Not The Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

When the Weekly Photo Challenge called on us to show Family I thought about a number of options. But Time was against me so I couldn’t be quite as off message as I normally like. With a few minutes in hand now I’m going to tell you about a family of Locomotives that were my absolute favourites back in the 1970’s/80’s. They were known amongst enthusiasts as the ‘Peaks’.

Most locomotive types are mechanically the same within a class. There were 200 Class 40’s – differentiated only by number and some minor cosmetic differences. 512 Class 47’s – as built, identical to each other except perhaps for heating equipment (steam, electric or none). 228 class 20’s – just minor cosmetic differences when built. So, that’s the way it was with most locomotive classes. The ‘Peaks’ were different – same locomotive externally but some big differences inside…

In the 1950’s the British Transport Commission and British Railways took the decision that Steam had to go asap. Diesel traction was seen as a good choice as a stopgap for a few years until it would be possible to electrify the nation’s railways. Of course, it was all pie in the sky – lots of political ideals from each end of the spectrum but no real coherent strategy and as a result everything was done in a rush.

Orders went out for small numbers of diesel locomotives from a wide variety of builders with a view to trialling them to find out what types worked best before big orders were made. But politics preempted the situation and British Railways found itself pushed into dieselising far faster than trial periods would allow. The result was that lots of untried locomotives were suddenly let loose onto the tracks. Many were not up to the task and fell by the wayside – scrapped after only a few years of service. Others proved to be far better than a stopgap option. The Peaks were one of these.

In 1955 the British Transport Commision ordered 10 Sulzer powered locomotives with Crompton Parkinson electrical equipment to be built by British Railway’s Derby Works. At 2300HP they were more powerful than the English Electric locomotives (2000HP) being ordered at the same time and sharing the same bogie design. Both would prove to be successful in the post-steam world. The first of the 10 locomotives was delivered in 1959. D1, after entering service, was named Scafell Pike and the other members of the class also were given names of famous mountains in England and Wales. From this they drew the nickname ‘Peaks’ among enthusiasts.

With the pressure on to get rid of steam a further batch of 127 locomotives was ordered from Derby but these would have a refined version of the Sulzer engine which with the addition of an intercooler provided 2500HP. Crompton Parkinson electricals were retained. Subsequently another order was placed which saw another 76 locomotives delivered with the 2500HP engine but Brush electrical equipment. Thus we wound up with three different locomotive types sharing the same bodyshell and bogies and the same nickname! They became classes 44, 45 and 46 when British Rail computerised in the early 1970’s.

For me the Peaks bring happy memories of the Midland main line from St.Pancras to Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield. And also the cross country routes from Newcastle down to Plymouth via Leeds and Birmingham. I had some wonderful journeys with them and also one odd experience which I can’t explain. I was standing on Derby station once with a couple of friends and we observed a Peak approaching from the Birmingham direction on a cross-country service. Somehow I knew it 46010 as she came under the bridge and long before any possibility of reading her number existed. I expressed the fact to my friends and they were incredulous when it proved to be correct. How I knew is a mystery to me even to this day though those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I believe that machines are more than the sum of their parts! We don’t call Locomotives ‘She’ for nothing 😉 I’ll let you ponder on how I knew which one it was – if you can work that out you’re a better man than me, Gunga Din.

The Peaks ran the Midland mainline from the mid 1960’s until the late 1980’s and I had many enjoyable runs up and down over the years. I always view the line north of Bedford to Leicester as the October Country as it becomes a little special in the autumn when the mists shroud the farmland but it is always a challenge for the trains passing along its length, especially the climb over Sharnbrook – a summit that gets less respect than it deserves. I have another recollection of a journey behind a Peak over this route. I turned up at St.Pancras one morning intending to travel to Bedford before catching the local services back stopping off at various stations for photography. The 10:00 service was due to call at St.Albans and Bedford so I bought my ticket and went to the barrier. I showed my ticket to the collector on the gate and he clipped it for me. I boarded and settled down. After a short time the train moved off…

…I thought “that’s early!” and checking the watch, it was! I was on the 09:55 Master Cutler service to Sheffield, first stop Leicester. Embarrassing or what! Fortunately it was an error by the station staff with the wrong platform number displayed and the error not spotted by the ticket man on the barrier – I wasn’t the only passenger on the wrong train though I suspect I was the happiest! The guard apologised for the inconvenience caused and suggested I catch the next train back to Bedford from Leicester. In the meantime I enjoyed coffee served from silver pots into a china cup in second class! 🙂 The Master Cutler at the time was a very tight schedule requiring the driver to pull back the throttle handle and hold it there on pain of getting cramp until reaching the approach to Leicester. Ok – they had to slow for Wellingborough and Market Harborough but then it was crack it open again time. It was a spectacular run! I also had some great runs on cross-country services.

Several Peaks have survived into preservation including my mystic lady 46010. Here are some photos of them in service and preserved…

ps – 45055 carried the name ‘Royal Corps of Transport’ and from this the nickname of the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society is drawn… The Royal Corps of Train Spotters 😉

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