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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 In 1961 the prototype Deltic was withdrawn after serious powerplant failure.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.

Class Roster

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


         Prototype                                       Production

    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.

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