British Rail Class 33

BRCW Type 3
British Rail Class 33

D6547 in original green livery without yellow warning panels near Sundridge Park in 1963
Type and origin
Power type Diesel-electric
Builder Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company
Serial number DEL92–DEL189 (not in order)
Build date 1960–1962
Total produced 98
Configuration Bo-Bo
AAR wheel arr. B-B
UIC class Bo'Bo'
Gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Wheel diameter 3 ft 7 in (1.092 m)
Minimum curve 4 chains (264.00 ft; 80.47 m)
Wheelbase 39 ft 0 in (11.89 m)
Length 50 ft 9 in (15.47 m)
Width D6500–D6585: 8 ft 10 in (2.69 m)
D6586–D6597: 8 ft 1 12 in (2.5 m)
Height 12 ft 8 in (3.86 m)
Loco weight 73 long tons (74.2 t; 81.8 short tons) to 77 long tons (78.2 t; 86.2 short tons)
Fuel capacity 800 imp gal (3,600 l; 960 US gal)
Prime mover Sulzer 8LDA28
Generator DC generator
Traction motors DC traction motors
Transmission Diesel electric
MU working Blue Star,
33/1 SR MU System
Train heating Electric Train Heat
Train brakes Dual (Air & Vacuum)
Performance figures
Maximum speed 85 mph (137 km/h)
Power output Engine: 1,550 bhp (1,156 kW)
At rail: 1,215 hp (906 kW)
Tractive effort Maximum: 45,000 lbf (200 kN)
Continuous: 26,000 lbf (116 kN)
Loco brakeforce 35 long tons-force (349 kN)
Operators Formerly British Railways Now West Coast Railway Company
Class D15/1, D15/2; 15/6, 15/6A; Class 33
Numbers D6500–D6597; later 33001–33065, 33101–33119, 33201–33212
Nicknames Cromptons
Axle load class Route availability 6

The British Rail Class 33 also known as the BRCW Type 3 or Crompton is a class of Bo-Bo diesel-electric locomotives ordered in 1957 and built for the Southern Region of British Railways between 1960 and 1962.

A total of 98 Class 33s were built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company (BRCW) and were known as "Cromptons" after the Crompton Parkinson electrical equipment installed in them.[1] Like their lower-powered BRCW sisters (BR Classes 26 and 27), their bodywork and cab ends were of all steel construction. They were very similar in appearance to class 26/27 locos, but carried Southern Region two-digit headcode blinds between the cab windows.

The original (1957) number sequence was D6500–D6597.[2]

Early years

33 008 at Woking station

The locomotives began service on the South-Eastern Division of the Southern Region but rapidly spread across the whole Region and many were used much further afield – an example being the weekly Cliffe (Kent) to Uddingston (South Lanarkshire) cement train which they worked as far as York (and occasionally throughout) in pairs.

Only the then new electric train heating was fitted, rather than the ubiquitous steam heating which passenger carriages largely used. Early delivery problems and a shortage of steam locomotives resulted in many Class 24 locomotives being borrowed from the Midland Region and pairs, of 33 + 24, became common on winter passenger services. This resulted in unpopular, complex run-round manoeuvres at termini as Class 24 needed to be coupled inside to provide steam heat. Emergency provisioning of through-piping for steam heat on some examples of class 33 alleviated this somewhat. The Southern Region was unaccustomed to the operational overhead and maintenance associated with the use of class 24 and they rapidly became unpopular. With the advent of modern stock and warmer seasons, they were returned to the Midland Region.

Class 33s today

Most of these locomotives have now been withdrawn from active duty, though three 33025 33029 & 33207 (with one further member 33030 as a spares donor) members are on Passenger services with heritage spot hire rail company West Coast Railway Company, whilst others remain operational on preserved heritage railways.


There were three variants, later becoming Class 33/0, 33/1 and 33/2.

Class 33/0 – standard locomotives

All 86 of the first delivery were built as standard locomotives. Later with the advent of TOPS these would become class 33/0 and were numbered in the range 33001-33065. Two locomotives did not survive long enough to receive TOPS numbers as they were withdrawn due to damage sustained in accidents.

Class 33/1 – push-pull fitted locomotives

33/1 33109 arrives at the ferry terminal having negotiated the Weymouth Harbour Tramway, Weymouth, Dorset, on its way to quay during August 1981. Note the bell and beacon warning unit on the cab front and the Multiple-Unit jumper cables with two rolled flags wedged behind.

While third rail electrification was expanding on the Southern region, it was not then considered to be justified to extend beyond Bournemouth and so, in 1966, D6580[3] was fitted with experimental push-pull apparatus, high-level brake pipes and jumper cables to make it compatible with Multiple Unit stock. Tests were carried out on the Oxted Line using a 6-coach rake of unpowered multiple unit coaches (designated TC, the T standing for Trailer). The use of this equipment removed the necessity for the locomotive to run around to the front of its train at each terminus, as it could be controlled from the driving position of a TC unit and hence could propel its train from the rear.

In 1968, following successful completion of trials, D6580 and eighteen other members of the class entered Eastleigh works to be fitted with a modified version of the push-pull apparatus – fully compatible with Class 73 and Class 74 Electro-Diesels and indeed any Electro-Pneumatically controlled (EP) Multiple Unit stock. They emerged painted in the new BR corporate blue with full yellow ends.

With the advent of TOPS, Class 34 had been reserved for these modified locomotives but it was not used and they were grouped, instead, into class 33/1 being numbered in the range 33101–33119.

They settled into sterling service, proving themselves highly useful and reliable. The prototype locomotive (D6580 later 33119) was the only member of Class 33 to run in green livery with the Multiple Unit control equipment – not to be confused with preserved members of Class 33/1 that have been repainted into green.

Class 33/2 – narrow-bodied locomotives

The second batch of 12 locomotives was built with narrow bodies to allow them to work through the narrow tunnels between Tunbridge Wells and Hastings in Kent and East Sussex. The "Hastings profile",[4] required the bodies to be reduced in width by 7 inches (178 mm) to avoid clipping tunnel linings on that line, leading to their nickname of 'Slim Jims'.[5]

The high cost of re-tooling the jigs and fixtures for construction of these narrow bodies was extensive and based on the very small number of locomotives, was financially painful to BRCW. This and other order book issues with the rolling stock business contributed to the bankruptcy of the business.

Push-pull operations

The mainstay of push-pull operations was the operation over the then un-electrified track from Bournemouth to Weymouth and the service continued like this across three decades. Weymouth trains started at London Waterloo powered by third-rail electric traction via Winchester and Southampton to Bournemouth. The consist was normally twelve cars made up of a powerful 3,200 hp (2,400 kW) 4REP electric multiple unit on the rear with two leading units of un-powered 4TCs. At Bournemouth the train would be divided with the 4REP remaining at the London end of Bournemouth station and the 4TCs hauled onward to Poole and Weymouth by Class 33/1. On the return leg, the locomotive propelled the train back to Bournemouth where it would be attached to a waiting London-bound 4REP and the locomotive detached to await the next Weymouth-bound portion.

The usual configuration was 4TC+4TC+Loco with the locomotive at the country end. Light traffic would result in 4TC+Loco, and in rare operational circumstances 4TC+Loco+4TC was noted. This combination was not preferred, as it led to operational difficulties and inconvenience to waiting passengers who found themselves confronted with the side of the locomotive when their train has drawn to a halt.

The Class 33/1 with one or two 4TC sets (normally with the Class 33/1 at the country end of the train) were also the mainstay of the Waterloo – Salisbury service from their introduction. Platform congestion and the lack of facilities at the very busy Basingstoke station were two of the reasons for class 33/1 operation throughout the route rather than just over the non-electrified section west of Basingstoke..

In later years Weymouth boat trains, conveying passengers between London and the Channel Islands ferry service out of Weymouth, were handed over to push-pull operation. The section of route from Weymouth to the ship terminal at the quay is actually tramway, following (and largely in the middle of) the harbour road. The quay spur did not pass through the station, but diverged westwards at the throat thus it was not possible for boat trains to call at Weymouth station. Boat trains had been made up of conventional coaching stock and the locomotive would run-round its train on arrival at the sea-terminal. The move to push-pull sets on boat trains removed two headaches for the SR:

Although class 73 & 74 electro-diesel locomotives had push-pull capability, they did not have the endurance for longer runs on diesel power – their 600/650HP was not even Type 1 – little more than a high-powered shunter equivalent. The Type 3 power of Class 33/1 with only a 4 or 8 car train was rarely into the recovery margin of a schedule due to load.

Class 33/1 and 4TC combinations were often used to supplement other services and were not just the purview of Bournemouth-Weymouth trains. Services could be rostered for a push-pull set due to stock shortages – the Reading to Basingstoke service (normally a stronghold of DEMU sets) could be relied upon to produce a push-pull set on Sundays. Often, electric rosters would be substituted by class 33/1 + 4TC if the line was de-energised during engineering work. Indeed, push-pull sets were a possibility over the entire range of Southern Region services including inter-regional trains; they were not in-frequent visitors to Bristol Temple Meads station and have been noted at Cardiff.

Although in private ownership at the time, 33103 and 4TC 417 were spot-hired for use on Barking-Gospel Oak services during a stock shortage in 1999 and worked the service for some weeks without issue.

A further member of the class; 33115, was used as a dead-load test before the introduction of Eurostar trains running on Southern tracks into Waterloo, with running number 83301. Having been fitted with Eurostar bogies (complete with electric 3rd rail collector shoes), it formed part of a test train where its through-wiring for push-pull work was necessary for the completion of tests.

Tramway safety

Allocated to work the Weymouth Harbour Tramway, trains operating over public thoroughfare tramway without escort are required to be fitted with warning equipment for the general public. Two warning units were built and housed in a cabinet at the track side of the quay spur at the throat of Weymouth yard. This equipment comprised a yellow box which fitted on a bracket just above the rubbing plate on the cab front. It had an amber rotating beacon and bell which served to warn thoroughfare users and was controlled from the driving cab. Each member of Class 33/1 and all TC stock had a small socket where the bell/beacon units plugged in to draw power from the train systems. Later units (i.e. those in use after the tramway fell out of general use and the power sockets had been removed during overhaul) were smaller and mounted on a lamp bracket just below the cab window. These had an on/off switch on the bottom of the unit and no bell – warnings being given using the train horn.

Trains for the quay would halt at the station throat, and the warning equipment was attached and tested by the train guard. In addition, trains on the tramway were "walked" by railway staff with flags, clearing the route of people and badly parked cars all the way between the points at which the tramway reverted to conventional track at the quay station and road crossing into Weymouth yard. On arrival at the quay terminus the guard would move the warning equipment to the other end of the train in readiness for the return journey. In later years, (e.g. for Railtours) the local Police fulfil the role of traffic control and the process of moving a train along the tramway has become a lot less routine.

Accidents and incidents


29 examples survived into preservation:[13]

Table of preserved locomotives
1957 number TOPS number Name Location Current Status Livery
D6501 33002 Sea King South Devon Railway Operational BR Green
D6508 33008 Eastleigh East Somerset Railway Undergoing Restoration BR Green (Yellow Warning Panels)
D6515 33012 Lt Jenny Lewis RN Swanage Railway Operational and Mainline Certified BR Green (Yellow Warning Panels)
D6530 33018 Midland Railway - Butterley Undergoing Restoration BR Blue
D6534 33019 Griffon Battlefield Line Railway Operational DCE Grey and Yellow
D6539 33021 Captain Charles Churnet Valley Railway Undergoing Minor Repairs BR Blue
D6543 33025 Glen Falloch / Sultan Carnforth Stored West Coast Railway Company
D6547 33029 Glen Loy Southall Operational West Coast Railway Company
D6548 33030 - Carnforth Stored (spares loco) DRS Dark Blue
D6553 33035 Spitfire Barrow Hill Engine Shed Operational BR Blue
D6564 33046 Merlin East Lancashire Railway Stored (spares Loco) SWT Blue
D6566 33048 West Somerset Railway Operational BR Green (Yellow Front)
D6570 33052 Ashford Kent and East Sussex Railway Stored BR Green
D6571 33053 Mid Hants Railway Operational BR Blue
D6575 33057 Seagull West Somerset Railway Operational BR Green (Yellow Front)
D6583 33063 R.J. Mitchell Spa Valley Railway Operational Railfreight General
D6585 33065 Sealion Spa Valley Railway Undergoing overhaul BR Blue
D6513 33102 Sophie Churnet Valley Railway Operational BR Blue
D6514 33103 Swordfish Ecclesbourne Valley Railway Operational BR Blue
D6521 33108 Vampire Barrow Hill Engine Shed Operational BR Blue
D6525 33109 Captain Bill Smith RNR East Lancashire Railway Operational BR Blue
D6527 33110 Bodmin and Wenford Railway Operational Departmental grey
D6528 33111 - Swanage Railway Operational BR Blue
D6535 33116 Hertfordshire Rail Tours Great Central Railway Operational BR Blue
D6536 33117 East Lancashire Railway Undergoing Repairs BR Blue
D6586 33201 Swanage Railway Operational BR Blue (Full Yellow Ends)
D6587 33202 Dennis G. Robinson Spa Valley Railway Operational BR Blue
D6592 33207 Earl Mountbatten of Burma / Jim Martin Southall Operational West Coast Railway Company
D6593 33208 Battlefield Line Railway Undergoing Repairs BR Green (Yellow Warning Panels)



  1. "Class 33 – Overview". Southern E-Group (SEMG). Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  2. "Class 33 – Technical Details". Southern E-Group (SEMG). Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  3. Tiller, Robert (1982). BR Class 33 Diesels. Truro: D Bradford Barton. ISBN 0-85153-431-7.
  4. Marsden, Colin J (November 1985 – January 1986). "The Southern Type 3's". Modern Railways Pictorial Profile. Weybridge: Ian Allan Ltd (11): 4–6. ISSN 0264-3642.
  5. Modern Railways Pictorial 1986, page 115
  6. 1 2 3 Bishop, Bill (1984). Off the Rails. Southampton: Kingfisher. pp. 65–68, 83–87. ISBN 0 946184 06 2.
  7. Earnshaw, Alan (1991). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 7. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 44. ISBN 0-906899-50-8.
  8. Trevena, Arthur (1981). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 2. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 33. ISBN 0-906899-03-6.
  9. Hoole, Ken (1983). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 4. Redruth: Atlantic Books. pp. 44–45. ISBN 0 906899 07 9.
  10. Butlin, Ashley. Diesels and Electrics for scrap. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 30. ISBN 0 906899 27 3.
  11. 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.
  12. Vaughan, Adrian (2003) [2000]. Tracks to Disaster. Hersham: Ian Allan. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0 7110 2985 7.

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