Buyers’ remorse: British Railways Class 14

PeakRail, Matlock, Derbyshire: British Railways Class 14 locomotive D9539

Apart from the profligate construction of untried and untested designs, the other problem with British Railways’ hastily ordered diesel fleet in the 1950s was the failure to visualise the changes that were about to overtake the transport industry.

When the order went out to replace steam locomotives with diesel, the British Railways Board ordered one-for-one replacements.

There seems to have been little appreciation that the growth of road transport and the government’s huge post-war investment in motorways would inevitably rebalance the opportunities for railways to make money into and beyond the 1960s.

So there was no long-term need to replace hundreds of small steam shunting engines with a diesel equivalent, and many of these new locomotives lay idle in store or were scrapped without being much used, whether or not their designs had proved fit for purpose.

British Railways Class 14, built at the BR works at Swindon (1964-65), was an attempt to construct a light shunter with better visibility than the steam locomotives it was intended to replace.

Twenty-six were ordered initially in 1963, followed by a further thirty before the first actual locomotive was completed.

Like the ubiquitous and highly successful 08 family of shunters, Class 14 had steam-locomotive driving wheels and connecting rods to provide adhesion and stability, but they were underpowered for some of the tasks that were available to them.

They were withdrawn from service from 1970 onwards, not because of design deficiencies but because the work for which they were intended – shunting single-wagon loads, pick-up goods trains and short-distance freight – disappeared in a very short time.

Unlike the lamentable Claytons, the Class 14 found a ready market among industrial users, particularly collieries, where many of them worked for twice or three times the length of time they were in the BR fleet.

Latterly, they have proved popular on heritage railways, where they are adept at hauling light passenger trains at relatively low speeds. Of the 56 locomotives built, nineteen still exist in preservation and another five have been exported.

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