The British Rail Dieselisation Programme: The Shunters Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The British Rail Dieselisation Programme: The Shunters

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End of the Line for Steam on British Railways | The Shunters
The Type 1s | The Type 2s | The Type 3s | The Type 4s and 5s
British Rail Class 14 Diesel Shunter D9531 'Ernest'

Shunters are unsung heroes of the rail network. These small, rugged locomotives are used to move wagons, coaches and other locomotives about. Being small and not particularly powerful, they are cheap to run and cheap to build. While not possessing the brute force of large locomotives, the combination of very low gearing and coupled driving wheels means that they can haul large loads, albeit at slow speeds. This makes them incredibly useful for shunting long trains and for moving heavy locomotives about in motive power depots. It wasn't common for them to operate outside their siding and depots apart from moving empty stock around stations. Many of the smaller shunters found their way into industrial usage after British Rail had finished with them. A lot of big industrial sites also bought their own shunters straight from the manufacturers, based on British Rail classes but with modifications such as larger engines and different transmission. In common with many of the smaller locomotives, they were only built with one cab, although since the locomotives were smaller and travelled at lower speeds than the Type 1s, this feature proved less of a problem with shunters.

British Rail classified the different types of shunter locomotives into 14 classes, each of which is described in the following sections:

British Rail Class 01

The smallest class of shunter weighed in at only 25 tons and was built by Andrew Barclay, Sons & Co in 1956. It had a 150hp (horsepower) engine which transmitted its power through a mechanical transmission to four coupled wheels. Only five were built; four were sent to the Stratford Depot in London1 where they were known for their reliability. The other was kept for departmental (ie non-revenue earning) work.

The class had a full size, enclosed cab at the back and a low bonnet at the front, giving good visibility both forward and back. The wheelbase was only 6ft, allowing them to negotiate tight curves. They were 23ft long overall and had a top speed of only 14mph.

While three of the class were withdrawn, two found their way to Wales to help maintain the Holyhead Breakwater. The Class 01s were the only locomotives light enough for this job. The last of this pair continued in service until 1981 when it was withdrawn, the last BR locomotive still in its original black livery with yellow striped warning ends. Two Class 01s remain in preservation. The classification has survived in British Rail as all industrial shunters that work on the rail network are classed as 01/5.

British Rail Class 02

The Class 02s were a fleet of 20 diesel-hydraulic light shunters built by the Yorkshire Engine Company. Like the Class 01s, they had a 6ft wheelbase for negotiating tight curves, but their straight six engine produced 170hp and they could reach 19mph. At 29 tons, the locomotive was slightly heavier than the 01. Similar in appearance to the Class 01s, with a full height cab and low bonnet, they had a door in the back of the cab and a railed veranda behind it.

Built in 1960, it was soon apparent that much of the traffic they were designed for was leaving the railway, and withdrawals started in 1969. Being relatively new, many found their way into industrial service, and from there into preservation where they are handy for shunting things around workshops. The National Railway Museum in York uses a Class 02 as their shunter.

British Rail Class 03

230 of these diesel-mechanical 0-6-0 shunters were built by British Rail between 1957 and 1961. At 30 tons, these were still light shunters, able to operate where the larger classes were too heavy. They had a 200hp eight cylinder engine giving them a maximum speed of 28mph. They looked similar to the other light shunters, but with six coupled wheels, their wheelbase increased to 9ft.

While much of the traffic they were designed for vanished, leading to withdrawals from 1968, some survived on the network. The last mainland shunters were taken off the system in the late 1980s, but a pair were used on the Isle of Wight until 1993. In 1998, one of these was transferred back to work in the Hornsey depot in north London, where it was still in service at the time of writing.

They were the most successful of the diesel-mechanical shunters and over 50 have found a home in preservation, where they are ideal for moving things around workshops and collecting carriages.

British Rail Class 04

The Class 04 were the predecessors of the Class 03, built for the Drewry Car Company at the Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows and at Robert Stephenson and Company in Newcastle between 1952 and 1962. 143 were built, and proved so successful that British Rail based their Class 03 on them.

While they were mechanically similar to the Class 03, with the same Gardner eight cylinder engine, when British Railways decided to standardise their fleet, they chose to stick with the Class 03s as the standard light shunter. Many 04s went to industry, with at least a dozen working in preservation. Mavis from the Thomas the Tank Engine stories is based on a Class 04.

British Rail Class 05

Between 1955 and 1961, Hunslet built 69 0-6-0 light diesel-mechanical shunters using the same Gardner eight cylinder engine as the class 03 and 04. They tipped the scales at 31 tons. Visually, they were similar to the 03 and 04, with a full height cab, but a low bonnet. They were geared to have a top speed of 18mph.

Once British Rail decided to standardise its light shunter fleet, the Class 05 was withdrawn. Many found use in industry. One ended up on the Isle of Wight Steam  Railway, however it is not seen on passenger workings as the Class 05 is fitted with vacuum brakes, whereas that railway's stock is air braked.

Four have survived into preservation along with similar industrial models.

British Rail Class 06

Andrew Barclay built 35 0-4-0 diesel-mechanical shunters for the Scottish Region between 1958 and 1960. They used the same Gardner engine as the 03, 04 and 05 classes, however they weighed nearly 38 tons. Being a lot heavier than the other small shunters and only having four wheels meant that they had a very high axle loading, which restricted where they could work. With a 7ft wheelbase, they could not manage curves as tight as those negotiated by the class 01 and 02. The locomotives were quite long with massive overhangs, making them look slightly ridiculous. Although they had low bonnets, the bonnets featured a large hump at the cab end which reduced visibility. Only one was preserved.

British Rail Class 07

Ruston & Hornsby built 14 shunters in 1962 for work in Southampton docks. They were diesel-electrics with six coupled wheels. At 43 tons they were fairly heavy shunters, powered by a 275hp Paxman six cylinder engine. With a wheel base of 8ft 7in, they could negotiate slightly tighter curves than many of the other 0-6-0 shunters.

They suffered from overheating axles when moved at speed. Normally diesel-electric shunters had their motors isolated and their coupling rods removed before being towed by rail to their destinations. The Class 07, however, had to be moved by road.

The Class 07 had a similar low bonnet to the smaller shunters containing the engine and generator, but it also had a smaller bonnet containing electrical equipment poking out from behind the cab.

As the docks traffic reduced, they were put to work elsewhere on the network, but by 1977 the class had been withdrawn. Many were fitted with a train air-braking system so that they could move the Southern Region electric multiple units. Seven of the class have survived with at least one still mainline registered. Salty from the Thomas the Tank Engine TV series is a Class 07.

British Rail Class 08

The Class 08, also known as Gronks, were the standard heavy shunter under British Rail. Nearly 1,000 were built and they turned up on nearly every part of the network. They were based on the London Midland and Scottish railway's design for a diesel shunter. Between 1953 and 1962 many of the country's railway workshops built Gronks.

Unlike the smaller shunters, these had a full height bonnet, although it wasn't full width. The cab was situated at one end, giving great visibility going one way, but limited visibility going the other, although no worse than that from the steam locomotives they replaced.

At around 50 tons, these were sturdy locomotives, powered by a 350hp English Electric six cylinder diesel engine through electric transmission. They were geared for a maximum speed of between 15 and 20mph. Their low gearing gave them the tractive effort (pulling power) of an express steam engine.

Not only were they used for moving wagons around yards and forming them into trains, they were often used at large stations for moving empty carriages between the sidings and platforms. The station pilot locomotives were often proud members of the station family, their crews keeping their paintwork spotless, as they would often be the first thing a passenger would see when their train arrived at the terminus.

While they have seen the reduction in wagon freight - replaced by containers - and locomotive-hauled passenger trains - whose numbers have been decimated - Class 08s are still in use on the rail network. They are often seen working in depots where they shunt other locomotives and multiple units around. Private companies own a lot of Class 08s, often hiring them out.

Preserved lines have many examples of this class. Not only are they used for shunting locomotives and coaches around depots, sidings and stations, the low running speed of preserved lines mean that they can also take passenger trains, although since they do not have train heating2, these events tend to be in summer.

Diesel from the Thomas The Tank Engine stories is a Class 08.

British Rail Class 09

The Class 09 was essentially a re-geared Class 08. It traded tractive effort for speed, reaching a maximum of 27mph. 38 were built, originally for the Southern region, and were used for shunting and short freight trips. They occasionally worked passenger services on short rail tours and on short trips when the scheduled locomotive was unavailable.

British Rail Class 10

The Class 10 was another variation on the Class 08. Outwardly identical, it had a six cylinder 350hp Blackstone engine. The traction motors were either English Electric or British Thomson-Huston. 161 were built at the Doncaster and Darlington works.

British Rail Class 11

The Class 11s were an early batch of diesel shunters based on the LMS design for a heavy shunter. Production of the 120 class members started in 1945 and finished in 1952. They look similar to the Class 08, which was based on this design. Confusingly, under British Rail, all the Class 11 locomotive numbers started with 12. Many were exported, others went into War Department service. Quite a few survived into preservation.

British Rail Class 12

Outwardly similar to the Class 08, the Class 12 was built to a design by Oliver Bulleid for use in the Southern Region. Building started in 1949, and finished in 1952 after 26 had been produced. The design was based on a batch of shunters produced by Bulleid's predecessor as the Southern Railway's Chief Mechanical Engineer, Richard Maunsell. It incorporated elements of the LMS's design. They were geared for 27mph running.

One interesting aspect was the use of Bulleid's favoured Boxpox wheels, which instead of spokes, have holes cut in them. He used these as an alternative to spoked wheels on his steam designs as they were both stronger and lighter. Only one has survived into preservation.

British Rail Class 13

Three Class 13s were made to work in the marshalling yards at Tinsley, Sheffield. The yards needed a powerful locomotive, with a lot of traction, but because of the humps in the yard, a large, rigid locomotive could not be used as it would get grounded. The solution was to couple two Class 08s together as a master and slave, removing the cab in the slave unit. They were then loaded with ballast to increase traction.

While they were successful at their work, the end of hump marshalling yards saw their demise and they all ended up being scrapped.

British Rail Class 14

The Class 14s were heavy diesel-hydraulic shunters built by the Western Region. There were built for both shunting and for short freight journeys. They used a 650hp Paxman engine and were able to run at 40mph. Despite the extra power, it was no heavier than a Class 08, thanks to its hydraulic transmission.

They were built at Swindon Works, home of the Great Western Railway. In the days of steam it had build the first Pacific type3 locomotive in the country. This locomotive was called The Great Bear. A quip by the works superintendent led to the Class 14 being nicknamed 'Teddy Bears'.

Between 1964 and 1965, a total of 56 were produced. They were reliable locomotives but didn't have a long working life on the railways due to the changing face of freight transport in the country. When the traffic they were built for started to disappear, most were sold to industry. However, these industries, such as coal mining, were soon to head into decline as well. Some were exported, but a lot were preserved, being ideal for working on these small railways. One locomotive even found use in handling the concrete pumping train used in the construction of High Speed 1, the line between the Channel Tunnel and London St Pancras Station.

1Now mostly under the Olympic Park.2Passenger coaches are heated by either electricity or steam from the locomotive.3A Pacific is a steam locomotive, best suited for express passengers. It has four small wheels at the front to help smooth running at speed, six large wheels for good pulling power and a pair of small wheels at the back to support a large firebox. While the other big three companies used Pacifics for their large expresses, the Great Western actually stuck to smaller 4-6-0 locomotives, since they had access to the better burning Welsh coal.

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