British Rail Class 20

The British Rail (BR) 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, 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
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 motorsD8000–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 effortMaximum: 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)
OperatorsBritish Railways
Direct Rail Services
NumbersD8000–D8199, D8300–D8327; later 20001–20228
Axle load classRoute availability 5
Disposition17 in service, 22 preserved, remainder scrapped

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.

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]

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 Rail

Distribution of locomotives,
March 1974[8]
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 Humberside. 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 privatisation

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 20901, 20902 and 20903 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).

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 16 in storage; two were on hire at Corus Scunthorpe (nos 81 and 82).

A number of class 20s from HNRC are currently being employed to deliver new S-Stock to London Underground at Neasden depot, for commissioning.


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, 20311 and 20314, 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 20901, 903-906 remain; 20902 has been scrapped).


British Rail

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] 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 20141 was the final main line loco to carry BR green livery.[14]

Some locomotives, including 20227, 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]


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 (20121, 20166, 20311 and 20314). 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 - 20056). 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 - 20066). Two HNRC Class 20s have been painted into GBRf Europorte's blue and gold livery (20901 and 20905), while two other HNRC Class 20s have been painted in the White livery of Hope Construction Materials, with a purple solebar (No.2 - 20168) and a black solebar (No.3 - 20906).

Four locomotives carried the orange and white livery of the CFD (Compagnie de Chemins de Fer Départementaux) whilst working in France, these were 20035, 20063, 20139 and 20228.

Two locomotives, numbers 20142 and 20189, were briefly painted into a Blue and White Balfour Beatty livery, during 2013, but have since been returned to a variation of BR blue.

The last built class 20, number 20227, 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 20142, which also sports Metropolitan line maroon livery.

Mainline registered class 20s are:[16]

Sub-Class Description
20/0 20007, 20096, 20107, 20118, 20132, 20142, 20168, 20189, 20205, 20227
20/3 20301, 20302, 20303, 20304, 20305, 20308, 20309, 20311, 20312, 20314
20/9 20901, 20905, 20906

Accidents and incidents

  • On 16 December 1971, locomotives D8142 and D8115 collided with class 25 no. D7605 at Lenton South Junction, Nottingham, killing 3 railwaymen.[17]
  • On 18 May 1989, locomotives 20134 and 20131 collided with the rear of an MGR train at Worksop, killing the driver.

In the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye, 20188 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.[18]


A total of 22 Class 20 locomotives 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.

Class 20s in preservation[19]
PhotoPreserved byLocation
20001D8001Class 20 Locomotive SocietyMidland Railway – Butterley
2000720007Class 20189 LtdMainline operational
2002020020Scottish Railway Preservation SocietyBo'ness and Kinneil Railway
2003120031Privately ownedKeighley & Worth Valley Railway
20035N/APrivately owned, ex-CFDGloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, left September 2019 and scrapped at EMR Kingsbury
2004820048Midland Class 20 AssociationMidland Railway, Butterley
20050D8000National CollectionNational Railway Museum
20057D8057Privately OwnedChurnet Valley Railway
20059D8059Somerset & Dorset Loco CompanyNene Valley Railway
20069D8069Privately ownedMid-Norfolk Railway
20098D8098Type One Locomotive CompanyGreat Central Railway, Loughborough
20137D8137Privately ownedGloucestershire Warwickshire Railway
2014220142Class 20189 LtdMainline operational
20154D8154English Electric PreservationGreat Central Railway (Nottingham)
20166D8166HNRCWensleydale Railway
20177N/A.Severn Valley RailwaySource of spares for D8188 and D8059, left October 2017 and later scrapped.
20188D8188Somerset & Dorset Loco CompanyChinnor and Princes Risborough Railway
20189L189Class 20189 LtdMainline operational
2020520205Class 20 Locomotive SocietyMainline operational
2021420214Privately ownedLakeside and Haverthwaite Railway
2022720227Class 20 Locomotive SocietyNorth Norfolk Railway
202282004Privately ownedVale of Glamorgan Railway


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


  1. 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 1981 – January 1982). "BR's 'Chopper' squad". Rail Enthusiast. EMAP National Publications. pp. 6–9. ISSN 0262-561X. OCLC 49957965.
  4. 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. 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. Retrieved 20 May 2008.
  10. "Class 20". The Railway Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2008.
  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. Turner, Graham (2012). "Rail Blue - The Story". Rail Blue. Retrieved 20 March 2008.
  14. Turner, Graham. "The Class 20 Locomotive Fleet". 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. p. .
  18. "Sinister Class 20 is new James Bond movie star" Rail issue 250 12 April 1995 page 6
  19. "Preserved Diesels - Class 20". Preserved Diesels. Retrieved 15 August 2008.


  • 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. Oxford Publishing Co. ISBN 9780860933182. OCLC 17916362.

Further reading

  • Cole, Andrew (2016). Class 20 Locomotives. Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781445658919. OCLC 934603402.
  • Dunn, Pip (2016). British Rail Class 20 Locomotives. The Crowood Press UK. ISBN 9781785000980. OCLC 930829335.
  • Dunn, Pip; Loader, Martin (2003). Class 20 Photo File. Vanguard Publications. ISBN 9781900872058. OCLC 867918624.
  • Fell, Andrew (1994). Class 20s in Colour. Leicester: Midland Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781857800203. OCLC 31287783.
  • McManus, Michael. Ultimate Allocations, British Railways Locomotives 1948 - 1968. Wirral. Michael McManus.
  • Oakley, Michael (1981). BR Class 20 Diesels. Truro: Bradford Barton. ISBN 9780851534190. OCLC 16542512.
  • Vaughan, John (1984). Profile of the class 20s. Poole: OPC. ISBN 9780860932444. OCLC 13666530.
  • Johnston, Howard (April 1983). "When Class 20s go on holiday". Rail Enthusiast. EMAP National Publications. pp. 16–21. ISSN 0262-561X. OCLC 49957965.
  • "Outlines of Power No. 4: EE Type 1 (Class 20)". Rail Enthusiast. EMAP National Publications. February 1983. pp. 32–33. ISSN 0262-561X. OCLC 49957965.
  • "The 'new' Class 20/9 takes to the rails". RAIL. No. 93. EMAP National Publications. 6–19 April 1989. p. 8. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.
  • Dunn, Pip (26 February – 11 March 1997). "They'll always get you home!". RAIL. No. 299. EMAP Apex Publications. p. 32-36. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.
  • Dunn, Pip (5–18 November 1997). "PDQ". RAIL. No. 317. EMAP Apex Publications. p. 37. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.
  • Dunn, Pip (11–24 February 1998). "Second batch of DRS '20s' nearly ready". RAIL. No. 324. EMAP Apex Publications. pp. 60–61. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.
  • Dunn, Pip (9–22 September 1998). "Enjoying the atmosphere of France '98!". RAIL. No. 339. EMAP Apex Publications. pp. 36–41. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.
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