British Rail Diesels
The "Crompton" (class 33)

By Stephen J Chapman.

Colonel Crompton was a pioneer in the electrical industry. He worked on electric trains which were introduced on the Southend Pier Railway in 1889. His company was a forerunner of Crompton Parkinson Ltd. Which supplied the electrical equipment for the class 33 locomotives which thus came to be known by the nickname "Crompton".

The BRCW Type 3 locomotives (later to be known as class 33) were introduced as a direct result of the 1955 modernization plan. Orders were placed in the mid 1950s originally for 45 locomotives in 1957 then for a further 20 in 1958 and yet another 21 in 1960. In 1959 another 12 had also been ordered but with narrower bodies (by seven inches) to allow them to be used on the Hastings line. All 98 locomotives were built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited and were introduced to service between 1960 and 1962. All of the locomotives were originally built to exactly the same design except for the last 12 to be built (which were the narrow bodied ones). All of the locomotives were originally intended for use on BR(SR) Eastern Division but a downturn in freight traffic in the mid 1960s led to their range being extended to cover the entire Southern Region (and beyond). The standard locomotives were originally identified as class KA and the narrow bodied version as class KA1A.

The narrower bodies were required for the Hastings line because of the line having a restrictive loading gauge. This was particularly bad due to the Mountfield tunnel where the contractors had skimped the work and then gone out of business leaving the SER to fix the problem by adding an additional layer of bricks to line the tunnel reducing the loading gauge even further. This restriction was responsible for Maunsell designing the Schools class locomotive with three cylinders instead of two but the effect is much more noticeable with the flat sided KA1A class locomotives and also the DEMUs that ran on the line. It is the appearance of these locomotives that led to the nickname "Slim Jim" for the narrow bodied version.

As the Southern Region was progressively electrifying most of their lines, there was not such a big place in their locomotive roster for diesels as on the other regions. Three diesel-electric locomotives were planned by Southern Railways in 1947 but they didn't actually enter service until 1950 (for the first two and 1954 for the third). These three locomotives (10201, 10202, and 10203) along with three built by the LMS proved that main line diesel traction was feasible but didn't achieve much else. These locomotives spent most of their life on the LMR being transferred there in 1955. One of the three LMR diesels was also transferred to the SR on loan in 1952. The three SR locomotives were withdrawn in 1963 leaving the BRCW type 3 as the Southern's only home based main line pure diesel. The only other mainline diesel locomotives to be based on Southern (rather than just visiting from other regions) were the class 73 and 74 electro-diesels which were primarily electric locomotives with a supplementary diesel motor.

The Crompton locomotives were BRs first type 3 diesel and the first to be fitted for ETH (electric train heating). The locomotives are a Bo-Bo with 1550hp Sulzer eight cylinder inline engines and weighed 73.4 tons (later 77 tons). They were fitted for both air and vacuum braking systems. The locomotives are 50 feet 9 inches long over the buffers and 9 feet 3 inches wide over the handrails (8 feet 8 inches for the narrow bodied version). The locomotives were originally fitted with 800 gallon fuel tanks but these were later replaced with a 650 gallon version and later still with a 750 gallon version. This locomotive was designed so that it could run anywhere on the Southern Region except for a few minor branches. The alternative locomotive that was considered was the English Electric Co-Co design that eventually became the class 37 but this loco weighed 105 tons and would not have been able to run on several essential lines.

The locomotives were originally allocated numbers in the range D6500 - D6597 and were decked out in BR locomotive Green livery with a three inch white stripe down the side and with white window surrounds, a mid-grey roof and black underframe. The buffer beams were painted signal red. All were initially allocated to Hither Green depot in South East London but western division needs saw twelve of the fleet transferred to Eastleigh on 7th July, 1962. Subsequently, further locomotives were transferred. The KA1A locomotives were also transferred in 1963 but to Hastings St Leonards not Eastleigh. These were subsequently transferred back to Hither Green.

The early years saw the locomotive running alongside steam locomotives and in some instances mixed traction double heading occurred such as when D6535 assisted Merchant Navy 35012 United States Lines to haul the Bournemouth Belle on 12th June 1966 or when D6581 assisted 35026 Lamport & Holt Line on 7th July of the same year. The early days also saw these locomotives double heading trains with other diesels such as class 24s particularly on passenger trains using older steam heated stock (since the Cromptons didn't have a boiler). The class 24s were returned to the LMR in 1962 but an occasional one was borrowed later so this wasn't the end of seeing these two locomotive classes running together. Double heading of 33s has subsequently become a rare site as one is usually sufficient to meet most of Southern Region's haulage needs. A single Crompton locomotive could pull nine fully loaded passenger coaches or the equivalent in freight wagons. Winter saw passenger train lengths reduced to eight cars due to the power requirements of train heating. The lack of steam heating meant that for the most part Cromptons were used primarily for freight trains during the winter months.

In mid 1962 the first livery change was made with the introduction of a small yellow warning panel below the window at either end of the locomotive. D6530 was the first locomotive to be so treated and had rounded corners at the top of the panel while subsequent locomotives had square corners (and a slightly larger yellow panel - that on D6530 didn't go the full width). The next livery change was to paint the entire end of the locomotive and the window surrounds in yellow. Locomotives that received this livery change after 1968 also lost the D from the front of their number at this time as there was no longer a need to distinguish them from steam locomotives.

Locomotive D6530 was the first Crompton to be involved in an accident involving serious damage when it ran down an embankment at Gravesend West which resulted in the locomotive bearing a crease in one side for many years afterwards. D6502 was involved in a serious collision at Itchfield Junction when it over-ran a signal and crashed into a ballast train on 5th March, 1964. It was cut up on the spot although not officially withdrawn until May. Another early incident involving a Crompton occurred on 27th June 1964 when D6529 derailed at Gatwick airport and two large cranes had to be brought in to place the locomotive back on the track. D6576 was the second locomotive to be withdrawn from service on 7th November 1968 following an accident where it collided with a class 47 while on shed at Reading.

Between 1966 and 1971 the locomotives were all repainted into BR blue and while the yellow end and window surrounds were retained, the white stripe down the side of the locomotive was removed. When first painted in this livery there were still plenty of steam locomotives around. This livery also overlapped on the previous variants so that it was possible to find a locomotive in this livery alongside one still in the original livery.

After the Bournemouth electrification scheme was announced in September 1964, nineteen members of the class were converted for use on the Bournemouth to Weymouth push pull service (D6511, D6513, D6514, D6516, D6517, D6519, D6520, D6521, D6525, D6527, D6528, D6529, D6531, D6532, D6533, D6535, D6536, D6538, and D6580). These locomotives were designated as class KB. These units were modified to allow them to be worked in multiple with Southern Region's electric stock. The most noticeable differences between these modified locomotives and the original design are the provision of jumper cables at either end of the locomotive similar to that which can be found on electric stock and buckeye couplings instead of the screw link couplings previously fitted. D6580 (later 33119) was the first of these to be converted. Although the locomotives are fitted for a continuously variable engine speed, operation of the locomotive from a driving trailer allows only four speeds to be selected corresponding to the shunt, series, parallel, and weak field settings on electric stock. The first of these locomotives was the only one to appear in green with small warning panels with the rest being repainted into the blue and yellow livery prior or during conversion. Another peculiarity with D6580 was that it became the only diesel locomotive to be temporarily fitted with third rail electrical pickups during the testing that was performed. All of these locomotives were allocated to Eastleigh and their changed appearance earned them the nickname "bagpipes".

Between Weymouth Junction and Weymouth Quay, the railway line runs down the middle of the street. For safety reasons a warning bell/light unit is attached to the front coupling for this part of the run and the locomotive proceeds at walking pace accompanied by staff on foot (and sometimes a police car) to ensure that cars are kept clear.

In 1968 a new numbering system came in to identify locomotive classes and the KA class locomotives were designated as 33/1, KA1A became 33/2, and KB became class 34. These class numbers were changed again before the new numbers were actually applied to the locomotives.

From 1970 onwards all of the class narrow bodied locomotives were fitted with slow speed equipment making them suitable for use in merry-go-round workings at the APCM cement plant at Nothfleet as well as some collier power stations.

1974 saw the start of locomotives renumbered into the TOPS numbering scheme with the original version of the locomotives being numbered as class 33/0 (instead of 33/1), the push/pull fitted locomotives as class 33/1 (instead of 34) and with the narrow bodied version as class 33/2 (still). With two locomotives previously withdrawn and nineteen rebuilt, the rest of the original locomotives were renumbered sequentially with D6500 becoming 33001 and D6585 becoming 33065. The push/pull fitted locomotives and narrow bodied locomotives were also renumbered sequentially with D6511 becoming 33101, D6580 becoming 33119, D6586 becoming 33201 and D6597 becoming 33212.

33041 didn't last long with its new number being withdrawn from service on 9th November 1975 after colliding with a 4SUB at Bricklayers Arms Junction. 33036 was also involved in a collision this one at Mottingham on 10th October, 1977. While the locomotive wasn't withdrawn immediately in this instance, the damage done was sufficient to see it withdrawn from service less than two years later on 13th July 1979.

During 1985 all of the class 33s at Hither Green were transferred to Stewarts Lane depot at Battersea. This included all of the class 33/2 locomotives and almost half of the 33/0s. The class 33/1s and the remainder of the 33/0s were still allocated to Eastleigh which is also where all repair and major service work was done. All class 33s would get to visit Eastleigh for refurbishment at least once every four to five years.

Naming of the class 33s began in 1980 when 33008 was named Eastleigh, 33052 was named Ashford, 33027 was named Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and 33056 was named The Burma Star. In 1987, 33112 was named Templecombe and in 1988, 33050 was named Isle of Grain and 33051 was named Shakespeare Cliff. One 33/1 has also been subsequently named with 33114 being called Sultan.

In 1981, 33012 was the first locomotive to be repainted into one of the new experimental liveries with wrap around yellow cab ends and black window surrounds. This was a similar livery to that applied to the newly introduced class 56 locomotives.

The ninety four class 33 locomotives to remain in service in 1983 made up half of the Southern Region locomotive fleet with the rest of the fleet consisting of forty seven class 73 electro-diesels and forty seven shunting locomotives (mostly class 09 with the remainder being class 08 except for one class 03).

The privately owned Venice Simplon Orient Express entered service in 1982 and while the Pullman coaches were normally pulled by a 73 class locomotive there were also many occasions where a 33/0 or 33/2 substituted.

By 1989 a further thirty four of the class 33s had been withdrawn from service, most of these in 1988/9. These were 33001, 33002, 33005, 33007, 33010, 33011, 33013, 33014, 33017, 33018, 33024, 33028, 33031, 33032, 33034, 33037, 33038, 33043, 33044, 33045, 33049, 33054, 33059, 33061, 33062, 33104, 33105, 33107, 33039, 33112, 33202, 33209, 33210, and 33212. A few of these locomotives were withdrawn due to damage but most were phased out as being surplus to operating requirements. One of the major points to this locomotive's credit is that prior to this the only locomotives to be withdrawn were those which had suffered damage in accidents which was uneconomical to repair.

The remaining sixty locomotives appeared in a variety of liveries by 1989. 33008 had its own special green livery and while most of the rest were painted in standard blue, some (33021, 33050, 33051, 33053, 33056, 33064) were in railfreight livery and some (33203, 33205, 33206) in Speedlink livery. These last were allocated to loading and unloading duties on the cross-channel train ferry at Dover.

The locomotives were by now allocated to a number of different sectors including Departmental (33002, 33004, 33006, 33015, 33023, 33025, 33026, 33030, 33048, 33064, 33065, 33110, 33117, 33118, 33201, 33204, 33207), Railfreight construction (33008, 33009, 33012, 33016, 33020, 33021, 33022, 33027, 33029, 33033, 33040, 33042, 33047, 33050, 33051, 33053, 33055, 33057, 33060, 33208, 33211), Railfreight General (33019, 33035, 33046, 33052, 33056, 33058, 33063), Network Southeast (33101, 33102, 33103, 33106, 33114), Parcels (33108, 33109, 33111, 33113, 33115, 33116, 33119), and Distribution Speedlink (33203, 33205, 33206).

For a short period in 1988 locomotive 33205 was renumbered to 33302. The number was subsequently changed back. 33202 was reinstated to service in 1989. The Sultan nameplates were also moved from 33114 to 33025 in 1989.

At this point the growing demand for Channel Tunnel and Merehead Stone traffic meant that further withdrawals of the class were less likely.

The Crompton locomotives were the work horses of those few lines on the Southern Region where it was uneconomical to electrify the line. They have been used both for freight (their main use on Eastern Division), passenger service (their main use on Western Division), and have even been known to haul an occasional royal train.

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Copyright Stephen Chapman