After looking at where the Class 73s are today; Simon Bendall heads back in time to explore how the electro-diesels were used throughout the nationalisation period.

Class 73 - BR's Southern Stalwarts

Friday, November 16 2018

Class 73 - BR's Southern Stalwarts

E6012 at Clapham Junction - Photo from Dave Cobbe Collection/Rail Photoprints
The two motive power pillars of the Southern Region throughout the British Rail era meet at Clapham Junction in September 1969 as E6012 departs the carriage sidings past an unidentified ‘Crompton’. The electro-diesel was newly ex-works, this having included a repaint in the standard form of Rail blue.

Despite large areas of the Southern Region being electrified with 750V DC third rail by the early 1960s, there were still parts of the passenger network that could not be traversed by electric traction, not to mention numerous yards, sidings and quayside locations. For some time, there had been a desire for a mixed traffic loco that could work on both the third rail and diesel power, thereby giving maximum operating flexibility.

Various concepts for an ‘electro-diesel’ were considered during the 1950s, with authority to construct six prototypes being given in 1959 by the British Transport Commission. The selected design featured a box-like body with a profile narrow enough to fit the restricted-gauge Hastings line while much of the internal equipment shared commonality with the Southern’s unit fleets.

The Design

Engine Traction Motors Power Output Top Speed Multiple Working
English Electric 4SRKT English Electric Motors 1600hp on Electric
600hp on Diesel
80mph Compatible with EMUs & DEMUs with same electro-penumatic brakes & 27-wire control system

Prototypes Roll Out

The six initial locos were constructed at Eastleigh Works, being numbered E6001-E6006 and taken into stock between February and November 1962. Under the Southern’s classification scheme, they were coded JA and would later become Class 73/0 under the TOPS system, having initially been pencilled in to become Class 72. 

Some interesting variations were that:

  • E6001-E6003 were initially fitted with oval buffers, rather than the large diameter round Oleos given to E6004-E6006. During the early 1970s, E6001-E6003 were also altered to have Oleos
  • E6001 & E6002 did not initially have sandboxes on their bogie corners

E6004 at Ramsgate - Photo from Chris Wilson Collection
Still in as delivered BR green, E6004 stands at Ramsgate on an unrecorded date around 1965 with a parcels train. This had recently arrived from Bricklayers Arms and includes both bogie and four wheel vans with BR, LMS and Southern designs all discernible.

All six locos were delivered in Southern multiple unit green, E6001 and E6002 initially featuring plain green bodies with a grey main roof and cab front window surrounds along with the BR coaching stock roundel on the sides. In the case of E6001, this also received a very early application of the yellow warning panels across the lower section of the cab fronts, something that E6002 did not carry.

Deemed to be a rather plain look, E6003-E6006 were given an amended livery from new, this featuring a grey band at solebar level that also wrapped round the cab fronts above the bufferbeams. No yellow panels were carried initially, although these were in place on at least E6004 and E6006 by 1967/68. E6001 and E6002 had their paintwork amended to match around 1963, both receiving the grey band while the yellow panels were also surprisingly removed from E6001. The Southern was generally a slow adopter of this additional warning paintwork but by 1967 both of these locos also had the yellow panels in place.

Despite some initial scepticism about the concept, the JAs soon proved to be highly useful, working successfully on duties normally performed by Class 33s while their dual power showed its worth in the marshalling yards of Kent. A production order for 30 more locos was soon placed with a further 13 added later after approval of electrification to Bournemouth.


Production Build

Construction of the production Electro-Diesels (EDs) was undertaken at English Electric’s Vulcan Foundry at Newton-le-Willows with E6007-E6049 being delivered between October 1965 and January 1967.

A number of alterations and improvements were made over the prototype batch:

  • An improved design of English Electric 546/1B traction motor, this allowing the maximum speed to be increased to 90mph

  • Some re-positioning of bodyside windows and smaller grilles

  • Some changes to the layout of the underframe equipment

  • The bogie sideframes received a profile alteration

  • The shape of the sandboxes was altered

  • One jumper cable and corresponding socket removed from the cab fronts

E6008 at Southampton - Photo from Chris Wilson Collection
The second of the production JB build, E6008 is seen running between Southampton Central and Millbrook on an unknown date in 1968 while heading for the Western Docks. The BR blue livery is still as delivered without BR arrows on the bodysides and with the grey solebar stripe that was given to the first seven examples of the sub-class.

The most obvious change on the JBs, as the production batch was initially classified before becoming Class 73/1, was the livery with all 43 examples being delivered in BR blue. This early interpretation of the new corporate image tended to have a matt finish but nonetheless it was Rail blue.

All of the locos were delivered with a grey roof and front window surrounds along with half yellow panels. In addition, E6007-E6013 emerged from the Vulcan Foundry with a grey solebar stripe on each side, a feature that was dispensed with from E6014 onwards. At least E6007-E6011 were also outshopped without BR arrows in place and possibly E6012 and E6013 as well. At some point, at least E6011-E6013 did gain the adornments but some of their earlier sisters went unbranded until their first repaint.

Around early 1967, the livery on E6018 was experimentally modified to include wrap round yellow cabs with the numbers moving to the bodysides behind all four cab doors. The result looked very similar to the later BR large logo livery and seemingly lasted into 1970. Repaints into standard all-over BR blue with full yellow ends commenced in 1968 for both the JAs and JBs, taking until 1971 to complete. This was the type’s look throughout the 1970s and early 1980s with the E numbers giving way to TOPS identities in 1974.

E6031 at Hither Green - Photo by John Chalcraft/Rail Photoprints
When captured at Hither Green on 7th April 1969, E6031 was heading up three classmates, all still carrying the early version of BR blue in which E6014 onwards were delivered from English Electric. Despite some publications recording the livery as ‘electric blue’, the livery was undoubtedly Rail blue.

The JBs were all allocated to Stewarts Lane upon delivery but between July 1967 and June 1968, E6007-E6028 were based at Eastleigh to assist with the electrification of the Bournemouth line along with testing of the new TC and REP EMU stock before working some initial services on the route. As a mixed traffic design, the class was just as happy atop freight, parcels and engineers trains while they became the standard power for the Southern’s boat trains along with the Royal train during the 1970s. The launch of the Venice Simplon Orient Express in 1982 brought further passenger work for the Class 73s, a regular employment that would last for some two decades.

73137 at London Bridge - Photo by Gordon Edgar/Rail Photoprints
A staple working for the electro-diesels throughout the corporate era was parcels and newspaper traffic from the London termini. On 30th January 1985, 73137 awaits departure from London Bridge, the train being headed by at least three Southern bogie ‘Van B’.


Fly To Gatwick

By the dawn of the 1980s, increasing usage of the dedicated Victoria-Gatwick ‘City-Link’ service meant that overcrowding was becoming a problem. In addition, the modified 4-VEP units that had worked the service since 1978 were not the best of adverts for BR. The decision was therefore taken in the summer of 1981 to provide new trains for a rebranded ‘Railair Link’ service, which would be formed of modified Mk. 2f coaches powered by Class 73s. To allow push-pull operation, redundant 2-HAP motor coaches were provided, these being extensively rebuilt at Eastleigh Works into luggage vans.

73123 at Cardiff Canton - Photo by John Chalcraft/Rail Photoprints
In fine weather 73123 Gatwick Express was one of the exhibits at the Cardiff Canton open day on 6th July 1985, it still displaying the experimental version of the InterCity Executive livery applied 14 months earlier. On the bogies, the light grey-finished flashguards are visible, these being added to protect against excessive arching.

The revitalised 15-minute frequency service, now branded as Gatwick Express, was launched amid much publicity on 10th May 1984 with 73123 working the inaugural train. For this, it was repainted into InterCity Executive colours with wrap round yellow cabs and a light grey roof. Apart from HST power cars, it was a dead heat between 73123 and 87012 in becoming the first loco of any class in InterCity livery.

The service was not without its initial problems though as a spate of fires on the 73s, caused by excessive arcing over quick successions of conductor rail gaps, grounded the new service early in August 1984. Modifications were duly made to the locos’ electrical system to counter this while fibreglass flashguards were also installed on the bogies, allowing a normal service to commence within a few weeks

73121 at Horley – Photo by Pete Berry/Rail Photoprints
For the initial couple of years of Gatwick Express operation, motive power was mainly provided by EDs in BR blue or large logo blue. During August 1984, 73121 Croydon 1883-1983 propels a Victoria-bound service towards Horley. The Rail grey roof was a common feature on members of the class that had been named around this time.

The service then settled down to a trouble free existence, becoming the responsibility of the InterCity sector. During February 1988, 12 of the class were dedicated to Gatwick Express duties:

  • 73102/ 113/ 116/ 120 to 125/ 127/ 137/ 142 were all reclassified as Class 73/2.
  • Renumbering as 73201-12 took place in reverse order so that Royal train favourite 73142 could become 73201.

Gatwick Express leaflets
The BR publicity material for the Gatwick Express services featured Class 73s on a handful of occasions, these examples from 1985 and 1987 initially showing a large logo blue example before switching to InterCity Executive.

The Gatwick Express pool was augmented by 73135, later renumbered to 73235, from April 1990 with the loco being drafted in to cover for 73205, which was engaged on test train duties (see below). Initially intended to be a loan move, hence the out of sequence number, the loco eventually became a permanent member of the fleet. From 1992, the Class 73/2s had their vacuum brakes isolated and then progressively removed while 73112 was taken on as an additional loco in 1993. Initially held in store for several years, it was reinstated in July 1996, becoming 73213 in the process.


An Explosion of Colour

BR Large Logo blue
Large logo livery made its debut on the Class 73s as early the autumn of 1983, there being a desire to use EDs in these colours on Gatwick Express duties as the services were not yet part of InterCity’s domain.

  • 73133 was the first to be painted in September 1983 following overhaul at Eastleigh Works

  • 13 more Class 73/1s - 73104/105/114/126/129/131/132/138/139/140/141/142 - were repainted by spring 1985

  • The last of the JBs in large logo was 73140, it going for works overhaul late in 1988.

  • Large logo was kept on the Class 73/0s, all six of the locos being repainted between July 1984 and September 1986.

InterCity Executive
Large logo blue was subsequently dropped on the 73/1 sub-class and InterCity Executive began to be introduced. Apart from its experimental use on 73123, it was not until the spring of 1985 that full scale application commenced on the Class 73/1s.

  • 73102 was the first to be painted into InterCity Executive in March 1985

  • The standard repaints featured yellow cab roofs and lower cabsides only, dropping the light grey roof and all yellow cabs given to 73123

  • 73123 was standardised with the rest of the fleet in May 1987

  • By the end of 1988, all 41 surviving JBs had received the livery (E6027 and 73115 having been lost to accident damage in 1972 and 1982 respectively), with all 12 Class 73/2s having been renumbered while still in the colours.

73110 + 73114 at Pirbright - Photo by John Chalcraft/Rail Photoprints
The two common liveries of the mid 1980s were in unison on 25th June 1988 as InterCity Executive shod 73110 heads 73114 in large logo blue through Pirbright with two 4-TC sets forming the 10.47 Poole-Waterloo. Within a few months, the latter livery would be gone from the Class 73/1 sub-class.

However, in the case of four EDs their time in Executive was short-lived as between May and July 1988, 73130, 73138, 73201 and 73205 were repainted into the equally transitory InterCity Mainline scheme at Stewarts Lane. Featuring full yellow cab fronts and microscopic numbers, the two 73/1s were painted for naming ceremonies while 73201, being the nominated Royal train loco for the Southern, had to be kept smart.

Completing the tale of the InterCity livery on the Class 73s, 73202 was the first to receive the Swallow variant in April 1990 for continued Gatwick Express use. It was joined immediately in the livery by loanee 73135 (later 73235) while 73201/ 203/ 204/ 206 to 212 followed between August 1990 and January 1993.

73211 at Earlswood - Photo by John Chalcraft/Rail Photoprints
The Gatwick Express services arguably looked at their best in the early 1990s when all the passenger stock featured italic lettering and the Class 73/2s were largely finished in InterCity Swallow. Such a formation could be observed at Earlswood on 1st August 1992 as 73211 hurries its stock towards London.

Of the original Class 73/2s, 73205 never gained Swallow colours as between 1989 and 1994, it was engaged on test train duties with converted Class 33 83301 (ex 33115) and a TC set transferred to departmental service. These trials were in connection with the then upcoming introduction of the Class 373 Eurostar sets and saw the now unpowered ‘Crompton’ fitted with TGV style bogies to test their performance characteristics when fitted with third rail pick-up shoes. The 73 had its own shoes removed and received its power from 83301 via heavy-duty power cables strung between the pair. In this form, the train racked up thousands of miles of testing on both the south western and south eastern divisions.

73205 at Pirbright - Photo by John Chalcraft/Rail Photoprints
Pirbright is again the location as 73205 London Chamber of Commerce in InterCity Mainline propels the Eurostar bogie development test train from Woking to Basingstoke on 3rd May 1990. Just a few months into more than four years of testing, converted and unpowered ex ‘Crompton’ 83301 is supplying the traction current to the ED.


The Effects Of Sectorisation

Despite the full introduction of the business sectors from 1986, this initially had little effect on the Class 73s beyond the Gatwick Express fleet. Locos were spread between Network SouthEast, Parcels, Railfreight and the engineers’ fleet with little in the way of dedication or specific duties.

The 1987/88 period brought a return to the Bournemouth line for some Class 73/1s in an effort to keep passenger services running as electrification was extended to Weymouth and the 4-REP EMUs were progressively removed from traffic in order to donate their traction motors to the new Class 442 ‘Wessex Electrics’ under construction. This saw the 73s paired with all manner of ad-hoc REP and TC formations to maintain a timetable.

73125 at Bournemouth - Photo by John Chalcraft/Rail Photoprints
The decision to re-use the traction motors from the 4-REPs in the ‘Wessex Electrics’ to cut costs brought significant operational problems on the Bournemouth route as units had to be removed from service while still keeping trains running. One of the more bizarre solutions were the 3-REPs, which featured just one driving motor coach with a Class 73/1 taking the place of the other one. 73125 stands at Bournemouth on 19th December 1987 as part of such a set, having arrived from Waterloo. At the far end, a Class 33/1 can be glimpsed, having coupled up ready to take one of the 4-TC sets onwards to Weymouth.

The same year saw the virtual elimination of parcels and newspaper traffic on the Southern, leading to the Parcels sector ceasing its sponsorship of the EDs, while Railfreight Construction did likewise with its last two locos early in 1991. Thus, in the spring of 1991, the majority of the 73/0s and 73/1s could be found allocated to the Civil Engineers with a handful of others spread between the Mechanical & Electrical Engineers and Network SouthEast, although the latter’s official allocation would soon drop to just 73109.

These allocations were reflected in further repaints:

Locomotives Repaint Date
73108 Departmental grey Oct 1989
73106, 135 & 136 Jan to Apr 1990
73105, 131, 133 & 138 Civil Engineers 'Dutch' Sep to Dec 1990
73107, 108, 110, 119, 128 & 129 Mar to Dec 1991
73130 Mar 1993
73118 Nov 1992

73107 at Tonbridge West Yard - Photo by Paul Wade
The Class 73s looked particularly good in the Civil Engineers ‘Dutch’ grey/yellow livery, as shown here by 73107 stabled between duties at Tonbridge West Yard on 16th September 1992. Next to it is 73106 in Departmental Grey, a loco that initially belonged to the Mechanical & Electrical Engineers and which retained the plain grey look for some of its fleet. At this juncture though, both were NSE-allocated infrastructure locos.

Network SouthEast colours first appeared on the Class 73s between late-1990 and early-1991 as repaints were made to coincide with naming ceremonies. It was not until 1992 that further ‘toothpaste’ repaints occurred on the class, this following the decision to split the departmental fleet amongst the passenger sectors with NSE duly assuming control of a considerable number of locos for infrastructure duties.

Locomotives Livery Variation Date
73109 Multiple unit style - numbers and lettering contained in white stripe Sep 1990
73126 Multiple unit style - numbers and lettering contained in white stripe May 1991
73112, 129, 133 & 136 Larger white numbers and lettering on the blue bodysides Feb - Sep 1992

73129 + 73119 at Tonbridge West Yard - Photo by Paul Wade
Painted 11 months earlier, 73129 City of Winchester displays the second version of the Network SouthEast livery carried by the class with the numbers and logos in white on the blue bodysides. Pictured in the company of 73119 Kentish Mercury, the duo are flanked by long-welded rail trains as they rest in Tonbridge West Yard on 18th June 1993. The early 1990s modifications of a headlight and aerial for the cab to shore radio are clearly visible.


Weekend Warriors

The start of the 1990s saw a new policy introduced for selected members of the Civil Engineers’ fleet in order to save money, these locos being restricted to only working on infrastructure duties at weekends and spending the working week stopped at depots. Among the EDs, this initially involved the now long in the tooth 73001-05 although a number of Class 73/1s would later be similarly restricted.

The late 1980s and early 1990s brought some further repaints for the class, particularly among the JAs, while  73004 and 73111 were withdrawn in May and June 1991, both going on to provide spare parts.

Locomotives Livery Variation Date
73004 Network SouthEast plain light blue with yellow cabsides Sep 1987
73005 Network SouthEast plain light blue with yellow cab fronts Sep 1988
73001 BR standard blue with grey roof May 1988
73101 Pullman umber and cream Sep 1991
73003 BR green Mar 1993

73003 at Hastings - Photo by Anthony Kay
The Ocean Liner Express was a not entirely successful attempt to trade on the nostalgia of the boat trains of old, offering both day trips to various Southern locations as well as a high quality train for private hire. 73003 was turned out in BR green as one of the final acts of the heavy repair depot. Formed primarily of Mk. 1 stock, BR green-liveried 73003 Sir Herbert Walker made a natural companion for it, as shown on 14th August 1994 as the train departs Hastings.

Ocean Express leaflets
During the shadow privatisation period, the South West Trains operation produced publicity leaflets for the Ocean Liner Express, the examples shown here detailing the outings planned for late 1994 and early 1995 as well as how to charter the entire train for private use. Both feature 73003 on the cover, albeit as a drawing in one case.


Prototypes to Merseyside

In one of the most unexpected developments for the class, June 1993 saw Regional Railways North West take over 73001/ 002/ 005/ 006 after they were declared surplus by Network SouthEast. Moved to Birkenhead North during the course of that summer, the locos were intended for a variety of roles including engineering duties on the third rail system and as depot shunters. Withdrawn 73004 was also brought north from London later that year to act as a spares donor. Over the Christmas and New Year period of 1993, both 73001 and 73006 received the Merseyrail departmental livery of yellow and brown, being embellished with Regional Railways lettering and Merseyrail ‘M’ logos.

73006 at Crewe Basford Hall - Photo by Mike Jefferies/Rail Photoprints
1993 brought the unexpected deployment of most of the Class 73/0s to Merseyside, this including the application of the unflattering yellow and brown departmental livery in two cases. 73006 is captured at Crewe Basford Hall on 20th August 1994 during the open weekend.



Final Sector Allocations

Locomotive allocations on the last day of the BR sector strucure on 31st March 1994:


Locomotives Duties
Regional Railways North West 73001, 002, 005 & 006 Engineering Trains & Shunting
Network SouthEast 73003 & 73109 Passenger Services & General Use
73101, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 110, 117, 118
119, 129, 130, 133, 136, 138
Infrastructure Work
73114, 126, 128, 131, 132, 134, 139, 140, 141 Restricted Engineers' Duties
Gatwick Express 73201, 202, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 209, 210
211, 212 & 235. 73112 in store.
Express Passenger Services


All text in this article was created by Simon Bendall on behalf of Hattons Model Railways. Images and videos are the copyright of the original photographers as shown in the captions below them. Unauthorised use or reproduction of either the images or text in this article is strictly forbidden.


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