Diesel traction on British Railways is 60 years old.
Over the weekend 21-22 April 2018 The Weardale Railway held it's 'Class 31 Gala' celebrating 60 years of diesel traction.
The Class 31's originally known as Brush Type 2's, first entered service on BR Eastern Region in 1957 as one of the pilot diesel locomotives designed to replace steam traction.
Built at the Brush 'Falcon' factory in Loughborough between 1957 - 1962, originally powered by a 1250hp Mirrlees engine, but replaced in 1964 by an English Electric 1470hp Engine as fitted to the class 37.
A total of 263 locomotives were built and used extensively throughout the UK until as recently as 2008, originally used on passenger and freight trains eventually giving way to HS125, DMU and EMU passenger trains, and as they became older use was limited to smaller train operating companies as well as Network Rail for test trains.
There are around 26 Locomotives currently in preservation and around 10 others saved and robbed for spare parts before being scrapped. 31106 owned by Howard Johnston was bought as scrap and has been restored to running order and now has it's original name 'Spalding Town', This locomotive will now reside at The Wearedale Railway.
The Class 31 gala at The Weardale Railway was attended by 5 running class 31's 31190, 31285, 31459, 31106 and 31465 and several non running 'spares'. It was also the first occasion that trains were able to travel the full length of the line into Bishop Auckland for almost 5 years.
The other early diesel to enter service was the Class 20, originally known as English Electric Type 1's. This was a lower powered locomotive of only 1000HP and is unusual amongst main line British Locomotives as it has only a single driving cab at one end. In service these Locomotives were usually seen operating in pairs and were used mainly for freight traffic and the occasional excursion train namely 'The Jolly Fisherman' summer service to Skegness.
Most of the 228 locomotives have been withdrawn from service but a few remain with DRS and HNRC. Around 22 locomotives have been preserved including the first produced D8000 which is part of the National Railway Collection, Three of the preserved locomotives are Mainline operational.
One major drawback with early diesel locomotives was that they were much lighter than a steam locomotive of comparable tractive effort, which meant that they could haul a heavy goods train but had difficulty stopping a train of wagons not fitted with train brakes (as a lot were in the 1960's). Some trains in the North of England were used with 'Brake Tenders', these were low wagons made from old coach bogies filled with scrap steel, sometimes pushed in front of the locomotive, sometimes between the loco and the wagons to provide additional braking force.
As modern wagons came into service with fully fitted brakes, the use of brake tenders had died out by the 1980's and all were scrapped. The only one now in existence is a unit built recently by the Great Central Railway in Loughborough, for demonstration purposes.
My father who was a driver at Colwick in Nottingham kept a note book which he recorded useful information, in this book he has details of some train brake loading trials he was involved with starting in November 1964.
The Locomotive used for the trials was D5655 later renumbered to 31229, he was to act as second man to Driver J. West. The trial was on the steep inclines of the Woolsthorpe, Denton and Harlaxton branch lines in North Leicestershire.
These trials led to a new method of load reckoning because Diesel traction was more susceptible to overloading and had less efficient brakes than steam locos so a new calculation of BWUs (Basic Wagon Units) was introduced which also took into account of how full the wagons were loaded.
This note book is now held in the National Railway Museum at York and is part of the national collection.