December 2011 marked the Golden Jubilee of one of the most iconic diesels ever to have run in the UK - the Westerns. These large, attractive locomotives with their distinctive cabs and clean lines became popular amongst enthusiasts and were the mainstay of British Rail’s Western Region expresses in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The doyen of the class No. D1000 was released from Swindon Works at the end of 1961 followed by 73 more over the next two years to replace the most powerful steam locos in the south-west. Nos. D1000-1029 were built at Swindon and Nos. D1030-1073 at Crewe. All were given names beginning with the word ‘Western’, with D1000 becoming ‘Western Enterprise’ and D1073 ‘Western Bulwark’.
The Westerns were in many ways a larger and more powerful version of the earlier Type 4 ‘Warships’. They were based on diesel-hydraulic transmission favoured by BR’s Western Region - the only one of BR’s regions to do so as the others opted for rival diesel-electric technology.
At the time of ordering no single diesel engine and hydraulic transmission combination was available to supply the required power, so the Westerns had two 12-cylinder Maybach MD655 engines giving a combined power out put of 2,700hp. Each engine fed into a Voith hydro-mechanical transmission that powered one of the two bogies.
Although hydraulic locomotives were generally lighter than a comparable diesel-electric, which was a key advantage, the Westerns were still heavy enough at 108 tons to require three-axle bogies (in a C-C wheel arrangement).
One aspect most remembered about the class was the different liveries various locos carried. D1000 set the trend off when it emerged from Swindon sporting a desert sand livery, followed by D1001 in all-over maroon to match the coaching stock of the time, and D1015 in golden ochre. Nos. D1002-1004 and D1035-1038 carried a BR green livery, and the rest were in maroon similar to D1001 but with a small yellow warning panel on the front.
The final livery carried by the fleet was BR corporate blue with full yellow ends, which suited them least of all - particularly as they became more and more run down towards the end of their days.
Under the TOPS renumbering system of the early 1970s the locos became Class 52s. But non ever carried a 52xxx number as by then they were earmarked for early withdrawal and so kept their original numbers to the end.
Once in service the locomotives were the most powerful on the Western Region and took over many of the principal passenger workings from Paddington to the West Country, South Wales, the West Midlands and Chester - as well as cross country services as far as the Birmingham area. But they were not confined to just passenger work and could often be seen hauling parcels and mail trains as well as freight like china clay from Cornwall or stone from the Somerset quarries.
However the locos were not without their faults and they were dogged by reliability issues throughout their working lives. But the real problem for the fleet was when BR decided to standardise on diesel-electric locos and withdraw all of its diesel-hydraulic types. Class 46, 47 and 50 diesel-electrics were drafted in to take over the Westerns’ duties, and the final straw came with the arrival of the HST in the mid-1970s. The fleet was then wound down and the last locos were withdrawn in February 1977 after less than 16 years in service.
But if they were unloved by BR, they had a loyal following amongst enthusiasts and luckily some had survived long enough for the diesel preservation movement to get going. Seven locos were preserved and all are either operational or at various stages of repair.
No. D1010 ‘Western Campaigner’ is based at the West Somerset Railway, D1013 ‘Western Ranger’ at the Severn Valley Railway, D1015 ‘Western Champion’ at Tyseley Locomotive Works Birmingham (and is certified for main line use), D1023 ‘Western Fusilier’ is part of the national collection at York NRM, D1041 ‘Western Prince’ is based at the East Lancashire Railway, D1048 ‘Western Lady’ at the Midland Railway Centre in Derbyshire and D1062 ‘Western Courier’ is also at the Severn Valley Railway.
The seven survivors have spent more than twice as long in preservation as they did in BR service, but with dedicated teams looking after them and loyal fans following them, the Westerns are set to grace our heritage lines for many more years to come.