For some reason the Metropolitan Vickers Co-Bo Class 28 locomotives have always held a fascination for me. Perhaps because it is one of the few BR 1955 modernization plan locomotive types which I have never seen operating. Maybe it is the unique look of both the front end. It could be the different bogies – one has three wheel sets and the other two.
The locos were built by Metropolitan Vickers at the Bowesfield works Stockton on Tees in 1958. The 20 strong class numbered D5700-5719 and were initially allocated to the London Midland Region. Half were shedded at 17A Derby and the remainder at 14A Cricklewood in North London. Powered by an 8 cylinder Vee two-stroke engine, the horse power of 1200 put them in British Railways type 2 power classification. After elimination of steam locomotives in 1968, British Rail introduced a class numbering system for each type of the diesel loco fleet. The type 2 Metropolitan Vickers was allocated class 28. Following the introduction of TOPS in 1974, diesel fleets were re-numbered using the first two digits in the sequential number of each class member. However the class 28 were not around long enough to receive TOPS numbers.
The Co-Bo Class 28 locomotives were initially put to work in pairs on the overnight Condor Express freight trains from North London to Glasgow. Unfortunately the Crossley engine proved to be unreliable. Perhaps it was a troublesome fleet even during the design stage. It is thought they were initially designed as a normal Bo-Bo locomotives ie. bogies with two axles. The positioning of the internal equipment was probably too heavy for the 20 ton axle loading stipulated by BR. As a result, one bogie had a third axle added and the Co-Bo arrangement was created. It might also have been a cost saving just having one bogie with just two axles and the other with three. The wheel arrangement description remains an endearing reference. The Thomas the Tank Engine books applied a spoonerism treatment to this description and came up with BoCo for the diesel character.
The poor reliability of the engine meant by 1961 BR had had enough. They returned the whole fleet of locomotives to the manufacturer to sort out. At the same time, BR had engine troubles with the Mirrlees on class 31s resulting in a complete engine replacement. For some reason, BR persevered with the Crossley engine on the Co-Bo. The internal equipment layout together with lack of a suitable replacement engine was probably the reason.
The Co-Bos also had a big problem with the wraparound front windscreens. Sometimes these fell out completely whilst in service resulting in the Loco being failed by the crew. The wrap around windows had to be replaced with flat versions during the engine rectification work. Co-Bo’s were completely out of favor with British Railways. They were never to return to working the overnight Condor Express freight train.
Not long returning to service, the whole fleet was banished to 12E Barrow-in-Furness depot. BR had shiny new allegedly cleaner and more reliable diesel locomotives and were sadly eliminating steam traction . They sent the fleet of Metro-Vics away from their old shed of Derby on the Midland Mainline to a less exposed part of the network. The Co-Bo class 28 locomotives were an embarassment and they wanted them out of the way. The Co-Bo eked out a less glamorous existence working local passenger and freight trains in Cumberland.
The Crossley engine fitted to the Co-Bo’s and that of the Baby Deltics often emitted high levels of exhaust smoke. I have never heard the sound of a Co-Bo in real life and it is one of the reasons why I find them of interest. In December 1967, some 7 months before the end of steam traction, the first 6 of the class were withdrawn and stored. this included the doyen of the Class, D5700. In May of the following year, two more were withdrawn and the remaining twelve shortly afterwards. They were scrapped either at J. Williams. Of Shettleston near Glasgow or at Cashmore’s yard at Great Bridge in the Black Country.
However, D5705 had a repreive! She was commandeered by British Railways research department at Derby to haul various test trains. It’s here that she was accompanied by Baby Deltic D5901. In the mid 1970s, she was replaced by the recently withdrawn Sulzer type 24081.
D5705 was hauled to Bristol and used for preheating carriages before going into service. After a short period it was moved to Danygraig sidings in South Wales where she sustained damaged from a fire in an adjacent grass bank. Fortunately in 1980, she was purchased privately for preservation. After storage at Swindon and Peak Rail it moved to the East Lancs Railway where restoration is at an advanced stage. You can find news on the restoration here.
Over the years I have made financial contributions to the restoration. I would love to see this sole survivor operating a passenger train for the first time in half a century. Video footage of Co-Bo’s operating is extremely rare. However the 1968 film Black Five made by the British Film Institute has a clip at the end of a Co-Bo dragging scrap steam locomotives at Carnforth shed. The soundtrack has the noise of the idling two-stroke Crossley engine. I hope that is not much longer before it is possible to hear the sounds of a Metropolitan Vickers type 2 again. For now, I can only show you pictures of my model railway showing a brace of Co-Bo class 28 locomotives – sadly something that will never be seen again on the big railway.