Going Dutch -The Class 77 story
Rail Express|November 2019
Briefly considered as the standard electric express passenger locomotive of the future in the early 1950s, the 1500V DC EM2s/Class 77s almost met the same fate as the Woodhead route on which they ran, but were instead taken on by the Dutch national operator in 1969. Gareth Bayer tells the fascinating tale of these Co-Co electrics.
Gareth Bayer

THE general story of the 1500V DCEM2 express passenger electrics built for the Manchester-SheffieldWath (MSW) ‘Woodhead’ electrification scheme in the early 1950s is well known. Just seven members strong (preTOPS Nos. 27000-27006), they were declared redundant in 1968 and sold to Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch national railway operator, in 1969 where they gave excellent service until retired for a second time in 1986.

However, it could have been a very different matter had British Railways continued electrification at 1500V DC rather than switching to 25kV AC as the new standard.

Electrification of the former Great Central route over the Pennines, via Woodhead Tunnel, had been mooted for years before the first comprehensive plan was published by the LNER in 1936. Calling for nine express passenger locomotives, plus 69 for mixed traffic and 10 for banking duties, the planned 88-strong fleet would replace 181 steam engines on a more than two for one basis.

Work started on wiring in 1937, and the prototype Bo+Bo EM1 (Class 76) mixed-traffic locomotive, No. 6701, was released into traffic in February 1941. Wearing LNER apple green, it was designed by Sir Nigel Gresley and spent some time on test on the 1500V DC Manchester-Altrincham line, which had been electrified in 1931. However, with the Second World War raging, the MSW electrification was shelved and the loco went into store.

The banking locos would be rebuilt from the 10 North Eastern Railway EF1 locomotives constructed for the Shildon scheme in 1914 and 1919. Little is known about what was envisioned for the nine express passenger machines, although a proposal was made by the Swiss Locomotive & Machine Works (SLM) of Winterthur in 1939 for a 55ft-long 4-6-4 design, suggesting an arrangement similar to the NER’s EE1.

After the war, attention turned to rebuilding the country’s patched up railway system and the MSW electrification was intended to be one of the showpieces of this effort.

EM1 No. 6701, by now renumbered No. 6000, was lent to Nederlandse Spoorwegen in 1947 to assist with its huge motive power shortage, the Dutch having extensively electrified at 1,500V DC in the interwar period. The arrangement was not entirely altruistic, as the LNER was desperate to really test No. 6000 to the limit. While the prototype EM1 proved to be exceptionally reliable, its work in the Netherlands did highlight several major issues – particularly an inclination for the lead axle to lift up under acceleration, while the ride quality at speed left a lot to be desired.


The early reports from Holland heavily influenced the traction plan in the revised MSW electrification scheme published by the newly-formed British Railways in 1948. Significantly, a postwar ambition to make do with just 88 mixed traffic electrics of a revised EM1 design was changed to reintroduce a build of Co-Co express passenger locomotives, the original nine being considerably enhanced to a fleet of 27.

This seems out of proportion to the actual quantity that would be required for day to day services, remembering that the wired route between Manchester and Sheffield via Woodhead was barely 40 miles in length. It can only be explained by the expectation that Woodhead would be quickly followed by 1500V DC wires stretching the full length of the old GCR to London Marylebone and possibly extensions east and west to Liverpool and the key marshalling yard at March, Cambridgeshire. The EM2 (Class 77) would be the ‘standard’ passenger locomotive for the new electrified system.

In July 1949, BR Eastern Region chief mechanical engineer A H Peppercorn, in one of his final acts before retirement, signed the order for 27 locomotives to be constructed at Gorton Works, Manchester. Electrical equipment would be provided and installed at Metropolitan Vickers Electrical close by at Dukinfield.

However, with the cost of the MSW scheme running significantly over expectations, coupled with encouraging results from bogie modifications to No. 6000 in Holland, the order was quickly revised down to just seven examples. Cover would be provided by installing steam generators in 13 of the production EM1 locomotives plus the prototype, which returned to the UK in 1952 as No. 26000 and named Tommy by Dutch staff.


Despite a strong family resemblance to the Bo+Bo design, principally because they shared cab jigs, there were some significant differences between the EM2 and EM1 types.

One of the key alterations was the repositioning of the buffers and drawgear from the front of the bogies to the frame, a more conventional arrangement, which promised a much smoother ride as forces would be transmitted through the loco’s body. Oval buffers were also fitted.

The three-axle bogies with Timken roller bearings were derived from the LMS/English Electric diesels Nos. 10000/10001, which were then at the cutting edge of British locomotive technology. Each axle was powered by an air-cooled 460hp Metropolitan Vickers Type 146 traction motor with single reduction 17:64 gearing. Two of these on each bogie were permanently wired in series. This allowed the driver three different series or parallel arrangements as they took a train from standstill to full line speed.

For starting the train, all six traction motors would be connected in series. Once the train was moving, they would be switched as two parallel circuits of three motors. At the highest speeds, they would be connected in three parallel circuits of two motors.

Like No. 6000 and the other steam generator-fitted EM1s, a Bastian & Allen design was chosen for the EM2s and this was located at the No.2 end. This was supplied by a 320-gallon water tank. Electrically, both types were also fitted with regenerative braking. However, rheostatic braking – quickly fitted in the EM1s to assist with moving heavy freight trains at extremely slow speeds, was never installed. They also never received multiple working equipment during BR days.

The result was a 59ft long locomotive of 102.5 tons, some 15 tons heavier and almost nine feet longer than the EM1. Developing a continuous 2400hp (2760hp for one hour) with a starting tractive effort of 45,000lb, they were more than capable of lifting the heaviest passenger trains over the MSW route.


The first EM2 to be completed, No. 27000, was delivered on December 28, 1953. The final example, No. 27006 – the last locomotive to be built at Gorton Works – was handed over to British Railways almost exactly a year later on December 31, 1954.

From new, they were painted all-over black with red lining, polished metal handrails, red buffer beams and the large BR ‘lion & wheel’ emblem. This was positioned off centre on the upper body on the gangway side, but moved to the lower bodyside on the equipment side due to the location of windows and grilles.

Nos. 27000-27002 were initially allocated to Wath until Reddish depot completed its transition to 1500V DC. They moved across on June 19, 1954, and the remaining four EM2s were allocated to Reddish from new. For No. 27002 this was effectively a paper allocation, as it went straight from Gorton to the International Railway Congress event at Willesden, where it was on display from May 25-June 4.

Tests of the EM2s, which included working loaded and unloaded freight trains on the Wath branch, and often partnered with EM1s for insurance, suggested it was a good design but not without some minor faults. Weight transfer when accelerating, wheel slip, sanding gear and braking issues were all identified, although most of these would only be an issue working goods trains. This meant they were never common on freight, although in the early days they saw use on banking duties in busy seasons. Later it was found that the bogies were susceptible to hairline fractures.

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