Class 50s at fifty
Ten working ‘50s’ are the star attractions as Severn Valley Golden Jubilee gala celebrates 50 years of the Type 4s.
A three-day gala on the Severn Valley Railway (SVR) on October 4-6 marked the culmination of a year of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the delivery of Class 50s.
The Golden Jubilee’s proposer and key organiser, Craig Taylor of The Fifty Fund (the support organisation for Class 50 Alliance Ltd), told RAIL: “With the 50th anniversary of Class 50 two years away, I discussed with Jonathan Dunster, the Alliance’s chairman and a director of Severn Valley Holdings plc, how we should mark the occasion. A return to the main line after a gap of five years and a single-class diesel gala on the Severn Valley Railway were proposed.”
Dunster added: “I was not alone in being unsure whether an event featuring just one diesel class would be viable. The SVR would have already held a diesel gala during 2018. But single-class diesel galas on other heritage lines, notably with Class 40s and ‘55s’ on the East Lancashire Railway, had established their commercial viability and this influenced the decision to go-ahead.
“I had the ambition to get ten working ‘50s’, and am delighted we have achieved this. In addition to 50007/031/035/044/049, owned and operated by the Alliance, Neil Boden provided 50017 and 50050, while Garcia Hanson offered 50008 and agreed to collect 50015 from the East Lancs Railway.
“50033 is on a three-year loan from Tyseley railway museum to the Alliance and, together with 50044, the question was whether both could be made operational in time.”
There are 18 ‘50s’ in preservation. Apart from those brought together for the gala, only 50042 Triumph is a runner at present, although it is not able to move on Network Rail metals.
With the gala confirmed, the question was whether 50033 and 50044 could be returned to traffic. The former had not operated since 2004, while the latter had suffered a serious engine defect in 2012.
Taylor explained: “It was put to Tony Middleton, the Alliance’s Engineering Co-ordinator, that it would be impractical to get both machines ready. But he and his team rose brilliantly to the challenge. Having the SVR’s modern, diesel maintenance facility at Kidderminster was a crucial factor in progressing this work.
“Repainting 50033 proved to be one hurdle too many, and it has been turned out in green primer. Tony then hit on the money-raising idea of charging £5 to write graffiti on the bodyside. This really captured everyone’s imagination and successfully raised over £3,000 towards the cost of a repaint.”
Paul Spracklen’s 50026 Indomitable has been at the SVR for some time and was expected to run during the gala. Unfortunately, an engine defect only identified at a late stage prevented the locomotive’s participation.
40106 Atlantic Conveyor, the standby locomotive for the event, was diagrammed in place of 50026 on October 6 in consequence, although 50026 remained on display and proved popular for cab visits.
Advance ticket sales matched those for previous SVR diesel events, and the first train on the opening day of the gala - the 0830 from Kidderminster hauled by 50035 Ark Royal - was packed.
At a similarly well-attended social event of nearly 100 on October 4, gala visitors heard talks by Dunster, Geoff Hudson (Area Fleet Manager at Plymouth Laira in the last years of the ‘50s’), and former Alliance Chairman David Clough, together with a slide show by co-founder of The Fifty Fund, Dave Keogh.
An intensive timetable operated across the three days. 50008 Thunderer no longer has a vacuum train brake capability, and so made regular return trips between Kidderminster and Highley on freight rolling stock.
When Laira staged line-ups of ‘50s’ for special events during
the 1990s, Malcolm Wishart, the depot’s production manager, used to orchestrate a co-ordinated start-up known affectionately as the ‘Laira Concerto’. This was re-created in the platforms at Kidderminster at 0950 on October 5, with Wishart conducting a simultaneous engine start of 50049 Defiance and 50031 Hood.
And on October 6 a rededication of 50049 Defiance took place. Dunster explained: “I was approached by a shareholder who is currently an officer at the Royal Naval base at Plymouth, with the suggestion of a rededication of 50049. Commodore Robert Bellfield, the Royal Navy Commander at Devonport Dockyard, agreed to the proposal and performed the ceremony.”
Owners of original Class 50 nameplates made their collections available for a display at Highley, together with a display of five-inch gauge ‘50s’. The Diesel Depot at Kidderminster also housed a display of ‘flame-cut’ number panels from scrapped class members 50006, 50009, 50040 and 50046. Dunster declared: “It could be argued there were 15 members of the class in attendance!”
Members of the public were also given guided tours of the depot.
On October 3 (the night before the gala started), a photo shoot was arranged starring the locomotives that would be used during the event - plus 50026 Indomitable, which was removed from the gala days before due to faults. From left to right are: 50049 Defiance, 50015 Valiant, 50033 Glorious, 50050 Fearless, 50035 Ark Royal and 50031 Hood. JACK BOSKETT.
The Class 50 Golden Jubilee gala featured the return to action of 50033Glorious following 14 years out of use. Carrying undercoat, which people could ‘tag’ for £5 to raise money, the ‘50’ departs Bewdley with the 1030 BridgnorthKidderminster on October 5.
On October 5, the second day of the Class 50 Golden Jubilee event, passengers watch activity at Kidderminster. From left to right are: 50049Defiance, 50017 Royal Oak, and 50015
As well as passenger trains, the Class 50 Golden Jubilee event celebrated the use of the mixed-traffic Type 4s on freight work. Re-creating its final British Rail days, when it was used on ballast trains in the South West, Hanson Rail 50008Thunderer passes Severn Lodge. As the ‘50’ is air-braked only, it was unable to haul any passenger trains.