The spotlight this week falls on the English Electric Class 50.


There were 50 locomotives built at the Vulcan Works at Newton Le Willows in Lancashire in 1967/8 for use on the northern section of the West coast Main Line from Crewe to Glasgow which had at that time yet to be electrified.

They were much more powerful at 2700hp than the Class 40’s and 45’s that had preceded them. EE had provided a test engine in 1962 with the same bodyshape shell as the very successful Deltics on the East Coast main line, the DP2, which had proved to be a very competent locomotive itself. Unfortunately it was damaged beyond economical repair in an accident in 1967 though parts were re-used on the class 50 production line. English Electric wanted to keep the same bodyshell for use in the production of the class but the British Railways Board insisted that the flat fronted cab with headboard was used. A stipulation was that it was to be capable of running at 100mph. The original numbering was from D400-D449 until the TOPS system came in in 1973 when they became 50001-50050 with D400 taking the last number 50050. They originally worked singly but eventually in pairs which gave them the ability to keep to greatly accelerated timetables. When the electrification to Glasgow was completed in 1974 the entire class were transferred to the Western region, much to the dismay of the Class 52 Western hydraulic fans as that was the death knell for the Westerns. There had been a period when BR had not allowed any more loco’s to be named but they were cajoled into relaxing this edict and the whole class were given the names of British warships from both world wars. Originally the loco’s were built with an air filter system that was used worldwide which produced a loud sucking noise which earned them the nickname of “Hoovers” with enthusiasts. Unfortunately the rather unique pattern of our water laden atmosphere reacted with oil fumes and clogged up the works to such an extent that the system had to be replaced between 1979 and 1984 at the same time as other modifications such as the electronic anti wheelslip mechanism when they went in for major overhauls. Although they no longer sounded like a vacuum cleaner the nickname still persists.

The reign over the Western region main lines didn’t last too long as they themselves were then replaced by the HST’s from 1977 onwards. Some carried on with the fast Oxford services from Paddington and others found work on the engineering side as well as some that were moved to the Southern region for use on the Waterloo- Exeter line. Unfortunately they weren’t ideally suited to the stop start nature of the station stops and were replaced with class 47’s, but by 1993 the Class 159 DMU’s took over. Though initially disliked because they replaced the Westerns they did become very popular with the spotters as they do have a similar “tractor” growl like the beloved Class 37’s.

There are a remarkable 18 remaining, mostly on preservation railways but a small handful have or are in the process of getting Mainline Certification.

Unfortunately it has been quite a while since one has run along the sea wall. As these engines were out of normal service by 1992 I have had to illustrate my pictures with scans from my photo collection, including black and white. Those were the days of the camera club when we all looked down on those new fangled colour pictures that you had to send away to be printed when you could rejoice in spending hours in the darkroom breathing in the chemical fumes whilst seeing your b & w masterpiece slowly appearing from nothing in the hypo bath!

Nowadays I can appreciate sitting in the comfort of the lounge  fiddling about on the computer with Photoshop in the daylight does have it’s attractions.

All but one of the pictures were taken locally and all the services would have travelled along the wall but as I didn’t live here in Dawlish at the time not all of them were taken on it.


However we do start at Langstone Rock on the sea wall with a train that looks like it was from the 1970’s with a nameless Class 50 and Mk1 coaches but it was in fact D400 earlier this century on a special.

D400 Langstone Rock

[adrotate group=”2″]


The latest I have taken on digital was from 2005 when 50031 Hood and 50049 Defiance called into Dawlish Warren station for a pathing stop on their way to Kingswear.


Both are now based at the Severn Valley Railway. The brass plaque is to commemorate the warship it is named after but I don’t know the relevance of the dog.


[adrotate group=”2″]


The pair came back later in the day and are seen here on the embankment at Cockwood harbour before the totally unnecessary railings were erected to spoil the view.


The reason the 50’s were alone was because the railtour was returned to Ashford in Kent by 60009 Union of South Africa.

Not a class 50 but it completes the reason for the above picture and what a lovely evening it was!


[adrotate group=”2″]


Not the best of pictures, also taken at Cockwood, but much earlier than the previous picture which was taken around 1989/90. It is of Defiance which was renumbered 50149, repainted and fitted with modified Class 37 bogies with lower gearing for experimental use on clay trains. The electrical antislip equipment which all the class had been built with but removed when undergoing the filter change mentioned earlier, would have been ideal for this experiment. It was not a success and in 1990 Defiance was returned to it’s normal state.


In almost all of this weeks pictures you can see that many changes have been made in the railway scenery. Here was the view at Teignmouth from the bridge at Shute Hill when the line still had semaphore signals and the signal box on the platform end. Again the engine is 50031 Hood.

50031 Hood

50047 Swiftsure seen passing under what must be one of the most photographed bridges on the system and onto the Teignmouth sea wall. This view is now spoilt a little by a boarded wall built to protect the line from rockfalls. Swiftsure was scrapped in 1989

50047 Swiftsure

[adrotate group=”2″]


A little further along the wall is Sprey point where I was fortunate enough to capture 50017 Royal Oak on a Paddington train meeting a Plymouth bound class 47.

Royal Oak is owned by Boden Rail and can sometimes be seen on the Northern Belle Pullman train and even on steel trains going to Boston Dock.

50017 Royal Oak & 47 at Sprey point

Also at Sprey point was 50046 Ajax on a mixed freight train. Not one of the lucky ones Ajax was scrapped in 1992

50046 Ajax

[adrotate group=”2″]


Approaching from the opposite direction is 50019 Ramillies which at present is under overhaul on the North Norfolk railway.

50019 Ramillies

50042 Triumph passing the home semaphore signal approaching Teignmouth station.  Triumph is undergoing restoration at the Bodmin & Wenford railway

50042 Triumph

[adrotate group=”2″]


Another one saved was 50044 Exeter and now is based on the Severn valley Railway at Kidderminster, owned by the Class 50 Alliance.

50044 Exeter 3

Many changes have been made at Newton Abbot. At Aller Junction no more are there semaphore signals nor the bridge that I was standing on to take this picture of 50004 St. Vincent & 50016 Barham.

Both loco’s were scrapped at Rotherham in 1992

Aller Junction

Seen over the roadside wall is 50038 “Formidable” taking the Plymouth line at Aller junction, the left hand lines go to Torquay and Paignton.

Now no bridge nor the signal box which stood empty for many years but now demolished. The attractive stone occupation bridge went quite recently during the construction of the Kingskerswell bypass.

50038 Formidable Aller Jnc

[adrotate group=”2″]


In 1984/5 as part of the GWR 150 celebrations 4 Class 47’s  were painted up in traditional Great Western colours. Also 50007 was renamed Sir Edward Elgar and given the same treatment.The loco is now owned by Boden Rail and reverted to it’s original name of Hercules.

50007 Sir Edward Elgar.not the centre of attention

50007 Sir Edward Elgar

[adrotate group=”2″]


The layout is much reduced nowadays from these views from 30 years ago.  I think from memory there is only the platform line remaining and the signal box that the 47 on a parcels train is passing is long gone.

50007 Sir Edward Elgar & 47 on Parcels

Another large structure that has disappeared is Tiverton Junction station, replaced by the Parkway station. Here 50026 Indomitable was rushing through on the centre roads with it’s 12 coach express. The station which had originally been the junction for Tiverton town and also Hemyock in the opposite direction was closed in 1986. Indomitable is owned by Paul Spracklen

50026 Indomitable

[adrotate group=”2″]


In what seemed at the time the rather garish new livery of Network South East is 50035 Ark Royal passing Teignmouth docks in about 1986. This loco is still earning it’s keep on the Severn valley railway

50035 Ark Royal (Network South East.)

Last but not least is 50027 Lion which can be seen on the Mid Hants Railway which runs between Alton and Arlesford. It is in the same livery as Ark Royal but now in the days of privatisation the livery looks quite normal!


[adrotate group=”2″]

Subscribe to our Newsletter. Get a weekly roundup of Dawlish Beach news to your inbox

* indicates required