British Rail Class 20

British Rail Class 20
English Electric Type 1
British Rail Class 20
20002 and 20058 pulling a freight train in 1979
Power type Diesel-electric
Builder English Electric at Vulcan Foundry and Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns
Build date 1957-1968
Total produced 228
Configuration Bo-Bo
UIC classification Bo'Bo'
Gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) Standard gauge
Wheel diameter 3 ft 7 in (1.092 m)
Minimum curve 3.5 chains (70 m)
Wheelbase 32 ft 6 in (9.91 m)
Length 46 ft 9 12 in (14.262 m)
Width 8 ft 9 in (2.67 m)
Height 12 ft 8 in (3.86 m)
Locomotive weight 72 long tons (73.2 t)
Fuel capacity 380 imp gal (1,700 l; 460 US gal)
Prime mover English Electric 8 SVT Mk.II
Traction motors D8000–D8049: EE 526/5D
Remainder: EE 526/8D
Transmission DC generator, DC traction motors
Multiple working Blue Star
Top speed 75 mph (121 km/h)
Power output Engine: 1,000 hp (746 kW)
Tractive effort Maximum: 42,000 lbf (186.8 kN)
Continuous: 25,000 lbf (111.2 kN)@ 11 mph (17.7 km/h)[1]
Train heating None
35 LTf (349 kN)
Train brakes Vacuum, dual or air
Career Direct Rail Services
Number D8000–D8199, D8300–D8327; later 20001–20228
Axle load class Route availability 5

The British Rail (BR) Class 20, otherwise known as an English Electric Type 1, is a class of diesel-electric locomotive. In total, 228 locomotives in the class were built by English Electric between 1957 and 1968, the large number being in part because of the failure of other early designs in the same power range to provide reliable locomotives.

The locomotives were originally numbered D8000–D8199 and D8300–D8327. They are known by railway enthusiasts as "Choppers",[1][2] a name derived from the distinctive beat the engine produces under load which resembles the sound of a helicopter.



Designed around relatively basic technology, the 73-tonne locomotives produce 1,000 horsepower (750 kW) and can operate at up to 75 mph (121 km/h). Designed to work light mixed freight traffic, they have no train heating facilities. Locomotives up to D8127 were fitted with disc indicators in the style of the steam era;[3] when headcodes were introduced in 1960 the locomotive’s design was changed to incorporate headcode boxes. Although older locomotives were not retro-fitted with headcode boxes, a few of the earlier batch acquired headcode boxes as a result of repairs. Unusually for British designs, the locomotive had a single cab. This caused serious problems with visibility when travelling nose first, though in these circumstances the driver's view is comparable to that on the steam locomotives that the Class 20s replaced.

The Class 20 saw only limited service on passenger trains. A small number were fitted with a through pipe for steam heating, primarily for use in conjunction with a Class 37 locomotive on the West Highland Line. Otherwise their use was limited to summer relief services, particularly to Skegness often under the adopted title of The Jolly Fisherman starting from various places including Burton-on-Trent, Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and Leicester. Also occasionally other holiday resorts on the east coast of England, occasional duties as a pilot, and short distance diversions of electric-hauled trains over non-electrified lines.[4]

The shift of light mixed freight to the road network left British Rail with an oversupply of small locomotives. The Class 20s, however, could work in multiple and so handle heavier traffic. Most spent the majority of their working lives coupled nose to nose in pairs to provide a more useful 2,000 hp (1,500 kW) unit and to solve the visibility problems.

Most have now been withdrawn but a few remain with DRS and other minor and industrial operators. Several which are usually operated singly have been fitted with nose-mounted video cameras in order to solve the visibility problems.


British Rail

The first batch of Class 20s were allocated to Devons Road depot in Bow, London to work cross-London transfer freights, with the following eight locos allocated to Hornsey depot. After a trial with D8006, D8028–D8034 were allocated for work in highland Scotland, and had tablet catcher recesses built in to the cabsides. D8035–D8044 were originally to be allocated to Norwich, but were actually used for empty coaching stock (ECS) workings in and out of London Euston. D8050–D8069 were allocated to the new Tinsley TMD in Sheffield, from where they regularly worked into Lincolnshire and Humberside. D8070–D8127 were sent to operate in the Scottish lowlands, particularly in the Forth-Clyde area, and the Fife coalfield. This completed the original orders for 128 locos, the last being delivered in August 1962.

With the subsequent order for a further 100 Class 20 locos, deliveries recommenced with D8128 in January 1966. Tests in 1967 using D8179 and D8317 resulted in locos from D8316 being delivered from the manufacturer with the new electronic control system for working merry-go-round (MGR) coal trains. Trains to Longannet Power Station sometimes required locos to triple-head trains.[1]

After privatisation

Some Class 20s were used on the construction of the Channel Tunnel and High Speed 1 and some even made their way to France to work for the Compagnie des chemins de Fer Départementaux (CFD) in industry there, although these have since been repatriated. Some locos have in the past been hired by Hunslet-Barclay to provide motive power for weedkilling trains. These trains sprayed a weedkiller onto the track bed.

Direct Rail Services' (DRS) fleet of Class 20/3s has at times seen frequent work across Britain in pairs, or with Class 37s, on nuclear flask trains, the company's speciality. Perhaps the most unusual train hauled by a Class 20 was the Kosovo Train for Life charter train in Autumn 1999 which carried 8000 tonnes of aid. Leaving London's Kensington Olympia station on 17 September 1999,[5] the train was hauled by 20901, 20902 and 20903 throughout, reaching Prague by 20 September[6] and arrived at Pristina station at 10:00 on 25 September 1999.[7]

In 2005, Harry Needle Railroad Company (HNRC) acquired a large number of 20/0s and 20/9s from the DRS stored fleet. By May 2008 HNRC had 16 Class 20s in storage and 8 operational of which two are on hire at Corus Scunthorpe (nos 81 and 82). DRS have 15 Class 20/3 locos operational.[8]

HNRC now plan to re-engine many of the 20s and put them up for sale, together with many shunters that they presently own.


Sub-Class Description
20/0 Standard as built locos
20/3 (under British Rail) Small fleet of standard Class 20/0s modified for Peak Forest aggregate workings
20/3 (DRS) DRS-owned/operated locos fitted with modified cab equipment and fully refurbished
20/9 Modified from Class 20/0 after withdrawal and sold to Hunslet-Barclay for contract freight use. Few technical differences from standard locos. Later sold to DRS and recently some to HNRC.


British Rail

D8000 was delivered in 1957 in overall green livery, with grey footplate,[3] red bufferbeams and a grey roof extending down the bodyside to the edge of the roof panels.[9] The original batch of 10 locos bore the BR crest facing towards the nose on both sides, used yellow sans serif numerals, and had green cab roofs; locos from D8010 had the correct pattern BR crest, white numerals and grey cab roof.[3] This was adjusted after D8103[3] to include a small yellow warning panel, although the precise size and detail of such panels varied somewhat.[1]

In 1966, D8048 was selected by the BR design panel for livery experiments and was painted in the prototype standard blue, including the bufferbeams and roof. The exceptions were the full yellow front ends and a black underframe.[10] After the adoption of Rail Blue as the BR livery, D8178 became one of the first locomotives to be delivered in this livery (along with Class 25 D7660 and Class 47 D1953)[10] and all subsequent locomotives were delivered in this livery. Despite this, some locos continued to be returned to traffic in green livery, although often with the later BR "double arrow" logo and data panel;[3] thus 20141 was the final main line loco to carry BR green livery.[11]

Some locomotives, including 20227, were repainted in the Railfreight grey livery with red sole bars, yellow ends and large double arrows on the sides.

At least four of the class were painted in the British Rail Telecommunications livery:[12]


Corus 81 (ex-BR 20056) at Barrow Hill Engine Shed, 9 July 2006

Class 20/9 locomotives operated by DRS have all been painted in DRS blue, with grey roof, red buffer beams and full yellow ends. There have been small variations in the shade of yellow used on these locos, and the penetration of blue from the sides onto the ends. Some locomotives owned by HNRC, of subclasses 20/0 and 20/9, have been painted in a variation of two-tone grey livery. These have dark grey roof, mid-grey upper body and light grey lower body, black underframe and buffer beam. The nose end is painted yellow, which the lower part of the cab end is yellow and the upper part black, this continuing round the cab sides but with the light grey instead of yellow. However, HNRC Class 20s on long-term hire to Corus have been painted in Corus livery; previously silver but currently a bright yellow-green with red solebar and silver cab sides.

Four locomotives have also carried the orange and white livery of the CFD (Compagnie de Chemins de Fer Departementaux') : 20035, 20063, 20139, 20228[13] whilst working in France.

Number 20227 has been used extensively on the London Underground network. In the mid-2000s was painted in Metropolitan maroon livery and named "Sir John Betjeman" by the Class 20 Locomotive Society as acknowledgement of this work. It is now back in Railfreight red-stripe livery.

In popular culture

In the 1995 James Bond film Goldeneye, British Rail Class 20 No. D8188 was used as the locomotive of an escape train, with the addition of armour plating to give the impression of a Russian armoured locomotive. In addition, the distinctive engine noise was overdubbed with the sounds of an EMD 16-567.[citation needed]


Second built Class 20 D8001 in nearly identical livery to that of D8000 waits at Wirksworth on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway in 2009

A total of 25 Class 20 locomotives are preserved, including the first of the class built, D8000, which is part of the National Railway Collection at the National Railway Museum in York.

Class 20s in preservation[14]
Preserved by Location
20001 D8001 Class 20 Locomotive Society Ecclesbourne Valley Railway
20007 D8007 English Electric Preservation Great Central Railway, Nottingham
20020 20020 Scottish Railway Preservation Society Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway
20031 20031 Privately owned Keighley & Worth Valley Railway

20035 ex CFD Sutton Coldfeild

20048 D8048 Midland Class 20 Association Midland Railway, Butterley
20050 D8000 National Collection National Railway Museum
20059 D8059 Somerset & Dorset Loco Company Severn Valley Railway
20069 D8069 Privately owned Mid-Norfolk Railway
20087 20087 [ Bury

Diesel Group]|| East Lancs Railway

20096 20096 Based at barrow Hill
20098 D8098 Type One locomotive company Ltd Great Central Railway, Loughborough
20107 H010 RMS Locotec Weardale Railway
20110 20110 South Devon Diesel Traction South Devon Railway
20117 20117 Somerset & Dorset Loco Company Stored at Severn Valley Railway, being used as a source of spare parts for their other Class 20 locomotives
20118 20118 Harry Needle Railroad Company Currently running on the North Norfolk Railway
20137 D8137 Privately owned Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway
20142 D8142 Privately owned West Ruislip LUL Depot
20154 20154 English Electric Preservation Great Central Railway, Nottingham
20166 20166 Harry Needle Railroad Company Wensleydale Railway
20169 D8169 Privately owned Kirkby Stephen East railway station
20188 D8188 Somerset & Dorset Loco Company Severn Valley Railway
20189 20189 Privately owned West Ruislip LUL Depot
20205 20907 Class 20 Locomotive Society Midland Railway - Butterley
20214 20214 Privately owned Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway
20227 20227 Class 20 Locomotive Society West Ruislip LUL Depot
20228 2004 Privately owned Barry Island Railway


Hornby Dublo, later Wrenn, made an 00-gauge plastic-bodied model class 20 from 1958 until the 1970's. In 2008, Hornby produced several of the Class 20 in various liveries in 00 gauge, which were based on old Lima tooling. Bachmann Branchline (00) have their own version of the model in various liveries. Also with DCC sound fitted locomotives. Bachmann (Graham Farish) have also produced a model in various liveries in N gauge.

References and sources


  1. ^ a b c Oakley, Michael (1981). BR Class 20 diesels. Truro: Bradford Barton / D&EG. ISBN 0 85153 419 8. 
  2. ^ "'At least 20 20s' for Barrow Hill diesel jubilee". The Railway Magazine: page 9. July 2007. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Wells, Monty (November 1982). "Tweak a Twenty". Railway Modeller (Seaton, Devon: Peco Publications & Publicity Ltd) 33 (385): pp398–401. 
  4. ^ Webster, Neal; Greaves, Simon and Greengrass, Robert (1985). Loco-Hauled Travel 1985-6. Bradford: Metro Enterprises. ISBN 0 947773 02 9. 
  5. ^ "Pickersgill-Kaye sponsor Kosovo train for life". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  6. ^ "Recognition and equipment information - Class 20". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  7. ^ "BBC News - Train of life in Kosovo". 1999-09-25. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  8. ^ "End of the Line: Withdrawn & Stored Locomotives UK". Retrieved 2008-05-21. 
  9. ^ Stevens-Stratten, S.W.; Carter, R.S. (1978). British Rail Main-Line Diesels. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0 7110 0617 2. 
  10. ^ a b "Rail Blue - The Story". Rail Blue. Retrieved 2008-03-20. .
  11. ^ "Rail Blue - Class 20 fleet". Rail Blue. Retrieved 2008-11-25. .
  12. ^
  13. ^ McMurray, Gareth. "Fleet lists: Class 20". The Junction. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  14. ^ "Preserved Diesels Class 20". Retrieved 2008-08-15. 


  • Marsden, Colin J. (1981). Motive power recognition:1 Locomotives. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0 7110 1109 5. 

Further reading

  • McManus, Michael. Ultimate Allocations, British Railways Locomotives 1948 - 1968. Wirral. Michael McManus. 

External links

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