Our Locomotive

About 47771


Above: A fine view of our locomotive in a former, and in the opinion of many, its most popular identity. As 47503 in large logo livery and named The Geordie, it is seen here passing Colton on a bright winter’s day in December 1988.  Photo: Bob Shand.

Main Line Service, a Brief History

Our locomotive was built by Brush at their Falcon Works, Loughborough in 1966, to Works No.708. It entered service on  6th July of that year and was one of the last of the class to be delivered to British Railways. Originally numbered D1946, it was fitted with both air and vacuum brakes from new, and a steam heating generator of the Clayton type which was actually manufactured by English Electric. 1946 (it had lost the ‘D’ prefix from its number by then) was one of  the earliest members of the class to be provided with electric train heating equipment apart from the 22 examples that had been built with it. Under the TOPS numbering system the loco became 47503, and this was the identity it was to keep for the longest period of its time in main line service. With the sectorisation of BR in the early 1990s, 47503 was allocated to the Parcels Sector (later Rail express systems). It was again to receive modifications, this time with long range fuel tanks, and was renumbered to 47771 shortly before being fitted with push-pull equipment to enable it to operate with propelling control vehicles. With the break up and privatisation of BR, 47771’s ownership was transferred to English, Welsh and Scottish Railway (EWS), in whose service it was to remain until withdrawal.

For nearly all of its main line career it was allocated to depots in the former London Midland Region. Over the years our loco has carried five different liveries and two names.  It was turned out from new in two tone green with yellow end panels, full yellow ends being added later. Successive repaints saw it in rail blue, two versions of large logo blue (the first of which was unique and was carried only very briefly), and finally Res colours.  It was first named The Geordie without ceremony at Crewe Diesel Depot in August 1988, the nameplates having been previously attached to 47403 and 47411. The plates were removed from 47503 in June 1991.  The loco received  its second name Heaton Traincare Depot on 18th March 1993 in a ceremony performed by Thomas Oliver, a retired Planning Clerk, at the depot of the same name.  47771 worked its last train on the main line in February 2000. After developing a fault at Bristol it spent time out of use at Toton and Crewe Diesel Depot.  Due to the dwindling amount of work then available to the Res Class 47 fleet, the loco was not repaired, and while stored at Crewe it suffered from the removal of some components so that other members of the class could be kept running. Three years later, and with no longer any  prospect of a return to traffic, EWS put 47771 up for sale in March 2003.

Allocation History

To traffic as D1946, allocated to D16 (Nottingham Division [Toton & Nottingham]), 07/66.

Re-allocated to London Midland (Western) Lines (LMWL), 10/66, then back to D16 later the same month.

Re-allocated to D02 (Birmingham Division [Bescot & Saltley]), 06/68.

Re-allocated to D05 (Stoke Division [Crewe]), 11/69.

Re-allocated to D02 03/73, then Bescot (BS), 05/73.

Renumbered to 47503, 05/74.

Re-allocated to Crewe (CD), 10/76.

Re-allocated to Carlisle Kingmoor (KD), 09/85.

Re-allocated to CD 05/87, then back to KD 06/87, then to CD again, 10/87.

Named The Geordie 08/88 at CD (name ex 47403 / 47411).

Re-allocated to RXLC (Parcels), 12/90.

Re-allocated to Tinsley (TI) 01/91, to FDCT (Railfreight Distribution C Fleet, non heat).

Nameplates removed 06/91.

Re-allocated to CD 07/91, put in store to RXLD (Parcels on hold) 29/08/91, reinstated to RXLC 12/09/91.

Re-allocated to PXLB (Parcels, extended range fuel tanks).

Named Heaton Traincare Depot at the depot of the same name, 18/03/93.

Re-numbered to 47771 18/05/94.

Re-allocated to WQ(S) 07/03/00, reinstated to CD(S) 13/03/00, then back to WQ(S) 22/03/00.

Withdrawn awaiting disposal 08/01/03, sold for preservation & nameplates removed 04/03.

Preservation – the story so far

47771 was advertised for disposal on EWS’s Tender List No.47 in early 2003. It wasn’t a machine that the group would normally have regarded as a natural candidate for acquisition, as the intention had always been to aim for one that was in working order or very close to it. Having seen 47771 on previous visits to Crewe, we were aware that it didn’t fit our preferred description. Another two members of the class were also on the same tender list, although neither were regarded as contenders. 47640, which was stabled next to 47771 in the yard at Crewe,  was known to be the subject of interest by another bidder from the preservation  movement. At  Motherwell was 47763, the former 47581 Great  Eastern, and quite a celebrity when compared to the others, but it required major repairs before it could run again. Also, the difficulties that would have had to be overcome in order to extract it from such an awkward location, not to mention the cost, put it out of contention. This left just 771, which it was felt deserved at least a closer look, and arrangements were made for a team to visit Crewe and carry out a detailed inspection.

At first sight, things didn’t look very promising. 771 was situated close to the depot’s main building which had made it a convenient target for maintenance staff looking for a part to remove and fit to another loco. From the outside it could be seen that three windscreens, two cab doors and one of the bodyside access doors had been removed, allowing the elements into the interior.  At the No.1 end, both front footsteps were among the items that were no longer in place on the buffer beam, and some ETH components had also been taken.  At the No.2 end, neither cab front marker light was intact. The three main roof sections were in reasonable condition, although the silencer covers were missing from the centre section, and the radio aerial and its bracket were no longer in place on the No.2 end cab roof.

Once inside 771, getting from one end to the other was like negotiating an obstacle course. The engine room floor was littered with objects, although with the exception of the ‘A’ side intercooler which rested in, and blocked the gangway, most of the debris consisted of access covers and panels that had been detached in order to get at the components that were behind them, then simply dumped on the floor.  The principal missing items were the turbocharger and parts of the exhaust system. The engine was otherwise virtually complete although some ancillaries such as the governor (but surprisingly not the load regulator) and hydrostatic pump had gone, and less than a full set of fuel injectors was present. We checked for visible signs of defective main bearings but found none. The main generator and ETH alternator were, from what could be seen, intact and with no noticeable defects.

Elsewhere inside the loco, certain items were missing from both the auxiliary and boiler compartments.  These included a large air receiver, the automatic voltage regulator and a number of smaller components, mostly from the braking system.  Although 771 had last operated as air brake only, both vacuum brake exhausters were still in place and intact. The interiors of both cabs were also cluttered, with covers and panels removed although most were lying on the floor.  Both engine brake valves were gone as were some of the gauges,  three of the four seats,  the hotplate from No.1 end cab and various small cab fittings.  Fortunately there was very little evidence inside the loco of the kind of damage frequently encountered when parts are removed,  such as wiring having been cut through etc. After arrival at Crewe, the bogies that 771 had last seen service with had been exchanged for another pair. Those under the loco were virtually complete; no obvious defects were visible and the wheelsets, while approaching the stage where they’d need shopping if it were our intention to operate 771 at high speed on the main line, were considered to be suitable for use on a preserved railway.

The inspection over, we had to consider whether 771 was a viable preservation candidate. On the plus side, all of the major components were present and we hadn’t found evidence of any serious defects. On the minus side, there were a number of missing items of which most were small,  although the job of locating and fitting replacements would be enormously time-consuming.  With 7638 hours ‘on the clock’ the loco wasn’t high mileage, was dual braked and on a reasonable pair of bogies. It was concluded that 771 was viable and worth having, on condition that the price was right. As scrap prices had recently taken a dip, we went in with an offer that reflected the time and amount of work that would need to be invested in restoring the loco to working order. Within an hour of the closing time for bids, EWS were on the phone to us and 771 was ours.


Above: Four months before entering preservation, 47771 is pictured in the company of 47640 at Crewe Diesel Maintenance Depot on 20th December 2002. At this time the Heaton Traincare Depot  nameplates were still attached to 47771, and would remain so for a while longer.  When the locomotive was advertised for disposal the plates were specifically excluded from the sale, and it was only when ownership had been transferred to the Class 47 Preservation Project that they were finally removed.   Photo: Robert Ward.

47771 left Crewe by road on 25th June 2003, arriving at the Colne Valley Railway during the evening of the 26th. Transfer from the low loader to CVR metals took place early the following morning. In the days  following the loco’s arrival,  the group’s initial priority was to provide some basic security and weatherproofing. We discovered that one cab door had been re-hung prior to the loco’s journey from Crewe, and the bodyside access door from ‘A’ side was located inside the engine room and put back in position by ourselves during our first workday. We were still missing one cab door, from the driver’s assistant’s side at No.2 end, so the space was boarded up as a temporary measure. At the same time the vacant apertures where the three windscreens had been, were covered with plastic sheeting while awaiting the acquisition of replacements.

For the remainder of that first summer, the working parties were engaged mainly in tidying up 771’s interior. A number of items that had been removed but left on the floor were refitted where possible or placed in storage. A start was also made on smartening up the faded external paintwork by removing the surface grime. A start was also made to source and acquire the missing components; needless to say the first  items to be obtained were a cab door which was quickly fitted, and several windscreens. Work continued on the loco throughout the winter of 2003/4 although at a slightly slower pace than previously, while priority was given to fund raising. With the onset of the colder weather, most of our efforts had turned towards the interior, in particular the cabs. During 2004 a number of small jobs were tackled, which included making a thorough check of the handbrakes, those at No.2 end being seized solid, although fortunately in the ‘off’ position. Other work during that year included some minor jobs on the engine. One of these involved removing the oil filter covers and examining the filters for signs of foreign bodies, to our relief none were found. The restoration of small components began to take place, although not at the CVR. This work was being undertaken by members of the team in their homes.

In those early years the group’s main emphasis was in finding and acquiring components to replace the missing ones, as well as continuing with our never ending fund raising activities. The group’s first major purchase after the loco itself was a spare power unit. Comprising an engine, main generator and ETH alternator, it came with most anciliaries including the turbocharger and governor, which were the largest components missing from the engine in 771. The reasoning behind its acquisition was not with the intention of swapping it with the one in the loco unless necessitated by unforeseen circumstances, nor to strip it for spares. Its long term purpose was as insurance against a terminal failure such as a ‘leg out of bed’ affecting the one in 771 at some time in the future. In the short term, it also provided us with the option of being able to borrow components to replace some of those missing from the loco, should we wish to. At the time we bought the spare power unit there was insufficient space to keep it at the CVR; fortunately it was already in secure storage elsewhere, so was able to remain where it was.

Until 2005 we’d done very little work on the loco’s exterior, although in the summer of that year we began to carry out cosmetic improvements which included repainting the badly faded yellow end panels. 2006 brought opportunities to obtain substantial quantities of parts. Two journeys to locations in the north each produced a vanload of components that found their way on to 771 or into our ever-growing spares pool. This influx of parts was extremely welcome, although it brought about a new problem. Until this time, space could be found inside 771 to store newly acquired items, but this was now becoming increasingly difficult as the loco’s interior filled up. The solution was to move as much as possible to safe locations away from the CVR.

We had done little work on the loco’s exterior in the early years, but during 2007 a start was made on tackling some areas of the bodywork where signs of corrosion could be seen. Class 47s are not as prone to these problems as certain other classes, and we were aware of the places on a 47 where they were likely to occur. 771 was by no means immune, but wasn’t seriously affected in this way. Apart from the roof centre section, where every member of the class seems to suffer to some extent and where the services of a welder would be necessary, we dealt with the most of exterior with a fair degree of success.

The team’s efforts took a different turn during 2008 with the coming together of a project that had occupied three of us for several years and was now about to come to fruition. Classic Classes – The Class 47s had occupied us on and off since a series of articles featuring different types of locomotive had first appeared in Traction magazine in the 1990s. It had been a very long time since a general history of the class had appeared anywhere in print, and we felt that an up to date version was long overdue. Not only that, but it could generate a substantial amount of money if it were to appear in a major publication. This prospect of raising such a sum on behalf of 771 was the main inspiration for producing the series, although doing justice to the Class 47s as a subject was a challenge in itself.

Having worked on the project for so long in fits and starts, we decided to make it a priority finish the job and submit it to Traction. Meeting with the approval of its Editor, Classic Classes – The Class 47s was published in consecutive issues of Traction during 2009. The series was very well received by both the magazine’s publisher and its readers, and was a considerable success. All of the income earned by the co-authors was donated to the fund for the restoration of 771. Classic Classes was a major success for us, but we had little time to enjoy it. In November 2009, only a matter of days since the final chapter had appeared in Traction, everything changed. 771 suffered an attack from so-called metal thieves, who came to the CVR under the cover of darkness to carry out their evil work. Due to the rising value of non-ferrous metals, copper in particular, locomotives had become fair game for these criminals. There had been a number of raids at various locations on locomotives owned by main line operators, but preserved railways were being increasingly targeted. The attack on 771 was the first time a preserved Class 47 had been the victim, although sadly it was to be followed by others. In our case the thieves were specifically after copper and prepared to inflict any amount of damage in order to steal it. Most of what they took was in the form of heavy duty cable and other copper components. It was estimated that they would have sold it for no more than a few hundred pounds, but to repair the damage they caused would cost many thousands.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the future of 771 hung in doubt. The generally accepted view at the time was that in such circumstances, the cost of repairs would almost certainly be prohibitive. In the case of a 40-year old machine in the service of a main line operator, this might not be an unreasonable assumption considering that the victim was likely to be nearing the end of its working life anyway, but it’s different in preservation. In 771’s case, the damage, while serious, was not necessarily terminal. Also, we were covered by insurance. It was decided that 771 would be repaired, but a new restoration programme would have to be drawn up. This would involve some of the repair work being contracted out as it was beyond the scope of the group to manage without outside help. Also, despite having money in the bank and receiving a payout from our insurers, a funding gap remained. What was needed was another financial boost, and the first step was soon to be taken in that direction.

We’d received many comments about Classic Classes – The Class 47s, and all of them favourable, but one that came up perhaps more frequently than any other was that we should think of turning it into a book. It was something we considered briefly at the time it was being written, but as it had been conceived as a magazine series, we decided to stay with that format. The book idea was regarded as a project for the future. By early 2010, and with the need to close the gap between the group’s available funds and the amount that the repairs to 771 were likely to cost, a plan emerged for a book to be produced to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Class 47s.

We knew it would be a great way to celebrate the class’s Golden Jubilee, but with less than three years before the event, we would have to meet an extremely tight deadline. A considerable amount of new information about the class had been unearthed since the Traction series was written, and to accommodate all of this new material in the proposed book meant that the completed text would, we estimated, be more than double the size of our previous work. Putting it all together in book form was going to be a monumental task with no absolute certainty that it could be finished in time for the 50th Anniversary. It was a daunting prospect that we faced, but we just got on with it.

Despite the intensity of effort brought about by producing the book, work continued with the restoration of 771. It was expected that due to the nature of some of the necessary repairs, the loco would at some stage have to be moved to a location where heavy lifting and other specialised equipment is available. However there is much that can be done while 771 is at the CVR, and a number of small jobs, mostly of a cosmetic nature, are currently under way. By the end of 2012, all was about to change. Our book, Class 47: 50 Years of Locomotive History had gone on sale right on time during the class’s 50th Anniversary celebrations at the Mid Norfolk Railway, having been officially launched in the presence of several members of the class at Dereham station on 22nd September. The launch was a great success, and the income from the book’s sales provided a substantial addition to the repair fund for 771.

Comments are closed.