The steam locomotives of British Railways were used by British Railways over the period 1948–1968. The vast majority of these were inherited from its four constituent companies, the "Big Four".

In addition, BR built 2537 steam locomotives in the period 1948–1960, 1538 to pre-nationalisation designs and 999 to its own standard designs. These locomotives had short working lives, some as little as five years, because of the decision to end the use of steam traction by 1968, against a design life of over 30 years and a theoretical final withdrawal date of between 1990 and 2000.


British Railways was created on 1 January 1948 principally by the merger of the "Big Four" grouped railway companies: the Great Western Railway (GWR), the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the Southern Railway (SR). It inherited a wide legacy of locomotives and rolling stock, much of which needed replacing due to the ravages of World War II.

Locomotives inherited from constituent companies

A wide variety of locomotives was acquired from the four major constituent companies. These had generally standardised their own designs. See:

In addition, a handful of locomotives were inherited from minor constituents.

The 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials compared locomotives from each company against each other.


After initially using letter prefixes (E for ex-LNER, M for ex-LMS, S for ex-SR, and W for ex-GWR locomotives, as used for other inherited rolling stock), a numbering scheme was decided on in March 1948. Generally ex-GWR locomotives retained their numbers (and hence were able to retain their cast brass number plates) and it was decided to add 30000 to the Southern numbers, 40000 to the LMS numbers and 60000 to the LNER numbers. There were some exceptions though.

BR adopted a slightly modified version of the LMS classification system, itself based on the Midland Railway's system. Each locomotive class was given a number 0–9 that signified its power, 0 for the least powerful and 9 for the most, with a suffix of F or P, indicating freight and passenger roles respectively. Freight power ranged from 0–9, passenger from 0–8. Many locomotives were used for both roles, in which case they were given two class numbers, the P-rating first e.g. 3P4F or 6P5F. A slight change from the LMS system saw those where the freight classification (x) equalled the passenger classification (also x) reclassified as xMT, MT standing for mixed traffic, e.g. for the LMS Black Five locomotives, LMS 5P5F became BR 5MT. Mixed traffic locos had power in the range of classes 2–6.

Locomotives acquired from the War Department

In addition to the inherited and new-build locomotives, B.R. also purchased 620 locomotives of three types from the War Department. These had been in use on railways in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe during the Second World War. For two of these types, B.R. was adding to two classes it already had. B.R. had inherited 556 ex-LMS Stanier Class 8F 2-8-0s, and added 39 in 1949 and an additional three in 1957, bringing the class total to 666. Additionally, it had acquired 200 ex-LNER Class O7 2-8-0s of the WD Austerity 2-8-0 type, to which it added another 553 examples. The ex-LNER locomotives were later renumbered from the ex-LNER 6xxxx series into the BR series as 90533–732. The third type, of which it had no other examples, were the 25 of the WD Austerity 2-10-0s. Of the eight WD ex-LMS Fowler Class 3F 0-6-0Ts exported to France, the five survivors were repatriated in 1948, and resumed their original numbers in the sequence of LMS Fowler Class 3F locomotives (albeit with the additional 40000 that identified ex-LMS locomotives under BR ownership). The ex-WD Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0STs were ex-LNER Class J94 locomotives and are included in the total of LNER locomotives inherited.

BR Class
WD type
Number acquired
Dates acquired
Power class
Wheel arrangement
47589/607/11/59/60 ex-LMS Fowler Class 3F WD ex-LMS Fowler Class 3F 5 1948 3F 0600T0-6-0T
48012 etc., 48773–5 BR Stanier Class 8F WD / LMS Stanier Class 8F 42 1949, 1957 8F 08202-8-0
90000–552 BR ex-WD Austerity 2-8-0 WD Austerity 2-8-0 553 1948 8F 08202-8-0 Plus another 180 examples of LNER Class O7, later renumbered 90553–732
90750–74 BR ex-WD Austerity 2-10-0 WD Austerity 2-10-0 25 1948 8F 10202-10-0

Locomotives built by BR to Big Four designs

Initially, the newly nationalised network continued to be run as four different concerns, and pursued the policy of building of well-established designs. Some of these were already quite old, one class (the J72 tank engines) being a pre-Grouping design.

GWR designs

Great Western management was opposed to nationalisation and built many pannier tanks, resulting in a surplus of them. 452 locomotives were built to ex-GWR designs, of which 341 were pannier tanks.

Class Numbers Power
1500 1500–9 4F 0-6-0PT 10 1949
1600 1600–69 2F 0-6-0PT 70 1949–51, 1954
9400 3400–9, 8400–99, 9410–99 4F 0-6-0PT 200 1949–56
2251 3218–9 3MT 0-6-0 2 1948
5101 4160–79 4MT 2-6-2T 20 1948–9
5700 6760–79, 9662–82 3F 0-6-0PT 41 1948–50
6959 "Modified Hall" 6981–99, 7900–29 5MT 4-6-0 49 1948–50
4073 "Castle" 7008–37 7P 4-6-0 30 1948–50
7400 7430–49 2F 0-6-0PT 20 1948, 1950
7800 "Manor" 7820–9 5MT 4-6-0 10 1950
Total 452 1948–56

SR designs

The SR designs built by BR included 50 Bulleid Pacifics. Many of these were later rebuilt in an un-streamlined form. BR also completed and steamed one of the experimental SR Leader class, but did not take it into stock, and cancelled the remaining orders in various states of completeness.

Class Numbers Power
West Country/Battle of Britain 34071–110 7P5F 4-6-2 40 1948–51
Merchant Navy 35021–30 8P 4-6-2 10 1948–9
Total 50 1948–51

LMS designs

640 locomotives were built to LMS designs. They were built at various BR works, not just at the ex-LMS works at Crewe, Derby and Horwich. Many of the later BR standard designs were based on the LMS designs.

Class Numbers Power
Ivatt 2MT 2-6-2T 41210–329 2MT 0622T2-6-2T 120 1948–52
Fairburn Tank 42050–186, 42190–9 4MT 0624T2-6-4T 147 1948–51
Ivatt 4MT 43003–161 4MT 06202-6-0 159 1948–52
Stanier "Black Five" 44658–757 5MT 06404-6-0 100 1948–51
Stanier "Duchess" 46257 8P 4-6-2 1 1948
Ivatt 2MT 2-6-0 46420–527 2MT 06202-6-0 108 1948–53
Kitson saddle tank 47005–9 0F 0400ST0-4-0ST 5 1953–4
Total 640 1948–54

LNER designs

BR-built LNER Thompson Class B1 61306 at Leeds City in 1966 or 1967.

BR built 396 locomotives to LNER designs. The J72 Class was a North Eastern Railway design, dating from 1898.

Power classification
Wheel arrangement
Number built
Dates built
A1Peppercorn A1 60114–62 8P6F 06424-6-2 49 1948–49
A2Peppercorn A2 60526–39 8P7F 06424-6-2 14 1948
B1Thompson B1 61273–409 5MT 06404-6-0 136 1948–52
J72J72 69001–28 2F 0600T0-6-0T 28 1949–51
K1Thompson/Peppercorn K1 62001–70 6MT 06202-6-0 70 1949–50
L1Thompson L1 67702–800 4MT 0624T2-6-4T 99 1948–50
Total 396 1948–52

BR 'Standard' classes

Preserved Standard Class 5MT 73096 at Virginia Water, in preservation
Preserved 7MT 70013 Oliver Cromwell approaching Weybourne on the North Norfolk Railway on 11 March 2010.

From 1951, BR started to build steam locomotives to its own standard designs, which were largely based on LMS practice but incorporating ideas and modifications from the other constituent companies and America. Their design was overseen by Robert Riddles.

Characteristic features were taper boilers, high running plates, two cylinders and streamlined cabs.

Although more were ordered, 999 BR "Standards" were constructed: the last, 92220 Evening Star, was built in 1960. Most never achieved their potential service life and were withdrawn in working order.

Riddles put his case for continuing to build steam locos in his presidential address to the Institution of Locomotive Engineers in November 1950. He compared capital costs to show that steam was cheaper than the alternatives, though he didn't mention productivity differences, except to say fuel costs did not rank very high relative to total costs. For example, a Class 5 cost £16,000, compared to £78,100 for a 1,600 h. p. diesel, £138,700 for a gas turbine, or £37,400 for electric. He calculated the costs per drawbar horse power as £13 6s (steam), £65 (diesel), £69 7s (turbine) and £17 13s (electric).[5] Riddles retired in 1953.

Class Numbers Power
RA Tenders types
Class 7 (Britannia) 70000–054 7P6F 06424-6-2 55 1951–54 8 BR1, BR1A, BR1D
Class 8 (Duke of Gloucester) 71000 8P 06424-6-2 1 1954 8 BR1E until 1957, BR1J thereafter
Class 6 (Clan) 72000–009 6P5F 06424-6-2 10 1952 8 BR1
Class 5 73000–171 5MT 06404-6-0 172 1951–57 7 BR1, BR1B, BR1C, BR1F, BR1G, BR1H
Class 4 4-6-0 75000–079 4MT 06404-6-0 80 1951–57 4 BR2, BR2A
Class 4 2-6-0 76000–114 4MT 06202-6-0 115 1952–57 4 BR2, BR2A, BR1B
Class 3 77000–019 3MT 06202-6-0 20 1953 4 BR2A
Class 2 78000–064 2MT 06202-6-0 65 1952–56 3 BR3
Class 4 Tank 80000–154 4MT 0624T2-6-4T 155 1951–57 5
Class 3 Tank 82000–044 3MT 0622T2-6-2T 45 1951–53 4
Class 2 Tank 84000–029 2MT 0622T2-6-2T 30 1953–57 3
Class 9F 92000–250 9F 10202-10-0 251 1954–60 9 BR1B, BR1C, BD1F, BR1G
Total 999 1951–60

The tenders used with the Standard locomotives were also new designs. There were different types were due to different coal-to-water ratios, weight restrictions and later improved designs.

(long tons)
RA Used with Classes Notes
BR1 100 1951–53 7 4250 8, 7, 6
BR1A 5 1952 7 5000 7
BR1B 114 1955–57 7 4725 5, 4 (4-6-0), 4 (2-6-0), 9F
BR1C 123 1954–58 9 4725 5, 7
BR1D 10 1954 9 4725 7
BR1E 1 1954 10 4725 8 Rebuilt to BR1C in 1958
BR1F 95 1954–58 7 5625 5, 9F
BR1G 61 1954–60 7 5000 5, 9F
BR1H 12 1954 7 4250 5
BR1J 1 1958 10 4325 8
BR1K 3 1958 9 4325 9F Fitted with mechanical stokers. Rebuilt to BR1C in 1961
BR2 95 1951–54 6 3500 4 (4-6-0), 4 (2-6-0)
BR2A 88 1954–57 6 3500 4 (4-6-0), 4 (2-6-0), 3
BR3 65 1952–56 4 3000 2
Total 773


Initially, BR decided upon blue for the largest passenger types, with GWR-style Brunswick green for passenger locomotives, and LNWR-style lined black for mixed-traffic locomotives. The blue however was quickly dropped and passenger livery for all locomotive classes reverted to green. Towards the end locomotives tended to be painted in lesser liveries, and often this was covered in a layer of grime.[6]

Two logos (or crests) were used during the period. The first logo (1948–1956) was the "Lion and Wheel" (sometimes nicknamed the "Cycling Lion"), showing a lion standing over a spoked wheel upon which the words "British Railways" were displayed.[7] The second logo (1956–1965) featured a lion holding a wheel (which gave rise to the nickname "ferret and dartboard"), sitting in a crown, with the words "British" and "Railways" to left and right. (Passenger stock and certain diesel locomotives used a roundel variant, where the words "British Railways" were in a ring surrounding the crest.)[8] From 1965, the BR Corporate Image and "Double Arrow" logo was adopted, but this logo was not applied to steam locomotives (except on the Vale of Rheidol line).


The 1955 Modernisation Plan called for the phasing out of steam traction. Major withdrawals occurred during 1962–1966, and steam traction ended in August 1968, coinciding with the Beeching Axe.

Some tank engines were sold to London Transport, where steam traction remained in use until 1971. Steam on industrial lines remained until the 1980s.

With regular maintenance, British steam locomotives typically lasted for approximately 30 years of intensive use, before major components would need to be replaced or overhauled. For a steam locomotive built in 1960, the economic lifespan would have led to it being withdrawn in the 1990s.

Vale of Rheidol finale

The locomotives of the Vale of Rheidol Railway, from the 2 ft narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway (VoR) in Mid-Wales, had been inherited with the rest of the GWR stock in 1948. BR however continued to use steam locomotives on the line as a commercial heritage railway. This situation continued until 1989 when the line was privatised, and steam continued. These engines were the only steam locomotives to receive Rail Blue livery.


Withdrawn locomotives were sent for scrap to various locations around the country, to scrap metal merchants who had been approved to bid on the contracts. Most locomotives from the former Great Western Railway were either scrapped at Swindon railway works, or sent to Woodham Brothers scrapyard in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales, which became a centre for the railway preservation movement.

Former main line locomotives, along with various smaller industrial shunters, form the backbone of steam motive power for heritage railways. Main line running on charter trains is possible and they run under TOPS code as Class 98.

Some of these "heritage" lines are remote and cut off from the national rail network, serving obscure or deserted destinations and running primarily as a tourist attraction. Others, especially those connected to the National Rail network or situated in more populous areas are often used by members of the local community for general public transport, or by ordinary rail travellers.[citation needed] To cater for this local traffic, some steam lines offer heritage diesel or steam "push-pull" services out of season.

Preserved Locos

A Total of over 40 BR Standard Locos are Preserved.

  • Class 9F/2-10-0 - 9
  • Class 8 (Duke) - 1
  • Class 7 (Britannia) - 2
  • Class 5/5MT - 5
  • Class 4/4-6-0 - 6
  • Class 4/2-6-0 - 4
  • Class 4 Tank - 15
  • Class 2/2-6-0 - 3 (was 4)

In addition to the preserved BR Standard locomotives, three new-build projects are underway.

On the Bluebell Railway, Barry scrapyard-condition 2MT 2-6-0 No.78059 is being used as the basis for a new built 2MT 2-6-2T, to be numbered 84030. Three other members of this class of loco survive in preservation. None of the 78xxx class were ever allocated to, or regularly worked on the Southern Region, so the decision was taken to convert this locomotive to the tank engine (2-6-2T) version, of which none now exist.[9]

The 82045 Steam Locomotive Trust is part way through building a brand new example of the 3MT tank engine, currently under construction at Bridgnorth on the Severn Valley Railway. [10]

The 'Clan' Project is constructing a new-build 6MT 4-6-2, to be numbered No.72010. Following the naming sequence planned by British Railways before the cancellation of the second batch of Clan class locomotives, the loco will be named Hengist. Final assembly of the locomotive is aimed to be completed at the Great Central Railway prior to career on both the mainline and heritage railways. [11]

See also

For a list of Diesel and Electric locomotives of British Railways:


  1. ^ See Patrick Whitehouse and David St John Thomas Great Western Railway: 150 Glorious Years ISBN 0-7153-8763-4
  2. ^ See Patrick Whitehouse and David St John Thomas SR 150: A Century and a Half of the Southern Railway ISBN 0-7153-1376-2
  3. ^ See Patrick Whitehouse and David St John Thomas LMS 150 The London Midland and Scottish Railway - A Century and a Half of Progress ISBN 0-7153-1378-9
  4. ^ See Patrick Whitehouse and David St John Thomas LNER 150: The London and North Eastern - A Century and a Half of Progress ISBN 0-7153-1381-9
  5. ^ Railway Magazine January 1951 pp. 60-61 Standardisation and Comparative Costs of Motive Power on B.R.
  6. ^ Brian Haresnape Railway Liveries. BR Steam 1948-1968
  7. ^ Photo of early British Railways logoin the form of an enamel badge
  8. ^ Photo of later British Railways logoin the form of an enamel badge
  9. ^ "Bluebell Railway Locomotives - 84030". www.bluebell-railway.co.uk. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  10. ^ paulb64_at_gmail.com, Paul Bennett:. "The 82045 Steam Locomotive Trust : Help build the next BR Class 3MT tank loco". www.82045.org.uk. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  11. ^ "THE 'CLAN' PROJECT - Home". www.theclanproject.org. Retrieved 2017-12-04. 

Further reading