Thursday 4th July 1957 was quite a special day in Milan Fiat unveiled their Nuova Chinquecento - the classic Fiat 500, Meanwhile in Newton Le Willows, Merseyside Pilot Scheme Locomotive D8001 emerged from the Vulcan Foundry to run its test train from Edge Hill to Penrith. The little Fiat went on to be a design classic, the second Type Two Pilot Scheme diesel went on to play its part in the modernisation of Britain's railways.
D8001 started life in in all-over British rail green livery with grey roof and red buffer beams, like the other 20 pilot scheme Twenties she had oval buffers. She had a left hand side ladder near the nose to give access to the roof and as the initial six loco was delivered with reduced cab end handrails. The styling of the class with a single cab and a long bonnet was clearly based on their steam predecessors and required a second man when running nose first, but their reliability and combination of light axle load with power in multiple made them an instant success.
the loco was initially based at Devons Road, Bow in the first dedicated BR diesel depot, working local freight around East and North London. In September 1958 after just over a year she was transferred to Crewe South where she stayed for two years returning to Willesden in London in October 1960. During here spell here she was predominantly used on trip freight trains around the capital. Local passenger turns were far from rare, Euston station pilot duties and use on empty coaching stock turns were routine work. In the photo above D8001 is seen on a parcels at Euston on 21st October 1961, thanks to Mel Thorley/Michael Messing for the photo.
In October 1969 , 8001 was moved to Toton and then reallocated to Sheffield Tinsley in October 1970, predominantly working in pairs on coal trains. Twelve months later she was moved north of the border to Edinburgh Haymarket, probably working alongside future friend 20227. her time in Scotland was limited, returning to Toton in March 1973 where she became 20001 in March 1974.
In July 1975 20001 was placed in into store in service-able condition at Westhouses for few months, before being returned to service at Toton in October, where she remained until being reallocated to Tinsley again in November 1978. In early 1980 the loco received her last general classified overhaul at Glasgow works being returned to traffic in March. Mid 1984 saw dual brakes and slow speed control equipment being fitted and a return to Toton in September, followed by a couple of months being allocated to Bescot, Birmingham.
During 1985 when Toton began 'permanent pairing' Class 20's, 001 was ran with fellow pilot schemer 20016. But on 20th April 1988 she was taken out of service and transferred to the departmental sector as a training locomotive at Toton. There were plans to renumber her as ADB968029, but this never happened.
The loco was repainted and borrowed by the Midland railway centre for their June 1989 diesel gala where she ran with fellow Vulcan Foundry loco Deltic 55015. We tried to purchase her whilst at Butterley that Summer, but the loco was returned to the training centre at Toton once more. She was kept under cover and well cared for in the test house, being joined by 20032 for a short while until she was reinstated to traffic. 20227 took the place at the training centre - thus creating a paring no one could foresee as permanent !
After many months of to trying the Class 20 Locomotive finally purchased 20001 in November 1991, to join already preserved 20227 at Butterley.
In 1992 we were approached by RFS to assist in providing locomotives to assist with the construction of the Channel Tunnel, whilst external hire was never something we had planned as we set out as a preservation society, the potential income and guarantees of return in good condition were something we could not turn down. The loco is seen below at South Mimms on its was to the Tunnel project.
Whilst in preservation the locomotives home base has been the Midland Railway, Butterley, staying relatively close to its home depot of Toton. But even in preservation 20001 has traveled extensively visiting the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway, North Norfolk at Sheringham, Barrow Hill, the Mid-Hants Railway, Worksworth, the Nene valley and finally the Epping to Ongar where she is running today.
After 26 years in preservation we are proud to be the owners of such a historic locomotive, which has shown its self to be reliable and flexible. Whilst built using proper British engineering skill I doubt many at Vulcan Foundry in 1957 would have expected the locomotive to be still operating today or to have crossed the Channel under its own power !
So raise your glasses tonight as a Sixtieth Birthday Tribute to Great British engineering and D8001.