BR Class 40 (English Electric Type 4 1Co-Co1)

Too many of the British diesel locomotive classes were gone by the time I really got able to go and see them for myself, but the 40s lasted until 1985; I would have been twelve or thirteen then. I doubtless saw a few more, sights and numbers hastily snatched through train windows going through Gateshead yard or peered at from a distance from above Gateshead shed, but the one time I really remember was D200, the first of them all, ordered as one of the first main-line diesel locomotives under the 1958 pilot scheme of the Modernisation Plan. We found that it was to be working a railtour from Darlington, freshly painted in its original green for the class' final year, carrying its original numbers again, and my dad and I and my brothers went to see, probably in one of the Leyland Sherpa minibuses of the training center where he taught. I remember those hard bench seats all too well!

The details of that day don't really remain in my memories, but the locomotive is there. Engines in museums, stuffed and mounted, don't really do the thing justice, not at all; maybe it's just too much anthropomorphising, too much having Thomas the Tank Engine and the like read to me as a little kid, but they have such a presence, when alive, cared for and running. 40 122, D200, stood there at the head of a string of BR Mk 1s, prime mover just at idle, almost imperceptible whistling mutter of ready power, the rush of air through fans and radiators. There was a tension in the air, anticipation taut, everyone expectant - quite a crowd gathered, the lucky few aboard (older and more moneyed than I) with all the windows open, every single one. Passengers, maybe, prefer the sealed, air-conditioned and electric heated carriages of today, but not the fan of locomotive traction. So sealed up, isolated; no thanks. Like trying to touch things with thick rubber gloves on; something essential is lost. A railtour would have every window in the first two or three carriages open, the better to experience the thrash of the engine working hard, to smell the diesel smoke, to immerse onself in the sensory experience of it. Some would open the door windows all the way down and lean out, to catch a faceful of 70 mph turbulence, the better to hear and feel the thunder.

The departure, then, the guard's shrill starting whistle, a blast from the locomotive's air horn, the great sixteen cylinder diesel awakening as the driver moved the control handle forward. Every locomotive engine sounds different, and that of the 40s sounded glorious; some diesels growl and roar and thunder but the English Electric 16SVT in a 40 sings, the sounds smoothed by the cry of the turbochargers, becoming a chanting whistle, starting low and rising, rising, rising as the driver eased on the power, keeping the tyres from slipping on the smooth steel rail. Cameras going off all around, some with the primitive, huge video cameras of the era, recording it. I felt it instead, soaked it in, absorbing everything. You see a locomotive, but you also feel it as the very air shudders with the power, the ground quakes with the tremor of its passing, you hear it, smell it, taste its acrid breath on your tongue.

And soon it's gone; a train's nature is to move, to take those aboard far away, and leaving those of us on the platform behind with only the memory of its passing. It occurs to me that the parting and passing is at the core of the whole experience; we are fascinated most by the doomed ones, the locomotives for whom the writing is on the wall. Few types are ever loved from the beginning, but they grow on us, become acquaintances, then familiar friends, possibly even getting to the stage of such familiarity that we hardly notice them anymore, pass on them for rarer and less typical experiences. And then, suddenly, they are to be cut off in their seeming prime, withdrawn from service ... Is it any wonder that so many spend their own money to pool together to buy one of their old friends from the scrap line, then their weekends to mend and fix and clean and paint and tend to their locomotive until it shines like the day it emerged newborn from the builder?

Early History

The English Electric Type 4, later to become the Class 40, was a direct descendent of two different groups of experimental locomotives, the LMS-designed 'Derby Pair' of 1600 hp Co-Co locomotives, and the three Southern Region 1Co-Co1 experimental locomotives produced in 1951-1954. The Southern Region trio looked very different, with their flat-faced looks, but mechanically, electrically and in running gear, they're nearly identical to the later Class 40. The LMS pair had been quite heavy, with high axle loadings; the Southern Region trio had four-axle bogies (US: trucks) to spread the weight out, with an unpowered axle at each end to guide the bogies. The bogies themselves were solid, cast frame units, more like the frame of a steam locomotive than later diesel locomotives; they did not pivot on turning points, but rather slid on curved tracks on the locomotive body's base, radially. The bogies' only permitted movement was sideways; they could not rock or tilt. All such motion had to be taken up with the sprung axleboxes of each axle. This arrangement made for a locomotive which, although heavy, rode smoothly even at speed.

In 1955 British Railways instituted its Modernisation Plan, the Pilot Scheme of which ordered 174 prototype diesel locomotives from various builders to evaluate. English Electric put in a bid for a locomotive in the Type 4 category (2000-2999hp) based on the proven design of the Southern Region prototypes, with an engine uprated to 2000hp and a body design more like the Derby Pair, with long noses ahead of the drivers' cabs, but with a flatter nose and a rounded nose top from side to side, sloping very gently down from the cab windows and narrowing very slightly towards the flat nose. They were long, graceful looking machines.

Overall they were a very conservative design, produced in accordance with established principles in a rather unadventurous manner. This led to the locomotives being accused of being heavy and lacking power, but compared to many others of the prototype locomotives they were paragons of reliability.

Political pressure, alas, resulted in the sensible idea of the Pilot Scheme, the testing of prototype locomotives and selecting only the best for fleet production, being dropped. Instead, locomotives were ordered from everyone, under desperate urgency to do something about the state of Britain's railways. Before the test programme for the ten prototypes was even complete, 190 production locomotives were ordered for passenger service. Most were produced at the Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows, but twenty were built at Robert Stephenson & Hawthorne in Darlington to free up production capacity at the Vulcan Foundry for producing the twenty-two production Deltics (Class 55).

The biggest difference between batches concerned the nose detail. The first 125 locomotives had nose-end gangway doors to allow crew to walk from locomotive to locomotive and four white headcode discs on the nose that could be opened up for display or folded for concealment, so that the pattern of the white discs could identify the type of train being hauled, a practice carried over from steam days. The following twenty locomotives had two two-character headcode boxes mounted either side of the gangway, so that a code describing the exact train could be displayed. For the final 55 locomotives, the idea of gangways between locomotives was abandoned and a central four-character headcode box was fitted instead.

In Service

Twenty-four of the early locomotives received names between 1960-1962, as described later. All were painted originally in British Railways "Brunswick Green" with grey roofs and red buffer beams; panels on the ends soon were painted safety yellow to make trains easier to see for permanent way men, and eventually the yellow spread to the full nose ends. From 1966 onwards locomotives began to be repainted into British Rail corporate rail blue with full yellow nose ends. One Class 40, however, D306 (40 106) was never repainted and became the only British Rail locomotive to wear green for its entire service life.

In 1973, the locomotives began to be renumbered in their new TOPS numbering, class leader D200 being renumbered as 40 122, taking the slot in the number series vacated due to crash damage.

These early locomotives were soon supplanted by later, lighter and more powerful locomotives in their original service requirements, displacing them to lesser services; in fact, this pattern repeated itself for their entire service lives.

The type also had the dubious honor of containing the locomotive (D326) hauling the postal train that was the subject of the Great Train Robbery. This ill-fated locomotive was involved, over multiple accidents in its service life, in the deaths of at least twenty people.

The recession of the late 1970s hit British Rail especially hard, and newly delivered locomotives started to make the Class 40s surplus to requirements. The early 1980s saw the withdrawals begin in earnest, starting with locomotives fitted only with vacuum brakes and unable to haul air braked stock.

By then, rail enthusiasts were out in force, trying to experience the last remaining locomotives before they were all withdrawn ...

Final withdrawals for all but refurbished D200 were in 1985, but several were retained for a few more years in Departmental stock, hauling maintenance trains, and some lasted in this service until 1987. Many of the locomotives subsequently preserved were of this number.


In the case of the Class 40, seven were saved, despite enthusiast fears at first that none would survive. Initially, the National Railway Museum expressed no interest in D200, despite it being the first production express passenger diesel locomotive built for service in Britain. The expressed, and nonsensical, reason was that since the NRM has failed to preserve any of the prototype diesels that preceded D200, there was no reason to preserve D200 either. A concerted campaign by readers of RAIL Enthusiast magazine persuaded British Rail to overhaul D200 rather than withdraw it as unserviceable, and it was that post-overhaul D200 I saw on that day in Darlington. Eventually the NRM reconsidered, and D200 entered the national collection; in addition, six others were saved.

  • D200 (40 122): Owned by the National Railway Museum, operable, occasionally runs.
  • D212 (40 012) "Aureol": owned by the Class 40 Appeal. Has operated since withdrawal. Currently undergoing overhaul and restoration.
  • D213 (40 013) "Andania": Privately owned. Much restoration work done, but an attempt to fire the locomotive up resulted in engine damage. Currently at Barrow Hill Roundhouse.
  • D306 (40 106) "Atlantic Conveyor": Privately owned, and based on the Nene Valley Railway. Named after its transfer to private ownership, after the Cunard cargo ship sunk during the Falklands War.
  • D318 (40 118): Owned by D318 Ltd. and cared for by the 16SVT Society, this locomotive resides at the Birmingham Railway Museum at Tyseley. It was acquired in unserviceable condition and has been the process of slow, painstaking restoration since.
  • D335 (40 135): Owned by the Class 40 Preservation Society, this is the only Class 40 preserved that has the split headcode boxes with gangway doors in between; only 20 locomotives in Class 40 were built this way. It's based at the East Lancashire Railway and runs frequently.
  • D345 (40 145): Owned by the Class 40 Preservation Society, this locomotive has the central headcode box on the nose front characteristic of the last 54 locomotives built.

Named Class 40s

Twenty-four locomotives were named, all after ocean liners and passenger ships. Only the first three were named at a public naming ceremony, the others receiving their names at works overhauls between 1960 and 1963. Once the locomotives were no longer hauling first-rank passenger trains in the early 1970s, the nameplates began to be removed since they were showing a propensity for being stolen. Towards the end of the Class 40s' service, many locomotives had the names painted back on them by depot staff.

In addition to these, D306 (40 106) was named Atlantic Conveyor after it passed into private ownership.

D210 (40 010) Empress Of Britain
D211 (40 011) Mauretania
D212 (40 012) Aureol
D213 (40 013) Andania
D214 (40 014) Antonia
D215 (40 015) Aquitania
D216 (40 016) Campania
D217 (40 017) Carinthia
D218 (40 018) Carmania
D219 (40 019) Caronia
D220 (40 020) Franconia
D221 (40 021) Ivernia
D222 (40 022) Laconia
D223 (40 023) Lancastria
D224 (40 024) Lucania
D225 (40 025) Lusitania
D227 (40 027) Parthia
D228 (40 028) Samaria
D229 (40 029) Saxonia
D230 (40 030) Scythia
D231 (40 031) Sylvania
D232 (40 032) Empress Of Canada
D233 (40 033) Empress Of England
D234 (40 034) Accra
D235 (40 035) Apapa


    TOPS Numbering:  40 001 - 40 199
    1957 Numbering:  D200 - D399
          Built by:  English Electric (Vulcan Foundry, Newton-le-Willows) and Robert Stephenson & Hawthorne
        Introduced:  1958-1962
 Wheel Arrangement:  1Co-Co1
            Length:  69ft 6in (21.18m)
            Weight:  136 tonnes (metric tons)
    Maximum  Speed:  90mph (145 km/h)
            Engine:  English Electric 16SVT Mark II
     Engine Output:  2000hp (1491 kW)
      Transmission:  Electric
    Main Generator:  EE822
   Traction Motors:  6 x EE526-5D
        Brake Type:  Vacuum or dual Air/Vacuum
       Brake Force:  51 tons
      Heating Type:  Steam
Route Availability:  6

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