‘Chopper’ at the ready as English Electric Type 1 to enter GWR service

Alex Farran
June 26, 2024

• EE Type 1 / British Rail Class 20 No. 20228 backdated to 1980s condition • Locomotive to officially enter service during GWR summer diesel gala • BR Blue Class 20’s introduction follows successful test running in late June

: One of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway’s resident English Electric Type 1 diesel-electric locomotives is to officially enter service during the railway’s annual Summer Heritage Diesel Gala in July, following an extensive restoration project. The locomotive in question is British Rail Class 20 No. 20228 (D8128). Repainted into resplendent BR Blue, the privately owned ‘20’ moved to the railway at Toddington during 2020, joining sister English Electric No. 20137 (D8137), which has been part of the railway’s home diesel fleet since 1994.

Time for a bit of history on our resident - English Electric Type 1 / British Rail Class 20 Diesel No. 20228 (D8128).

D8128 was outshopped from English Electric’s Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows on the 12th January 1966, being allocated new to Tinsley (41A) on the Eastern Region (ER). Part of a later batch of locomotives, D8128 was the first example to be fitted with central headcode boxes from new (instead of disc indicators). It was painted in BR green livery with small yellow warning panels (GSYP). For the next 20 years, besides Tinsley, D8128 spent time allocated to Warrington Dallam (8B) and Staveley (Barrow Hill) (41E). During this period, the locomotive received a number of modifications; by May 1971 its livery had been changed to incorporate full yellow ends (GFYE), in January 1974 it was renumbered to 20228 under TOPS, in December 1974 it was fitted with snowplough brackets, and by 1983 it had been fitted with dual braking equipment.

20228 spent time at Derby Works during 1976 where it is thought to have gained its unusual looking nose end where marker lights were fitted rather than a headcode box. The reasons for this are not fully known, but given the year coincides with when locomotives were no longer required to display four-character headcode displays, it is thought that the markers were fitted instead. Three class 20s ended up with a similar look, however 20228 is unique in the fact that its marker lights were fitted proud of the bodywork rather than flush to it.  

By the mid-1970s, the ‘20’ had been reallocated back to its original depot of Tinsley (41A) and would spend several years there before moving north of the border to Scotland. 20228 was overhauled at St Rollox (Glasgow) in 1983 and allocated to Eastfield (ED) during October 1987. On 21st May 1989 the '20' Hauled a Hertfordshire Railtour alongside 20145 under the banner of ‘Inter-City Diesel Day’ between Leicester and St Pancras. The locomotive was officially withdrawn from service on the 1st May 1991, ending a BR career which lasted over 25 years and 4 months.

Mistakenly, 20228 is often thought of as the last class 20 built given there were exactly 228 class members constructed. However, given D8000 became 20050 under TOPS which caused D8050 to become 20128, this bumped D8128 to the end of the line of TOPS numbered 20s.

Despite 20228’s UK mainline career coming to an end, the locomotive ended up being one of four class 20s sold by British Rail to Compagnie de Chermin de Fer Departmentementaux (CFD). These were exported to France via Poole and Cherbourg in July 1992 following overhaul at BREL Crewe works. Based out of Autun, these operated freight trains on the Cravant Bazarnes – Avallon – Saulieu – Autun – Etang- Montchanin route in central France, being renumbered 2001-2004, the latter being the number of 20228, and painted in distinctive CFD Orange livery.  

‘Along Different Lines’ operated two railtours with the exports, with the first being on the 8th August 1998, seeing 2004 (20228) operate alongside 2003 (20139). During this day, 2001 (20035) was viewed on shed at Autun with 2002 (20063) inside the shed supported on sleepers minus its bogies. The railtour was re-run on the 16th October 1999, this time using 2001 & 2002 as the traction. During the year 2000, 2003 was viewed at Autun depot stored on sleepers minus its bogies when at the time CFD only required one pair of locos with 2004 operating with 2001.  

The four locos were repatriated to the UK in September 2005 via Southampton after several years of declining use. Two of the four locos remain in preservation, the other being 20063 (2002) which is currently being restored at the Battlefield Line back to its CFD orange livery.  

20139 (2003) was stripped for spares on return to the UK and was scrapped at Kingsbury in 2010. 20035 (2001) was also stripped for spares, spending time at Toddington between 2017 and 2019 where the parts recovery process took place before eventual scrapping. 20035 has since provided countless spares to enable the upkeep of both 20137 and 20228 at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.

20228 operated trains at the Barry Tourist Railway as soon as 2006, still in its CFD guise and carrying its 2004 number. The loco also appeared at the ‘Class 20 50th Anniversary Celebration’ at Barrow Hill in July 2007. 20228 last worked a preservation passenger service at the Barry Tourist Railway on the 28th July 2012. Eight years later, the well-travelled locomotive moved to the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway during December 2020, where it has been under overhaul ever since.

British Rail Class 20s are commonly referred to as ‘Choppers’ by railway enthusiasts thanks to their unique engine sound, specifically the distinctive beat the engine produces when operated under load, which resembles the sound of a helicopter.    

Tickets for the summer diesel gala are available online at www.gwsr.com. With up to nine diesel locomotives including 5310, and a diesel multiple unit (DMU) running*, it will offer an action-packed timetable of trains. The locomotive and carriage & wagon workshops will throw open their doors for rare behind-the-scenes visits and there will be plenty of other activity at the railway’s picturesque period stations.