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Construction of the Class 50 locomotive fleet, which was built by the English Electric Company and, unusually for the time, leased to British Rail, took place at the Vulcan Foundry at Newton-le-Willows between February 1966 and October 1967. Employed by BR on the West Coast Main Line to haul trains north from Crewe to Glasgow and Edinburgh, frequent double heading made the most of their 100mph capability to improve journey times. Classified as English Electric Type 4, the completed locomotives were given the running numbers of D400 to D449, the “D” prefix being dropped following the end of steam traction.

At the completion of electrification in 1972, the Class 50 locomotives were gradually transferred to the Western Region for use on the Paddington (London) to Bristol and South West routes. During this time, all fifty locomotives were purchased from the English Electric Company by British Railways and responsibility for maintenance was handed over to Doncaster Works. During the mid-1970s, under TOPS, British Rail renumbered locomotives 401 to 449 to 50001 to 50049, with number 400 becoming 50050. Following a period where the policy of locomotive naming had been abandoned, British Rail were persuaded to name the Class 50s after notable Royal Navy ships, the first locomotive naming occurring in January 1978 when 50035 was named Ark Royal.

After the introduction of the High Speed Trains (HST) on to the main lines from Paddington in 1977, the fleet was displaced on to other routes ranging from Waterloo to Salisbury, Exeter and Plymouth, as well as routes taking them to Birmingham from Paddington and Bristol.To deal with increasing reliability problems, the Class 50 fleet was refurbished at Doncaster Works between 1979 and 1984, the results being a simplification of the complex electronics, plus the removal of many redundant features which were part of the control system. This refurbishment also resulted in the change of the air intake fan arrangement which had produced the distinctive Class 50 ‘sucking’ sound that had led to the locomotives gaining the nickname, “Hoovers”.

After refurbishment the locomotives returned to the Western Region, working from Laira in Plymouth, and Old Oak Common in West London. An experiment in running heavy mineral freight wasn’t a success, ironically due to equipment removed in the previous refurbishment and the class gradually found itself replaced by Class 47 locomotives and DMUs on the routes still worked. Withdrawal commenced from February 1987 and gradually the fleet was reduced; by 1992 just eight locomotives remained in service, these being 50007, 50008, 50015, 50029, 50030, 50033, 50046 and 50050.

Class 50 locomotives have proved popular with preservation societies including our model, 50026 Indomitable, which can be found at the Mid-Hants Railway. Working its last train in November 1990, 50026 was withdrawn in December 1990 and was one of nine locomotives sent to Booths scrapyard at Rotherham in early 1992, from where it was rescued.