Today, when you observe the lighting speed of the TGV train or Japanese Shinkansen, and as you admire the magnetic levitation technology, it is hard to believe that not so long ago, trains used to be run by steam and fossil fuels.
Electromagnetic propulsion is undoubtedly more beneficial for the environment than consuming coal and petrol. But it took years of scientific progress to get to this point, and before switching to maglev technology became a reality for some rich and developed countries, using fossil fuels instead of steam was until recently considered a huge step forward.
In Great Britain, this process was called dieselization, and it referred to switching to diesel-fueled engines in a modernization effort by British Railway to make steam, electric, and gasoline locomotives obsolete.
Regardless of environmental impact, it is more economical to switch to fossil fuel engines, and it does not take much additional capital investment in railroad infrastructure.
This period lasted from 1959- 1964. Two series of locomotives were produced, labeled as series D6600-D6608 and D6700-D6999, numbering 309 locomotives in total. Many of them still had their steam heating boilers built-in, just in case this new fossil fuel innovation doesn’t do the job.
They were built by English Electric company. British Railway ordered a large number of locomotives, and they were constructed in several locations. Most notably, the Vulcan foundry in Lancashire.
This was a massive project and investment, which was like an economic injection that provided work for thousands and was a testament to the strong British economy with low unemployment in the early 1960s.
The Class 37 locomotives soon became a symbol of the British railway fleet and became recognizable for their specific engine sound that resembled some farming machinery, which earned them a nickname the Tractor.
Their top speed was 90 mph, with their 1,750 horsepower engine, and they were made with a Co-Co wheel arrangement with two six-wheeled bogies, which made Class 37 locomotives a reliable heavy freight expeditor with a high route availability.
This meant that they could be easily used on the secondary railway lines where they could efficiently perform any task. In the early 1980s, much of Class 37 was restored and replenished for further use, as they proved to be a productive and costworthy investment.
Designed and used for transport of passengers and freight, they proved to be reliable and efficient. Today, their legacy earned them a reputation of most successful locomotives in British history. They are certainly the most long-lived ones. After more than fifty years, more than 60 locomotives are still active and are transporting goods and passengers across the UK.
Class 37 is trendy today among train enthusiasts, and there are even websites like class37.co.uk dedicated to preserving the memory of Class 37 with a vast database, gallery, and detailed history of every locomotive from Class 37. Also, it offers some fantastic features like checking what was going on with the Class 37 on a specific day in the last fifty years.
Today, thirty of Class 37 locomotives are preserved in museums or for restoration efforts. As we speak, the Class of Class 37 37003 is being restored to be used on the Mid Norfolk Railway. As such, they are a living testament to the quality of British locomotive-makers and a reminder for our consumerist society that not so long ago, things were built to last.