British Rail Class 20

The British Rail Class 20, otherwise known as an English Electric Type 1, is a class of diesel-electric locomotive. In total, 228 locomotives in the class were built by English Electric between 1957 and 1968, the large number being in part because of the failure of other early designs in the same power range to provide reliable locomotives.

  • English Electric Type 1
  • British Rail Class 20
20196 & 20186 at Derby Steve Jones 5109245661.jpg
20 196 & 20 186 at Derby, May 1987.
Type and origin
Power typeDiesel-electric
BuilderEnglish Electric at Vulcan Foundry and Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns
Build date1957–1962, 1965–1968
Total produced228
 • UICBo'Bo'
 • CommonwealthBo-Bo
Gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Wheel diameter3 ft 7 in (1.092 m)[1]
Minimum curve3.5 chains (70 m)[1]
Wheelbase32 ft 6 in (9.91 m)[1]
Pivot centres24 ft 0 in (7.32 m)[1]
Length46 ft 9+14 in (14.256 m)[1]
Width8 ft 9 in (2.67 m)[1]
Height12 ft 7+58 in (3.851 m)[1]
Loco weight73 t (72 long tons; 80 short tons)[1]
Fuel capacity380 imp gal (1,700 l; 460 US gal)[1][nb 1]
Lubricant cap.100 imp gal (450 l; 120 US gal)[1]
Coolant cap.130 imp gal (590 l; 160 US gal)[1]
Prime moverEnglish Electric 8 SVT Mk.II[1]
Traction motors
  • D8000–D8049: EE 526/5D
  • Remainder: EE 526/8D[1]
Cylinder size10 in (250 mm)[1]
TransmissionDiesel electric
Gear ratio63:17[1]
MU working Blue Star
Train heatingNone
Train brakesVacuum, Dual or Air
Performance figures
Maximum speed75 mph (121 km/h)
Power outputEngine: 1,000 hp (746 kW)
Tractive effort
  • Maximum: 42,000 lbf (186.8 kN)
  • Continuous: 25,000 lbf (111.2 kN)@ 11 mph (17.7 km/h)[2]
Brakeforce35 long tons-force (349 kN)
NumbersD8000–D8199, D8300–D8327; later 20 001–20 228
Axle load classRoute availability 5
Disposition6 in service, 22 preserved, remainder scrapped or in storage.

The locomotives were originally numbered D8000–D8199 and D8300–D8327. They are known by railway enthusiasts as "Choppers".[4][5]


Designed around relatively basic technology, the 73-tonne locomotives produce 1,000 horsepower (750 kW) and can operate at up to 75 mph (121 km/h). Designed to work light mixed freight traffic, they have no train heating facilities. Locomotives up to D8127 were fitted with disc indicators in the style of the steam era;[6] when headcodes were introduced in 1960 the locomotive’s design was changed to incorporate headcode boxes. Although older locomotives were not retro-fitted with headcode boxes, a few of the earlier batch acquired headcode boxes as a result of repairs. Unusually for British designs, the locomotive had a single cab. This caused serious problems with visibility when travelling nose first, though in these circumstances the driver's view is comparable to that on the steam locomotives that the Class 20s replaced. It was common, however, to find Class 20s paired together at the nose, with their cabs at opposite ends, ensuring that the driver could quite clearly see the road ahead, and a guard can watch the train from the other locomotive without the need for a brakevan.

Two Class 20s, coupled nose to nose, hauling a freight train in 1986

The Class 20 saw only limited service on passenger trains. A small number were fitted with a through pipe for steam heating, primarily for use in conjunction with a Class 27 locomotive on the West Highland Line. Otherwise their use was limited to summer relief services, particularly to Skegness often under the adopted title of The Jolly Fisherman starting from various places including Burton-on-Trent, Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and Leicester. Also occasionally other holiday resorts on the east coast of England, occasional duties as a pilot, and short distance diversions of electric-hauled trains over non-electrified lines.[7][page needed]

The shift of light mixed freight to the road network left British Rail with an oversupply of small locomotives. The Class 20s, however, could work in multiple and so handle heavier traffic. Most spent the majority of their working lives coupled nose to nose in pairs to provide a more useful 2,000 hp (1,500 kW) unit and to solve the visibility problems.

Most have now been withdrawn but a few remain with GBRf and other minor and industrial operators. Several that are usually operated singly have been fitted with nose-mounted video cameras as a way of solving the visibility problems.

The Série 1400 locomotives of Portuguese Railways (CP) are based on the BR Class 20s.


British RailEdit

Distribution of locomotives, March 1974[8]
Code Name Quantity
ED Eastfield 49
HA Haymarket 19
IM Immingham 7
TI Tinsley 44
TO Toton 109
Total: 228

The first batch of Class 20s were allocated to Devons Road depot in Bow, London to work cross-London transfer freights, with the following eight locos allocated to Hornsey depot. After a trial with D8006, D8028–D8034 were allocated for work in highland Scotland, and had tablet catcher recesses built into the cabsides. D8035–D8044 were originally to be allocated to Norwich, but were actually used for empty coaching stock (ECS) workings in and out of London Euston. D8050–D8069 were allocated to the new Tinsley TMD in South Yorkshire, from where they regularly worked into Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire. D8070–D8127 were sent to operate in the Scottish Lowlands, particularly in the Forth-Clyde area, and the Fife coalfield. This completed the original orders for 128 locos, the last being delivered in August 1962.

With the subsequent order for a further 100 Class 20 locos, deliveries recommenced with D8128 in January 1966. Tests in 1967 using D8179 and D8317 resulted in locos from D8316 being delivered from the manufacturer with the new electronic control system for working merry-go-round (MGR) coal trains. Trains to Longannet Power Station sometimes required locos to triple-head trains.[4]

After privatisationEdit

Some Class 20s were used on the construction of the Channel Tunnel and High Speed 1 and some even made their way to France to work for the Compagnie des chemins de Fer Départementaux (CFD) in industry there, although these have since been repatriated. Some locos have in the past been hired by Hunslet-Barclay to provide motive power for weedkilling trains.

The fleet of Class 20/3s owned by Direct Rail Services (DRS) has at times seen frequent work across Britain in pairs (or with Class 37s) on nuclear flask trains, the company's speciality. DRS supplies class 20s for use with the Rail Head Treatment Train in winter. Perhaps the most unusual train hauled by a Class 20 was the Kosovo Train for Life charter train in autumn 1999 which carried 800 tonnes of aid. Leaving London's Kensington Olympia station on 17 September 1999,[9] the train was hauled by 20 901, 20 902 and 20 903 throughout, reaching Prague by 20 September[10] and arriving at Pristina station at 10:00 on 25 September.[11]

DRS initially had a fleet of 15 operational Class 20/3 locomotives. Three of these have subsequently been disposed of for scrap, after stripping for spares; a further two have been sold on to Harry Needle Railroad Company (HNRC). Following the end of the 2019 Sandite season (Rail Head Treatment Trains), all of the remaining DRS Class 20/3 fleet were stood down, awaiting disposal.

In 2005 HNRC acquired a large number of 20/0s and 20/9s from the stored DRS fleet. By May 2008 HNRC had eight operational Class 20s and sixteen in storage; two were on hire at Corus Scunthorpe (nos. 81 and 82).

Over a ten-year period, concluding in 2019, a number of class 20s from HNRC were employed to deliver new S-Stock from Bombardier Transportation at Derby Litchurch Lane Works, to London Underground at Neasden depot or West Ruislip depot, for commissioning. Subsequently, immediately after the completion of deliveries, modification of these units (addition of equipment for automatic signalling) was required and they were returned to Derby in the same manner. Formation of the trains usually consisted of a pair of Class 20s, two barrier wagons, the LU S-Stock set, two barrier wagons and a dead-in-tow pair of Class 20s at the rear.


Sub-Class Description
20/0 Standard as-built locos.
20/3 (BR) A small fleet of standard Class 20/0s modified for Peak Forest aggregate workings.
20/3 (DRS) DRS-owned/operated locos fitted with modified cab equipment and fully refurbished, with use of electronics and various other modifications. Two of these locomotives, 20 311 and 20 314, were subsequently sold to HNRC.
20/9 Modified from Class 20/0 after withdrawal and sold to Hunslet-Barclay for contract freight use and remote-control trialling. Few technical differences from standard locos. Subsequently sold to DRS, and latterly to HNRC (of which 20 901/903-906 remain; 20 902 has been scrapped).


Two Class 20s working a passenger train
20 168 shunting JPA cement wagons at Earles Sidings in Derbyshire on 31 May 2017.

British RailEdit

D8000 was delivered in June 1957 in overall green livery, with grey footplate,[6] red bufferbeams and a grey roof extending down the bodyside to the edge of the roof panels.[12][page needed] The original batch of 10 locos bore the BR crest facing towards the nose on both sides, used yellow sans serif numerals, and had green cab roofs; locos from D8010 had the correct pattern BR crest, white numerals and grey cab roof.[6] This was adjusted after D8103[6] to include a small yellow warning panel, although the precise size and detail of such panels varied somewhat.[4]

In 1966, D8048 was selected by the BR design panel for livery experiments and was painted in the prototype standard blue, including the bufferbeams and roof. The exceptions were the full yellow front ends and a black underframe.[13] After the adoption of Rail Blue as the BR livery, D8178 became one of the first locomotives to be delivered in this livery (along with Class 25 D7660 and Class 47 D1953)[13] and all subsequent locomotives were delivered in this livery. Despite this, some locos continued to be returned to traffic in green livery, although often with the later BR "double arrow" logo and data panel;[6] thus 20 141 was the final main line loco to carry BR green livery.[14]

Some locomotives, including 20 227, were repainted in the Railfreight grey livery with red sole bars, yellow ends and large double arrows on the sides.

At least four of the class were painted in the British Rail Telecommunications livery:[15]

  • 20 075 - Sir William Cooke - rebuilt as 20 309 and currently stood down by DRS, awaiting disposal
  • 20 128 - Guglielmo Marconi - rebuilt as 20 307 and has been scrapped
  • 20 131 - Almon B. Strowger - rebuilt as 20 306 and has been scrapped
  • 20 187 - Sir Charles Wheatstone - rebuilt as 20 308 and currently stood down by DRS, awaiting disposal


Corus 81 (ex-BR 20 056) at Barrow Hill Engine Shed, 9 July 2006

Class 20/3 locomotives operated by DRS have all been painted in DRS Oxford Blue livery, with red bufferbeams and full yellow ends. There have been small variations in the shade of yellow used on these locos, and the penetration of blue from the sides onto the ends.

Class 20 locomotives operated by the Harry Needle Railroad Company (HNRC) are painted into house colours of orange and black, with yellow nose ends (20 121, 20 166, 20 311 and 20 314). Some other locomotives owned by HNRC, of subclasses 20/0 and 20/9, have been painted in a variation of two-tone Railfreight grey livery. These have dark grey roof, mid-grey upper body and light grey lower body, black underframe and buffer beam. The nose ends are painted yellow, with the lower part of the cab end in yellow and the upper part black, this continuing around the cab sides but with the light grey instead of yellow. Others are in BR Blue or Railfreight Red-stripe livery. HNRC Class 20s on long-term hire to Corus were painted in Corus livery; previously silver but currently a bright yellow with red solebar (No.81 - 20 056). Since the Corus business was bought by the Indian Tata Steel group, some of these locomotives have been repainted into Tata Blue livery (No.82 - 20 066). Two HNRC Class 20s have been painted into GBRf Europorte's blue and gold livery (20 901 and 20 905), while two other HNRC Class 20s have been painted in the White livery of Hope Construction Materials (now Breedon Cement), with a black solebar (No.2 - 20 168) and a white solebar (No.3 - 20 906).

Four locomotives carried the orange and white livery of the CFD (Compagnie de Chemins de Fer Départementaux) whilst working in France, these were 20 035, 20 063, 20 139 and 20 228.

Two locomotives, numbers 20 142 and 20 189, were briefly (for a matter of months during 2013) painted into a Balfour Beatty blue and white livery but were then returned to a variation of BR blue.

The last built class 20, number 20 227, has been used extensively on the London Underground network. In the mid-2000s it was painted in Metropolitan maroon livery and named "Sir John Betjeman" by the Class 20 Locomotive Society as acknowledgement of this work. It was repainted in a special 'modern taste' LUL-based livery, to mark the London Underground 150 celebrations but has now been repainted, again into Metropolitan maroon, but this time lined, and renamed "Sherlock Holmes". The "Sir John Betjeman" name is now carried by 20 142, which also sports Metropolitan line maroon livery.

Mainline registered class 20s are:[16][page needed]

Sub-Class Description
20/0 20 007, 20 096, 20 107, 20 118, 20 132, 20 142, 20 168, 20 189, 20 205, 20 227
20/3 20 301, 20 302, 20 303, 20 304, 20 305, 20 308, 20 309, 20 311, 20 312, 20 314
20/9 20 901, 20 905, 20 906

Accidents and incidentsEdit

In popular cultureEdit

In the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye, 20 188 was used as the locomotive of an escape train on the Nene Valley Railway, with the addition of armour plating to give the impression of a Russian armoured locomotive.[20]


22 English-Electric Type 1 Class 20s are preserved, including the first of the class built, D8000, which is part of the National Railway Collection at the National Railway Museum in York, North Yorkshire.

Class 20s in preservation[21]
TOPS number Current number Photo Preserved by Location
20 001 D8001   Class 20 Locomotive Society Epping Ongar Railway
20 007 20 007   Class 20 189 Ltd Mainline operational
20 020 20 020   Scottish Railway Preservation Society Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway
20 031 20 031   Privately owned Keighley & Worth Valley Railway
20 048 20 048   Midland Class 20 Association Midland Railway, Butterley
20 050 D8000   National Collection National Railway Museum
20 057 D8057   Privately Owned Churnet Valley Railway
20 059 D8059   Somerset & Dorset Loco Company Watercress Line
20 069 D8069   Privately owned -
20 098 D8098   Type One Locomotive Company Great Central Railway, Loughborough
20 137 D8137   Privately owned Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway
20 142 20 142   Class 20 189 Ltd Mainline operational
20 154 D8154   English Electric Preservation Great Central Railway (Nottingham)
20 166 D8166   HNRC Wensleydale Railway
20 188 D8188   Somerset & Dorset Loco Company Watercress Line
20 189 20 189   Class 20 189 Ltd Mainline operational
20 205 20 205 Class 20 Locomotive Society Mainline operational
20 214 20 214 Privately owned Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway
20 227 20 227 Class 20 Locomotive Society Mainline operational
20 228 2004 Privately owned Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway

A further three engines were preserved but later used for spares, then eventually scrapped. 20 035 was stripped of parts for use on fellow Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway based classmate D8137, and later scrapped at EMR Kingsbury. 20 177 was located at the Severn Valley Railway and became a source of spare parts for D8188 & D8059; with the remains first going to C.F. Booth Ltd., Rotherham and then the cab section to The Cab Yard in south Wales.[22] 20206 was operated on the Mid-Norfolk Railway, but later sold by its owner, stripped of parts and scrapped.

Model railwaysEdit

Meccano Ltd announced 00-scale models of the Class 20 locomotive in December 1958's edition of the Meccano Magazine. Both 2-rail and 3-rail versions were produced. Mass-produced models probably became generally available in 1959. It was Hornby-Dublo's first model railway locomotive with a moulded plastic body.

In 2008 Hornby Railways launched its first version of the BR Class 20 in OO gauge.[23] Since 2016 Hornby have produced a basic representation of the prototype as part of their Railroad range in BR Blue.

In May 2021 Bachmann Collectors Club announced a limited edition run of two London Transport models of the class 20, No. 20142 Sir John Betjeman and No. 20227 Sherlock Holmes. The models are produced in conjunction with the London Transport Museum,[24]


  1. ^ 20084 fitted with additional tanks giving a total capacity of 1,040 gallons.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Marsden & Fenn 1988, p. 71
  2. ^ Shipman, Mark (3 July 2004). "Class 20". Locomotive Photo Gallery. Archived from the original on 24 October 2004. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  3. ^ Bellass, Eddie; Slater, Jim (December 1982 – January 1982). "BR's 'Chopper' squad". Rail Enthusiast. EMAP National Publications. pp. 6–9. ISSN 0262-561X. OCLC 49957965.
  4. ^ a b c Oakley, Michael (1981). BR Class 20 diesels. Truro: Bradford Barton / D&EG. ISBN 0-85153-419-8.
  5. ^ "'At least 20 20s' for Barrow Hill diesel jubilee". The Railway Magazine. July 2007. p. 9.
  6. ^ a b c d e Wells, Monty (November 1982). "Tweak a Twenty". Railway Modeller. Vol. 33, no. 385. Seaton, Devon: Peco Publications & Publicity Ltd. pp. 398–401.
  7. ^ Webster, Neal; Greaves, Simon; Greengrass, Robert (1985). Loco-Hauled Travel 1985-6. Bradford: Metro Enterprises. ISBN 0-947773-02-9.
  8. ^ British Railways Locoshed Book 1974 edition. Shepperton: Ian Allan. 1974. pp. 15–17. ISBN 0-7110-0558-3.
  9. ^ "Pickersgill-Kaye sponsor Kosovo train for life". Pickersgill-Kaye Ltd. 27 September 1999. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 20 May 2008.
  10. ^ "Class 20". The Railway Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  11. ^ "Train of life in Kosovo". BBC News. BBC. 25 September 1999. Retrieved 20 May 2008.
  12. ^ Stevens-Stratten, S.W.; Carter, R.S. (1978). British Rail Main-Line Diesels. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0-7110-0617-2.
  13. ^ a b Turner, Graham (2012). "Rail Blue - The Story". Rail Blue. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2008.
  14. ^ Turner, Graham. "The Class 20 Locomotive Fleet". Archived from the original on 21 November 2008. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  15. ^ BR Telecommunications Ltd; Hallas, Sam; Ward, Chris. "BR Telecommunications Locomotives". (Article). Archived from the original on 16 September 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  16. ^ Snook, William. The UK Railway Datafile 2015.
  17. ^ Department of the Environment (1973). "Railway Accident: Report on the Collision that occurred on 16th December 1971 at Lennon South Junction, Nottingham" (PDF). London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office – via Railways Archive.
  18. ^ "North Yorkshire Moors Railway collision: Passenger train and locomotive involved in accident at Grosmont Station". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  19. ^ "Collision at Grosmont". Rail Accident Investigation Branch. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  20. ^ "Sinister Class 20 is new James Bond movie star". Rail. No. 250. 12 April 1995. p. 6.
  21. ^ "Class 20". Preserved Diesels. Archived from the original on 27 August 2008. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  22. ^ "Collection – The Cab Yard". Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  23. ^ "Hornby BR Class 20". Hornby Railways Collector Guide. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  24. ^ "Limited Editions | Bachmann Collectors Club SOUND of the UNDERGROUND". BACHMANN EUROPE NEWS. 6 May 2021. Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2021.


  • Marsden, Colin J. (1981). Motive power recognition: 1 Locomotives. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0-7110-1109-5.
  • Marsden, Colin J.; Fenn, Graham B. (1988). British Rail Main Line Diesel Locomotives. Sparkford: Haynes. ISBN 9780860933182. OCLC 17916362.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit