 1990.
British Rail Class 47 47 707 with a Glasgow–Edinburgh shuttle at Haymarket in 1982.
In the late 1970s, BR authorities identified a need to replace the ageing trains operating the Glasgow to Edinburgh shuttle services, in order to increase speed and reliability. The trains were operated by pairs of Class 27s, one at each end of this train. It was decided to convert twelve 47/4s to operate the service in push-pull mode. The locomotives would be known as Class 47/7 and would be fitted with TDM push-pull equipment and long-range fuel tanks, and be maintained to operate at 100 mph (160 km/h). The conversions began in 1979 and the service was operated completely by them from 1980. In 1985, the push-pull service spread to Glasgow-Aberdeen services, and a further four locomotives were converted. The sub-class therefore comprised Nos. 47 701 to 47 716, though a further locomotive, 47 717, was converted in 1988 after the fire-damaged 47 713 was withdrawn.
Class 47/7b and 47/7c
In the 1990s, further 47/4s were converted with long-range fuel tanks and equipment to allow them to work with a type of rolling stock known as propelling control vehicles-PCV, which utilised RCH (Railway Clearing House) cables to allow the PCV driver to signal to the driver on the locomotive to apply power and operate the brakes - neither these locomotives or the PCVs were equipped with TDM push-pull equipment. They were also numbered into the 47/7 series, from 47 721 onwards. With dwindling passenger work for them, a number of 47/8s, already fitted with the extra fuel tanks, were also renumbered into this series.
Two locomotives, 47 798 Prince William and 47 799 Prince Henry, were dedicated for use on the Royal Train, and were designated as Class 47/7c. The two locomotives were replaced by a pair of Class 67 locomotives in 2004, and were subsequently withdrawn for preservation.
Class 47/4 (47 8xx series)
The last of the original 47/4 conversions, from 47 650 to 47 665, were fitted with extra fuel tanks, giving them an extended range. Four earlier Class 47/4s were also converted. In 1989 it was decided to give these locomotives easy recognisability, and so these locomotives were renumbered into their own series from 47 801 to 47 820. At the same time, further locomotives were fitted with extra fuel tanks and renumbered; the series eventually reached 47 854. After the privatisation of British Rail, the locomotives in the 47/8 number range were mainly used by Virgin CrossCountry on cross-country work until the introduction of their Voyager trains. These duties have kept them maintained in serviceable condition, allowing them to remain operational longer than the majority of their classmates. As a consequence most of them received relatively recent overhauls. The locomotives in this number range are officially Class 47/4s under the TOPS system.
By 1986, only five of the original 512 locomotives had been withdrawn from service, all because of serious accident damage. However, with work for the class declining due to the introduction of new rolling stock, and spare parts becoming difficult to source, some inroads started being made.
The first locomotives to be targeted were the non-standard pilot batch of 20, now numbered 47 401-47 420. Three locomotives were withdrawn as life-expired in February 1986, and the remainder of the batch that had not recently been overhauled followed in the next two years. All 20 were withdrawn by 1992.
Meanwhile, BR drew up a 'hit-list' of locomotives for early withdrawal, mainly including those with non-standard electrical equipment, known as series parallel locomotives. In the outset, withdrawals were slow, mainly due to the surplus of spare parts and new flows of freight traffic which required extra locomotives; only 61 locomotives had been withdrawn by the end of 1992. However, with the introduction of new locomotives, the rate of withdrawal quickly rose, with 86 more 47s reaching the end of their lives in the next three years. With most of the non-standard locomotives withdrawn, the reduction of the fleet again proceeded more slowly. The privatisation of British Rail also produced new independent rail companies needing available traction until they could order new locomotives. From 1996 to 2006, an average of around fifteen locomotives per year were taken out of service.
During the decline in passenger work a number of locomotives were painted in "celebrity" colours, depicting various liveries that the type had carried during its history. This continued a tradition of painting 47s in unusual liveries, which dates back to 1977, when Stratford depot in East London painted two locomotives with huge Union Flags to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
Current mainline operation
In 2017, after over 55 years of front line passenger and freight operations, 30 locomotives retain operational status on the National network. The following is a list of companies currently operating Class 47s.
- West Coast Railways is primarily a charter train operator, and expanded its fleet by overhauling withdrawn locomotives. Its twelve locomotives currently operational are 47237, 47245, 47746, 47760, 47772, 47786, 47802, 47804, 47826, 47832, 47851 and 47854.
- Vintage Trains own 47773 as a preserved locomotive maintained to mainline standards based at Tyseley. This loco is in BR Green livery.
- Rail Operations Group is a new rolling stock provider; locomotives currently operational are 47812, 47813, 47815, 47843, 47847 and 47848.
- Locomotive Services Limited owns the former Crewe Diesel Depot and they own 47501, 47790, 47805 and 47841. They also purchased derelict 47811 and 47816 from Freightliner Group as a source of spare parts.
- Arlington Fleet Services based at Eastleigh own 47810 and 47818 generally used for shunting on site.
- GB Railfreight operates a small fleet of three locomotives. These are 47727, 47739, 47749, and are to be used on Caledonian Sleeper duties. These locomotives were formerly with Colas Rail, for duties hauling its track maintenance trains and occasional steel traffic, and had been hired to GBRf prior to transferring.
- Freightliner, a freight company, operate 47830 (D1645), which was named Beeching's Legacy on 12 November 2015 to mark 50 years since the first container train ran under British Rail. The naming ceremony was held at the National Railway Museum at York, with the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin in attendance.
- A number of other locomotives are stored in a serviceable condition by these and other operators (currently, 47 501 and 47 701 fall into this category). Both these and some preserved locomotives that are maintained to mainline standards (such as "Royal Train" locomotive 47 798, along with 47 270, 47 580, 47 715 and 47 773) may appear on the network at any time.
- 19 further locomotives, owned by various companies, remain in non-operational "stored" condition. As of October 2016 these are 47 194, 47 236, 47 355, 47 368, 47 488, 47 492, 47 500, 47 526, 47 703, 47 714, 47 744, 47 761, 47 768, 47 769, 47 776, 47 787, 47 811 and 47 816. Some are used for spares, some are awaiting scrapping and the rest are pending repairs to enable them to return to the main line.
Other working locomotives
Preserved D1661 'North Star' at Washford on the West Somerset Railway
Class 47s have proved very popular with preservationists and private railways, and 32 are currently in preservation, with the majority in working order. A full list can be found at list of preserved British Rail Class 47 locomotives.
Thirty-three locomotives were rebuilt with EMD engines and re-classified as Class 57s. Freightliner took 12, Virgin Trains 16 and First Great Western five. Today these are owned by Direct Rail Services (22), Great Western Railway (four) and West Coast Railway Company (eight, including the prototype passenger class 57, 57 601).
- 11 January 1965: D1734 was severely damaged after the freight train it was hauling ran out of control near Shrewsbury, eventually demolishing a signal box. It was withdrawn two months later, becoming the first Class 47 withdrawn after a working life of only eight months.
- 17 December 1965: D1671 THOR was derailed near Bridgend whilst hauling a train of empty coaches. Shortly afterwards, a freight train collided heavily with the wreckage, killing the drivers of both locomotives. D1671 was withdrawn some four months later. Its nameplates were salvaged, and transferred to No. D1677.
- 8 April 1969: D1908 was badly damaged when, while hauling a freight train at Monmore Green, it was struck head-on by a passenger train that had passed a signal at danger. D1908 caught fire after the accident and became the third Class 47 withdrawn.
- 13 March 1971: D1562 was wrecked after its power unit, which had been experimentally uprated, exploded at Haughley Junction while the locomotive was hauling a Liverpool Street to Norwich express.
- 11 June 1972: D1630 was involved in the Eltham Well Hall rail crash in which six people were killed. The locomotive was repaired, but much later in its life when numbered 47 849, it was withdrawn from the Class 57 rebuilding programme after damage was discovered which was thought to have dated back to the accident.
- 25 August 1974: 47 236 was hauling a passenger train that passed a signal at danger and was derailed at Dorchester West. Eighteen people were injured.
- 16 March 1976: 47 274 collided with a lorry that had fallen from a bridge onto the line near Eastriggs. The drivers of both the train and the lorry were killed.
- 5 September 1977: 47 402 was hauling a mail train when it was in a head-on collision with a diesel multiple unit at Farnley Junction, Leeds, West Yorkshire due to a signalling fault. Two people were killed and fifteen were injured.
- 22 October 1979: 47 208 became the fifth Class 47 to be withdrawn after suffering severe damage in a fatal accident at Invergowrie in Scotland. 47 208 was hauling a Glasgow to Aberdeen service which collided with a local train which had stopped in front.
- 9 December 1983: 47 299 (formerly 47 216) was involved in a serious accident at Wrawby Junction in Lincolnshire, when whilst hauling an oil train, the locomotive collided with a local train resulting in the death of a passenger. It later emerged that the locomotive's renumbering was allegedly due to a warning given to BR by a clairvoyant who claimed to have foreseen a serious accident involving a locomotive numbered "47216".
- 30 July 1984: 47 707 Holyrood was propelling the 17:30 express from Edinburgh to Glasgow from the rear, when the train collided with a cow near Polmont and was derailed, resulting in 13 deaths. The accident raised serious concerns about the safety of push-pull operation where the locomotive was at the rear of the train.
- 20 December 1984: Summit Tunnel fire: Locomotive 47 125 was hauling a freight train of petrol tankers which derailed and caught fire in Summit Tunnel, on the Lancashire/West Yorkshire border.
- 18 January 1986: Locomotive No. 47 111 was run into by a Class 104 diesel multiple unit which had a brake failure and had passed three signals at danger at Preston. Forty-four people were injured.
- 9 March 1986: Locomotive No. 47 334 was one of two light engines that were hit head-on by a passenger train at Chinley, Derbyshire due to a signalman's error. One person was killed. Lack of training and a power cut were contributory factors.
- 20 February 1987: 47 089 Amazon was hauling a freight train that ran away and was derailed by trap points at North Junction, Chinley, Derbyshire. Another train ran into the wreckage and was derailed.
- 24 March 1987: 47 202 was hauling a freight train that overran signals and was in a head-on collision with a passenger train (hauled by 33 032) at Frome North Junction, Somerset. Fifteen people were injured, some seriously.
Gallery of liveries
Between 1963 and 1966 ten locomotives similar to the British Rail Class 47 were supplied to Ferrocarriles de Cuba (Cuban National Railways).
References and sources
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