“Flying fish”, Class 81 electrics remembered

 

Introduction “your first fish”

 

Imagine the scene you are standing on the platform at New St and out of the tunnel emerges the big yellow front as an 81 back’s onto your train. There is that distinctive roar of the traction motor blowers, transformer and rectifier plus the odd tick and pop from the compressors. On departure; New St tunnel echoes to that now deafening roar whilst the traction motors begin to hum, the choke whines and the motors eventually scream once higher speeds are reached.

These  were the varied noises you would hear from the front coach of a class 81 hauled train, a unique combination of noises.  “Silent electrics” I think not! Add in exhilarating acceleration, sustained fast running, traditional blue livery and it was hardly surprising that the “roarers” were popular amongst WCML enthusiasts. Being the pioneers and having that distinctive fish on the side made the class 81’s particularly popular for many WCML enthusiasts.

 

Salmon Logo

 

The West Highland Terrier, Inverness Stag and Edinburgh Castle logos that brightened up/embellished various Scotrail allocated classes from 1984 saw much media attention. The leaping salmon logo applied by Motherwell depot to its 08/37’allocation and by Shields depot to its 81 fleet saw much less media coverage. This was despite 81's “flying” the fish logo the length of the WCML. The leaping salmon with a ring in its mouth is part of River Clyde mythology and many thought it looked superb plus it also brought a bit of Clyde mythology right down to the buffer stops at Euston.

 

TYPICAL DUTIES

 

The 70's

 

The electrified WCML of the 70's had much more electric haulage of passenger, parcels and freight services than on today's WCML where diesel power works so much traffic. Extension of the electrification from Weaver Jn to Glasgow in May 74 saw class 86/87 on most daytime passenger services with 81's still common on freight, liner, parcels and overnight passenger services. Relief trains, Motorail, footex's and other special traffic however did see 81's out on class 1 duties. The vacuum braked MkI stock used for such trains precluded use of 87's and so 81's were often diagrammed.

 

The 80's

 

The mid 80's saw the WCML electric fleet being stretched by Anglian electrification and increased need for multiple electrically hauled freightliner trains. This saw initially up to 10 class 86's 'lost' to Liverpool St-Cambridge/Ipswich and Norwich duties plus multiple fitted 86/4's finding more freightliner work. This left a shortfall which the 81's helped to fill with an increase in top link passenger work. This was despite 110 mph timings on some WCML services.

 

Certain mid 80's 86/87 diagrams could almost, but never be totally relied upon to produce a "roarer" on a top link turn. Sometimes an 81 would appear on such a turn listed below giving the potential for a high mileage flying run. It was this huge unpredictability of what the WCML controllers would allocate that would see enthusiast jubilation one day and despair the next!

 

Diagram 1

 

5A29 Longsight-Manchester Picc ECS

1O74 0958 Manchester-Brighton (to Coventry)

1S71  0730 Penzance-Glasgow (ex New St)

 

Diagram 2

 

1OO3 0650 Liverpool-Poole (to Coventry)

1S61    0747 Cardiff-Glasgow (ex New St)

1M52  1705 Glasgow-Euston

 

Diagram 3

 

1G00 0225 Preston-Birmingham

1P16  0620 Birmingham-Lancaster

1F30  0925 Lancaster-Liverpool

1S85   0717 Harwich-Glasgow

 

In 1986 the class were nominally derated to 80mph max speed in an effort to keep them off top link work and this saw them revert to the much more limited passenger work. The more established 81 freights and secondary turns also continued with them alsmost solid power on many interregional, and Euston 'Cobbler' type commuter  trains.

 

 

However such intense use was perhaps a factor in a series of loco fires with 81001/3/10/13/15/18 and 22 all suffering fire damage sufficiently serious to warrant withdrawal of these locos.

 

Despite an electrified WCML showing the full benefits of mixed traffic loco utilisation, with electrics working passenger by day and freight by night, sectorisation by 1986 was beginning to creep onto the WCML. More diesel haulage of freight/parcels traffic plus dedicated freight sector 86/6's in the late 80's threatened the 81's big time. Add in massive freight cuts, DVT operation and introduction of the class 90 electrics then the "fish" were obviously doomed.

 

 

 

Last Passenger Workings

 

 

Loco

Lpw*

Rlw

With

notes

81001

1S55-26/8/83

fire nr Carstairs

 

29/8/84

fire damage

81002

1S45-16/3/89

19/3/89

22/1/90

preserved

81003 

1B10-07/10/86

 

30/3/88

fire damage

81004

1M04-17/2/89

19/3/89

4/4/90

collision damage

81005

1A26-18/2/89

 

20/2/89

collision damage

81006

1T04-12/8/88

 

3/10/88

 

81007

1A37-28/8/89

 

14/11/89

 

81008

1Z11-29/6/87

 

30/3/88

 

81009

1S87-28/12/89

20/1/90

16/2/90

 

81010

1M24-28/12/89

ex Preston

 

23/5/90

fire damage

81011

1Z36-1/3/89

 

5/4/89

 

81012

1M09-06/4/90

7/4/90

22/7/91

 

81013

1G55-21/8/89

 

1/11/89

fire damage

81014

1B07-4/6/87

 

30/3/88

 

81015

1B08-27/4/84

 

 

19/12/84

fire damage

81016

1S18-09/12/82

collision-Linslade

 

11/7/83

collision damage

81017

1V33-28/12/89

fail Carlisle

22/2/90

15/7/91

 

81018

1M06-3/9/85

ex Rugby

 

20/1/86

fire damage

81019

1M08-9/11/88

ex Wolves

 

3/1/89

 

81020

1B06-12/5/87

 

9/9/87

 

81021

1B09-10/2/87

 

28/4/87

 

81022

1A06-21/2/87

 

10/7/87

fire damage

 

 

 

 

 

E3002

------

 

2/11/68

fire damage

E3009

6/1/68 collision Hixon

 

24/8/68

collision damage

E3019

------

 

18/7/71

fire damage

 

* Last passenger workings can never be a precise science but the above are the known last passenger workings to date. Thanks to www.timewarp.abelgratis.com

for their help in "preserving the gen".

 

G Force turns

 

 

The class 81 “fish” operated in an era where load 12/13 was the booked load for passenger trains. They would sometimes appear on lightweight formations often involving mail or newspaper traffic such as:

 

1S81 2050 Carlisle-Perth – 1 x TPO, 2 x van, 1x BSK

2A23 0350 Euston-Bletchley – 1 x BSK, 2 x van

 

Some drivers on such trains were keen to enjoy the high power to weight ratio. You could be hanging onto the side of your compartment (“compo”) seat or feeling giddy as the “g-force” acceleration of a class 81 saw you literally flying past Kingmoor or Willesden depots just minutes after leaving Carlisle or Euston.

 

Because these classic services ran at night detailed timings of such “flyers” were difficult. Some daytime services that 81’s sometimes produced on used “half rakes”. Loading to 5 or 6 Mk I’s these services again got that exhilarating electric acceleration.

 

2 daytime WCML services that were booked for “half rakes” were:

 

1A22  1109 Northamoton-Euston – 5 or 6 Mk I’s

1A76  1730 Birmingham-Euston – 5 Mk I’s

 

On the run detailed below the circumstances were right most importantly there were no PW slacks and the  loco’s speedometer was reading a bit low as we certainly flew! 

 

The fastest fish in town, March 87

 

On the odd occasion what was expected to be just another bash becomes something memorable…The run by 81011 below had all the classic ingredients…

 

1/ a driver keen to end his shift

2/ no pw slacks

3/ a short rake of stock, the daytime Cobblers were half rakes

4/ Bletchley PSB allowing FL rather than SL as booked

5/ good weather

6/ no farces

 

 

 

1A22 81011 1109 Northampton-Euston 6vb     0387

 

Mp       Station           Sched  arr  dep    Actual    arr   dep      Passing    Var          Av Speed                       

40.25   L.Buzzard                       1139                        1137.50                - 1   ------

40                                                                                                                                                                                        1138.24           22.23

39                                                                                            1140.44           25.71

38        Ledburn Jn                                                                  1142.38 (sl-fl) 31.57

37                                                                                                                                                                                        1143.43           55.38

36                                                                                            1144.27           81.81

35                                                                                            1145.07           90

34                                                                                            1145.45           94.73

33                                                                                            1146.22           97.29

32                                                                                            1146.57           102.85

31        Tring                                                                            1147.31           105.88

30                                                                                            1148.04           109

29.25                                                                                       1148.29           108

28        Berkhamsted                                                               1149.13           102.27

27                                                                                            1149.49           100

26                                                                                            1150.23           105.88

25                                                                                            1150.58           102.85

24                                                                                            1151.32           105.88

23                                                                                            1152.05           109.09

22                                                                                            1152.39           105.88

21                                                                                            1153.13           105.88

20                                                                                            1153.47           105.88

18                                                                                            1154.56           104.34

17        Watford Jn                                                                  1155.30           105.88

16                                                                                            1156.03           109

15                                                                                            1156.37           105.88

14                                                                                            1157.11           105.88

13                                                                                            1157.44           109.09

12                                                                                            1158.18           105.88

11                                                                                            1158.50           112.5

10                                                                                            1159.23           109.09

9                                                                                              1159.57           105.88

8                                                                                              1200.31           102.85

7                                                                                              1201.06           102.85

6                                                                                              1202.06           60

5          Willesden                                                                    1203.08           58.06

4                                                                                              1203.51           83.72

3                                                                                              1204.34           83.72

1                                                                                              1207.14           45

0          Euston               1225                     1210.20                            -14.5   19.35   

 

On arrival at Euston I walked forward to congratulate the driver on such a superb run, he’d already left his cab!

                                                                                   

 

 A higher mileage flying turn saw 81008 on a Preston-Euston relief in August 85 :

Nuneaton (pass) to Wembley (pass) 59 mins – 90.5 mph average - There were many more flying fish turns acrross the length of the WCML until the end in April 90.

 

The 90's

 

It was just 81012 that represented the class on passenger turns in 1990.  No farewell railtour crowds for the last few "fish" turns, just a few were lucky to be there for the final "fish" turns like

 

1M16 2115 (23/3) Inverness/2245 Stranraer-Euston -(ex Glas C) - 24/3/90

1M09 0847 Plymouth-Liverpool-6/4/90  (ex New St)

 

 

 

ECS pilots and withdrawl

 

5 81's had spells as Euston ECS pilots working empty stock between Wembley and Euston with a maximum speed of 40mph and a strictly local working restriction. 81012 and 81017 alone kept the "flying fish" legend alive at Euston until final withdrawl in July 91. The class were to be cut a few years later with 81002 passing into preservation

 

So perhaps when you are next at Barrow Hill or looking at photos in "Traction" of an 81 on a parcels or freight turn don’t think of them as just classic mixed traffic locos, as, on occasions, these locos were really “flying fish”. 

 

 

NR 1106