British Rail Class 76
|British Rail Class 76|
Preserved locomotive no. 26020 in original black livery.
Tommy - the prototype
The prototype, LNER No. 6701 was completed at Doncaster Works in 1941 to a design by Sir Nigel Gresley, but electrification of the Woodhead Route was delayed by the Second World War. It was tested on the few sections of 1500V DC lines owned by the LNER but had not worked any great distance by 1947 when it was loaned to Dutch Railways to help with their post war shortage of locomotives.
The prototype locomotive, renumbered 6000 in June 1946, remained on Dutch Railways until 1952 when the Woodhead electrification was complete. While in the Netherlands it gained the name Tommy after the nickname given to British soldiers and ran for the rest of its working life with a name plate which included an explanation of the origin - "SO NAMED BY DRIVERS OF THE NETHERLANDS STATE RAILWAY TO WHOM THIS LOCOMOTIVE WAS LOANED 1947-1952". It was renumbered to 26000 following the formation of British Railways.
It is not clear what, if any, modifications were required for the locomotive to operate in the Netherlands. Four valves on the front of the cabs carried various combinations of pipes, but these were fitted when the locomotive was built.
26000 Tommy was used alongside the other EM1 locomotives equipped with train heating boilers, in everyday service. It was withdrawn and scrapped in 1971 when passenger services were withdrawn over the Woodhead route and several locomotives became surplus to requirements.
The time in the Netherlands had shown that the design did not ride well at high speed due to the bogie design. The buffers and couplings were mounted on the bogies which were then linked together by a drawbar, a feature intended to remove stress from the superstructure. It was also felt that the cabs were too small with poor visibility.
In 1952-1953, a further 57 locomotives were built at Gorton locomotive works, Manchester, to a modified design. Electrical equipment was supplied by Metropolitan Vickers, who completed the final assembly of the locomotives at Dukinfield Works. They were later reclassified as Class 76 under the TOPS numbering system introduced in 1968.
The locomotives were fitted with twin diamond-shaped pantographs. At certain points on the Woodhead Line, notably in the vicinity of steam locomotive water-columns, the electric overhead lines were as high as 20 feet above the tracks. The pantographs had to stretch to almost their full height to reach the wires at such points.
Although mainly intended for freight working, the locomotives also regularly worked Woodhead Line passenger services (until their demise in January 1970) - especially after the sale of the Class 77s to the Netherlands Railways in 1968.
Brief stay in Essex
The Manchester to Sheffield "Woodhead" route was not fully electrified until the beginning of 1955 following the completion of the third Woodhead Tunnel. This led to a glut of locomotives on the Manchester side of the Pennines and a quantity of the class were sent south to Ilford depot in Essex. The catenary was energised to the same 1500V DC as the Woodhead Line and class 76s could be seen running outer suburban trains from Liverpool Street for a time. As soon as the tunnel was complete, the class were sent north again, much to the displeasure of the Ilford drivers and fitters with whom they had found favour, mostly due to being relatively trouble-free and handling heavy trains up the banks (Brentwood is particularly onerous) with great ease - two traits that continued throughout their working lives on their intended territory.
Brakes and controls
The locomotives were fitted with regenerative braking, allowing current to be fed back into the wires during the long descents on both sides of the Woodhead Tunnel. Rheostatic braking was also fitted several years later as an additional safety precaution, as well as vacuum brakes.
Many of the locomotives were later modified for multiple unit control. This became particularly important with the introduction of "Merry-Go-Round" coal trains from South Yorkshire to Fiddlers Ferry Power Station near Widnes, operated by two Class 76s (and banked by two extra locomotives up the Worsborough incline between Wombwell and Silkstone). Such trains became the mainstay of the Woodhead Line in the 1970s. A "Clearcall" intercom system was fitted, allowing communication between the drivers of the leading pair and the banking pair of locomotives. Beyond the Woodhead Line, the trains to Fiddlers Ferry were diesel-hauled west of Manchester.
As delivered, the locomotives were painted black (as in the photographs above). From the late 1950s onwards Brunswick green was adopted, with small yellow warning panels on the cab ends. From the late 1960s until withdrawal, the Class 76s started to appear in British Rail monastral blue with yellow cab ends.
The fortunes of the Class 76s were inextricably tied to the fate of the Woodhead Line. The reduction of the freight traffic on the Woodhead Line, plus the ending of passenger services, resulted in the early withdrawal of several locomotives.
By the late 1970s the locomotives were amongst the oldest in service on British Rail and replacement would ultimately become necessary. However, the closure of the Woodhead Line between Hadfield in the West and Penistone in the East (July 1981) resulted in the withdrawal of the entire fleet.
Class 76 had served well, having been built to an evidently sound design and cared-for well by the maintenance teams of Reddish and Wath. Many were still entirely serviceable when withdrawn and British Rail sought to sell the fleet to the Netherlands Railways, but neither they nor any other operator of 1500 V dc railways wished to purchase the Class 76s - many of which were already over 30 years old. Accordingly the remaining locomotives were scrapped (many at the yards of Booths of Rotherham), apart from a single preserved example now in the National Railway Museum, York.
One locomotive has been preserved by the National Railway Museum along with at least one cab from another locomotive. The preserved locomotive, No. 26020 (later 76 020) was specially chosen because it was built with Stainless steel handrails and had been exhibited at the Festival of Britain. Later, it was the locomotive that pulled the opening day train through the Woodhead Tunnel. It retains the stainless steel handrails, although they are currently painted over. A complete cabside from No. 76051 Mentor (and door from No. 76001) are preserved at Barrow Hill roundhouse.
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