Diesel locomotive, D212 – overcoming adversity

Britain adopted diesel traction on its railways rather late (at least compared to other nations on the European continent). This was due, in part, to ample supplies of good Welsh steam coal, and a great tradition of fine Chief Mechanical Engineers of the various railway companies – Sir Nigel Gresley of the London and North Eastern Railway with his fabulous A4 Pacifics, and Charles Benjamin Collett, designer of the ‘King’ Class of the Great Western Railway. Be that as it may, the economic advantages of the diesel engine were inescapable, being only bettered by electric traction, of which there were few mainline track miles in Britain prior to the Second World War.

Diesels were initially seen as the ideal ‘shunter’ (‘switching locomotive’ in the U.S.A.), because of their ability to be ready for work in a matter of seconds, rather than building a fire and then watching the boiler pressure slowly climb, as you did with the average steam locomotive. Also, there wasn’t the long-winded dumping of ash and other after-work actions that were necessary with steam traction. Consequently, it wasn’t until the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Ltd. rolled out the experimental diesel locomotive No. 10000 from their famous Derby Works in November, 1947, that any serious attempt was made to replace the long-haul, high-speed express steam locomotive. This, and a sister engine, formed Class D16/1 and were a successful experiment; motive power was a EE16SVT 1600 hp diesel engine with electric transmission, from the English Electric Company.

That same diesel engine, only a EE16SVT Mk II producing 2,000 hp (1,550 hp at the wheels), was used in a new class of locomotive, the D40. Built by English Electric at their Vulcan Works – apart from a small number which were sub-contracted – they were called the Type 4 by the manufacturers and had a ‘1 Co – Co 1’ wheel arrangement. This means that, if you were standing looking at the side of the engine, and started at the front, you would see ONE unpowered wheel followed by THREE powered wheels (for the non-rail fans, the ones with a yellow circle in the photograph) then a gap, then three more powered wheels, followed by a unpowered wheel. Each of the powered wheels has its own direct current motor, driven from a DC generator, turned by the diesel engine. Nine prototypes D200 to D209 were built and put into service. D212 was the third ‘production’ machine.

The first D40 passenger service was run from London, Liverpool Street station to the East Anglian city of Norwich on 18th April, 1959. Despite a performance which was quite adequate, it was felt by some in British Railways that the class was going to prove unable to sustain the constant high speed (90 – 100 mph) demanded on the long haul between London and Edinburgh. A decision was made to ‘wait for the ‘Deltics’, the next class of diesels which promised to exceed the D40’s performance by a big margin, due to their powerful Napier ‘Deltic’ engines. Consequently, the D40s were used on the Midland main lines and in the West Country, and slowly lost out to newer diesels, being relegated to heavy freight and summer excursion trains to seaside resorts like Blackpool and Skegness (the immortal ‘Skeggy’ to Derbyshire miners and their families). One reason that passengers did not like the D40s in winter, was that they only had an inefficient steam heater for the coaches; other, more modern designs had provision for electric heating, as used on the newer rolling stock. The D40 Class was limited to 200 locomotives, only.

D212 was built in May, 1959, and had a very active life; she was seen all over the British Rail network from Carlise in the Northwest to Camden, London. Along with 19 other members of her class she was named. In this case, because D212 often hauled passenger trains between Manchester and the port of Liverpool, she was named after a steamship of the Elder Dempster Line; others were named after Cunard or Canadian Pacific ships that visited Liverpool regularly. On 20th September, 1960, at Liverpool Riverside Station, she was named ‘Aurole’, by Mr M Glaister, a Director of Elder Dempster, and nameplates depicting the Elder Dempster house flag and a ship’s wheel attached.

D212 – now renumbered 40012 after a re-organization – was withdrawn on 18th February, 1985 due, sadly, to derailment damage. However, she was put back into limited service as a ‘Departmental locomotive’, that is hauling engineering trains and other internal services, at not more than 35 mph; this time she was carrying a ‘Departmental’ number, 97407. A photograph exists of ‘Aurole’ – looking rather distressed – at Manchester Victoria station, in 1986, and she is wearing ALL THREE of these numbers!

Just as she was going to be scrapped in 1989, she was bought by a group of enthusiasts. After D212’s asbestos lagging was removed by specialist contractors, she was hauled to the Midland Railway Centre in Derbyshire. It would take a book to describe the difficulties which have been overcome to bring ‘Aurole’ back to life. A 73 inch crack in her engine block (‘stitch welded’ by a Sheffield company specializing in cast iron), failing batteries, making her impossible to start (a new set – NOT your average car battery! – bought by subscription) cracked bogie frames, and much more.

Despite this constant fight to maintain an old locomotive, she is back in service, and appearing at galas and open days, hauling regular services on the Midland line from Butterley to Riddings, and in demand on other preserved railways. A triumph of railway preservation, D212 is kept running by the hard work of a group of truly dedicated individuals known the ‘Class 40 Appeal’. Long may their work with this, and other diesels, continue.


2 comments on “Diesel locomotive, D212 – overcoming adversity”

  1. There is nothing like being near a big diesel engine as it slowly rolls by — the sub woofer component has a lot to do with it, I think. What an unusual dual cab design, as well 🙂


    • The ‘double-ended’ nature of British diesels persisted for many years. Even the High Speed Trains (the HS125) is run with a power car at each end of the train (although they ‘single’ units, not double-ended)


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