The product of another classic steam manufacturer, 84001 hails from the North British works
in Springburn, Glasgow. The 84s were unreliable throughout their careers, the last being
withdrawn in 1981. 84001 made a miraculous escape in 1979, however, by being loaned to the
National Railway Museum, where it remained for the next 21 years! It received some
much-needed cosmetic and electrical conservation work from Group members at Barrow Hill
during its stay. The loco remained in the Group's care until 2012.
An order for ten locomotives was placed with GEC, who subcontracted the mechanical design and construction to the North British Locomotive Co Ltd of Glasgow. The AL4 type, as it was then known, was a little more distinctive in appearance than the other four types, the most obvious difference being the oval buffers in place of round. The first locomotive, E3036, was delivered to Longsight in March 1960, while the last, E3045, arrived almost exactly one year later. In the early years the locos were troubled by bad ride quality and also by the same problems that afflicted type AL3's mercury arc rectifiers. Differences in transformer and rectifier design between AL3 and AL4 meant that the rectifier problem was more serious on this type, and by 1963 the whole class was recalled for modifications. In 1967, E3044 became the first AC electric to receive the new Rail Blue colour scheme, but within a year the whole class was again taken out of service and stored with the AL3s at Bury steam shed.
E3043 (later 84007) was used by Rugby Testing Station during this period, while E3044 was commonly exhibited at various rolling stock exhibitions around the country. Reprieved by the northward extension of the WCML electrification, the AL4s were refurbished at Doncaster and returned to service as Class 84 by the end of 1972. Unfortunately, the troubles were not over for Class 84. Tap changer failures together with traction motor failures resulting from years in storage caused the reliability of the Class to plummet. Work to correct these faults was initially successful,but the traction motors continued to fail and by 1976, BR curtailed any further large expenditure on the Class. Excessive wear on the axle drives caused the first withdrawals (a result of the curtailment of expenditure) and it was expected that the Class would be completely withdrawn by the end of 1978.
In the event, the last locomotives to be withdrawn were 84003 and 84010 in November 1980. 84010 had the distinction of hauling the Class 84 Farewell Tour which ran from Manchester to Glasgow via Northampton on 10 November 1979 and resulted in it being buffed up for the occasion. The same year, 84001 was loaned to the National Railway Museum to form part of its '100 Years of Electric Railways' exhibition. The original idea behind this move was that the loco would be returned at a later date in exchange for a more representative example of WCML traction (Class 86 or 87). Also in 1979, 84009 was transferred to the Research Department and converted into a 'Mobile Load Bank' numbered ADB968021 - a non-powered vehicle capable of drawing high current from the overhead line to simulate heavy use and thereby test equipment and power supplies.
Disposal of Class 84 was a drawn out affair, the first being 84006 and 84007 cut at Crewe in 1979. 84002 and 84010 were returned to GEC pending conversion into new-technology test bed locomotives, but the project never materialised, and both were cut into two halves and dumped at Hyde Metals (Manchester) in December 1982. 84004 and 84005 (withdrawn in '77 and '78) were cut up at Birds, Long Marston in March 1985, while 84003, which had been sent to Derby as a source of spares for 84009 and for possible conversion to deparmental use, eventually reached Vic Berry's of Leicester, being cut in January 1986. The longest survivor at this time was 84008, withdrawn in 1979, but not cut until November 1988 at Crewe.
Introduced in March 1960 as E3036, this loco was one of the first AC electric locos accepted into traffic. It also had the distiction at the time of being one of the very few machines to have run in Scotland, having been subject to some early testing on the Glasgow suburban network. It is quite possible that the loco even utilised its dual voltage capability, as some of the Glasgow AC routes were energised at 6.25kV AC at the time. If so, 84001 is in a very elite group, since 6.25kV was not used on the West Coast Main Line.
Along with the other new locos, E3036 spent some time on test prior to the launch of public services later in 1960. Its original livery was electric blue with white cab windows and roof. It suffered from the inherent problems of the class and was stored in 1967 before being refurbished in 1972 and returned to traffic as 84001, in Rail Blue livery.
It was withdrawn again in January 1979, but was given a bogie swap with 84002 (we understand), repainted and shipped to the National Railway Museum at York, on loan for their "100 Years of Electric Railways" exhibition, arriving there on 8th May. At one point during its extended stay at York, it was rumoured that the loco would be made into a 'sectioned' exhibit - i.e. have one side cut off for a view of the internal workings (indeed we understand that the tap-changer was drained of oil prior to delivery to allow it to be easily cut open!). This, fortunately, didn't happen.
The loco was given another repaint in time for its use in a display at the entrance to 'The Great Railway Show' in 1990 - the NRM's main building was closed for roof rebuilding, and the main museum was shifted temporarily across the road.
84001 remained on loan from the BR Board until 1994 when, in the run up to Privatisation, it was claimed for the National Collection. The NRM's attitude towards the loco had taken a positive turn, as it was now a valuable representative of a post-steam, main-line, North British Locomotive Company product (only one other still existed - and that was 84009!).
In later years a lack of suitable covered accommodation at York meant that 84001 spent extended periods stored in the open, unfortunately leading to the loco suffering from corrosion and weather damage.
A solution was found in early 2000, when the AC Locomotive Group offered to help
restore 84001 at Barrow Hill. Following a meeting with the NRM's Head of Engineering
Collections, Richard Gibbon, and Registrar, Helen Ashby, a three year loan was agreed.
The locomotive was moved to Barrow Hill to join the other four prototype classes by road
in September 2000. The loco remained in the Group's care until 2012.
Following arrival at Barrow Hill and display at the 2000 Diesel and Electric Gala, 84001 was moved into undercover storage in the shed to protect it from frost and further deterioration. Work to replace corroded sections on the lower bodyside began in early 2001 with several new sections of steel replacing corroded skin on both sides and one cab end.
Also during 2001, the locos batteries were charged for the first time since 1979, and incredibly the DC lighting circuits and auxiliary equipment came back to life as if they had been switched off yesterday! The batteries were unable to hold a charge, unsurprisingly, so it is possible they will be replaced with a more modern set as and when one becomes available.
Major preparation work for the external repaint began in early 2002, with the complete stripping of one side of the loco, which had suffered badly from peeling paint, and a thorough rub down of the other. Further preparation work, involving much priming and filling was ongoing throughout the first half of 2003, with the first top-coat being applied in time for the loco to be exhibited at the Doncaster Plant 150 Open Weekend in July at Doncaster Works with 83012 and 85101.
In addition to the cosmetic work, the locos brakes were returned to full working order, including recertification of the main air receivers, allowing the loco to be hauled without requiring additional brake-force runners.
Unfortunately, after Doncaster, problems were discovered with the original BR primer on one side, and this led to the new paint fracturing. The affected side was stripped down once again and repainted in time to visit its home at the NRM for the York Railfest in May/June 2004. In 2005 the 84 journeyed to Crewe Works for the Open Days, and also appeared at Norwich for the ACoRP Community Railways weekend.
A repaint into Electric Blue would sadly not be authentic for the loco's current layout. Back-dating 84001 to its original condition, as applicable for Electric Blue livery would require removal of roof-air tanks, fitting two original Stone-Faiveley pantographs, fabricating and fitting old-style bodyside louvres and probably removing the air brakes!