BR Class 47 (Brush Type 4)

The BR Class 47 is a 2,750 horsepower locomotive built by Brush Traction at their Falcon works and Crewe between 1962-68. There were 512 examples of the type built, making them the largest class of locomotives on the network. The locomotives worked beside other locomotive types facilitating both passenger and freight movements.


Ever since British Rail began their modernisation plan in the fifties, the agency began to implement various types of diesel electrics without many prototypes being produced, or without much thought or planning, mainly due to various political pressures. This resulted in many non-standard diesel designs throughout the system, which increased maintenance and operational costs. With British Rail yearning for a standard type 4, they began looking for prototypes from various locomotive manufacturers, of whom they have worked with previously.

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During the early 1960s, in British Rail’s plan to abolish steam traction by 1968, the agency needed a lightweight and versatile type 4 locomotive. BR began to contract manufacturers to build prototypes for the locomotive, which resulted in the construction of the D0260 “Lion”, being built in a joint venture with Birmingham Carriage & Wagon Company, Associated Electrical Industries, and Sulzer. The locomotive tested on both the eastern and western regions of the network, hauling expresses out of Paddington and King’s Cross. Brush’s prototype, “Falcon” tested on the eastern, London Midland, and western regions, and even saw active service with a contract between BR and Brush, however, the locomotive was scrapped in 1970, due to its non standard design.

Even though the Falcon was short lived, this was the design that British Rail deemed most reliable, as it contained the horsepower and reliability that was required by BR. Thus, BR contracted Brush for an order of type 4 locomotives, built to this standard. The first twenty examples rolled out of the Falcon works in 1962, and entered service in passenger and freight traffic, replacing many examples of steam traction throughout the national network, especially on high priority express passenger and mail trains. Prior to the TOPS implementation, the class was numbered D1500-D1111, and could be seen operating almost anywhere on the national railway system.

Beginning it the late eighties after over twenty-five years of dedicated service, the locomotives began to be withdrawn due to the introduction of new equipment, which resulted in a dwindling work load for the class. The first group of the class to be withdrawn were units with non-standard electrical equipment, which lacked electrical train heating and updated braking systems. Consequently the first to be retired were the first twenty units which were delivered with Westinghouse air brake systems, which were considered non-standard.

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The class was gradually phased out as privitisation extended the operation of the class, as many of the newly formed private operators were in need of available motive power, in addition to rising freight traffic. From 1996-2006, the class was phased out with fifteen locomotives being taken out of service annually.

Today, 35 locomotives remain in operation throughout the country, with 24 being mainline registered. Many are used on various heritage railways throughout the country, while many members of the class are involved with mainline revenue workings.

Current Operators
West Coast Railways47237, 47245, 47746, 47760, 47772, 47786, 47802, 47804, 47826, 47832, 47851 and 47854
Vintage Trains47773
Rail Operations Group47812 47813 47815
Locomotive Services Limited47501, 47790, 47805, 47810, 47841 and 47853
Arlington Fleet Services47818
GB Railfreight47727, 47739, 47749,
Steve Jones photo


Upon delivery, the Class 47s were equipped with a 2,750 horsepower Sulzer 12LDA28-C, capable of speeds of 75 mph. Most members of the class were equipped with steam heat generators for the passenger cars, while 81 members of the class were not delivered with this feature, as they were allocated solely for freight duties. Additionally, the first twenty units of the class were delivered with Westinghouse braking systems, while the remainder were equipped with Metcalfe Oerlikon air brakes.

The initial horsepower rating of the locomotive of 2,750, proved to put too much stress on the locomotive’s power plant, and consequently, caused it to crack on many occasions. The decision was made it the mid sixties while the locomotive was still in production to de-rate the units to 2,580 horsepower.

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The Class 47 was a versatile locomotive and had acquired many duties throughout its operating life, thus, they were fitted with various pieces of equipment for the region or service they were operating on. The equipment present on the class varies from electrical train heating (ETH), push-pull capabilities, and members of the class solely used for freight workings.

Class 47/0

This subclass describes the locomotives as built from the factory, without any modifications. It included the steam heat boiler for passenger workings, and retained the number series 47001-47298. Although originally equipped with steam generation for passenger car heating, as this technology was being phased out in the eighties and nineties, electrical train heating was gradually installed in the subclass. Additionally, the some locomotives in this subclass were later equipped with multiple working equipment.

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Class 47/3

This subclass numbered 47301-47381, was primarily used for freight workings as they were not equipped with any train heating equipment, thus were not suitable for passenger traffic. These locomotives could be seen working merry-go-round coal trains throughout the country, and thus were equipped with slow speed control for these workings. Although it was rare to see this subclass haul passenger traffic, an exception was made during the hectic summer months when rail traffic skyrocketed. This was due to the fact that train heating was not needed for the summer months, making this type of power available for revenue passenger traffic.

Class 47/4

This subclass, numbered 47401-47547 and 47549-47665, was equipped with electrical train heating, and was solely used as a passenger locomotive which could be seen on various regions throughout the system. After many Class 47/0s were converted to 47/4, it brought the final number of locomotives in this subclass to 163.

Class 47/6 and 47/9

In 1974, BR was interested in introducing type 5 locomotives into its fleet, as freight traffic was increasing throughout the nation. Unfortunately, Class 47 47046 was involved in an incident in Peterborough, and taken from service, however, this locomotive was selected to serve as a test bed for the Ruston 16RK3CT prime mover and was renumbered 47601. This particular prime mover was selected to be used in the new Class 56 freight locomotives.

The Class 47/9 was the same unit as 47601, however, it was renumbered 47901, and was this time used to test the 12 cylinder Ruston Paxman 12RK3ACT, which was the prime mover anticipated to be used in the new Class 58 locomotives. Uniquely, 47901 entered revenue service using this engine and continued in operation until withdrawal in 1990.

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Class 47/7

Throughout the late seventies, the Glasgow-Edinburgh shuttle service was being hauled by two Class 27s running in push-pull mode. However, British Rail soon realised that a more modern locomotive needed to be used for these services, and thus, the Class 47/4 was chosen. However, the 47/4 did not have the electronics allowing them to operate in push-pull service, so sixteen 47/4s were converted to 47/7, which included the addition of TDM push pull equipment, extended range fuel tanks, and the ability to operate at 100 mph continuously. In addition to the Edinburgh-Glasgow service, the locomotives later worked the Glasgow-Aberdeen services as well.

Further modifications to this subclass included the addition of the 47/7b and 47/7c, which made them compatible with propelling control vehicles (PCV), which used the Railway Clearing House system of cables to allow the crew in the PCV to signal the crew in the locomotive, in order to facilitate braking. The PCV was used to haul mail trains and were converted from former Class 307 electric multiple units (EMUs). Two of these locomotives were selected for use with the Royal Train, and carry the 47/7c designation, which are 47798 “Prince William”, and 47799 “Prince Henry”.

A series of extended range 47/7s numbered 47801-47854 were modified to have extended range fuel tanks. These locomotives were mainly used on various Virgin Cross Country trains until the Voyager trains came into service, which allowed this subclass to remain in service longer than other variants of the class.

Further Variations

Class 57

Thirty-three Class 47s were re-built with re-conditioned EMD 645 prime movers by Brush Traction between 1998-2004. The locomotives also received the same traction alternators as the Class 56. These locomotives are owned by Direct Rail Services (which are often used as thunderbird locomotives), Great Western Railway, and West Coast Railways. Previous operators include Freightliner, Arriva Trains Wales, Colas Rail Freight, and Virgin Trains.

Class 48

Throughout the Class 47 order, BR decided to experiment between 1965-1966 with the Sulzer V12 12LVA24, instead of the Sulzer 12LDA28C, which was standard for the class. This locomotive was given the Class 48 designation. However, this prime mover was increasingly unreliable, thus, this class was converted to a standard Class 47.

Technical Information

Total Built512
Wheel ConfigurationCo’Co’
Wheel Diameter3 ft 9in
Wheelbase51ft 6in
Length63 ft 7 in
Width8 ft 10 in
Height12 ft 9 ½ in
Weight112 long tons
Fuel Capacity850 imp gals
Prime MoverSulzer 12LDA28-C
Max Speed75 mph

Derated to 2,580

Tractive EffortMax: 55,000lbf
Route Availability6, 7
OperatorsBritish Rail


Colas Rail



Harry Needle Railroad Company

Riviera Trains

West Coast Railways

Rail Operations Group

For further information on the history of British diesels, Greg Morse’s book “British Diesel Locomotives of the 1950’s and 60’s” takes an in depth look at the history of early dieselisation. (Link to Amazon)
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