The Class 33 – G.Clark
Added to the SELG website in Feb.2001, this is an article penned by the Late G.Clark. George was one of our members and a longtime member of the Gravesend Railway Enthusiasts’ Society. This first appeared in the G.R.E.S.’s Newsletter in 1997.
From early September 1996 when EWS made the preliminary announcement that Stewart’s Lane (SL) would close in mid-1997, that Class 37s and Class 60s would move to Toton and Class 73s to Eastleigh, it was also stated that the few remaining Class 33s would be withdrawn.
As time has shown, a fair number of the Class 33s have been sold into preservation and it seems a good time to look back. I became particularly interested in the Class when commuting from Vauxhall to Richmond 1979-81. Travelling for an arrival at Richmond of 14.30 to commence a late shift, I found my most convenient method was to travel by a 4-EPB of the Hampton Court/ Teddington/Sheperton services and change at Clapham Junction to a Reading 4-VEP/4-CIG.
This left me with a few minutes’ stand on Platform 3 at the Junction during which I inevitably saw the 13.11 Waterloo – Exeter St. David’s pass through. This was normally hauled by a Class 50 and was during a period when the SW Division were experiencing difficulties with their Class 50 allocation. It was also a period when the 50s were one of the few Classes fitted with the then new Quartz Halogen headlights.
I would sight the train by its headlight as it passed Queen’s Road and in favourable circumstances it would be gaining speed all the time and hammering through the platforms at Clapham Junction at a respectable speed, my pocket diary at the time eventually held most of the names and numbers of the Southern Region allocation.
But for the occasions when this happened, there were far more when the Class 50 was really struggling, amidst clouds of black exhaust smoke, and on even more frequent occasions had failed completely, to be replaced by a Class 33. I never ceased to be amazed how the Class 33 performed just as well with the regular 9-coach train. Having said that, there was an occasion when even a Class 33 came through, a pretty sick engine, it must have been managing just about 10mph through the Junction and I often wondered how far it had got before it failed completely, not that I learned later of such a failure, maybe it was taken off at Wimbledon or Woking.
As the result of BR’s Pilot Scheme in the 1950s for Diesel Traction to replace steam, in some cases as a stopgap until electrification, in others as a long-term replacement on lines which would in all probability never be electrified, Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Company, Smethwick had for some time been exporting locomotives with the Swiss Sultzer engines, and subsequently contracts were shared between them and BR, Derby, producing various Type 2 Classes. One problem was that Sultzer produced a single-bank six-cylinder engine of 1,l6Obhp which proved ideal for Type 2 traction and produced Type 2 locomotives of Class 24 (121 from Derby) and Class 26 (46 from BRCW).
However, Sultzer’s more powerful engine was a 2,3OObhp, two-bank 12-cylinder version. Ideal for Type 4 traction, but this left a gap in Type 3 traction. Meanwhile, while other regions were getting on with diesel traction, the Southern Region, initially engrossed with Kent Coast Electrification were somewhat later putting their own diesel traction plans into operation. Also, as readers will be well aware, the Southern and later Southern Region were something of a law unto themselves in relation to the other regions.
In the final event, BRCW got the whole of the Southern Region order which was to number 98 and be an enlarged version of the Class 26 design. One of the stipulations made by the SR was to include ETH at 750v DC with capacity to heat 12 BR Mk. 1 coaches. No steam heating boiler was considered necessary since few, if any inter-regional excursion trains ran at times of the year when heating would be necessary. The absence of a boiler allowed more space in the body shell so an 8-cylinder version of the 1,l6Obhp engine was built delivering 1,55Obhp (Type 8LDA28). Pistons, cylinder liners, connecting rods and bearings are common to all Sultzer engines on BR and are interchangeable. The underframe and body shell is basically identical to the Class 26 design and the two four-wheel bogies are again of the Class 26 design. Electrical equipment is by Crompton Parkinson (which has given them their nickname). One item of SR equipment which has made them easily identifiable is the two-character Headcode panel centrally in the cab-front.
In the South Western Division, where Class 33s did most of their passenger work and with the use of them and 4-TC Units on push-pull work, this required a number of modifications; a centre buffer and buckeye couplings as used on multiple-unit stock, electro-pneumatically braking systems, requiring extra jumper cables, also extra automatic fire-precaution for times when the locomotive was propelling and the driver at the other end of the train, this all created the Class 33/1s.
Of course the other sub-class was the 33/2s, of which 12 were built to the 0 Restriction for the Hastings Line, easily recognised by the narrower outside windows on the cab front. Due to the narrow width of the 8-cylinder, in-line engine and absence of a train-heating boiler the Class 33s were said to be the least-cramped design of the period. However, it is reputed to have caused BRCW much more difficulty than anticipated. Significantly, it was only shortly after completing the Southern contract that BRCW became insolvent. Having said that, after the usual period of teething troubles the 33/2s turned out to be among the best performers of the Class.
From their inception the Class 33s have performed a multiplicity of duties. In their early days they hauled the prestige expresses; Golden Arrow and Night Ferry. On the SE Division they soon lost their passenger turns to electrification and express EMUs, with their freight turns being eaten away by the E5000 (Class 71s) and later the E6000 (Class 73s). Occasionally they returned on such as the Night Ferry when difficult weather conditions existed such as ice and fog.
It was the Central Division where they were seen to a larger extent, particularly on excursions from and to outside the Southern Region. A Ramsgate train or an Eastbourne train would be handed over from an AC electric at Willesden to be hauled through to its destination in spite of the third rail existing from Clapham Junction onwards. On the day-to-day scene the need for diesel-hauled passenger trains was less and confined to the Reading – Tonbridge route and for a while the DEMUS operating the Oxted – Uckfield Line would be supplemented at peak periods by up to 8-coach, Class 33-hauled trains.
I can recall one evening during my 1979-81 previously mentioned commuting period, on a 9-5 normal working day when we arrived at Richmond Station around 5pm to find the platform roads under 2ft. of floodwater. The same applied to the North London and District Line platforms, so there were no trains leaving Richmond. Whilst hordes of commuters left the station for the ‘buses, knowing the ‘buses would not accommodate a fraction of them, I doggedly, with others, stuck to the platform.
After an hour we were rewarded by the sight of the Clapham Junction – Kensington Olympia shuttle (by then a rather careworn 4-VEP with a Class 33 in push-pull), which took us to Putney where we continued by third rail on trains which had come off the Hounslow Loop. Meanwhile the push-pull set started a shuttle between Twickenham and Putney until the waters subsided. It was on the SW Division where they gained most of their passenger duties, when the push-pull system was initiated following the Bournemouth electrification, where an unpowered TC Unit which had been coupled to an EMU traction unit from London to Bournemouth would be coupled to a Class 33 for the journey to Weymouth and onwards, if necessary. For the return journey the 33 would push the TC to Bournemouth where it would couple to a London-bound EMU.
On the freight scene they acquitted themselves just as efficiently with cross-London freights, not only by the West London Extension to Willesden but as far as Ripple Lane, Barking. Within the Southern Region – everywhere. Around 1969 the Hastings Line acquired a Merry-go-round working, for this all Class 33/2s were fitted with the BR standard MGR slow-speed control to control speed automatically between 0 and 3 mph. This was housed in a small box over the inside axle box of one bogie.
They are not all withdrawn, with Class 33s still appearing on Railtours, ballast trains and Engineer’s Trains. A further Tender List was issued by EWS in April 1997, this will no doubt cover the remainder. With the large number which seem to have been bought for preservation I don’t think we have seen the last of them, 33046 ‘Merlin’ is due to make its home at Shepherdswell on the EKR. The 71A Locomotive Group has purchased four: 33012, 33208, 33204 (for spares) and 33 109 Captain Bill Smith RNR. This means that the Group has a “complete set”, being one of each of the sub-Classes.
They are all to be based at the Mid Hants, I am particularly pleased to see 33109 has found a home and await patiently to see if a buyer will be found for 33116, its running-mate. The Group plan to restore at least one to mainline running condition, I should imagine 33 109 is a good candidate! In addition 33048 is destined for the West Somerset Railway, 33052 ‘Ashford’ to the K&ESR and 33065 ‘Sealion’ could end up on the East Lancs.
Another large-scale purchaser of redundant Class 33s is the well-known Harry Needle of South Yorkshire. He has bought nos. 002/23/29/53/57 and 33207. It is reported that he was offered 33008 ‘Eastleigh’ but turned it down. 33029 has been in store at Toton to be used for training and is in working condition. No. 33207 is also a runner and 33002 is the oldest survivor of the Class, the others he plans to strip for spares and then cut up.
The following table accompanied the article in the GRES Newsletter at the time and gives an interesting snapshot of the state of the class in the late spring of 1997 compared with how things actually transpired.