British Rail Class 31

Brush Type 2
British Rail Class 31

31108 and 31190 at Sutton Cross (NVR)
Type and origin
Power type Diesel-electric
Builder Brush Traction
Serial number 71–90, 119–178, 180–280, 282–326, 362–398
Build date 1957–1962
Total produced 263
Configuration A1A-A1A
UIC class (A1A)(A1A)
Gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Wheel diameter
  • Driving: 3 ft 7 in (1,092 mm)
  • Idling: 3 ft 3 12 in (1,003 mm)
Minimum curve 4.5 chains (300 ft; 91 m)
Wheelbase 42 ft 10 in (13.06 m)
Length 56 ft 9 in (17.30 m)
Width 8 ft 9 in (2.67 m)
Height 12 ft 7 in (3.84 m)
Loco weight 106.7 long tons (108.4 t; 119.5 short tons) to 113 long tons (115 t; 127 short tons)
Fuel capacity 650 imp gal (3,000 l; 780 US gal)
Prime mover
Traction motors Four DC traction motors
Transmission Diesel electric
Train heating 31/0 & 31/1: Steam
31/4: Electric Train Heat
Train brakes Vacuum / Dual (Air/Vac)
Performance figures
Maximum speed
  • D5500–5534: 80 mph (129 km/h)
  • Remainder: 90 mph (145 km/h)
Power output Engine:
Mirrlees: 1,250 bhp (930 kW) or 1,365 bhp (1,018 kW)
English Electric: 1,470 bhp (1,100 kW)
At rail: 1,170 hp (870 kW)[1]
Tractive effort Maximum: 35,900 lbf (159,691 N)
Loco brakeforce 49 long tons-force (488 kN)
Operators British Railways
Numbers D5500–D5699, D5800–D5862, later 31001–31970
Axle load class Route availability 5 or 6

The British Rail Class 31 diesel locomotives, also known as the Brush Type 2 and originally as Class 30, were built by Brush Traction from 1957-62.


Construction of the first locomotive was completed in the final week of September 1957, and the handing-over took place on 31 October.[2] The Class 31 entered service in November 1957, after the launch of the Class 20 locomotive and was one of the Pilot Scheme locomotives ordered by British Railways to replace steam traction.


They were originally built with Mirrlees JVS12T 1,250 bhp (930 kW) (D5500–D5519) and 1,365 bhp (1,018 kW) engines and Brush electrical equipment, but the engines were not successful and in 1964 D5677 was fitted with an English Electric 12SVT engine (as used in the Class 37) de-rated to 1,470 bhp (1,100 kW). The trial proved successful, and between 1965 and 1969 the entire class was re-engined. The de-rated engine was used as it was the maximum the electrical system could accept.


The Mirrlees-engined locomotives were originally known as Class 30 under TOPS, with re-engined examples joining Class 31.[3] The class was originally intended for service on the Eastern Region, but gradually became common in both the Western and London Midland regions too.


Several sub-classes of Class 31 exist:

Class 31/0

These first 20 locomotives, originally numbered D5500–D5519,[4] were always easily recognisable as they did not have the headcode box mounted on the roof above the cab, leading to the nickname "Skinheads". They were also nicknamed "Gurglers" from the noise of their engines, and "Toffee Apples" from the shape of the control key which had to be taken from cab to cab when changing ends. These pilot scheme locomotives were non-standard in having Electro-Magnetic Multiple-Working control equipment, and were limited to 80 mph (130 km/h). After being involved in a serious collision D5518 was rebuilt in September 1967 as a standard locomotive, with indicator boxes, and blue star coupling code

They were allocated to East Anglian sheds throughout their service, ending up allocated to Stratford, their initial shed,[5] and latterly sporting that depot's trademark silver roof. Upon withdrawal four locomotives[6] were converted at Stratford into train pre-heating units. Locomotives 31013, 31002, 31014 and 31008 were renumbered ADB968013 to ADB968016 in the order given;[7][8] ADB968014 was allocated to Bounds Green depot on the Great Northern main line and ADB968015 was based at Great Yarmouth, while the remaining two were allocated to Stratford.

Class 31/1

Class 31/1 on Sharnbrook bank with a short van train in April 1985

The first few locos externally had much in common with the original 31/0s as twenty lacked the roof mounted headcode box (D5520–29/35/39/42/47/51/52/55/56/59/62),[9] and fifteen were also limited to 80 mph (130 km/h) (D5520–D5534),[10] but were otherwise the same as subsequent locos. The whole sub-class had steam heating boilers fitted, had the Blue Star Electro-Pneumatic multiple-working controls as found on many other BR classes. The Class 31/1s could be found on a variety of secondary and relief passenger duties as well as parcels and freight traffic. While used in East Anglia, with locos allocated to Stratford and March depots, they were found throughout the Eastern Region of BR with Finsbury Park sporting a large allocation along with the depots at Tinsley, Immingham and Thornaby. Locos were also allocated to Bristol Bath Road and Old Oak Common on the Western Region, where they could be found working passenger trains as far west as Barnstaple and Paignton.[11] In the early 1980s Healey Mills and Bescot on the Midland Region also gained an allocation as replacements for Class 25s.

Class 31/4

The Class 31/4s, numbered from 31400 to 31469, were conversions of 31/1s to which ETH was fitted. They had an ETH index of 66, equivalent to 330 kW, which was sufficient to power trains of up to eleven Mk 3 carriages, in order to allow them to power long trains, whose service run would be worked by a larger locomotive, between depot and terminus, although in actual passenger service loads rarely exceeded four or five carriages. 330 kW accounted for about a third of the total electrical power output. The early conversions tapped off the main generator such that none of the ETH power was available for traction even if the ETH was not being used. The traction power output of some of the 31/4 subclass was therefore limited to a maximum of two-thirds of that of the non-ETH variants, this did not help the performance of an already somewhat underpowered locomotive, and late running of these 31/4-hauled services sometimes happened. Later conversions allowed unused ETH power to be used for traction.

Class 31/5

In the late 1980s with increased use of "Sprinter" type units on previously loco hauled diagrams, there were ETH fitted Locomotives to spare and with this in mind, some Class 31's were selected to have their ETH cables removed from the front buffer beam. This was done to try to prevent passenger sectors of BR borrowing the locomotives from the Freight sectors, and to cut down on maintenance of surplus equipment. The chosen loco's were 31407/411/412/414/416/419/422/424/426/430/431/433/437/438/441/444/445/446/447/448/449/451/452/453/454/455/456/458/463/465/468/469. The re-numbering was achieved by simply adding 100 to the existing TOPS number i.e. 31407 became 31507. When the re-numbering was taking place, most locos were still in standard BR Blue livery and the 4 in the number was painted over and a 5 placed over the top. Some of the sub-class were painted into Civil Engineers all over Grey livery (511/512/519/524/530/553/554/555/568), although most were subsequently painted into the "Dutch" Yellow and Grey livery. Only 31530 (Sister Dora), 31544 (Keighley and Worth Valley Railway) and 31568 (The Engineman’s Fund) were named when numbered as a 31/5. 31544 is also notable as the only one of the sub-class with the original "toffee apple" style cabs without the route indicators on the roof.

Accidents and incidents

Commercial operators

English, Welsh & Scottish

Before the introduction of Class 66, English Welsh & Scottish (EWS) took control of the class 31s from the Mainline Freight and Trainload Freight companies. 31466 was repainted into EWS colours for the Toton TMD open day in May 1998 and soon became the only one of the class to be in traffic running in the EWS colours. 31255 also received EWS colours but never ran on the main line and spent its life at Toton until preservation. In their final days of EWS ownership, 31110 (scrapped at TJ Thompson's, Stockton in April 2007) was repainted into BR green in the summer of 1999 and featured its original number D5528 to mark the end of their working lives with EWS and worked the last EWS class 31 hauled railtour. The final four EWS locomotives were withdrawn in February 2001. The two EWS liveried locos, 31255 is now owned by Harry Needle Railroad Company for mainline use and 31466 is now preserved.

FM Rail

In 1998, Fragonset Railways purchased four redundant Class 31 locomotives from EWS. The first of these, no. 31452, was quickly repaired and repainted in a new black livery with a red mid-body band. It was quickly followed by nos. 31459 and 31468. Several more locomotives were also purchased, and in 1999, the first of two modified Class 31/6 locomotives re-entered traffic. The Class 31/6 31601 & 31602 subclass is essentially a modified Class 31/1 locomotive with through electric-train heating wiring. This enables a Class 31/4 and Class 31/6 to work in multiple and still heat the train, even if the no-heat Class 31/6 is attached to the carriages.

In 1999, Fragonset won a short-term contract with Silverlink for two locomotives to work in top and tail mode with two Mk. 1 carriages on the Bletchley-Bedford line. This was to cover for the non-availability of Class 117 and Class 121 diesel multiple units. The trial was a success, and in 2000 it was repeated in the summer timetable. The locomotives were retained until displaced by more modern Class 150/1 units cascaded from Central Trains.

By this time, the Fragonset Class 31 fleet had expanded considerably to include three Class 31/1s, three Class 31/4s and two Class 31/6 locomotives. Regular work at this time included use hauling Class 317 electric multiple units from WAGN's Hornsey depot to Bedford for use with Thameslink. As units were still maintained at Hornsey, this meant regular workings between the two depots to swap units when maintenance was due.

Mainline Rail

After the demise of FM Rail, several of their Class 31s passed to Mainline Rail, operated by RMS Locotec. As of November 2008, four 31/4s and one 31/6 are owned by RMS Locotec, which is a subsidiary of British American Railway Services.

Nemesis Rail

Class 31 number 31128 is now owned by Nemesis Rail based at Burton upon Trent. It is an ex-Fragonset locomotive which is at present on loan to North Yorkshire Moors Railway as a standby in case of steam locomotive shortage.

Network Rail

Network Rail operated a fleet of three Class 31/1 locomotives, nos. 31105/233/285, and one Class 31/4 locomotive, 31465 to haul test trains around the network. The locomotives were purchased from Fragonset, and overhauled at their Derby workshops. They have been repainted in Network Rail's new all-over yellow livery. 31285 and 31465 were offered for sale by tender in July 2015.[18]

Prior to operating its own locomotives, Network Rail's predecessor, Railtrack, had hired two Class 31 locomotives from Fragonset Railways. These two locomotives, nos. 31190 and 31601, were repainted in Railtrack's blue and lime green livery. With the overhaul and entry into service of Network Rail's own locomotives, these two engines were returned to Fragonset. They are now owned and operated by British American Railway Services, based at Washwood Heath in Birmingham.

No. 31106 is privately owned by Howard Johnston, and after a period of lease to Fragonset and FM Rail is now managed by Rail Vehicle Engineering Limited (RVEL) and is stored. The same individual purchased three more of the class from EWS, but they acquired new owners; 31107 (scrapped by C F Booth at Rotherham in May 2009, following a crash with a Renault Espace on a level crossing during Top Gear Series 9, Episode 5 in 2006), 31289 (preserved at the Northampton & Lamport Railway), and 31301 (scrapped).


Currently preserved

Around 26 locomotives have been purchased, and preserved, for use on heritage railways around the UK. Of note are the first built, no. 31018, and the last built, no. 31327. There were a further seven, which have subsequently been scrapped.

Numbers carried
(Current in bold)
Name Livery Location Notes
D5500 31018 BR Blue National Railway Museum First-built locomotive, now part of the National Collection
D5518 31101 BR Blue Avon Valley Railway
D5522 31104 31418 Boadicea BR Blue Midland Railway - Butterley
D5526 31108 Railfreight Grey Nene Valley Railway
D5533 31115 31466 EWS Maroon/Gold East Lancashire Railway
D5537 31119 BR Blue Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway
D5548 31130 Calder Hall Power Station Trainload Coal Avon Valley Railway
D5557 31139 31438 31538 BR Blue Epping Ongar Railway
D5562 31144 Civil Engineers Owned by BARS and now at Weardale Railway for spares
D5580 31162 BR Blue Great Central Railway (Nottingham)
D5581 31163 BR Green Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway
D5600 31179 31435 Newton Heath TMD BR Green Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway
D5627 31203 Steve Orgam G.M BR Green Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway
D5630 31206 Civil Engineers Rushden, Higham and Wellingborough Railway
D5631 31207 BR Green North Norfolk Railway One of final three locomotive operated by EWS.
D5634 31210 BR Green Dean Forest Railway
D5662 31235 BR Blue Mid-Norfolk Railway
D5669 31410 Regional Railways Privately owned at Kirby Stephen
D5683 31255 EWS Maroon/Gold Colne Valley Railway Repainted in EWS livery for paint trials.
D5695 31265 31430 31530 Sister Dora BR Blue Mangapps Railway Museum
D5800 31270 Athena Regional Railways Peak Rail
D5801 31271 Stratford 1840-2001 Trainload Construction Midland Railway - Butterley
D5814 31414 31514 Gatwick Express Intercity Ecclesbourne Valley Railway Fitted with 'Pink Circle' for operations similar to Class 73
D5821 31289 Phoenix BR Blue Northampton & Lamport Railway
D5830 31297 31463 31563 BR Golden Ochre Great Central Railway
D5862 31327 BR Green Strathspey Railway Final locomotive built.

Preserved then scrapped

In addition, the following locomotives were previously preserved, but have since been scrapped.


Number 31107, seen at RVEL Derby, was the locomotive used in the Top Gear crash

On 21 August 2006, Network Rail and the BBC Television programme Top Gear staged and filmed a crash between a Class 31 locomotive (31107) and a family car in order to promote rail safety. The off-limits event was the first of its type for 10 years and took place at Hibaldstow level crossing near Scawby in Lincolnshire, where the B1206 road crosses the Barnetby–Gainsborough railway line. Two Class 31 locomotives and a parked Renault Espace were used during the crash. Network Rail's 31233 was used to propel 31107 up to a speed of 80 mph (130 km/h). The rear locomotive slowed down to a stop and 31107 continued to coast at a speed of 70–80 miles per hour into the road vehicle parked across the eastbound 'up' line. For the crash, locomotive 31107 received a special black livery with the slogan "Level crossings — Don't run the risk" along the side in white lettering. The final 5 minute segment was originally scheduled for 4 February 2007 but was rescheduled, apparently due to a fatal crossing crash at Dingwall two days earlier.[19][20] It was eventually aired on BBC Two on 25 February 2007, shortly after the Cumbria derailment. A repeat of the programme was pulled following a further level-crossing accident.[21][22][23][24]

Class 31 no. 31271 was used in an episode of Dalziel and Pascoe, where it crashed into a coach. This was filmed at Wansford railway station level crossing on the Nene Valley Railway.

Class 31 no. 31420 was also used in a train crash in the ITV series 'The Royal', though locomotive was tipped over onto its side and separated from its bogies.

Class 31 no. 31414 has been used in the ITV drama Mobile and also in the BBC series Casualty with the former Gatwick Express coaches at the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.

Class 31 no. 31108 appeared on 1 November 2010 in the BBC soap opera EastEnders. The scene shows Janine Butcher nearly being hit by a train on a level crossing, and was filmed at the Nene Valley Railway.


The first model of the Class 31 was made by Triang. Airfix model railways also chose to produce a Class 31 when Airfix entered the model train market in the mid 1970s. Lima also produced a model.

Currently the only 00 Gauge model of the Class 31 is that produced by Hornby since 2004.

2012 saw the return of the Lima model under the Hornby Railroad banner.

An N Gauge model of the Class 31 is currently produced by Graham Farish with re-tooling for an updated model taking place in 2012, while Lima have also produced a model.

Heljan have released an O gauge model based on the 31s in their early condition, March 2013.

References and sources


  1. Fox, Peter. (1985). Locomotives & Coaching Stock. Sheffield: Platform 5 Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-906579-45-7.
  2. Toms 1978, p. 26
  3. 1 2 3 4 Toms 1978, p. 40
  4. Toms 1978, p. 25
  5. Railway Magazine December 1957 p. 889
  6. 1 2 Toms 1978, p. 41
  7. Marsden, Colin J. (1981). Motive power recognition:1 Locomotives. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0-7110-1109-5.
  8. British Rail Locoshed book 1981 edition. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. 1981. ISBN 0-7110-1112-5.
  9. Strickland 1983, p. 89.
  10. Strickland 1983, p. 85.
  11. Lund, E (1980). To the last drop. Chesterfield: Longden technical Publications. ISBN 0-9507063-0-2.
  12. 1 2 "31150 1975-10-05 Doncaster Works". RailOnline. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  13. Hoole, Ken (1982). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 3. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 48. ISBN 0-906899-05-2.
  14. HM Railways Inspectorate. "Report on the Collision that occurred on 25th February 1979 between Hilsea and Fratton in the Southern Region British Railways" (PDF). Railways Archive. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  15. Vaughan, Adrian (1989). Obstruction Danger. Wellingborough: Patrick Stephens Limited. pp. 240–48. ISBN 1-85260-055-1.
  16. Earnshaw, Alan (1991). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 7. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 45. ISBN 0-906899-50-8.
  17. Hall, Stanley. Railway Disasters cause and effect. p. .
  18. "Network Rail gives 120 hours to bid for 50 year old diesels". 31 July 2015.
  19., News Archive: February 2007, 2007–02–04.
  20. BBC NewsOne dead in train crossing crash, 2007–02–02.
  21. The Railway Herald, Network Rail stage level crossing crash accident (pdf file, >4MB)
  22. BBC News, Top Gear screens train crash item, 2007–02–25.
  23. Tele-photo pictures of the crash setup.
  24. BBC News, One dead in level crossing crash, 2007–03–01.


Further reading

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