After a year as a largely local group, with membership concentrated in the Bristol area, an advertising fund was set up. With the aid of advertisements in the railway press, membership grew nationally, along with the popularity of the class in general. The remaining locomotives were withdrawn by B.R. gradually through 1975 and 1976, while contributions were steadily flowing into the W.L.A.’s locomotive appeal fund. In October 1976 the Association successfully purchased D1062 “Western Courier” and restored the locomotive to full operational condition in original maroon livery by May 1977, only a few months after the final demise of the class on British Rail. Meanwhile Mr Richard Holdsworth, a businessman and W.L.A. member, had privately purchased D1013 “Western Ranger” and this locomotive joined D1062 in the care of the Association. Western Ranger was subsequently purchased by Roger Smith, also a businessman and WLA member in 1995, before the locomotive finally purchased by the Western Locomotive Association.
Celebrating 40 Years of the WLA and D1062's 50th Year.... who'd have thought..........(Oct 2014)
First operations took place on the Torbay and Dartmouth Railway in Devon during 1977 and 1978, followed by a move to the Severn Valley Railway at the end of 1978 which greatly increased the opportunities to operate the locomotives. Over the years a considerable amount of overhaul and maintenance work has been undertaken to ensure that the locomotives remain in peak condition.
D1013 is currently undergoing an extensive overhaul, including a complete re-wire. D1062 remains fully operational on the Severn Valley Railway and both locomotives remain based at Bridgnorth.
If you would like to keep up to date with all the latest news on D1013 and D1062 and help support the Western Locomotive Association with their efforts to keep the locomotives maintained to the highest standards then please follow this link to our Membership and Supporters pages which will explain how you can help.
German designs from companies such as Voith, Maybach and Krauss-Maffei were tried and tested and they relied on simpler design fundamentals that reduced complex electrical components to the minimum. Diesel-hydraulic locomotives could be constructed with similar power outputs to diesel-electric locos but with a considerable saving in weight, producing a far better 'power-to-weight-ratio'. There were problems in 'shoehorning' two high revving V12 diesel engines and all ancillary components into a locomotive built to the smaller UK loading gauge, size and weight limitations, but what emerged from the drawing board was arguably the most handsome diesel locomotive that has ever graced the rails of the erstwhile BR system.
Initially the class was allocated to Plymouth Laira, Bristol Bath Road, Cardiff Canton and Swansea Landore. However, because most of the primary express train services were to and from Paddington, London, the class could be seen in considerable numbers at Old Oak Common. The locos soon settled down and together with Class 47s became an integral part of Western Region main line services on most primary routes. Other diesel-hydraulics such as the Type 4 'Warships' and the Type 3 Class 35 'Hymeks' worked some main line and also secondary services, while 'Peak' 1Co-Co1 Type 4s worked alongside the 'Westerns' (and Class 47s) on inter-regional north east/south west services. Many early photographs show Class 52s at work on the old Great Western route from Paddington to Birmingham via Banbury. In the early years of service the class was so dedicated to main line expresses, that photographs of the class on freight workings became newsworthy.
When the end of diesel-hydraulics was announced, the 'Westerns' strangely were given an extended lease of life because the policy was to eliminate the less efficient MAN engined fleets first and then the 'Warships' followed by the 'Hymeks'. The first Class 52 to be withdrawn was in May 1973, and by the end of 1975 only 35 of the fleet remained in service. By February 1977 the entire class of 74 had been taken out of service. As more Class 47s became fitted with electrical train heating, which included the ability to provide air conditioning in the latest generation of Mark 2 coaches, and as the 100mph Class 50s arrived in increasing numbers from the London Midland Region, the number of Class 52s on class one services diminished. They were largely removed from the Birmingham and South Wales services and both Canton and Landore lost their allocations. They were then withdrawn from Bristol Bath Road, and by 1976 the class was officially restricted to freight services so that engine ratings could be slightly reduced and the slower speeds would result in the remaining locos lasting a little longer. However, despite the ruling the 'Westerns' regularly headed express trains and during their last year or so in service any news that one of the class was working a 'passenger' would see hoards of enthusiasts coming out of the woodwork to either travel behind (bash!) or photograph the relevant train.
Towards the end of their lives the Class 52s were repeatedly requested as the preferred motive power for enthusiast specials. The locomotives made such a tremendous sound that the leading coach, normally 'Coach A', was in great demand. The class reached many obscure corners of the BR network, including several off region trips, during their final months and some of the specials were so popular that repeat tours and relief trains were required. There was even one excursion, in fact the last privately organised tour (organised by the author!), which ran on a Thursday!
From a personal perspective I think that except for Cornwall and the Western States of the USA, the happiest days of a 40-year 'career' in railway photography was spending sunny summer days on the 'Berks & Hants' line watching a string of expresses running through the Bedwyns and climbing towards Savernake, taking thousands of people on their annual summer holidays in the West Country. Sometimes with a Southwest wind blowing the Class 52s could be heard on the wind at least a couple of miles distant, especially with over 400 tons in tow. Strangely what goes around comes around and some of the latest diesel units incorporate diesel hydraulic transmission. But they will never have the aura or charisma of the classic and unique 'Westerns'.
Article kindly reproduced with permission of John Vaughan and Railways Illustrated.