As the name implies, the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company was a rolling stock manufacturer with no long history of locomotive manufacture, although they were building Diesel Multiple Units for BR. However, in 1956-57 BRCW built 12 diesel locomotives for the Irish railway Córas Iompair Éireann (CIE 101 Class), the order going to BRCW due to capacity problems at CIE's own Inchicore Works. A partnership was then established between BRCW and the Swiss diesel engine manufacturers Sulzer Brothers.
The Sulzer LDA28 range was found to be particularly suited to BR's needs. In addition to BRCW's Class 26, the 1160hp 6LDA28 variant was also used in BR's own Class 24 design, while the 1250hp 6LDA28-B was fitted in the later BRCW Class 27 and BR Class 25.
Locomotive D5303 was on loan to the Scottish Region from 1958, being operated briefly from Inverness TMD, and Eastfield TMD before moving to Leith Central TMD. This was the precursor to a further twenty seven locomotives of a slightly modified design (D5320-5346, Class 26/1) being delivered to the Scottish Region between April and October 1959. The first two of these locomotives were briefly allocated to Leith Central, but subsequently all of the Scottish batch were based at Haymarket TMD (although some went to Hornsey on loan for a time).
By the middle of 1960, evaluation of the various Type 2 designs was complete and it was decided to concentrate all of the Class 26s in Scotland. As a result, the Class 26/0s were transferred to Haymarket, displacing the Class 26/1s to Inverness. Although some transferring of individual locomotives between the two depots occurred, the type was then allocated entirely to Haymarket and Inverness until 1987, apart from the brief allocation of a few locomotives to Kittybrewster TMD and Dundee TMD during 1960.
Like other Scottish Region Type 2s, Class 26 were 'maids of all work' during the 1960s and '70s, and could be found on a wide variety of duties. The Inverness based examples were particularly associated with the Far North Line and Kyle of Lochalsh Line, as well as operating south of Inverness on the Highland Main Line. One notable duty, shared with locally based Class 24s, was to operate 'The Royal Highlander' Inverness to London Euston sleeping car express as far south as Perth, a demanding turn which required three locomotives working in multiple. The Haymarket engines were latterly more associated with goods traffic, and the first seven locomotives (D5300-5306, later renumbered 26007, 26001-006) were given slow speed control apparatus for use on MGR coal trains.
Upon elimination of BR standard-gauge steam traction in 1968, the 'D' number prefix was removed and locomotives D5300-5346 became 5300-5346. In 1974 the TOPS numbering system was implemented and Class 26/0s 5300-5319 were renumbered 26007/1-6/20/08-19, while Class 26/1s 5320-7/9-46 became 26028/1-7/9-46. Number 5328 had been withdrawn in 1972 with accident damage.
The availability of surplus Class 37 and 47 locomotives in the late 1970s and early 1980s displaced the Class 26s from passenger workings and from most goods traffic north of Inverness. However, the type continued to operate goods trains throughout the whole of Scotland, taking over duties previously carried out by Class 25 and 27 locomotives. Most of the class were refurbished in the 1980s to extend their lives, being chosen in preference to the newer Class 25 and 27 due to the better reliability of the Class 26's lower powered engines.
In May 1987, all of the surviving class 26s were transferred to Eastfield TMD, except the 7 MGR examples which remained at Haymarket until transfer in May 1988. In August 1992, all survivors were reallocated to Inverness, although this was essentially a paper exercise, as locomotives only returned to their home depot for major maintenance. By this time, however, the writing was on the wall for Class 26.
Thirteen locomotives have been preserved.
(current in bold)
|D5300||26007||-||BR Green||Barrow Hill Engine Shed||First-built locomotive. One of the final locomotives in traffic.|
|D5301||26001||Eastfield||BR Green||Caledonian Railway||One of the final locomotives in traffic.Operational.|
|D5302||26002||-||BR Green||Strathspey Railway||Currently awaiting overhaul|
|D5304||26004||-||Railfreight Coal||Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway||Awaiting repair|
|D5310||26010||-||BR Green, small yellow warning panel||Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway||Operational|
|D5311||26011||-||BR Blue||Barrow Hill Engine Shed||Operational|
|D5314||26014||-||BR Green||Caledonian Railway||Operational|
|D5324||26024||-||BR Blue||Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway||Operational|
|D5325||26025||-||Undercoat||Strathspey Railway||Stored awaiting painting|
|D5335||26035||-||BR Blue||Caledonian Railway||Awaiting repairs|
|D5338||26038||-||BR Blue||Privately owned, Cardiff Canton depot|
|D5340||26040||-||BR Blue||Privately owned, Methil||Undergoing restoration|
|D5343||26043||-||To be repainted BR Blue||Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway||Undergoing restoration|