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The Deltics

A Brief History

The 1955 British Transport Commission’s Modernisation Plan, to replace steam locomotives with electric and diesel traction, was an early indication of the changes that would eventually sweep through Britain’s railways. In this section we will look at how, in the early 1960s, a new fleet of diesels, known as Deltics, took over from many of the steam hauled express passenger services on the East Coast Main Line through Grantham.

During the 1950s, as part of the above mentioned modernisation plan, British Railways carried out a series of main line tests with a prototype ‘Deltic’ that had been built by English Electric at a cost of around £250,000. The prototype locomotive was designated as DP1 (Diesel Prototype No.1) and the name Deltic (also known as the Ice Cream Van; being painted light blue and cream) was quickly picked up by many enthusiasts and railwaymen alike. This new loco weighed in at around 100 tons and with its two Napier Deltic engines and 3300 bhp available, it was an eye catching and formidable beast.

The Prototype. (DP1) Deltic. Copyright: Mel Smith

Initially, ‘Deltic’ had begun trials on BR’s London Midland Region but, having not impressed the powers that be, in 1959 the prototype moved to BR’s Eastern Region. Thereafter it became a fairly regular sight up and down the ECML through Grantham. The powerful locomotive performed very well on east coast metals. As a result an order was placed for 22 of the class, all were named after famous regiments or racehorses. With an official top speed of 100 mph the journey time between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh Waverley was considerably reduced to around 6 hours over the 392 miles.

English Electric Deltic No. D9013 was delivered to British Railways from the Vulcan Foundry at Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire on Thursday 14th September 1961. It's seen here at BR Doncaster Works on the following Sunday, 17th September. Once commissioned it was allocated to Haymarket Traction Maintenance Depot in Edinburgh. On 16th January 1963 D9013 was named 'The Black Watch' at a ceremony in Dundee.
Photograph by Cedric A. Clayson, © John Clayson 2020

The production versions came into operation from 1961 onwards and were allocated to Finsbury Park (London), Gateshead and Haymarket (Edinburgh). They first entered service with an attractive livery; dark green on top and a narrower strip of lime green along the bottom, taking over a variety of steam hauled services. Numbered D9000 to D9021 they worked express services to and from London King’s Cross along the ECML. The original two tone livery was eventually phased out and replaced with BR’s corporate blue and yellow ends in the mid 1960s.

No 9007 'Pinza' in corporate blue livery and yellow ends is pictured at Doncaster Works in August 1973. Copyright Photograph: Mel Smith


The long hot summer of 1976 sees No 55001 'St Paddy' leaving Newcastle with the 'Flying Scotsman' Alongside is 47164. Copyright Photograph: Mel Smith

With improvements to some sections of the ECML journey times on services were again reduced. When the High Speed Trains (HSTs) were introduced from 1978 the Deltics began to be used on secondary duties and the writing was on the wall for this classic fleet of locomotives.

Nearing the end of operational duties, No 55018 'Ballymoss' emerges from the northern portal of Stoke Tunnel in September 1981. Copyright Photograph: Mel Smith

Withdrawal began in January 1980 and by January 1982 the whole class was out of use. Over the previous 18 years the fleet had, day in day out, covered around 64,000,000 miles up and down the ECML through Grantham.

  • The Deltics on the East Coast Main Line through Grantham (to follow)

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6 thoughts on “The Deltics

  1. John Pritchard

    How interesting, and an enjoyable read, along with some great pictures too! I remember being a young trainspotter at York, and seeing the early Deltic's arrival / departure, feeling the platform shake with the vibrations!! Very distinctive sound! I have a few "Argo" recordings with these locomotives on, along with the postcard pictures too - not mine, bought in. Thank you for another great effort!!

    1. TracksthroughGrantham2

      John, thanks for your comments. We are pleased that our short article brought back happy memories of your visits to York. The noise and vibration echoing off the large canopy at York must have been pretty unforgettable too! I do have that particular Argo recording somewhere and I think it's also available on CD now? Again, many thanks for your feedback - Mel & John

  2. Brian Maddison

    I was at school in Fletton, just south of Peterborough when the Deltic Prototype was running. I can still remember the noise which reverberated around our classroom. So exciting and so distinctive!

    1. TracksthroughGrantham2

      Brian, thanks for getting in touch. What a lovely distraction from your lessons; although the teachers probably didn't think so! Your school playground must have provided a great vantage point for seeing things on the main line! What memories you must have... Regards - Mel & John

  3. Bob Pfeiffer

    Sad to see 'Pinza' looking so worn on Mel's photo. I can remember seeing her (my first Deltic) at King's Cross on 7th August 1961 during a day trip to London with my parents. I was no fan of diesels but this was something different. She was almost brand new and looked magnificent, a view obviously shared by the large number of spotters and photographers that were milling around. I believe that 'Pinza' may have been waiting to take out the early evening 'Aberdonian' sleeper as my parents and I were heading for St. Pancras to get a train home to Leicester when I begged them to allow me one last look inside King's Cross. Poor old mam and dad.....their 'to do' list in London was severely curtailed by my trainspotting!

    1. TracksthroughGrantham2

      Hello Bob, thanks very much for getting in touch. I also vividly remember the 'shiny and powerful' examples of the class in the early 'two tone green' years; as shown in John Clayson's photograph within this same article. I must admit that the colour scheme is perhaps my favourite. This is mainly due to the fact that my first sighting(s) were also in this livery, with regular appearances up and down the line at a vantage point just south of Peascliffe Tunnel. The familiar 'Deltic sound' would arrive on the wind many minutes ahead of their arrival. Trying to make a quick note of the various Pullman cars attached to each locomotive at speed was an almost impossible task!

      Mel Smith


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