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The Six Five Special

This text is based on an article written by Nick Lawford in the October 1997 issue of Live Rail distributed to members of the SEG. Class 33 diesel electric locomotives were specified by the former BR Southern Regions' traction engineers in the late 1950's and a fleet of 98 was built. Built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon company, these 85 mph 79 ton BoBo design were powered by a Sulzer 8LDA28 diesel engine at 1550 hp and Crompton Parkinson electrical equipment. In the past SEG railtours have often utilised Class 33 traction but on this occasion, Hertfordshire Railtours operated the train.

My first recall of a main line diesel locomotive is at Poole in August 1962. I was just three years old. And it was D6508. Diesels only arrived on the South Western Division that summer so it is unlikely I would have seen one before then. Thirty five years later, in September 1997, 33051 and 33030 were to etch in another memory.

I have to say that Class 33s have never been my favourite locomotives but the "Cromptons" have always been there. In 1967 I saw them commence pulling to Weymouth and pushing to Bournemouth; watched one demolishing Ringwood; observed them takeover Waterloo-Exeter in 1971; seen them haul megatons of ballast from Meldon and the Mendips; move kilometres of rails from Redbridge; stopped five hours with failed D6522 at Hewish crossing one night in 1973; took 33001 by Adex to Swansea and 33002 by Adex to Birmingham in 1974; seen them adorned with flashing lights and ringing bells through the streets of Weymouth; got banked by one in a blizzard at Folkestone Harbour; sneaked on ocean liner express to Southampton for them; likewise Motorails at Kensington Olympia; hauled on WR and LMR scheduled services by multiplied 33+25, 33+31, 33+37; and by mixed mode diesel+electric 33+73 and 33+EMU on the SR; travelled through Crewe overnight when the wires were off; managed SEG railtours using them; in SEG committee meeting held in Blaneau Ffestiniog tunnel with two in 1986; travelled the last diagrammed Waterloo-Salisbury 33s in 1989; noted them move hundreds of tonnes of concrete for the Channel Tunnel; and even hired 33116 for a railtour of my own in 1992.

I am approaching 90,000 miles of travel behind 96 members of the class. I did not have the two early write offs and know of no-one claiming all 98 and my mileage is peanuts compared to some cult followers. Through many diverse workings over thirty years it is difficult to quote the memorable personal best ones. I think I will put down the two which come to mind now. One evening in 1980 produced 33207, 33208 and 33211 on the Oxted line commuters. Just ordinary booked traction going about its ordinary daily business. But one-for-one-for-one London Bridge-East Croydon-London Bridge-East Croydon with 33/2s adding just enough spice to mark it in time. The other occasion was in 1985 when one of those magnificently eccentric railtours using a top-and-tailed 25+33 and 37 combo took 33012 over some unusual South Wales freight lines with Pantyffynon the most pronounceable destination. Blue Star-ing a 25 with anything usually incites fire or failure but on this date the BoBos behaved impeccably - it was the EE Type 3 which disgraced itself. Not many 33s have banked 37s out of trouble in the Valleys.

38 years ago, using 1955 BTC parameters, the Southern's Type 3s were anything but standard. Train air brakes and electric heating were unheard of on diesel locomotives. Yet the Southern did it - in one of the few packages ever delivered to BR within the specified axle load. As progenitors of the Modernisation Plan, the British Transport Commission favoured a +100 ton CoCo which could neither heat nor brake a train the way the SR specified. In any case a BoBo was needed for near universal route availability. BTC resistance was eroded. The SR had a traction specification - around 1600 hp at 85 mph should do it. Take the existing BRCW Type 2 design, eliminate the steam generator, replace the 1160 bhp Sulzer six cylinder LDA engine of the D5300 series by the 1550 bhp eight cylinder version. D6500s had arrived. Ordered from December 1957 an extremely versatile locomotive was produced. The first machine was completed in December 1959 and accepted the following month.

Undoubtedly the design has stood the test of time. Only one significant technical modification has been necessary - a complete re-arrangement of the exhaust system following failure of the original silencer design. All D6500s started service on the SED with gradual westwards. By 1962 D6500s were entrusted to Fawley-West Midlands "superline" 2000 ton tank trains - then the heaviest freight trains on BR. Enhancements have been made for changing traffic requirements - conversion of nineteen standard locos for push-pull passenger operation, and the fitting of slow-speed controls to the twelve narrow bodied Hastings gauge machines for merry-go-round freight loading operations. Both the WR and LMR passed covetous eyes over them due to the ETH capability. And both got extensive use of them, but the 33s remained geographically Southern based-right through to EWS ownership.

Saturday 13th September 1997. London Victoria, 0645, and above the platforms MacDonalds is doing extra trade in Big Breakfasts and associated fayre as 600 modern traction fans assemble for the final Class 33 booked passenger workings. Down at the stop blocks on Plaftorm 2, 33116 is busy churning away to heat 1Z66 0731 Victoria-Bristol. 33116 is one of only three 33s still authoried for 85 mph. The other two, 33051 and 33030, are at the front of the train. So- a pair of "standards" for the last one. Just what the purists wanted - no "bagpipes" and no "slim-Jims". 33051 wears BR corporate blue with full yellow ends and leads 33030 is in grey and yellow "Dutch" infrastructure livery. Departure is delayed - the Hither Green driver is ready but the whereabouts of the Eastleigh trainmens' taxi is unknown. Under way at 0742 - theoretically the last Class 33 hauled departure from a London terminii. The derelict 33053 and 33057 at Stewarts Lane are a reminder of what today is all about. Round the houses and hills to Wimbledon, on to the Slow, then over the Down Fast after an "81" passes by. Despite the late start, the "Six Five Special" is back on time by Woking.

Speeds in the low 90s (93/94 mph recorded] down grade on the Portsmouth Direct kept things going. 33s were not really regular passenger traction on the Portsmouth line but after Havant, the tour itinerary is designed around the classes 1970s and 1980s passenger routes. Fareham, then Eastleigh, where a booked pass at 0955 is skillfully achieved with precision driving. The dead slow KAs approach the Up signal at red on the Down Slow platform while a non-stop 442 on the Up Fast crosses our path - the signal clears to yellow without 1Z66 actually stopping. Romsey, Dean signal stop, East Grimstead signal stop, Salisbury non-stop, Westbury photo-stop, and into Bristol Temple Meads where the train terminates, booked 1206, actual 1205, restarting as 1Z33 1228 Bristol-Victoria for an unremarkable run to Exeter. The stop at Exeter St Davids is marred by Railtrack or British Transport Police or both deliberately, maliciously, placed barriers prevent photography on Platform 1. Unnecessary doing nothing other than creating bad feeling.

The path up the LSWR main line from Exeter was approximately that used by the Exeter-Brighton service - the classic 2x33 load 12 train. Key location on todays timings is Pinhoe, start of the single line section, but even then 1Z33 is booked to stand at Chard Junction and Tisbury loop for 20 and 10 min together with a crew relief at Yeovil Junction. So now the fun starts. RA at St Davids two minutes late at 1414 and the two 8LDAs wind up the revolutions for the last time up the 1 in 37, into the tunnel, and on through the echoey Central and the deep cutting beyond. 33030s turbocharger emits bursts of squeaking and popping noise and dark exhaust gases but otherwise things seemed in order. Everyone had worked out that if, if, the recovery time to Pinhoe were not taken up, the "Six Five Special" with a clear run could force a faster path to Yeovil Junction and maybe more. Pinhoe was passed 14 min early. Nobody is sure if the subsequent speeds descending the upper part of Honitons 1 in 90 incline were part of this effort but the high 90s (99, possibly 100, mph recorded] did keep things moving along just a bit before restrictions further eaSt Chard Junction was reached 15 min early, turned into the reversible Down loop, stopping briefly, allowed to proceed rather than stand 37 min for right time.

On disembarking at Yeovil Junction equally early, for an extended stop in place of a quick crew relief, there was some disbelief on hearing Napier turbo whistle. It sounded rather like a Class 20 idling. It was a Class 20 idling. 20188 disguised in pseudo-early BR black with 1Z33 wound up on the headcode panel was trundled up and down in the old coal sidings. Presumably this was for our entertainment. Unfortunately, despite the sun and the long stop, Yeovil Junction was not a good location for Class 33 pictures. The train had to draw forward both engines and two coaches order for the back end not to foul the Down line to cross the train booked to meet at Chard Junction. Right time, again, away from Yeovil Junction but the two KAs seemed to make rather heavy going up the grade. Thomas Hardy would not have approved of all this noise disturbing the peace through Blackmore Vale in his beloved Dorset. But more time was gained, a short pause in Tisbury loop, and into Salisbury still 9 min ahead for the final photo stop.

Through the 1980s Salisbury was a centre of operations for many 33 haulage fans so departure is marked by loud cheering from the leading vehicles. Engineering operations prevented travel through Andover so right turn at Tunnel Junction retracing the outwards route to Romsey, then Southampton. 33012 and 33109, both preserved, were visible on Eastleigh depot to remind that some 33s do have a future. And still 33051+33030 making good time having passing Southampton 1742 as booked, Basingstoke 2 min early, increasing to 6 min by Woking, Chertsey and Staines. Clapham Junction, Stewarts Lane ... and on to Grosvenor Bridge. Crossing the Thames, locomotive horns blaring repeatedly and the cheering increasing to screaming.

I have seen farewells before. I have been on last runs. I have seen station closures and final workings. The noisiest, the last Maybach MD655s into Paddington; the saddest, the final EM1 freight over Woodhead. But it has been a long time since witnessing, nay, participating in, such a performance. Coming under the station roof running back into Platform 2 the crescendo of noise left no doubt 33051+33030 were arriving. Stopping at 1952, the scene was one of pure uncensored locomotive worship. There are no other words to describe ... persons prostrating themselves on the platform ... sacrifices of beer over the machines in question ... and cheering .. and yelling ... and laughing ... and crying. 33s were, are, one of the cult classes - but I really did not think things would get quite that emotional. Several minutes on along came the BTP to investigate, and on seeing no damage was being done to persons or property by any animal, vegetable or mineral left things well alone, in contrast to their colleagues at Exeter. Yes, it was noisy. Yes, it attracted attention. But it was harmless. Class 33 passenger operations had ended ...

Or had they? The empty stock has to go somewhere. As sometimes occurs with railtours, ECS may be turned into an add-on trip under Control arrangement. So 33116 returned from Stewarts Lane for 1Z65 2017 Victoria - Finsbury Park relief for a trip via Kensington Olympia, North London, Kings Cross Incline, one last 8LDA thrash through the GN tunnels, before a final spraying of the machine with some more gaseous alcoholic liquid.

Live Rail does not usually carry reports on tours run by the commercial operators, but as Class 33s have been so much part of the Southern scene for nearly forty years this one is just too important to miss out. At the time of writing the locomotives involved with todays tour - 33030 33051 33116 - all remain in traffic with EWS along with 33019 33025 33026 33046 and 33202. These eight represent the last BoBo true diesel locomotives in use by constituent parts of the former British Railways. Their future is yet unresolved. There are rumours and counter rumours, none helped by the different lead times and uninformed comment from certain journals. EWS committed to September 13th for the final booked passenger tour some six months ago, when 33 utilisation of any sort reached an all time low on restricted infrastructure work. But recently activity has increased with 33s returning to revenue earning freight for Freightliner 2000 as well as EWS. It will not be too long before motive power is wanted Channel Tunnel high speed link works - needing materials fed from somewhere. 33s have "grandfather" rights on Railtrack routes ... so will they see into the next century ...

Subsequent to this item appearing, Class 33 locomotives were finally stopped by EWS in the first week of January 1999. The last four operational machines were placed in strategic reserve storage at EWS Immingham depot. Locomotive 33030 had been repainted into EWS maroon and yellow livery during 1998.