BR Class 55 "Deltic" (English Electric Type 5)
The English Electric company, who had absorbed the engine maker Napier into its vast empire, was (among many interests) a major builder of diesel and electric locomotives. EE saw the potential of Napier's Deltic engine for rail traction, and in 1955 built a demonstrator in its Dick Kerr works in Preston. Officially numbered DP1, although this was never borne on the locomotive, it carried the word DELTIC in large white letters on its powder-blue sides. Plans to name the locomotive Enterprise never came to fruition, and it was to be known as Deltic to all.
Long white stripes were painted on the sides, a visual device to make the locomotive's high sides appear slenderer, speedier; three curved chevrons in the same creamy white on the noses gave it the impression of speed. The locomotive's styling was reminiscent of American locomotives, with high noses and small, somewhat swept-back cab windows set back behind them; to add to the American look of the locomotive to British eyes, a large headlight was fitted to each nose. Two eighteen-cylinder Deltic engines were fitted, derated from the 3100 horsepower of the marine engines to 1650 horsepower each, 3300 horsepower total. This derating decreased the stress on the engines and thereby increasing the service life and time between overhauls.
The locomotive first saw service on the London Midland Region of British Railways, but the intention soon became to electrify the major routes on that Region. On the Eastern Region, however, no diesel replacement of conventional design seemed to be available for Gresley's swift and powerful Pacifics, particularly the A4. Only the Deltic appeared to offer the power and speed required within the restraints of sensible axle load, and the prototype Deltic was soon running on that Region.
An order was placed with English Electric for a production fleet of twenty-two units, to replace more than twice that number of Gresley Pacifics. A first was that the locomotives were purchased under service contract, EE agreeing to maintain them, especially their engines and generators, for a fixed price contract. More Deltic engines were produced than needed for the locomotives, for the plan and practice was to swap out engines regularly for overhaul while keeping the valuable locomotives in service.
The locomotives were all delivered in 1961/2. In 1961 the prototype Deltic was withdrawn after serious powerplant failure. Plans to test it in Canada came to naught, and the locomotive was donated to the Science Museum in London. It's now in the National Railway Museum, York.
The Deltics were assigned to three different locomotive depots, Finsbury Park in London, Gateshead over the Tyne from Newcastle, and Haymarket in Edinburgh. They came from the manufacturer painted in two-tone green, the dark BR green on top, but a narrow strip along the bottom a lighter, grass green. Again, this concealed the bulk of the locomotive body. Although delivered without it, they soon sported the bright yellow warning panel on the nose that all British diesel and electric locomotives were painted with, for visibility. Very soon, all were named; the Gateshead and Haymarket locomotives were named after regiments of the British Army, while the Finsbury Park locomotives followed the grand LNER tradition of naming locomotives after winning racehorses. The Finsbury Park depot also chose to paint the window surrounds of its Deltics white, making them distinctive.
By 1966 they began to be painted in corporate Rail Blue with yellow ends, this generally corresponding with a works repair and the fitting of air brake equipment, the locomotives originally only having vacuum train braking. In the early 1970s they were fitted with Electric Train Heating (ETH) equipment to power the new generation of air-conditioned passenger coaches, while a couple of years later, with the introduction of BR's TOPS computer system, they were renumbered in Class 55, as 55 001 to 55 022.
In the late 1970s the Deltics began to be supplanted by the next generation of express trains for the East Coast route, the Class 254 High Speed Train (HST), branded as InterCity 125, and the Deltics began to take on secondary roles. However, it was soon realised that the class had a limited future; it was not considered economic to maintain such a small and totally non-standard class of locomotive for secondary services, and the end of the decade saw the first withdrawals from service begin. More were withdrawn, and 1981 proved to be the last service year of the Deltics, the final service run taking place on 31 December 1981, hauled by 55 022 Royal Scots Grey, followed by the last enthusiast special, the "Deltic Farewell" on 2 January 1982.
At that point, few would have imagined that for six fortunate locomotives of the twenty-two, life was only half over.
Six locomotives were saved after their withdrawal from British Rail service. They were:
- D9000 (55 022) Royal Scots Grey was purchased by the Deltic 9000 Fund and was handed over in fully running condition after work and a repaint by BR. Its first base was the Nene Valley Railway.
- D9002 (55 002) The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was donated to the National Railway Museum, York.
- D9009 (55 009) Alycidon was purchased by the Deltic Preservation Society Ltd and has been mostly based at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
- D9015 (55 015) Tulyar was purchased by a private buyer, Peter Sansom, but in 1986 was sold to the Deltic Preservation Society. It has led an itinerant existence on many preserved railways.
- D9016 (55 016) Gordon Highlander was purchased by the Deltic 9000 Fund, initially intended as a source of spare parts for Royal Scots Grey. Of course, enthusiasm quickly prevailed over such practical intentions and Gordon Highlander was instead restored to running condition.
- D9019 (55 019) Royal Highland Fusilier was purchased by the Deltic Preservation Society and was the first to turn a wheel under its own power in preservation.
Return to Service
With the changes taking place on Britain's railways in the 1990s, the outlook changed for preserved diesel locomotives. In British Rail days, no privately owned diesel locomotives were allowed to operate over BR tracks. With privatisation, however, came open access railways -- the track and physical plant were owned and operated by Railtrack, who for a fee would allow anyone's approved locomotives and trains to operate. Suddenly, from being pariahs, the owners of preserved locomotives were on an equal footing with everyone else: just another locomotive owner.
In 1996, the Deltic 9000 Fund reformed itself as Deltic 9000 Locomotives Ltd in order to return its locomotives to mainline service, and later that year D9000 Royal Scots Grey was the first preserved diesel locomotive to operate on mainline trackage. Since then, the DNLL's other Deltic, D9016 Gordon Highlander has also returned to mainline working (temporarily painted in the garish purple livery of Porterbrook Leasing, who helped finance the restoration), as have the Deltic Preservation Society's D9009 Alycidon and D9019 Royal Highland Fusilier. The other two preserved Deltics, D9002 The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and D9015 Tulyar, are both undergoing restoration with a view to also being certified for mainline running.
All the mainline certified locomotives have seen frequent charter and locomotive hire use, including much use on the Venice Simplon Orient Express's travels in England.
With the fast-approaching prospect of all six surviving locomotives being fully restored to main line certified standards in the near future, one can only say the future appears bright.
Orig. TOPS Name Depot Withdrawn Disp.
D9000 55 022 Royal Scots Grey HA 02 Jan 1982 Preserved
D9001 55 001 St. Paddy FP 05 Jan 1980 Scrap
D9002 55 002 The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry GD 02 Jan 1982 Preserved
D9003 55 003 Meld FP 31 Dec 1980 Scrap
D9004 55 004 Queen's Own Highlander HA 28 Oct 1980 Scrap
D9005 55 005 The Prince of Wales' Own Regiment of Yorkshire GD 08 Feb 1981 Scrap
D9006 55 006 The Fife and Forfar Yeomanry HA 08 Feb 1981 Scrap
D9007 55 007 Pinza FP 31 Dec 1981 Scrap
D9008 55 008 The Green Howards GD 31 Dec 1981 Scrap
D9009 55 009 Alycidon FP 02 Jan 1982 Preserved
D9010 55 010 The King's Own Scottish Borderer HA 24 Dec 1981 Scrap
D9011 55 011 The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers GD 08 Nov 1981 Scrap
D9012 55 012 Crepello FP 18 May 1981 Scrap
D9013 55 013 The Black Watch HA 20 Dec 1981 Scrap
D9014 55 014 The Duke of Wellington's Regiment GD 22 Nov 1981 Scrap
D9015 55 015 Tulyar FP 02 Jan 1982 Preserved
D9016 55 016 Gordon Highlander HA 30 Dec 1981 Preserved
D9017 55 017 The Durham Light Infantry GD 31 Dec 1981 Scrap
D9018 55 018 Ballymoss FP 12 Oct 1981 Scrap
D9019 55 019 Royal Highland Fusilier HA 31 Dec 1981 Preserved
D9020 55 020 Nimbus FP 05 Jan 1980 Scrap
D9021 55 021 Argyll and Sutherland Highlander HA 31 Dec 1981 Scrap
Depot Key: Finsbury Park FP, Haymarket HA, Gateshead GD
TOPS numbering: N/A TOPS numbering: 55 001 - 55 022
Allocated number: DP1 (not carried) 1957 BR number: D9000 - D9021
Built by: English Electric (Dick Kerr) Built by: English Electric (Vulcan Foundry)
Introduced: 1955 Introduced: 1961-2
Wheel Arrangement: Co-Co Wheel Arrangement: Co-Co
Weight: 106 tonnes Weight: 100 tonnes
Length: 66" (20.11m) Length: 69½" (21.18m)
Minimum Radius: 6 chains (396", 120.70m) Minimum Radius: 4 chains (264", 80.46m)
Maximum Speed: 90 mph (later 105mph) Maximum Speed: 100 mph (161 km/h)
Engines: 2 x Napier D18.25 "Deltic" Engines: 2 x Napier D18.25 "Deltic"
Engine Output: 3300 hp total Engine Output: 3300 hp total
Power at Rail: 2650 hp Power at Rail: 2650 hp
Brake Type: Vacuum Brake Type: Vacuum, later Dual
Brake Force: Unknown Brake Force: 51 tonnes
Route Availability: Never Specified Route Availability: 5
Heating Type: Steam Heating Type: Steam, later Dual, later Electric only
Thanks to: the Deltic Preservation Society (http://www.thedps.org.uk/); Deltic 9000 Locomotives Limited (http://www.deltic9000.freeserve.co.uk/) and others.