British Rail Class 31

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Brush Type 2
British Rail Class 31
5479703294 5d16013e2e Steve Jones.jpg
31284 at Saltley MPD in April 1987
Type and origin
Power typeDiesel-electric
BuilderBrush Traction
Serial number71–90, 119–178, 180–280, 282–326, 362–398
Build date1957–1962
Total produced263
 • UIC(A1A)(A1A)
 • CommonwealthA1A-A1A
Gauge4 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 curve4.5 chains (300 ft; 91 m)
Wheelbase42 ft 10 in (13.06 m)
Length56 ft 9 in (17.30 m)
Width8 ft 9 in (2.67 m)
Height12 ft 7 in (3.84 m)
Loco weight106.7 long tons (108.4 t; 119.5 short tons) to 113 long tons (115 t; 127 short tons)
Fuel capacity650 imp gal (3,000 l; 780 US gal)
Prime mover
Traction motorsFour DC traction motors
TransmissionDiesel electric
Train heating31/0 & 31/1: Steam
31/4: Electric Train Heat
Train brakesVacuum / Dual (Air/Vac)
Performance figures
Maximum speed
  • D5500–5534: 80 mph (129 km/h)
  • Remainder: 90 mph (145 km/h)
Power outputEngine:
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 effortMaximum: 35,900 lbf (159,691 N)
Brakeforce49 long tons-force (488 kN)
OperatorsBritish Railways
Fragonset Railways
FM Rail
Mainline Rail
Nemesis Rail
Network Rail
NumbersD5500–D5699, D5800–D5862, later 31001–31970
Axle load classRoute availability 5 or 6
Disposition26 preserved, remainder scrapped

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. They were numbered in two series, D5500-D5699 and D5800-D5862.[2][3]


Construction of the first locomotive was completed in the final week of September 1957, and the handing-over took place on 31 October.[4] 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 (similar to the 12CSVT used in the Class 37 but without an intercooler) rated at 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.[5] 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:

  • 31/0 - First batch of locos, fitted with Red Circle electro-magnetic control equipment[5] - withdrawn in the late 1970s as non-standard. RA 5
  • 31/1 - The standard locomotive, electro-pneumatic control.[5] RA 5
  • 31/4 - As Class 31/1 but fitted with Brush Electric train heating (ETH) apparatus.[5] RA 6
  • 31/5 - Former 31/4 with the ETH isolated for Civil Engineers Department use. RA 6
  • 31/6 - Standard locomotive through wired for ETH but without ETH apparatus. RA 5

Class 31/0[edit]

D5513, one of the original batch, in BR green livery

These first 20 locomotives, originally numbered D5500–D5519,[6] 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,[7] and latterly sporting that depot's trademark silver roof. Upon withdrawal four locomotives[8] were converted at Stratford into train pre-heating units. Locomotives 31 013, 31 002, 31 014 and 31 008 were renumbered ADB968013 to ADB968016 in the order given;[9][10] 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[edit]

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),[11] and fifteen were also limited to 80 mph (130 km/h) (D5520–D5534),[12] 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.[13] In the early 1980s Healey Mills and Bescot on the Midland Region also gained an allocation as replacements for Class 25s.

Class 31/4[edit]

31418 at Birmingham New Street.

The Class 31/4s, numbered from 31 400 to 31 469, 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. This allowed them to pre-heat 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[edit]

31549 at Peterborough in 1994.

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 re-numbering was achieved by simply adding 100 to the existing TOPS number i.e. 31 407 became 31 507. 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, although most were subsequently painted into the "Dutch" Yellow and Grey livery. Only 31 530 (Sister Dora), 31 544 (Keighley and Worth Valley Railway) and 31 568 (The Engineman’s Fund) were named when numbered as a 31/5. 31 544 was also notable as the only one of the sub-class with the original "toffee apple" style cabs without the route indicators on the roof.

Class 31/6[edit]

Only two locomotives (31 601 and 31 602, formerly 31 186 and 31 191 respectively [14] [15]) received this modification, performed during their time with Fragonset Railways. This modification means they are though wired for Electric Train Heating (ETH) but cannot actually provide it. This means they can be coupled to a train behind another locomotive (with full ETH capabilities), and the front locomotive is still able to heat the train. 31 601 is now preserved at the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway where it regularly operates trains [16] while 31 602 is thought to be stored out of use, having been withdrawn from main line use.


Initial deliveries of Class 31/0 locomotives were to Stratford depot in east London and deliveries continued with Class 31/1 locos going to the Eastern and North Eastern regions. Class 31s were first used on the Western Region in 1969 when No. 5535 was allocated to Old Oak Common to work Empty Coaching Stock (ECS) trains into Paddington.[17]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

An unidentified Class 31 with accident damage.
  • On 11 September 1975,[18] 31 150 was involved in a head-on collision at Corby Tunnel, with a loose brake van and coke wagons.[8] This locomotive was the first of the class to be withdrawn.[18]
  • On 2 January 1976, locomotive 31 241 was hauling a parcels train when a light engine ran into its rear. Time interval working was in force at the time.[19]
  • On 25 February 1979, locomotive 31 421 was hauling an engineering train that was working under a possession between Fratton and Hilsea, Hampshire. The adjacent line was open to traffic. A crane in the engineering train was foul of the other line when it was struck by a passing passenger train. One person was killed and nine were injured.[20]
  • On 9 March 1986, locomotive No. 31 436 was hauling a passenger train that was in a head-on collision with two light engines at Chinley, Derbyshire due to a signalman's error. One person was killed. Lack of training and a power cut were contributory factors.[21]
  • On 20 February 1987, a freight train ran away and was derailed by trap points at North Junction, Chinley. Locomotive No. 31 440 was hauling a train that collided with the wreckage.[22]
  • On 28 October 1988 two unmanned Class 31 locos (31 202 and 31 226), presumably with brakes not fully applied, rolled off together along a short siding at North London's Staples Corner. After demolishing the buffer stop they ran down the embankment on to the North Circular Road, although nobody was hurt. The second loco of the pair landed on the roof of the leading one, remaining precariously balanced. They were both withdrawn after the incident.[23]

Commercial operators[edit]

Distribution of locomotives,
March 1974[24]
British Rail Class 31 is located in England
British Rail Class 31 is located in Greater London
Code Name Quantity
BR Bristol Bath Road 13
CW Cricklewood 2
FP Finsbury Park 51
GD Gateshead 8
HO Holbeck 15
IM Immingham 41
MR March 52
OC Old Oak Common 19
SF Stratford 24
TE Thornaby 12
TI Tinsley 22
YK York 4
Total: 263

English, Welsh & Scottish[edit]

Before the introduction of Class 66, English Welsh & Scottish (EWS) took control of the class 31s from the Mainline Freight and Trainload Freight companies. 31 466 was repainted into EWS colours for the Toton TMD open day in May 1998 and soon became[clarification needed] the only one of the class to be in traffic running in the EWS colours. 31 255 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, 31 110 (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. Of the two EWS liveried locos, 31 255 is now owned by Harry Needle Railroad Company for mainline use and 31 466 is now preserved.

FM Rail[edit]

Class 31, no. 31454, in Fragonset livery on 16 April 2004
Class 31, no. 31454, in Fragonset livery on 16 April 2004

In 1998, Fragonset Railways purchased four redundant Class 31 locomotives from EWS. The first of these, no. 31 452, was quickly repaired and repainted in a new black livery with a red mid-body band. It was quickly followed by nos. 31 459 and 31 468. 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 31 601 (ex 31 186) & 31 602 (ex 31 191) 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 Marston Vale 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 West Anglia Great Northern'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[edit]

After the demise of FM Rail, several of its 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[edit]

Class 31 numbers 31 128 and 31 461 are now owned by Nemesis Rail, based at Burton upon Trent. 31 128 is an ex-Fragonset locomotive.

Network Rail[edit]

31105 passes Chesterfield working 4Q25 Derby RTC - Immingham TMD Test train
31105 passes Chesterfield working 4Q25 Derby RTC - Immingham TMD Test train

Network Rail operated a fleet of three Class 31/1 locomotives, nos. 31 105/233/285, and one Class 31/4 locomotive, 31 465 to haul test trains around the network. The locomotives were purchased from Fragonset Railways, and overhauled at its Derby workshops. They were been repainted in Network Rail's then new all-over yellow livery. 31 285 and 31 465 were offered for sale by tender in July 2015,[25] and 31 233 and 31 105 in August 2018.[26]

Prior to operating its own locomotives, Network Rail's predecessor, Railtrack, had hired two Class 31 locomotives from Fragonset. These two locomotives, nos. 31 190 and 31 601, 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 by British American Railway Services, based at Washwood Heath in Birmingham.)

No. 31 106, formerly Spalding Town, is privately owned by Howard Johnston, and after a period of lease to Fragonset, FM Rail, and RVEL which included extensive main line running for 11 years, including working as far north as Oban in Scotland, is based at the Weardale Railway. After inspection, it was successfully started on 17 October 2017 and moved under its own power for the first time in four years. Johnston purchased three more of the class from EWS, but they acquired new owners; 31 107 (scrapped by C F Booth at Rotherham in May 2009, following a staged collision with a Renault Espace on a level crossing during Top Gear Series 9, Episode 5 in 2006), 31 289 (preserved at the Northampton & Lamport Railway), and 31 301 (scrapped).

The last active Network Rail class 31 was 31233, with it operating its last test trains in March 2017.

In August 2018 Network Rail offered its final two class 31's (233/105) up for sale, both being sold into preservation.[27]


Currently preserved[edit]

Around 26 locomotives have been purchased, and preserved, for use on heritage railways around the UK. Of note are the first built, no. 31 018, and the last built, no. 31 327. There were a further 10, 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 Under Restoration
D5523* 31105 31105 Network Rail Yellow Mangapps Railway Museum, Essex Transferred from Derby RTC in October 2018
D5524* 31106 BR Blue Weardale Railway Transferred from Midland Railway Centre in early 2017
D5526* 31108 Railfreight Grey Midland Railway - Butterley
D5533 31115 31466 EWS Maroon/Gold Dean Forest 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
D5580 31162 BR Blue Midland Railway - Butterley
D5581 31163 97205 Derby RTC Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway
D5600 31179 31435 Newton Heath TMD BR Green Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway
D5609 31186 31601 DCR Green Ecclesbourne Valley Railway
D5627 31203 Steve Organ G.M. BR Green Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway
D5630 31206 Civil Engineers Ecclesbourne Valley Railway
D5631 31207 BR Green North Norfolk Railway One of the final three locomotives operated by EWS.
D5634 31210 Railfreight Grey Dean Forest Railway
D5654 31228 31454 31554 Intercity Wensleydale Railway awaiting restoration[28]
D5660 31233 Network Rail Yellow Mangapps Railway Museum, Essex Transferred to Mangapps from Derby RTC in October 2018.
D5662 31235 BR Blue Mid-Norfolk Railway
D5683 31255 EWS Maroon/Gold Mid-Norfolk Railway Repainted in EWS livery for paint trials.
D5695 31265 31430 31530 Sister Dora BR Blue Spa Valley Railway
D5800 31270 Athena Regional Railways Peak Rail
D5801 31271 Stratford 1840-2001 Trainload Construction Llangollen Railway
D5814 31414 31514 Gatwick Express Intercity Midland Railway - Butterley Undergoing Repairs
D5821 31289 Phoenix BR Experimental Blue Northampton & Lamport Railway
D5830 31297 31463 31563 BR Golden Ochre Great Central Railway
D5862 31327 BR Green Strathspey Railway Final locomotive built.

Note: * = "skinheads"

Preserved then scrapped[edit]

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



Number 31 107, 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 (31 107) 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 31 233 was used to propel 31 107 up to a speed of 80 mph (130 km/h). The rear locomotive slowed down to a stop and 31 107 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 31 107 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.[29][30] It was eventually aired on BBC Two on 25 February 2007, shortly after the Grayrigg derailment. A repeat of the programme was pulled following a further level-crossing accident.[31][32][33][34]

Model railways[edit]

The first models of Class 30 locomotives were produced by Triang in TT scale, in 1960.

In 1962 Tri-ang launched its first version of the BR Class 31 (with headcode boxes) in OO gauge. Since 2011 Hornby have produced a basic representation of the prototype as part of their Railroad range in BR Blue, and BR Green whilst past examples have carried a variety of liveries.[35]

Airfix model railways also chose to produce a Class 31 when Airfix entered the model train market in 1975.

Lima also produced a OO scale model, in both "skinhead" and headcode box versions.

Currently the only OO Gauge model of the Class 31 is that produced by Hornby since 2004; both body styles are available in various liveries.

2012 saw the return of the Lima model in the Hornby "Railroad" (entry level/cheaper) range.

An N Gauge model of the Class 31 is currently produced by Graham Farish (in both "skinhead" and headcode box versions) with re-tooling for an updated model taking place in 2012; Lima also produced an N scale model ("skinhead" only).

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

References and sources[edit]


  1. ^ Fox, Peter. (1985). Locomotives & Coaching Stock. Sheffield: Platform 5 Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0-906579-45-9.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Toms 1978, p. 26
  5. ^ a b c d Toms 1978, p. 40
  6. ^ Toms 1978, p. 25
  7. ^ Railway Magazine December 1957 p. 889
  8. ^ a b Toms 1978, p. 41
  9. ^ Marsden, Colin J. (1981). Motive power recognition:1 Locomotives. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7110-1109-0.
  10. ^ British Rail Locoshed book 1981 edition. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. 1981. ISBN 978-0-7110-1112-0.
  11. ^ Strickland 1983, p. 89.
  12. ^ Strickland 1983, p. 85.
  13. ^ Lund, E (1980). To the last drop. Chesterfield: Longden technical Publications. ISBN 978-0-9507063-0-6.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ [3]
  17. ^ "Motive power miscellany". Railway World. Vol. 30 no. 345. Shepperton: Ian Allan. February 1969. p. 93.
  18. ^ a b "31150 1975-10-05 Doncaster Works". RailOnline. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  19. ^ Hoole, Ken (1982). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 3. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-906899-05-2.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Vaughan, Adrian (1989). Obstruction Danger. Wellingborough: Patrick Stephens Limited. pp. 240–48. ISBN 978-1-85260-055-6.
  22. ^ Earnshaw, Alan (1991). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 7. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-906899-50-2.
  23. ^ Hall, Stanley. Railway Disasters cause and effect. p. [page needed].
  24. ^ British Railways Locoshed Book 1974 edition. Shepperton: Ian Allan. 1974. pp. 22–24. ISBN 0-7110-0558-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  25. ^ "Network Rail gives 120 hours to bid for 50 year old diesels". 31 July 2015.
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Duggan, Jamie (10 May 2020). "Class 31 locomotive joins Wensleydale Railway home fleet". RailAdvent. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  29. ^, News Archive: February 2007, 2007–02–04. Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ BBC NewsOne dead in train crossing crash, 2007–02–02.
  31. ^ The Railway Herald, "Network Rail stage level crossing crash accident" (pdf file, >4MB)
  32. ^ BBC News, Top Gear screens train crash item, 2007–02–25.
  33. ^ Tele-photo pictures of the crash setup[permanent dead link].
  34. ^ BBC News, One dead in level crossing crash, 2007–03–01.
  35. ^ "Hornby BR Class 31". Hornby Railways Collector Guide. Retrieved 1 February 2020.


  • Stevens-Stratten, S.W.; Carter, R.S. (1978). British Rail Main-Line Diesels. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7110-0617-1.
  • Strickland, David C. (September 1983). Locomotive Directory: Every Single One There Has Ever Been. Camberley, Surrey: Diesel and Electric Group. ISBN 978-0-9063-7510-5. OCLC 16601890.
  • Toms, George (1978). Brush Diesel Locomotives, 1940-78. Sheffield: Turntable Publications. ISBN 978-0902844483. OCLC 11213057.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Williams, Alan; Percival, David (1977). British Railways Locomotives and Multiple Units including Preserved Locomotives 1977. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7110-0751-2.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]