ACE Trains E/29 GWR 51XX and 61XX 2-6-2T Prairie Tank Locomotives
The 2-6-2 wheel arrangement was much favoured by GWR (more than any other railway company) providing the basis of the highly successful large passenger tank class 51XX and the later series 61XX tank locomotives colloquially known as “Large Prairies”. The 5101 class was designed by Collett and built by the Great Western Railway (GWR) in a number of phases and batches and were effectively an updated version of Churchward’s 3100/5100 class of 1903. In 1927 the original 40 locomotives of the 3100 class were renumbered to 5100 and 5111 to 5149. A new batch of 5101s with an increased axel loading of 17 tons were built filling the numbers 5101 to 5110 so extended the overall class from 5150 to 5189 – the 5100 numbers being exhausted in 1934.
Further new locomotives bore the 4100 numbering. The last batch were built in BR(W) era in 1948 with numbering from 4160 to 4179. The 51XX class were at the maximum permitted weight for ‘Blue’ routes and were largely responsible for suburban and local passenger duties across the GWR network; no: 4141 (in preservation) spent its entire career allocated to Gloucester shed often providing the last leg of the Paddington, Gloucester to Cheltenham express services sometimes hauling nine to ten coaches with ease. Elsewhere, no: 5169 spent its time working local services on the Porthcawl branch whilst no: 4121 spent its life further afield in the joint LMS/GWR shed at Birkenhead. However, nos: 4150, 4110, 4115, 5164, 5193 and 5199 (all in preservation except no: 4115 used as a donor locomotive) were based in the Wolverhampton and Birmingham areas for many years providing commuter and other suburban services in the West Midlands. No: 4165 worked the Leamington Spa to Stratford-on-Avon local service but ended up as part of the BR(M) Region.
In the latter years of steam working duties for the class extended to more mundane duties like freight. No: 4152 was one of the last locomotives to be built in GWR days and saw much of its life ferrying traffic through the Severn Tunnel and working coal trains from South Wales. As noted above a total of ten 51XX locomotives were retrieved from the Barry scrapyards. Two have been used for donor activities whilst the other eight are in various stages of preservation or operation.
Introduced in 1931 the 61XX class (designed by Collett) was a straightforward development of the earlier 5101 class but providing enhanced boiler pressure to deliver increased traction. There were seventy in the class, built in two batches from 1931 to 1933 and in 1935. They were frequently referred to by trainspotters as ‘Tanner One-ers’- being a reference to their 61XX numbering sequence using colloquial terms for a sixpence and a penny. The class was specifically built for commuter services in the London area lasting to the end of steam on BR(W) Region in 1965 but most of the class never strayed too far from home turf. Typical duties were Paddington to Aylesbury via High Wycombe, and from the same terminus to Oxford, Windsor, Reading and Basingstoke. They were mainly shedded at Old Oak Common, Southall, Slough, Aylesbury and Reading throughout their working lives. No: 6161 in smart green livery with its 81D Reading shed plate lasted until the end of steam being responsible for cross-country local services as well London-bound commuter traffic.
Despite the 61XX class being the mainstay of London suburban services, they found work elsewhere around the western edge of the BR(W) system. One of the more unusual tasks was no: 6119 (as no: 4144 in preservation) allocated to the Pilning-Severn Tunnel Junction car train; this train service normally formed of couple of wagons and a single coach ran through the Severn Tunnel thus saving motorists a long and laborious detour until the Severn Bridge was opened in 1967. Elsewhere in north Gloucestershire no: 6106 worked the local lines around Brinscombe and Chalford but also performing banking duties assisting with moving heavy train loads of Cotswold stone.
Due to intense usage some of the 61XX class around the capital had seen better days and were relegated to freight duties instead of Paddington based local passenger workings – no: 6118 succumbing to this fate. However, widespread dieselisation of suburban services from 1957 onwards meant that significant numbers of 61XX large Prairies were far from worn out when steam ceased on BR(W) Region. No: 6106 is now preserved at the GWR Didcot Centre.