torsdag 29. juli 2010

Syphonage: Class 37 bashing in the 1980s

Why did we do it?

Well 37s were big and noisy machines : so were most other diesel locos on the go, but syphons as we called them ( the established slang word, along side the derogatory "tractor" due to the sound, and only neds called them growlers) were fast off the mark and had as the "reverend" described it, an agricultural field diversion with a sudden shut down of the power unit to switch fields followed often by an equally abrupt return to full power, aka Notch 8.

When I began it was in fact the 37s which were the new boys on our local patch: glasgow and the WHL. They looked upon with suspicion by some and even hatred by the 27 bashers, to whom we came to outnumber probably many times over.

The first allocation of 37s to Scotland (there had been some allocation to grangemouth at an earlier time, date and source required!) came to Eastfield and wer largely stratford based locos previously. Indeed some locos like 37 014 had probably spent their entire lives out of that depot on the long flat sections of Cambridgeshire. Stratford were displacing them with class 47s, with a decline in freight work and electrifications to be extended out of Liverpool lime street. However the depot seemed to have extracted every last minute of engine hours out of them because many were in a bit of a state when they got north. Reliability was a bit of an issue, but 27s were hardly a shining example of class reliability, miles-to-casualty or indeed disatourous engine room fires. Frankly the 27s were knackered, especially the 2s and some 1s which had been flogged on the edin-glas route. The class was decimated by fires, major PU failures ( thrown pistons usually) and other issues but some examples were pretty well repaired and returned to service after overhauls at St. Rollox (Glasgow "works") like 27 056.

Actually, on a side note, 27s were in fact better suited to particular routes: stranraer at that time, kilmarnock carlisle, the fife circuit and the Inverness Aberdeen line due to the running speeds often being 40 to 50 miles per hour: this is a 37 weak point because they bang in and out of weak field and are over eager once through it, thus making the diagrams hard to master. Slower or quicker routes are where the 37s shows a clean pair of heels to the type two vermin. 27s handled even load 8 trains on the faster Stranraer route pretty respectably, while on 300 tonnes on the WHL or a faster route they would struggle. In an ideal world, and one envisaged by some sulzer fans amongst management at Eastfield, the class 33 would have come to roost under ED badging.

37s were reputadely not very popular at said "ED" depot because they were more complex than the simple 6LDA and even 12LDA PU based locos, the former of which the Springburn power house had seen allocations in all the guises 24 through 27. The main issues with the long houred examples from Stratford were the rev'governors and fuel control system, the timing chains and valve gear which were numerous and needed attention more than the prescribed engine overhaul hours would suggest. Some examples went back to crewe or doncaster for "D" exams and came out very much better, like the afore mentioned 37o14, coming out a beast in 1982. Other locos struggled on, with 37 025, 017 and 108 being considered lame ducks.

37108 was popular in it's own little way because it had a pronounced whistle. Gordon Sellers recounted that this was due to a turbo blow out, the unit being "temporarily" replaced with a unit from 40 170 (the dead one near the road entrance to ED). How they plumbed the different turbo into the intercooling system I shudder to think, but the overall pressure would be a lot less given it feeds 6 cylinders. It was an interesting lame duck, eventually coming out of an exam down south as a bit of a beast. ( confirmation to gen on it being a 40 turbo needed please! But it did WHISTLE!)

Given the stratford heaps we inherited in Glesga', the accountants at ScR would maybe have thought twice about the costs of running a CSVT beast of 20 years age, but the HGR of the fleet was already in the planning, probably from the late 70s, with 37 292 being the living evidence that the class was going to be modernised.

However, the main impetus for the 37 fleet being a success at ED and IS (Inverness) was the arrival of what were called the Welsh Dragons: the 37'1's from 37 172 to 37 264. Also ED had various others , 124 IIRC and the somewhat large 37 133 and I think 148 was allocated. I believe these were from maybe Immingham and if I bothered to look it up I could confirm. Some spotter or tractor-fanatic has probably blogged all the life histories of the class.

Anyway, the welshies were fantastic: nearly all the Power Units were in good condition and seemed to be tuned to give maximum delivery. So much so that 37175 once hit it's 1000rpm shut down governor up the tunnel at GSQst. 37 264 was probably 5 years younger than 37 014 yet in fact, after works treatment the performance of these two examples was equally impressive. 37 188 was my, and many others favourite, being a very clean and newly painted example on arrival, crisp and fast off the blocks and seemingly super reliable. The legendary ED driver Peter Walker reputedly had this as a favourite loco.

Due to the lack of draughty gangway doors ( out of use, but still draughty on many early locos like 012, 14, 17 and 28) and arm rests on all the seats, the fromer welsh 37/1s were more popular amongst drivers.
Most drivers I talked to loved 37s: "Ivor" from Oban much prefered them to the 27s. Many 27 neds said the living legend PW hated them but his abuse of the powerhandle was probably out of a boy like sense for fun. On a cab ride I was on with him at the handle, he seemed completely at one with the loco and enjoying the drive. Some drivers even gained a new sense of pride in their work being in command of a nosed EE type 3 which could get them to a tea break with 15 minutes down! One I cab rided on a works train patted the power handle and said 37s were their baby deltics.

27s and their brethrin seemed tame in comparison to the thrash and accelerations of the newcomers, and had the GEC-Sulzer "tip tops" continued on the WHL I think my bashing career would have run maybe a year and not half a decade as it did.

27s did turn out though when there was some wheeze that something on 37s should be checked through the fleet. A serious boiler failure grounded all the "xb" syphons on several occaisions leading to both 27s on just about everything and an NB on the ETHEL ( 37 148 possibly as a result)

To this day though, there is nothing compares to bailing at Helensburgh Upper and hearing the twin exhuasts thrash southwards three feet from your ears. What was that you said?

We did not really know that the 37-4 project had been committed to, but we did know that the venerable mrk I dual heat sleeper was bound for the scrappers to be replaced by mrk IIIs. This posed significant issues for cornering and resultant diagramming for the new stock. (were self oilers initiated on corners like Rhu, Faslane and the many curved viaducts implemented at this point?)) Given the go ahead, the temporary solution turned out to be absolutely hell fire: the ETHEL units.

These not only made the trains up to a minimum 300 tonnes but also added a mysterious dubbing note like a 50 when married to the v12 of the 37.

ETHEL was all a bit of a waste of time, or rather they were born too late for their era: they were a stop gap to the 37/4s rather than a system which could have been useful through out the 1970s with a type two being able to be switched over to generate only and dragged by superior power!

WHen they appeared on the scene we jumped up and down for joy of being able to score large NBs at any day on the WHL sleeper: not so, the loco was sensibly further rostered to run the day time Mallaig services further on from Ft Bill, so a boilered was required which kind of killed a little of the fun. The only NBs I recall having were 148 (not required unfortunately) 133 (big when it worked) and maybe 124 or 172, or a rancid 37/0 NB. Presumably the Mallaig, which sometimes even steamed in the scottish summer, went cold or run on the occiasionaly spare loco from Ft Bill. Come to think of it, the sleeper should have produced more often, but I seem to remember 37012 and 37 025 being stuck to it like glue. Rancid by anyones mileage book!

One of my beasts had it's finest hour on ETHEL. 37 014 gave a totally awesome and somewhat hair raising run under the baton of the afore mentioned "PW" with Chris GIbb, later Director of Virgin Rail, sitting in the Buffet soon after his own reallocation as a manager under the great Chris Green of ScR. The sleeper was well late and you probably could have bailed at Tyndrum lower from the up Oban ( actually "down" Oban in diagram terms) . I seem to remember either a fester at Ardlui or a leap at Crianlarich which was probably dubious with the grippers as it was orff limits for transcard teenies like us: ardlui being as far north as SPTE cared to go. I presume Crianlarich was in the old Central region. I diverse as is my nature, but the train was at least 50 minutes late at Ardlui. PW was on the handle and making it move. We took a fairly assertive run to Arrochar followed by some fireworks up the bank to douglas. I seem to remember it feeling like about 70mph between Douglas and Garelochead with a terrific speed taken up once we later rounded Faslane corner on that straight over towards Shandon. At Rhu I became worried as we came into the first S bend at break neck speed, only for the breaks to be plugged on really hard to bring us to the easy sling needed for Rhu station. This was the secret PW knew - air brakes were far more effective than the usualy vacuum brakes of all other WHL trains ( bar maybe one day time ft bill mix of mark iis and is) However, the real surprise came in through Cardross and right into the tunnels before Dalreaoch where the train felt very like it was doing 90 mph.

We left 37014 and her charge at Dumbarton for EMUs home, but by the time it was there it was ahead of time! And what does PW do then? Notch 8 and overload, just to wind us up or to get home early!

The irony of it all I only learnt this year: the original EE to BRB marketing flyer for the EE type three specifically mentions removal of the boiler for replacement with an ETH generator in that area, a la 47 400s.

What ever the possibilities, in 1985 we got the best possible locos for the far north and west highland line, the gleaming 37-4s. I doubt any rail enthusiast would have specced up such a carefully thought out series of modifications to suit the tasks of the class. It took real experts and they came up trumps: namely

1) keep the engine rated at 1750hp: 2000 was too much for reliability.
2) acheive the equivalent of 2000 hp anyway with the use of the more efficient alternator as prime convertor.
3) fitting the necessary starter motor which, a la 50, runs the ETH in dynamo mode.
4) CRopping the wheel slip control to a short cut of the fuel lines rather than the full overload shut and creep up system before. It sounded violent, but the engine revs were kept relatively high and thus thermal cycling was reduced and traction maintained by pure momentum and reduced torque at rail.
5) the master stroke, which may have disappointed us to begin with: down gearing to a lower gear ratio for final mechanical driver TM to axel.

The latter was indeed the master stroke; on the 400 to 550 tonne Aluminiums and the last of the Corpach paper materials trains then, the 4s could handle the whole train alone where a pair of original syphons were needed. Also it made them even more entertaining off the mark, although it seemed to be Inverness drivers who took this to heart. Ironically, ED seemed to behave themselves, perhaps on pain of being put on suburban services, who knows. Oban and Bill drivers gave it plenty welly to make up for them.

Contrary to popular belief of those neds who took up bashing duffs and so on in the 90s, the original 37s could pretty easily get up to ninety mph, and sometimes 100. The absolute top speed discussed in 80s bashing circles was 114mph on a down gradient of the Great Eastern route on a diversion from the ECML, all be it with a pair of syphons. One rare run all the way to Carlisle behind a syphon the Mrk I's felt equally drawn by the horses of hell as they did behind a roarer on that stretch so I guess we were over 90mph if not up at the ton in a cool airstream.

This was another urban platform myth never confirmed: in cool night air, the amp needle on a 37 would indicate a higher output allegedly. The chat was that they actually produced 2000bhp given the right temperature of air and humidity.

37 292, which will get another short mention as my moves in 1984 get blogged, did get uprated to 2000bhp PLUS an alternator. However as in the class 50, the uprating prove to limit the service interval and reliability of the PU. The key issues were sticking or coked valves and valve seats, and sticky valve springs. Also the timing chain needed more attention working at the higher torque. Perhaps an uprating by rpm to 950 may have been one idea, but certainly a move to gear or belt driven cams and more modern valve and head systems would have allowed this over engineered PU to get to 2000hp and beyond as a retro fit. Sceptical? well the 6 RK engine became the 12SVT at 1470hp and then the 1850/1750(2050 unit in the type 3s of the 1960s. The engine went on in RK 270 form to 3300 hp and in rail application ( the mixed rep as the 58) and way beyond in non rail applications in the 1990s.

What BRB should have engaged suppliers, and I mean probably just ruston paxman given their engines were cheaper than Sulzer, was to offer technology upgrades and swapping out of PUs under a lease-buy set up where by the redundant engines could be sold on or cascaded to lower powered classes of locos. Technologies like gear driven cams, common rail injection, both sided intercooling, oil scavenging and better piston head profile designs all could have been incorporated into the CSVT range with the prime engine block and many components being retained.

Okay, so this was the first blog. The blogs will be less rambling and stick to the moves: my bashing book 1982-1987 and no doubt some general rants on sociology, on my personal psychology and the beauty of the places I went to, often hauled by 37s of course.

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