‘20s’ on the Underground
We looks at the veteran diesels regularly used on London Underground.
The first English Electric Type 1 Bo-bos – better known as Class 20 – were delivered to British Railways in 1957 and, by rights, this 60-year-old design really shouldn’t be working regular freight trains on the national network. But it is. Most BR classes had their usual territories and it’s only after they’ve been withdrawn from front-line service – or since privatisation – that they’ve appeared in far-flung places, some way away from their traditional stamping grounds. The Class 20 is no exception. Enthusiasts will have fond memories of watching pairs of ‘20s’ hard at work on coal trains throughout the Midlands and Yorkshire, or taking trips to the seaside behind them on summer Saturdays. After being replaced in frontline service, nuclear flask and weedkilling duties have led to Class 20s appearing all over the country. One place where the Class 20 has found favour is on London Underground. This link was sealed on April 29 2018 when 20227, resplendent in London Transport maroon, was named Sherlock Holmes, in honour of Metropolitan Railway electric No. 8, by Sir Peter Hendy. Specials and naming aside, seeing Class 20s on the Underground has been a weekly occurrence since 2009. The reason why is that this seemingly primitive design has some redeeming factors over newer locomotives, and one of those is weight. There hasn’t been a new Bo-bo on the network with a low axle weight for many years. The new Class 68s and 88s are RA7 whereas the trusty ‘20’ is RA5 (Route Availability 5, axle weight of less than 19 tons). Despite this, there are some routes where lighter locomotives are a must as heavier Class 60s, 66s, 67s and 70s are just that – too heavy. It’s claimed that the order for LU’S 191 S-stock EMUS – worth approximately £1.5bn – was the biggest new train contract ever offered in Britain. It was won by Bombardier and, subsequently, GB Railfreight was contracted to move the new trains from Derby Litchurch Lane works to LUL’S Neasden depot, via the Asfordby test track, near Melton Mowbray. The first S-stock was ready for delivery in 2009. There’s a bridge just outside Neasden with a severe weight restriction. It precludes the use of, say, a Class 66. With nearly 200 new trains to move, GBRF had only one option – to run the trains with Class 20s. GBRF could have run the trains with ‘66s’, swapping to ‘20s’ for the last few miles, but GBRF decided to use ‘20’ power throughout. However it didn’t own any, so it hired, on a short-term deal, 20142 and 20189 from locomotive owner Michael Owen, the Class 20 Society’s 20227 and Harry Needle Railroad Company’s (HNRC) 20901 and 20905. It’s somewhat ironic that Direct Rail Services (DRS) started out using Class 20s, which it had fully refurbished at Brush Traction in 1995. Twenty-five years on, and DRS is now using ultra-modern Bo-bos, the Class 68 and Class 88. GBRF signed a longer term hire deal with DRS to use some of those Brush Class 20/3s – 20301/302/304/305 had major exams and were fitted with trip-cocks, while a fifth, 20308, was retained as a spare. The S-stock delivery trains were a sight to behold. The seven or eight-car ‘S7’ or
‘S8’ LUL trains were sandwiched between KBA translator wagons, EX-TEA bogie tank wagons with an S-stock coupler at one end, topped and tailed by pairs of Class 20s. These trains occasionally ran with single ‘20s’ on each end. In this case, pairs of Network Rail MLA ‘Falcons’ bogie wagons were inserted into the train, so the formation became ‘20’, MLA, MLA, KBA, S-stock, KBA, MLA, MLA, ‘20’. The S-stock is designed for LUL’S ‘sub-surface’ lines but that makes it out-of-gauge for some Network Rail routes. Therefore, the delivery trains run under ‘X’ headcodes, to advise signallers that diverting the train off its booked route is not advised and could cause issues if done so. They’re also limited to 35mph. The trains were due to run weekly, so set paths were put in the working timetable. The schedule was the train was due to leave Asfordby at 1142 and arrive at Amersham at 0045, so this was never a fast train! It quickly became apparent that the new S-stock needed some major modification, so much so that all 192 trains would have to return to Derby. This made the whole contract a triangular operation – Derby to Asfordby, Asfordby to Neasden and Neasden back to Derby – which made better use of the resources. The trains typically ran southbound on Wednesday and returned on a Thursday and, initially, the ‘20s’ would return light
to Peterborough – sometimes without the barrier vehicles which would be left at Asfordby or Derby – for maintenance. There were some issues with the DRS ‘20/3s’ including periods when availability was particularly poor and so the contract switched to HNRC in 2012. HNRC prepared eight ‘20s’ – 20096/107/ 20118/132/20311/314/901/905 – in order to improve availability and reliability of these vintage machines. After all, a round trip is over 400 miles. That bridge outside Neasden has since been upgraded and Class 66s could work the trains throughout. However, the ‘20s’ have remained for two reasons. Firstly, the hire contract was already signed and, secondly, it would employ two ‘66s’ at a time when GBRF’S fleet was stretched. The relationship between the Class 20 and LUL dates back to 1993 when several were hired for working infrastructure trains on the Metropolitan Line. BR loaned 20007, 20092 and 20169 while D8110 and 20227 were hired from the South Devon Railway and Class 20 Locomotive Society respectively. This work finished in 1994 but 20227 became a regular visitor to LUL metals as it was hired on an ad hoc basic for working the popular ‘Steam on the Met’ specials, as well as route-learning trips with the LUL’S ‘4-TC’ set. This arrangement culminated in 20227 being repainted in Metropolitan Railway maroon in 2000. Although inspired by the old Met electrics, 20227 received a crest on the nose end doors but full yellow ends and a red solebar. It also gained the name Sir John Betjeman, after the famous Metropolitan Railway-loving poet. London Underground embarked on an extensive series of specials in 2013 to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Metropolitan Railway. Most people’s attention was focused on Metropolitan Railway 0-4-4T No. 1’s return to the
tunnels under London in January, but the summer’s ‘Steam on the Met’ trips between Amersham and Harrow brought Class 20s back to LUL with a vengeance… and in some rather unusual liveries. 20227’s was arguably the most eyecatching. It received a colour scheme based on current LUL practice: white bodysides with red cabs and a blue solebar and small yellow panels. To provide cover for the steam specials, Michael Owen’s 20142 and 20189 returned to the Underground. 20189 was repainted into what was meant to be London Transport red, but a communication breakdown meant that it actually appeared in London bus red! Owen’s pair were painted into Balfour Beatty blue and white for contract work but, when this was cut short, 20189 reverted to full BR blue in 2016, after running in a temporary scheme – BR blue but with Balfour Beatty grey roofs and solebars. 20142, meanwhile, received full London Transport maroon livery and has since gained the Sir John Betjeman name from 20227 because this, of course, gained its new name on April 29. 20227, 20189 and 20142 have made regular appearances on the London Underground in recent years, providing cover as needed for steam specials. When not on LUL, 20227 calls the Midland Railway – Butterley home, although it’s currently on hire to the North Norfolk Railway to work its Sheringhamcromer dining trains. Butterley is also home to 20142 and 20189, although at the time of writing both were on hire to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway as steam had been banned due to the exceptionally hot weather. The pair, thanks to their main line registration, have been covering NYMR trains to Whitby as well as working between Pickering and Grosmont. LUL, meanwhile, has received all 191 S-stock units, but deliveries of modified units is due to last until May 2019. It’s truly remarkable that Class 20s are still in front line use in 2018, but the railway is arguably all the better for it! What happens to HNRC’S Class 20s afterwards remains to be seen. But with more steam specials in the pipeline, the distinctive sound of the ‘20’ looks set to continue on LUL for some time to come.
Where else could you find a Class 20 coupled to a four-wheel wooden-bodied coach of 1892 vintage and running on the main line other than on the Underground? 20189, in London bus red livery, passes Chorleywood with an Amershamharrow-on-the-hill working on May 26 2013, during the ‘Steam on the Met’ special that celebrated the Metropolitan Railway’s 150th anniversary.
Old and new on the Underground: a Metropolitan Line train of S-stock has been held at a red signal alongside four Class 20s, led by DRS 20302, returning to Derby, on March 1 2012. The ‘20s’ have received a green light first, treating LUL customers to the aural and visual delights of the English Electric 8SVT engines under acceleration!
A rather chilly Sir Peter Hendy has just unveiled 20227’s new name at Quainton Road station on April 29. The Sherlock Holmes nameplates are based on those carried by Metropolitan Railway No. 8, after it was renamed in 1953. It’s also why 20227 has the number 8 on the side.
20142 and 20227 show off their smart London Transport maroon liveries at the Midland Railway – Butterley on April 8 2017. 20142’s livery is slightly different: it has Metropolitan Railway crests in place of the LT roundel and number 8. Both use their four-character headcode blinds when hauling S-stock: 20142 shows ‘1K73’ and 20189 usually displays ‘0Z20’.
20227 and 20189 rest outside Neasden on October 21 2009 having delivered the first of 191 new S-stock units. Four MLA wagons are used when only two ‘20s’ are employed. S-stock trains are planned to run until at least May 2019.
The west London suburbs echo to the sound of four Class 20s. Since 2014, the ‘20s’ have been painted to run in pairs: in this case 20901/905 are in GBRF blue and 20311/314 are in HNRC orange. The pairs usually run coupled nose to nose but, occasionally, they have been nose to cab.