5637 STEAM


56xx CLASS



5637 is one of the 56xx class of tank engines built by the Great Western Railway (GWR) between 1924 and 1928. This followed the railway grouping of 1923 where a number of small South Wales railway companies were absorbed into the GWR along with their stock of locomotives.

The companies absorbed were the Taff Vale, Barry, Brecon & Merthyr, Cardiff and Rhymney railways which had a large number of engines specifically designed to cope with the steep gradients, sharp curves and heavy coal trains found in the South Wales coalfields. However after the grouping the GWR found that a significant number of the engines they had acquired were at the end of their useful life and there wasn’t an existing type of GWR loco that could replace them.

Photo: Ian Britton
One of the very few surviving 56xx class predecessors, Taff Vale Railway No. 85

Accordingly Charles Collett, GWR Chief Mechanical Engineer, designed the 56xx class of engine that was based on the successful Rhymney Railway M and R classes of locomotive. This had a 0-6-2 wheel arrangement that gave the locos a short wheel base for negotiating the tight curves of the South Wales valleys and support under the bunker which allowed a large amount of coal to be carried.

There were a number of teething problems with the new 5600 class of locomotives, particularly a tendency to derail and axle boxes running hot. Typically these engines went chimney first up the valleys then returned bunker first using their trailing wheels to help guide the loco back down.

The hot axle boxes were found to be caused by the tight tolerances used on GWR locos. Locos used by the South Wales railway companies had a much looser tolerances which allowed them to negotiate the tight curves of the South Wales lines without a problem.

In all 200 56xx class tank engines were built numbered 5600-5699 and 6600-6699. The first 150 were built at the Swindon Railway Works and the final 50 were built at Armstrong Whitworth in Newcastle with some minor differences in the design. The locomotives used standard GWR components such as the large No. 2 Boiler, 4ft 7˝in diameter driving wheels and 3 feet 8 inch trailing wheels

The vast majority of 56xx class locos were based in South Wales which earned them the nickname "Taffy Tanks", however following a fall in the South Wales coal trade in the 1930s some were re-allocated to other parts of the GWR network.

So 56xx class locos could be found all over the network including Bristol, Worcester, Swindon, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Weymouth, Chester and London. Two members of the 56xx class were even based at Westbury in the 1950’s.





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