Not so long ago, industrial locomotives could be found in factories, coal plants and steel works all over the UK. However as heavy industry contracted in the late 1980s and road transport became more the norm, industrial railways reduced in numbers and so did the need for locomotives to run on them. This declining market forced many famous manufacturers to close their doors for the last time. The remaining operators settled for second-hand or rebuilt locos. Today, these are getting harder to find and some companies are starting to consider buying new.
So it was good to visit Chasewater Railway recently to see a new industrial locomotive – manufactured in the UK. Sitting at the platform with its bright red paintwork shining in the sun, it looked compact, modern, and (dare I say it?) slightly European with its angled cab roof. On both ends was the maker’s nameplate – another of those famous old manufacturers – Hunslet.
Hunslet Engine Company was founded in 1864 in Jack Lane, Hunslet, a suburb of Leeds. It was one of the more successful independents building, amongst other types, the famous 0-6-0ST ‘Austerity’ shunters during and, after the Second World War, a successful class of flame-proof diesel loco for use in coal mines. There were also tunnelling locomotives manufactured and used for construction of the Channel Tunnel and Jubilee Line extension projects.
Hunslet was acquired in 2004 by L H Group Holdings and production transferred to its facility at Barton under Needwood. However, Hunslet’s sales, design, spares and service teams are still in Leeds and have kept themselves busy with various UK and international contracts. Recent work includes supplying specialised diesel-electric locomotives for use in a coke plant in South Korea and two fully refurbished remote-controlled diesels to Lafarge Cement UK, Dunbar works.
Break from tradition
Designated the DH60C, the new class is a Diesel Hydraulic 60-tonne locomotive with three driven axles. However it isn’t a 0-6-0 in the traditional sense. Hunslet’s Technical Director, Andrew Copperwheat, took us onto the track to show us why. “The coupling rods are gone” he told us, “and so are traditional axle-boxes, leaf springs and mechanical brake system.”
Each axle has its own independent swinging arm suspension arrangement. The axle-carrier, fitted with sealed-for-life cartridge bearings, are pivoted at the front and suspended at the centre from a large coil spring. A vertical hydraulic damper softens the ride. The wheels still have brake blocks acting on the tyres but these are of a composite construction and pneumatically operated. “Having the brakes operate on the tyres keeps the surface clean” Andrew explained, “which is good for an industrial shunter. But the composite blocks reduce surface damage to the wheel profile and are much lighter to replace.”
Motive power is supplied by a Caterpillar C15 ACERT engine producing 475hp and is transmitted to the wheelset final drives via a fully automatic turbo reversing hydrodynamic transmission and Cardan shafts.
The three axles are close-coupled to reduce any problems on tight bends. The front and rear wheels have P1 profiles while the middle set has a P9, again giving improved clearance on curves of down to a 70m radius.
There are steps at all four corners of the loco but the cab has access doors only at the rear, a layout that Hunslet say is favoured by the majority of its customers. The pneumatic control system is mainly assembled from commercially-available valves, which provide good reliability and are readily available.
Inside the spacious cab are two transverse driving stations, one each side. The driver stands side-on to the direction of travel allowing him to look both ways with equal ease. The controls are uncluttered and consist of two electronic display screens and driving consoles.
Starting the big 15.2-litre six-cylinder engine is simplicity itself. Turn the key, press the button and off she goes. Compare that with the procedure for starting a 08! No wonder they leave the former British Rail shunter running all the time even though it uses 10-15 litres of fuel an hour at idle. Hunslet’s DH60C, with its chosen Caterpillar engine, uses only 2 litres per hour at idle and switches itself off if left alone for a preset period of time.
Press a button to release the parking brake, another to sound the horn, move the power joystick in the direction of travel and off we go! It’s that simple. The DH60C doesn’t have traction control so some skill is needed, though not much, as even the rail engineer’s ham-fisted driver didn’t spin the wheels. Then it’s steady acceleration to a speed of 10kph. That limit can be altered simply – it was re-set up to 16kph later in the day – but, with most industrial sites limited to 8kph, any more is generally unnecessary. If you need it, the factory can let you have higher speed versions together with radio remote control and various other enhancements.
The swinging arm suspension does a good job of smoothing out track irregularities whilst the soundproofing in the cab, allied to the low noise from the engine, means that there is no problem talking or using the radio while at full throttle. The engine has a flat power curve from 1800rpm to the maximum of 2100rpm. The 143kN of continuous tractive effort is enough to haul a 2,000-tonne train, with fuel consumption at load giving a respectable 85 litres per hour.
Stopping the locomotive is straightforward. When operated light, simply moving the control joystick into the opposite direction of travel applies dynamic braking from the transmission. When coupled to a rake of vehicles, the pneumatic service brake is activated by the brake control joystick.
Hunslet has come up with what seems to be a great new-generation shunter. With a smaller two-axle and a larger four-axle bogie locomotive already on the drawing board, we could be seeing quite a few new-generation Hunslet locomotives in the coming months.