Class 57s

Any busi­ness that can’t af­ford new kit looks at sec­ond-hand or re­con­di­tion­ing as­sets, and that was the case when a fledgling Freight­liner started op­er­a­tions fol­low­ing a man­age­ment buy­out. En­ter the Class 57. PIP DUNN looks back at their 20 years of ser­vic

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

They were only ever in­tended as a stop­gap, but the Class 57s helped Freight­liner grow its busi­ness and still have a role to play.

It’s now been two decades since the first Class 57 broke cover, although the truth is the first lo­co­mo­tive didn’t ac­tu­ally look very new! That’s be­cause a Class 57 is a Class 47 bodyshell and bo­gies with a com­pletely new in­ter­nal driv­e­train - a re­con­di­tioned Gen­eral Mo­tors 645-12E3 en­gine cou­pled to a Brush BA1101A main al­ter­na­tor as used in a Class 56.

The con­cept of reengi­neer­ing Class 47s was mooted by Rail­freight Dis­tri­bu­tion in the early 1990s, but the start of the planned pri­vati­sa­tion of the rail­ways around the same time put the idea on the back­burner.

Of the six freight com­pa­nies sold in the mid-1990s, five went to Wis­con­sin Cen­tral. The other, Freight­liner, was a man­age­ment buy­out (the deal was signed off on May 25 1996).

Freight­liner in­her­ited a mixed bag of 40 well-worked Class 47s - some stored, oth­ers very high on en­gine hours. Over the next two years, aided by EWS run­ning down its fleet, Freight­liner ac­quired 26 ad­di­tional sec­ond­hand Class 47s. Again, some were stored and were only used for spare parts.

The high en­gine hours of many of the lo­co­mo­tives meant that ‘47s’ were only ever go­ing to be a stop-gap so­lu­tion to both run­ning and grow­ing the busi­ness. But as the fledgling com­pany was able to get its busi­ness go­ing, it re­lied on the el­derly Brush Type 4s.

When the ink dried on the man­age­ment buy­out, Freight­liner was not in the po­si­tion to ac­quire new lo­co­mo­tives, and in­stead Brush pre­sented it with the low­est-cost op­tion of the Class 57.

Brush claimed the Class 57 would give bet­ter re­li­a­bil­ity (GM en­gines were widely re­garded as be­ing less prone to fail­ure than Sulzer) and all the ben­e­fits of new lo­co­mo­tives, but at a frac­tion of the price. By not hav­ing to build new bodyshells, the cost of a ‘new’ lo­co­mo­tive was prob­a­bly a quar­ter of that of a Class 66, plus the lead-time for con­struc­tion was quicker.

In March 1998, 47187, 47317/322/347/350/ 356 were moved into the DFHZ pool, hav­ing been iden­ti­fied as the first six lo­co­mo­tives to be re­built. The pool code had a level of hu­mour at­tached to it - HZ stood for Heinz, fa­mous for its 57 va­ri­eties mar­ket­ing moniker!

The lo­co­mo­tives, all of which had been stored any­way, were moved to Brush at Lough­bor­ough and the re­build­ing started. 47356 was to be­come 57001, and the other five lo­co­mo­tives were (in or­der) cre­ated us­ing the bod­ies of 47322, 47317, 47347, 47350 and 47187.

The ini­tial con­tract was for six lo­co­mo­tives with an op­tion for 24 more, but in the event Freight­liner au­tho­rised just another six con­ver­sions ( 57007-012 were built from 47332, 47204, 47079, 47329, 47231 and 47060). How­ever, even by the time 47332 had ar­rived at Brush, the com­pany had done a deal with Porter­brook for its first five Class 66/ 5s - it seems the ‘57’ project was al­most killed off as soon as it started.

Nev­er­the­less, these ex­tra lo­co­mo­tives did see the light of day. And by the time 57012 was ready in March 2000, the com­pany had a dozen ‘57/ 0s’ but five Class 66s with another 15 or­dered.

The ‘57/ 0s’ were used for in­ter­modal trains, work­ing ini­tially out of Felixs­towe. The en­gines were 2,500hp, but Freight­liner ini­tially classed them as Type 5s based on their pulling power. Freight­liner had such faith in the trac­tive ef­fort of the ‘57s’ that it did not spec­ify mul­ti­ple work­ing.

Also, the Freight­liner lo­co­mo­tives looked just like Class 47s, apart from the new green and yel­low liv­ery (which, as it tran­spired, was soon to be seen on a hand­ful of ‘47s’ any­way). The front ends were as they were on their donor lo­co­mo­tives - ei­ther in­dented or flush fronts with two marker lights.

57001 was named Freight­liner Pi­o­neer on re­lease from Brush, and the fol­low­ing 11 lo­co­mo­tives all had Freight­liner pre­fixed name. 57007 was named Freight­liner Bond be­cause of

its 007 num­ber.

De­spite Freight­liner jump­ing on the Class 66 band­wagon, for sen­si­ble busi­ness rea­sons the Class 57 was still viewed by Brush and Porter­brook as an at­trac­tive ‘new’ build so­lu­tion for other op­er­a­tors.

At the turn of the mil­len­nium, Class 47s were still in front line pas­sen­ger op­er­a­tion with First Great West­ern, Vir­gin Cross­Coun­try and Sco­tRail. Vir­gin had or­dered new Bom­bardier diesel elec­tric mul­ti­ple units (DEMUs) to re­place its ‘47s’ and Mk 2 coaches, while Class 67s were to re­place Class 47s on the Scot­tish Sleep­ers. But for the fore­see­able fu­ture, FGW was ‘stuck’ with its ‘47s’.

The Sleeper trains were not a mon­ey­mak­ing op­er­a­tion, so mov­ing to Class 67s (ei­ther ac­quired out­right or hired in from EWS) was not seen as a vi­able op­tion. Even so, the fact re­mained that FGW’s seven Class 47s were well-worked and tired, and could not last for­ever.

Porter­brook de­cided to spec­u­late and reckoned that if it built an ETH Class 57 demon­stra­tor and put it in the shop win­dow, or­ders would fol­low.

It had ac­tive 47825 in its fleet - but it was not leased to any train op­er­a­tor, although VXC and Anglia Rail­ways had used it on a spot hire ba­sis. It was duly with­drawn from traf­fic in Jan­uary 2000 to be con­verted to a ‘57’, but one with elec­tric train sup­ply (a fea­ture 47825 al­ready had). It would also have a slightly more pow­er­ful en­gine (the 2,750hp Gen­eral Mo­tors 645-12F3B ver­sion of the same unit).

The lo­co­mo­tive ar­rived at Brush on March 29 2000, and work started on re­build­ing it. Orig­i­nally the num­ber 57401 was mooted, but this num­ber se­ries wasn’t va­cant on the rolling stock li­brary so 57601 was cho­sen in­stead.

On March 26 2001, 57601 was un­veiled in a strik­ing sil­ver liv­ery with pur­ple cabs and full body-height ital­i­cised num­bers - with its num­ber re­peated in the cab­sides in white.

Ex­ter­nally, Brush had made the front ends com­pletely flush with the head­code pan­els and marker lights re­moved, and new light clus­ters above the buffer­beam with large head­lights and smaller white lights/red tail­lights next to them. A cab roof head­light was fit­ted in front of the horn grille, but there was no mis­tak­ing that this was still a Class 47 bodyshell.

FGW had agreed a deal with Porter­brook to test the lo­co­mo­tive on its lo­co­mo­tive-hauled trains be­tween Padding­ton and Ply­mouth or Pen­zance.

Vir­gin West Coast had started to re­place its Class 86/87/90-hauled Mk 3 sets with Class 390 Pen­dolino units from 2002, but they pre­sented a prob­lem - how these new trains could be res­cued if one broke down. The so­lu­tion was a fleet of Thun­der­bird lo­co­mo­tives, and in 2002 VWC placed an or­der with Brush for 12 ETH-fit­ted Class 57s.

These were to be built us­ing Vir­gin Cross­Coun­try Class 47/8s as donors, with 47845 the first cho­sen for re­build­ing. On Oc­to­ber 11 2001, it worked its last train and ran light to Brush for strip­ping.

The lo­co­mo­tive was orig­i­nally go­ing to be num­bered 57611 and painted in what Vir­gin de­scribed as a neu­tral green. In­deed, dur­ing the re­build it was re­painted in all over green, only for a pol­icy de­ci­sion to change both the num­bers and liv­ery.

Vir­gin wanted a num­ber se­ries start­ing in 01, so the 57301 num­ber se­ries was cho­sen. It also de­cided to re­paint the lo­co­mo­tive in the same red and sil­ver liv­ery that the Pen­dolinos were ap­pear­ing in, so the lo­co­mo­tive had a full re­paint!

Given their role as Thun­der­bird lo­co­mo­tives, all were named af­ter char­ac­ters from the hit TV show Thun­der­birds and fea­tured name­plates with the pro­gramme’s logo. For this, Vir­gin had to pay a copy­right fee.

47827 was next for con­ver­sion and be­came 57302. But dur­ing the third con­ver­sion (of 47849), Brush hit a snag.

The lo­co­mo­tive had al­ready jumped the queue for con­ver­sion. It wasn’t orig­i­nally planned to be used, but af­ter catch­ing fire on De­cem­ber 8 2001 it moved to Brush and it

When the ink dried on the man­age­ment buy­out, Freight­liner was not in the po­si­tion to ac­quire new lo­co­mo­tives, and in­stead Brush pre­sented it with the low­est-cost op­tion of the Class 57.

was de­cided that rather than re­pair it, it would be­come 57303.

How­ever, dur­ing the work (47849 had pro­gressed to the stage that its front end head­lights had been fit­ted and its head­code pan­els plated over), it was dis­cov­ered that re­pairs to col­li­sion dam­age it had sus­tained in 1972 as 1630 meant it was deemed un­suit­able for con­ver­sion. It was duly sold for scrap, and 47705 was ac­quired from Riviera Trains and con­verted to 57303.

47807 be­came 57304, 47822 was 57305, and 47814 be­came 57306. But when 47844 was sent for con­ver­sion as 57307 it too was found to have sus­tained col­li­sion dam­age in an ear­lier life, and so it too was dropped from the pro­gramme. 47225 was se­lected to re­place it, and so be­came the first ‘57’ con­ver­sions where a no-heat freight lo­co­mo­tive was the donor and so needed fit­ting with ETH.

Af­ter the con­ver­sions of 47844/849 had both been shelved, Porter­brook changed its con­ver­sion pol­icy. Firstly, it started to delve into the his­to­ries of its lo­co­mo­tives and any that had been in­volved in ac­ci­dents were re­jected. This led to 47826, which had been a can­di­date for re­build­ing, be­ing given a ‘Su­per-E exam’ to ex­tend its life as a Vir­gin Class 47 in­stead of con­ver­sion, af­ter it was clear that it had suf­fered a ma­jor smash in its days as 47274.

The con­ver­sion of 47225 also high­lighted that it was easy to con­vert a ‘47/ 0’ or a ‘47/3’ to a ‘57’. Af­ter 47846/806/831/817 had been re­leased to be­come 57308-311 re­spec­tively, Porter­brook de­cided to stop us­ing ETH ‘47s’. This was be­cause they were now be­com­ing pop­u­lar as­sets to sell or lease to other com­pa­nies - es­pe­cially spot hire com­pa­nies. There­fore, all con­ver­sions af­ter 57311 used ex-Freight­liner no-heat ‘47s’ in­stead.

Vir­gin took 57312 (ex-47330) and then or­dered another four lo­co­mo­tives with an op­tion for four more, as (for some rea­son) the com­pany deemed it needed 20 Thun­der­bird lo­co­mo­tives. 47371/372/234/290 be­came 57313-316, but the plan to build 57317-320 was shelved and in­stead the bal­ance was made up by re­tain­ing ‘47/ 8s’.

In 2003 First Great West­ern, happy with its trial run­ning of 57601, or­dered four lo­co­mo­tives. These were to be 57602-605 and were sim­i­lar to 57601. They were con­verted from 47337/349/209/206 and en­tered traf­fic in Novem­ber 2003-Septem­ber 2004 (be­fore 57313-316, which en­tered traf­fic in Oc­to­berDe­cem­ber 2004). So, 57316 proved to be the 33rd and fi­nal Class 57 con­ver­sion.

The ‘57/ 0s’ re­mained pretty much the same through­out their Freight­liner days, but early on in the ca­reer of the ‘57/3s’ a clear de­sign

de­fi­ciency was recog­nised - cou­pling to a Class 390 was not easy.

The so­lu­tion was to fit re­tractable Dell­ner cou­plers to 57301 as a trial. This was quite a big job and needed a large sec­tion of the front be­ing cut away and an in­dented re­cess fit­ted to ac­com­mo­date the new equip­ment. This was not a cheap retro mod­i­fi­ca­tion, as it needed to be un­der­taken on 57301-312 ( 57313-316 had the equip­ment fit­ted at con­ver­sions), but it was a nec­es­sary one.

The cou­plers would be folded away in the ver­ti­cal po­si­tion when needed, but via the press of a but­ton in the cab the Dell­ner would ex­tend via 90° and be hor­i­zon­tal and at the same height as a cou­pler on both a Class 390 or a Class 220/221 Voy­ager DEMU.

This meant that a ‘57’ could re­cover a stricken Vir­gin train much more eas­ily and more quickly - and in­deed more safely.

In 2003, trial lo­co­mo­tive 57601 was sold to West Coast Rail­ways, although ini­tially it re­mained on hire to FGW. It fi­nally moved to its new owner’s home at Carn­forth on De­cem­ber 23 2003 and was put into traf­fic in Fe­bru­ary of the fol­low­ing year, fol­low­ing a re­paint into WCR’s ma­roon. Fif­teen years later, the lo­co­mo­tive re­mains in traf­fic with WCR and is now in the com­pany’s stan­dard liv­ery. It has been all over the coun­try, of­ten be­com­ing the first of the class to visit some des­ti­na­tions.

As Freight­liner took on more Class 66s, its ‘57/ 0s’ fast be­came non-stan­dard and so costlier to op­er­ate. Some lo­co­mo­tives had pe­ri­ods in store while they were stopped await­ing parts, but most re­turned to traf­fic. In De­cem­ber 2006, 57001 failed with a ma­jor en­gine de­fect and was with­drawn. The 57/ 0s were still owned by Porter­brook, so when their ini­tial leases with Freight­liner ended they could be re­turned to their owner.

Through 2007, many of the lo­co­mo­tives

Af­ter the con­ver­sions of 47844/849 had both been shelved, Porter­brook changed its con­ver­sion pol­icy. Firstly, it started to delve into the his­to­ries of its lo­co­mo­tives and any that had been in­volved in ac­ci­dents were re­jected.


The first con­verted lo­co­mo­tive, 57001 Freight­lin­erPioneer, stands at Brush’s Lough­bor­ough works on July 21 1998. It was built us­ing the body of 47356, as a cheaper and quicker al­ter­na­tive for freight op­er­a­tors than buy­ing brand new lo­co­mo­tives such as...


Vir­gin West Coast 57309 Pride of Crewe drags 390047 at Bir­kett Com­mon on April 30 2006. VWC had placed an or­der with Brush four years ear­lier to build 12 ‘57s’ mainly us­ing Vir­gin Cross­Coun­try Class 47/8s as donor ve­hi­cles.


Class 57s still have a role to play on the net­work both as Thun­der­bird lo­co­mo­tives and for char­ters - as demon­strated this sum­mer fol­low­ing the timetable ‘melt­down’ for North­ern. West Coast Rail­ways 57316 leaves Ken­dal with the 1740...

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