BR Standard Tank

4MT; 4P/4F

Like the ‘’Britannia’’ Class already mentioned on this website, the charming Standard Tanks were not particularly numerous on the South Eastern Division. Indeed, as far as the Southern Region is concerned, the type’s allocation was, from the outset, exclusively to the Central Division. However, the 4MT Tanks have certainly had a Kent county allocation from the earliest years, the shed at Tunbridge Wells West (which itself was Central Division, under Brighton) being a recipient of the engines. This, coupled with the fact that the locomotives have delved deeper into Kent territory on stopping passenger workings, justifies them for inclusion on the website.

The 2-6-4 wheel arrangement can be traced back to as early as 1916, when tank engines built to this design appeared on the Great Central Railway, primarily for freight duties. A year later, the locomotive and rolling stock engineer for the SE&CR, R.E.L. Maunsell, produced a single example of a steam locomotive with a 2-6-4 wheel arrangement. His project was perpetuated after the Grouping, with a further nineteen engines to the same design emerging, all of which were named after rivers (hence ‘’River’’ Class). What this class became notorious for was severe instability at high speed – they were dubbed the ‘’Rolling Rivers’’ because of it. When the locomotives were deployed on ex-LB&SCR metals, their performance improved and the tendency to ‘’roll’’ was reduced. The formerly independent LB&SCR had kept the track work in markedly better condition than its counterpart to the east, the SE&CR, the latter whose rails had seen years of neglect and inadequate maintenance. There had been a number of comparatively innocuous derailments of the ‘’River’’ Tanks on the former SE&CR network, but the SR was seemingly unperturbed until a serious accident, involving No. A800 ‘’River Cray’’, unfolded. A derailment between Dunton Green and Sevenoaks of a coast-bound working fronted by this engine, on 24th August 1927, resulted in thirteen deaths. Consequently, the SR took draconian measures and withdrew the whole fleet, vowing never again to let an engine with such a wheel arrangement to operate on its network. In the following year, these once distinctive tank engines began emerging in a new tender guise: they became the ‘’U’’ Class. Paradoxically, the procurement of a second 2-6-4 tank engine was swift, and in 1932, the ‘’W’’ Class was introduced, again a product of Maunsell. From the outset, it was a dedicated freight locomotive, designed to haul cross-London goods trains with a power and speed which were great enough to allow such workings to be sandwiched in-between the intensive electric passenger schedules on the SR.

Meanwhile, more significant steps had been taken on the LMS in developing 2-6-4 mixed traffic tank engines. The company’s Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME), Sir Henry Fowler, had overseen the construction of 125 Tank Engines to this wheel arrangement, the first examples being deployed in 1927. Subsequently being classed ‘’4P’’, the wheel layout was evidently successful, for Fowler’s successor, Sir William Stanier, observed his Chief Draftsmen pencil an arguably more attractive locomotive around a 2-6-4 arrangement. Emerging in 1934, the three cylinder engines were destined for the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway, which the erstwhile Midland Railway had acquired in 1912. It was Stanier’s development which became the fundamental basis for British Railways’ prototype, but the CME’s engine would see further modifications first. A further batch of two cylinder engines emerged in 1935, but with Stanier becoming an advisor to the Ministry of Production in 1942 as part of the war effort, procurement of further 2-6-4 locomotives was left to Charles Fairburn. Having been deputy to Stanier since 1938, Fairburn became acting CME during the former’s absence, but his time in office was brief. Stanier’s retirement saw Fairburn become CME of the LMS in 1944, by which time the production of a modified 2-6-4 ‘’4P’’ was in full swing. The main distinguishing feature between the Stanier and Fairburn designs was the wheelbase – that of the latter had been shortened. Examples began emerging from Derby in 1945, but sadly, Fairburn would not see the whole of the production run – in October of that year, he died aged 58 of a heart attack. Construction of what became a large class spilled over into Nationalisation; in 1950, Brighton took over from Derby in the assembling of engines. The last locomotive was completed in 1951, by which time there were 277 examples of Fairburn’s work in existence.

We now come to British Railways’ throw of the dice. In 1948, Robert. A. Riddles, formerly of the LMS, was appointed the head of the then newly-formed Mechanical & Electrical Engineering department of BR’s Railway Executive. As recounted within the ‘’Britannia’’ section, Riddles was given the task of producing twelve ‘’standard’’ steam locomotive designs for deployment on all regions. The new fleets would replace the more elderly of Grouping and pre-Grouping types, whilst also bringing the cost advantages of standardisation. Parts between types would be interchangeable, and maintenance would be comparatively simple to undertake. Riddles was assisted by E.S. Cox and a design team, and by 1950 the first type – later known as the ‘’Britannia’’ Class – had been finalised on the drawing board. The first engine, No. 70000, emerged from Crewe Works on 11th January 1951, it having a distinctive LMS ring about it. Following this in April of the same year was 5MT 4-6-0 No. 73000, built at Derby, and then in May, 4MT 4-6-0 No. 75000 was despatched from Swindon. By July 1951, Brighton Works had completed the first 88 ton 10 cwt 4MT 2-6-4 Tank (which had also been designed there), this interestingly being No. 80010. In total, the Central Division’s primary works constructed 130 of a type which had an eventual total of 155 examples. Smaller batches of fifteen and ten engines were built at Derby and Doncaster respectively, completion coming in 1956. With the advent of the 1955 Modernisation Plan, which advocated the use of diesel traction, the BR Standard types were already doomed, and an outstanding order of fifteen engines – which would have brought the Standard Tank total to 170 - was halted. Fundamentally, the 2-6-4 was intended to be a tank engine version of the 2-6-0 4MT 750XX series, and superficially, this would appear to be the case. However, excepting the wheel arrangement and tender, there was another quite significant difference between the two types - that of the boiler. The 2-6-0 utilised a ‘’BR4’’ boiler and the 2-6-4 incorporated a ‘’BR5’’ boiler. The former measured 13 foot in length, against the 12 feet 3 inches of the latter. The total boiler output of the 2-6-0 was also 2,500 lbs greater than the tank engine, when running at its power limit. Despite this, the 2-6-4T, which cost an average of £17,650 (about £371,000 by 2005 prices) each to build, was capable of reaching speeds of up to 90 MPH.

Allocation of the ubiquitous type, was to every region except the Western, which already had large fleets of Prairie Tank engines from the 1930s. The largest recipient was the London Midland Region, where the class displaced several new Fairburn Tanks, these of which were subsequently cascaded to the Central and South Eastern Divisions of the Southern Region. Plaistow, Tilbury, and Shoeburyness sheds became hosts to both the BR Standard Tanks and the products of Stanier and Fairburn. The ‘’Tilbury Tanks’’, as they were known colloquially, were economical, but powerful engines, and they remained in existence on Fenchurch Street to Tilbury, Southend and Shoeburyness services until the advent of 25 K.V. overhead catenary on the line. The first electric services on the whole of the LT&SR initiated on 6th November 1961, but the full electric timetable was not implemented until 17th June 1962. Consequently, the Standard Tanks on this route were transferred to Shrewsbury on the Western Region, where steam traction was being phased out rapidly in favour of diesel hydraulics. The WR acquired yet more of the type on 1st January 1963, when those lines west of Salisbury were transferred to it from the SR, Exmouth Junction shed subsequently becoming a WR depot. Naturally, the Standard Tanks’ existence on the WR was short lived, and the next move they made was to the scrap yard. The type had a happier existence at Polmadie and Corkerhill sheds at Glasgow, on the Scottish Region, where they fronted suburban services in and around the city. Of course, their South Eastern Division involvement must not be forgotten. Peculiarly, this appears to fall mainly during the period of the Kent Coast Electrification, between 1959 and 1962, when Tonbridge and Ashford sheds received a few examples. They became quite familiar sights on the Maidstone East line, and around Ashford, but with the full electric timetable coming into effect on the ex-SER main line on 18th June 1962, all examples were transferred to the South Western Division, being re-allocated to Nine Elms. When on the SR, the type was known by the power classification 4P/4F (4 Passenger / 4 Freight), rather than the 4MT (4 Mixed Traffic) used on all other regions.

The doyen of the class, No. 80001, was withdrawn from the Central Division in June 1964, where it had been based for its whole career. The Standard Tank lasted a few years longer on the South Western Division, right up to the end of steam on this section on 9th July 1967. From an original class number of 155, some fifteen remain in existence today.


Watford-allocated No. 80067 is seen alongside platform 3 of the old Euston station in the late 1950s. Rebuilding of the site commenced on 6th November 1961, starting with the demolition of the famous Doric Arch; works were completed in 1969. © David Glasspool Collection

2nd March 1956

A lovely period scene in this northward view depicts No. 80152 at East Grinstead "Low Level" with a Brighton service, which was booked to run via Lewes. Note the intricate canopy valance, ornate cast iron columns and brackets and, on the left, timber platform offices akin to those examples preserved at Horsted Keynes today. Above the locomotive's cab can be seen passenger rolling stock and a canopy of the "High Level" station. Of the latter, this was situated on a cross-country route between Three Bridges and Tunbridge Wells, but a connecting spur linked it with the "Low Level" tracks just under ½-mile north of where this picture was taken. No. 80152 ended its days on the South Western Division, surviving right to the end of steam on the Southern Region in July 1967, after which it was stored at Salisbury with a large fleet of obsolete engines. © David Glasspool Collection

14th May 1960

Standard Tank No. 80089 is seen approaching East Croydon with a Tunbridge Wells West to London Victoria service. The train comprises a mixture of Maunsell and Bulleid carriage stock. The high-level station building dated from 1894 and the colour light post from 1954. © David Glasspool Collection