Locomotive Performance

Virgin Cross Country 47's

  The Brush Type 4, later to be known as the Class 47, was never a favourite. For a start, they ousted the "Westerns" from the Paddington to Birmingham route in the mid 1960's. I had many runs on the 47's, but until 1998 never set out deliberately to travel behind them. In the late 1980's, when I was timing the 50's on The Waterloo to Exeter, and Paddington to Oxford lines, I cursed my luck when a 47 turned up. But I had no complaints about the way they ran. They just lacked Charisma. 

In September 1998, whilst having a late summer break at Minehead, I decided to travel to Totnes, and visit the South Devon Steam Railway, accompanied by friend  Alastair Wood. We drove to Taunton and  travelled by 47 hauled Virgin Cross Country services to and from Totnes. I got a surprise: the running was far more vigorous than I had anticipated. Alastair, who is probably the most experienced Train Timer in the Uk, put me right. There was a lot of excellent running on 47 hauled Cross Country services. So I decided that I would try the other Cross Country routes.    

A "Tesco Clubcard" promotion, 15 return wherever you went on Cross Country, got me off to a good start. Brighton, Manchester, Plymouth, York, and Poole. Subsequently "Virgin Value" fares provided the impetus. More trips to the West Country and Bournemouth, and even a 47 to Carlisle. The running was always good, and often excellent. I was saddened when it all ended in late 2002. Well almost ended, anyway. 
  15th September 1998: This is the run referred to above from Taunton to Totnes on the 6.31am Wolverhampton to Plymouth. 47845 took Whiteball at 70 mph, then reached 100 mph down past Cullompton. Dainton was topped at 42 mph and we were 2 mins early in to Totnes. Splendid. [view log of 47845]
  15th September 1998: The return from Totnes to Taunton in the afternoon was on the 3.55pm Plymouth to Manchester service with 47812. Another excellent run, 45mph over Dainton eastbound, and 82 mph minimum over Whiteball, and to finish the day off nicely, 101 mph down Wellington bank. [view log of 47812]
  16th February 1999: My first class 47 run of 1999 was on a sunny February day. The performance of 47853 on the 6.20am Preston to Brighton matched the weather. Excellent. We had a long wait at West London Junction before getting a path to Kensington Olympia, and once on the Southern it was a case of fitting us in between the electric services. But with vigorous running we were in to Brighton 1 min early. [view log of 47853]
  16th February 1999: I arrived at Brighton at 1.07pm, and was heading back at 2.15pm, having managed a snack and a walk on Brighton beach. 47853 was heading home on the 2.15pm Brighton to Preston. We called at Haywards Heath, Gatwick Airport, and East Croydon, and were 2 mins early in to Kensington Olympia. Once on the the Western main line at Acton, we were booked slow line to Reading, and were clearly following a slower train. We were 5 early in to Reading, but 2 mins late away. We had a completely unchecked run back to Birmingham International, reached 1 min early. The max speed was 96 at Cholsey. [view log of 47853]
  27th February 1999: Bound for a weekend break in Manchester, that just happened to co-inside with a Steam Gala on the East Lancashire Railway, my wife and myself caught the 9.06am Paddington to Manchester at Birmingham. A packed train had Fragonset owned 47703 up front. With two p.w slowings and 2 signal checks, there was little opportunity for hard running. Maximum speed was 91 mph near Penkridge and we were 2 mins late in to Manchester. [view log of 47703]
  2nd March 1999:  47854 on the 9.13am Liverpool to Plymouth from Birmingham New Street. I have not included log details prior to Taunton since there was a fair amount of "recovery and pathing" time in the schedule, and only moderate work was necessary.From Taunton, the run was interesting since we ran into a storm, which was causing the Culm and Exe rivers to flood their banks as we headed for Exeter. Round the coastal section from Dawlish Warren to Teignmouth, the waves were over the top of the train. I feared I might be spending the night in Plymouth. However we arrived right time, despite a stop approaching Plymouth. [view log of 47854]
  2nd March 1999: I returned with 47854 on the 3.55pm Plymouth to Manchester service. The next four hours were remarkable. One of my best ever class 47 run, more waves "over the top" at Dawlish, the rivers Exe and Culm almost on the ballast from Exeter, an embankment slip at Flax Bourton. Then one of the most violent thunder storms I have ever known from Bristol onwards. And yet we were only 6 mins late in to New Street. A long spell of "100 mph plus" running south of Gloucester, and a superb 38 min 21 sec run from Cheltenham to Birmingham. A truly memorable day.[view log of 47854]
  7th March 1999: A day out to York, where I remained for a total of 41 minutes. I chose the Sunday 9.52am Bristol to York service, knowing that it was subject to "diversions". In fact we went via Lichfield to Derby, then reversed, and headed back to Trent before continuing  up to Sheffield, Doncaster and York. The running was excellent throughout and we were 3 early in to York. [view log of 47847]
  7th March 1999: 47847 worked back on the 15.18 York to Birmingham, this time without any diversions. The only check was a 20 mph pw slack at Clay Cross. The running was again splendid and we finished 6 mins early. The highlight was the time of 34 mins exactly from Derby to Birmingham. [view log of 47847]
  14th March 1999: A Sunday trip to Poole on the 9.44am from Leamington, the 8.25am Wolverhampton to Poole. 47848 was the loco, and we were 3 late off Leamington, a few minutes behind a Charter for Marylebone. So we were checked on the run to Banbury. Thereafter we were clear to Reading, where there was a generous amount of "run round" time. In fact we were booked to follow a stopper to Basingstoke.Therafter we had a clear road, ran well, and were Right time Bournemouth and early in to Poole.[view log of 47848]
  14th March 1999: I returned from Poole behind the same loco,47848, on the 3.05pm Poole to Glasgow. Station time over-ran at Reading, which caused a 4 minute late arrival back at Leamington. [view log of 47848]
  18th September 1999: On this date I travelled on a Steam Charter from Birmingham Snow Hill to Bristol behind 4965 Rood Ashton Hall. But what to do in Bristol from its arrival at 11.30am, and the return departure time of  6.30pm. Easy. "A Cheap Day reurn to Paignton, please". And so I caught the 8.10am Liverpool to Paignton, hauled by 47822, as far as Taunton. We ran the 44.75 miles in 32 min 22 sec, pulling back 5 minutes from the 12 late departure from Bristol. [view log of 47822]
  18th September 1999: After a drink and a sandwich in the Taunton buffet, I continued west on the 9.17am Manchester to Paignton with 47845. We were 3 late leaving Taunton, and 2 early in to Paignton. And the waves were once again coming over the sea wall at Dawlish. [view log of 47845]
  18th September 1999: After 16 minutes at Paignton in the rain, I was heading back to Bristol, once again behind 47822, on the 3.00pm Paignton to Preston. We were 1 early back in to Temple Meads, despite a signal check at Parson Street. [view log of 47822]

27th April 2000: On this date I travelled with my wife from Birmingham to Exeter on the crowded 9.13am Liverpool to Plymouth. We were off for a "West Country short break". 47712 ran well, arriving at Exeter 2 minutes early. Isn't it strange that our "Short break" happened to co-inside  with the running of the "Dawlish Donkey" steam runs from Exeter to Newton Abbot and Plymouth. [view log of 47712]
  2nd May 2000: We returned home from our Exeter based  break on the 11.50am Plymouth to Liverpool with Fragonset owned 47701, named Waverley. But instead of the usual load 7, we had a dead class 47 tucked in behind 47701. So the load was equivalent to 10. We were 1 min late off Exeter, and 5 late back in to Birmingham. This train called at Weston, and the running, taking account of the load, was good, although I did feel that we might have run faster between Yate and Gloucester South Jn. [view log of 47701]
  25th April 2001: The lack of an available Cross Country class 86 electric, meant that 47818, which had worked the 7.15am Bristol to Edinburgh in to Birmingham, had to work the train through to Edinburgh, together with the return working. We were on time leaving Birmingham, but suffered delays to Crewe, so the log covers the Crewe to Carlisle section. Sadly, I had to get off at Carlisle. We were 27 late from Crewe, and 32 late in to Carlisle, having almost kept the electric timings. We topped Shap at 67 mph.  [view log of 47818]
  I made several other class 47 runs in 2001 and 2002, but by this time, the rail network was suffering the effects of the Hatfield disaster, and was awash with speed restrictions. I did 47817 from Coventry to Bournemouth, and 47750 Birmingham to Plymouth and back. Also several trips on the Birmingham to Reading line. But there is little point in publishing logs of journeys that were mainly a succession of p.w.slowings.
  So what conclusions did I come to after 4 years of fairly extensive class 47 haulage on Virgin Cross Country services. Firstly, I never had a single poor run. Secondly, I had several really excellent runs. Thirdly, that the entire Virgin 47 fleet was being well and truly thrashed, day in, day out, on VXC services. And fourthly, that if Chris Green, the Virgin boss, whose views I have always respected, did make the remarks credited to him that he "would like to see all the Virgin 47's at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean", he was being less than fair.

My favourite diesel classes are still the class 52's, the class 35's, and the class 37's, but I have to admit that the class 47 has been the most successful class of diesel locomotive ever to run in Great Britain. And they are not finished yet.

  The lower picture is copyright Cliff Jones, and is reproduced with his consent.