As electrification of the West Coast mainline north from Crewe towards Glasgow British Rail identified a need for a more powerful electric locomotive to work over the over the long, challenging grades of Shap and Beatock. The new 5,000hp (continuous rating) class 87 design incorporated all of the lessons learned about suspension systems and the need to minimise the unsprung masses to manage track wear from trains running at and over 100mph from the previous 4,000hp class 86 locomotives. The design was in effect based on the 86/1 class locomotives, successfully modified from the class 86 design, but too expensive as a rebuild for extending to the remainder of the class.
36 locomotives were constructed at Crewe works between 1973 and 1975, the new locomotives being instantly recognisable by the use of the 2-windscreen cab styling in place of 3-windscreen arrangement of the earlier electric locomotives and complete absence of cab-front headcode boxes. Unfortunately the cleaned-up cab front end was marred by the provision of multiple-working jumpers to allow the 87s to work in pairs on heavy freight services.
Along with the new locomotive-hauled (buffer fitted) Mk.3a version of the fully air-conditioned passenger coaches developed for the diesel-powered HST the 110mph capable class 87s significantly reduced journey times between London and Glasgow, the 87s becoming known as the 'Electric Scots'.
Electric traction control technology was advancing rapidly in the 1970s and after completing 35 'standard' locomotives using the established tap changer transformer to obtain the needed varying voltages and power settings the opportunity was taken to fit the last of the build with the emerging semi-conductor thyristor control system. Now the normal method of power control for electric trains high-power semi-conductor technology was new in the mid-1970s and the 36th 87, numbered 87101, was used to test both the power control capabilities and explore interference issues which might be created with safety critical systems like lineside signalling, now known as Electro-Magnetic Compatibility. 87101 became noted for it's hauling abilities, reckoned to be around 20% greater than the standard 87s, likely due to the much faster response of the thyristor control system allowing power to be held closer to the limit of adhesion.
In 1975 The Stephenson Locomotive Society had persuaded BR to allow the name STEPHENSON to be carried by 87001 to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. Around this time BR was deciding on a locomotive naming policy and from 1977 all of the class 87 locomotives received names, with the Stepehnson name being transferred to the unique 87101.
The class 87s remained the premier West Coast locomotives until the late 1980s when the newer class 90 (originally designated class 87/2!) replace the 87s on the long distance services. The class 87s were then updated and equipped with the Time Division Multiplex communications method for multiple working. This was connected through the RCH lighting jumpers on the ends of the coaches, allowing push-pull operation to be introduced for the frequent shorter distance services between London and Birmingham. Following privatisation the 87 fleet was transferred to Virgin Trains (Virgin West Coast) and served until replaced by the Pendolino fleet in the mid-2000s. Several locos have been exported for service in Europe while 3 have been preserved, one of which is operations as a 'spot hire' locomotive operated by Locomotive Services Ltd.
Dapol would like to thank the 87035 Group at Crewe Heritage Centre for their invaluable help giving access to their loco.
The Dapol N gauge Class 87 features:
- Finely detailed body & roof with many extra fitted items
- 5 pole Super Creep motor with incredible controllable slow running speed
- All wheel drive and pick up
- Finely detailed (posable/non functional) High-Speed and Cross-Arm pantographs (as appropriate)
- Accessory bag with optional fitted parts
- NEXT 18 DCC
The tooling will allow the 87 to be accurately modelled from the original 1973 condition to the present day with different front end and roof variants.
A roof is being tooled to accurately portray the much loved and unique 87101 for the first time in N gauge.