901 Class  2-4-0  NER  Fletcher  LNER E6 Class


Power Classification
Introduced 1872 – 1882
Designer Fletcher
Company NER
Weight – Loco 40t 6cwt
               Tender 29t 18cwt
Driving Wheels 7ft 0ins
Boiler Pressure 160psi
Cylinders Inside – 17in x 24in
Tractive Effort 17,340lbf
Valve Gear Stephenson (piston valve)

The 901 class was designed for the North Eastern Railway (NER) and was the final express locomotive designed by Fletcher. Fletcher was a Northumbrian born and bred, and had assisted in the construction of the Rocket and had been the Locomotive Superintendent for the NER for almost 30 years from 1854 when the NER was formed until he retired 1883.

The NER was formed from four companies in 1854 –

  • York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway
  • York & North Midland Railway
  • Leeds Northern Railway
  • Malton & Driffield Railway

A large number of the locomotives that were taken into NER stock were 2-4-0 engines and Fletcher was happy to continue building new locomotives of this formation.

The 901 engines were built to answer the need for more powerful locomotive to haul express passenger trains and were probably the best of the NER 2-4-0 engines..

The first two (901 and 902) were built at Gateshead in 1872 and whilst they were being built two batches of ten locomotives each were ordered from Beyer, Peacock & Co and Neilson & Co. The twenty engines were delivered to the NER in 1873. A further 33 were built at Gateshead between 1873 and 1882 in four batches.

All of these engines were built with the same overall specification, but the contractors were allowed a lot of latitude in the choice and design of detail fittings. The most distinctive were probably the Beyer Peacock locomotives with their distinctive angular cab designs with flat side sheets and a relatively flat roof.

The first 39 engines were built with 17in cylinders, but the last three batches built at Gateshead in 1880 to 1882 were built with 17½in cylinders and larger tenders. Although the first engines had lap-jointed boilers, butt-jointed boilers had become standard on the NER by the time these last sixteen locomotives were built. The change was prompted by a series of lap-jointed boiler explosions on the NER, but the exact date of change-over for the 901 class is unknown.

Despite the wide variety of different fittings, all of the ‘901’s were built with Salter spring valves on the dome, and the Fletcher’s later plain chimney design. Naylor safety valves were also fitted on all of the Beyer Peacock and some of the Neilson locomotives. McDonnell (who joined the NER in 1883 after working as the Locomotive Superintendent of the Great southern and Western Railway in Ireland) introduced Ramsbottom safety valves to the class, although full standardisation did not occur straight away.

The first rebuilds started in 1884 following the retirement of Fletcher the previous year, when ten of the earlier locomotives were rebuilt with 17½in cylinders.

The changes McDonnell made to Fletcher designs were not well received by footplate men and McDonnel resigned in the Autumn of 1884. Wilson Worsdell, who had been assistant to McDonnell, then played a leading role in the development of the Fletcher locomotives.

New boilers started to be fitted from 1885. These boilers had slightly larger fireboxes, but they were also slightly smaller and had less tubes.

From 1885, rebuilds also included 18in cylinders. Eventually all but two of the class were converted to the larger cylinders.

During the 1890s, W.Worsdell fitted a new steel boiler design. In the interests of standardisation, Worsdell used the same boiler design on a number of NER classes. The Worsdell boiler design initially had 206 tubes, but this was later reduced to 205 tubes. All of the members of the 901 that survived into LNER ownership had 18in cylinders and 205 tube Worsdell boilers.

The 90′ class were initially allocated to the East Coast main line to haul the express trains for which they were designed. Initial allocations were to Gateshead and York from where they put in excellent service on the Newcastle – Edinburgh and Newcastle York runs hauling 160-170 ton loads. During 1884 the engines based at Gateshead depot were averaging 4,400 miles per month. They were later allocated to Leeds to work express trains from there.

Express passenger trains continued to grow in weight, and after 1885 they were often working in pairs or double-headed with an E5 Tennant. By 1887, they started to be displaced to secondary lines and lesser main line services. These duties included Saltburn to Tebay; the Leeds Northern line between West Hartlepool and Leeds; and station pilot at York, Darlington, and Newcastle.

More substantial modifications were made to the last of the Neilson-built engines. In 1907 one locomotive (933) was not only reboilered but converted into a 4-4-0 but it was scrapped in 1914 as one of the 29 withdrawn between 1913 and 1914. The rest of the class would have been withdrawn if it had not been for the shortage of locomotives during the First World War.

Some of the 901 class were relocated on to the coastal line between Scarborough and Bridlington but the majority were stationed at Darlington. From here they worked passenger services over the Stainmore route to Kirkby Stephen, Penrith and Tebay. Darlington also kept them on as pilots.

A further 19 were withdrawn before Grouping in 1923. This left ten to survive into LNER ownership, and they were allocated to-

Darlington 4
Barnard Castle 3
Kirkby Stephen 2
York 1

Most of these spent their final years working on the easier services over Stainmore summit. The York locomotive (910) was used on slow trains to Darlington and Scarborough. The LNER continued the withdrawal process with the last member (367) being withdrawn in July 1925.

Accidents and Incidents

  • On 25 March 1877, locomotive 901 was hauling an express passenger train from Edinburgh to Kings Cross which was derailed at Morpeth, Northumberland due to excessive speed on a curve. The excessive speed in question was 25mph and faulty track was to blame although the Railway Inspectorate said – “It would obviously be better if a deviation line could be constructed, to avoid the use of so sharp a curve on a main line”. Five people were killed and seventeen were injured.
  • On 4 October 1894, locomotive 904 was one of two locomotives hauling a sleeping car train Edinburgh to Kings Cross which overran signals and ran into the back of a freight train travelling from Darlington to York. The freight was moving slowly before setting back into a siding to allow the express train to pass. The accident happened in thick fog. The driver of the leading engine on the express died in hospital as a result of injuries he received. The driver of the second train had one arm damaged so badly that it had to be amputated. The firemen on both locomotives both sustained injuries of a lesser nature.


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