The Ribble Steam Railway’s Class 14 D9539 celebrated its 50th birthday in April 2015, Fred Kerr celebrates its life with a biography – including WHY D9539 had an important part to play in the life history of the class.The origins of the Class 14 trip locomotive lie in a discontinued project from the early 1960s when the Eastern and Western Regions (ER / WR) of British Railways (BR) approached the British Transport Commission (BTC) to seek approval for a small fleet of locomotives to undertake empty stock and station pilot duties, particularly at the Regions’ London Terminals.
Whilst the BTC was considering the request, the ER reviewed its traction policy and opted to use its existing Class 30 (later Class 31) fleet to undertake the duties thus withdrew its request leaving only the WR request to consider.
With the withdrawal of the ER request, the WR decided to review its request and seek approval for a fleet of locomotives better specified to replace its fleet of varied 0-6-0 Pannier Tank locomotives. A specification for this was drafted requiring a small locomotive capable of main line speeds of upto 45 mph and powerful enough to handle freight, passenger and empty stock duties.
The Swindon Works of the WR designed a locomotive to meet both this specification and the latest BR standard of a centre cab for main line locomotive designs. The final design was based on a standard GWR 94xx 0-6-0 chassis and used a Paxman 6-cylinder 6YJXL “Ventura” engine rated at 650 hp at 1500 rpm coupled to a Voith / North British L217U hydraulic transmission and Hunslet “650” gearbox. In essence the locomotive was a pure WR bottom half allied to a modern BR top half.
The fleet of 56 locomotives was built to complete the Dieselisation Programme west of Severn Tunnel Junction but, even as locomotives were under construction, their intended workings were disappearing as fast as the new locomotives were appearing. By the time that the last locomotive was delivered in October 1965 there was very little work left to power.D9539 was delivered from Swindon Works to Cardiff Canton in Period 4/1965 (a period then being one of 4 weeks) and worked on local trips until placed in store during Period 5/1967. In an attempt to find work for the class, 33 locomotives were transferred in 2 tranches to Hull Dairycoates depot as replacement for the WD Class 2-8-0s; the first batch of 24 moved in January 1967 followed by a further 9, including D9539, in May 1967.
The move to Hull proved useless as the locomotives lacked multiple operation equipment and revealed engine problems, albeit due to design faults, that caused the fleet to be withdrawn en masse on 1 April 1968. BR, however, realised that there was a demand for shunting locomotives from industry and arranged a demonstration on 8 October 1968 at the Harlaxton Quarry, south of Grantham, of the British Steel Corporation (BSC).
D9539 was demonstrated to a number of firms with the result that D9539 was immediately bought at a cost of £4000:00 for trials at the Corby site of the BSC Minerals Division; the company subsequently bought a total of 23 Class 14s to replace steam traction in its various quarries in both Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire. Of the other 10 Hull locomotives, 5 were bought by the National Coal Board (NCB), 2 were bought by Associated Portland Cement and 3 were scrapped.
Those locomotives that remained on the WR were also withdrawn in tranches between July 1968 and April 1969 although the final 10 were officially condemned on 3 May 1969, with many spending lengthy periods in store prior to official withdrawal. The successful sale of the Hull-based locomotives encouraged BR to repeat the exercise with the result that of the remaining 23 14 were bought by the NCB for its Northumberland collieries, 4 sold to industrial concerns and 5 were sold for scrap.
Thus the demonstration by D9539 had resulted in 48 locomotives out of 56 built being sold into private industry where their futures were secured.
At Corby the locomotives, including D9539 with its BSC number (8311) 30, settled down to a hard working life hauling ironstone from the quarries to the steelworks in 500-ton trainsets over unballasted tracks in the quarries. The engine problems that bedevilled BR were quickly resolved by the exchange of the installed alloy heads by cast iron ones whilst other problems were resolved by adopting modifications that BR would have implemented had the locos been retained in service.
By 1974 the Lincolnshire quarries were closed and the locomotives moved to Corby where they continued working the heavy ironstone trains; part of the move involved a fleet re-numbering in which D9539 now became (8411) 51. In 1979 plans were formulated to re-engine a number of locomotives with Rolls Royce engines and contracts were being negotiated when the decision was taken to cease iron ore mining and the Class 14 fleet became redundant.
The final trains ran on 4 January 1980 but D9539 was already in store awaiting its fate; it remained at Penn Green depot until moved to the Steelworks Disposal Site in December 1980.
The next stage in the life of D9539 occurred when members of the nascent Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (GWR) arrived at Corby to inspect D9537 with a view to purchasing it; they also bought D9539 and both locomotives were transferred to the GWR’s base at Toddington on 23 February 1983. The pair of locos initially provided motive power for the GWR’s trains but as the line grew and further locomotives arrived on site the Class 14s became surplus, leading to the sale of D9539 to Ribble Steam Railway chairman Dave Watkins in 2005. D9539 worked its GWR Farewell Train on 23 July 2005 and on 26 July – only 3 days later – it was off-loaded onto Ribble Rails at Riversway.Since its arrival D9539 has not had a happy time. After working the “Santa Specials” during December 2005, it was withdrawn from service to seal the oil leaks that were discovered emanating from the cylinder heads. Whilst in the workshops awaiting parts further problems were found and it was decided to give the locomotive a major overhaul that took until July 2011 to complete. It appeared for the Diesel Gala held in August 2011, although there were minor faults still to be corrected, and worked the “Santa Specials” in December 2011 before failing with starter motor problems on the final day.
The return to service took a little longer to accomplish due to delays in obtaining parts and shortage of volunteers hence it was October 2013 before D9539 re-appeared in traffic – just in time to participate in the Diesel Gala – but continuing starter motor problems saw a rapid return to the workshops.
D9539 was fitted with a replacement starter motor that came from an HST Power Car and re-appeared in April 2014 when it was taken to the East Lancashire Railway (ELR) to participate in the ELR’s “Class 14 at 50” Gala held in July 2014; the early arrival allowed some “shakedown” running to be undertaken and minor repairs completed. The ELR Gala helped showcase the continuing success of the Class 14 fleet and their value to Heritage Lines, including Ribble Steam Railway. Having returned to Preston in August 2014 D9539 was readied to take up its position within the RSR’s operational fleet and receive the credit that it deserves for its contribution to the preservation of 19 Class 14 locomotives.
That contribution has seen 10 of the Hull-based locomotives enter preservation, 48 out of the 56 locomotives built be rescued for re-use in industry and – as of January 2015 – 19 class members now preserved.