Class 47/8 Liveries in the Virgin CrossCountry Loco Finale

JPEGJuice | Tuesday, 11 June 2019 |

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When Virgin Trains finalised its order for an entire fleet of Voyager units in December 1998, diesel locomotive enthusiasts knew that CrossCountry’s theoretical elimination of ex-British Rail stock was now not only a defineable reality, but also a timetabled transition. It was feasible that within three years, locomotive haulage could be eliminated from the XC network, and that was big.

At the time, the Porterbrook-owned Class 47/8s leased by Virgin as the core CrossCountry locomotives, divided into a mix of InterCity swallow and Virgin red/charcoal liveries, with the balance still easily favouring IC. The coaching stock was similarly mixed. The shot of 47812 at the top of the post sums up the era.

Although the end of the XC 47/8 was now in sight, enthusiasts and photographers had their attentions fixed on higher priorities. For instance, EWS’s ex-BR freight locos were already being made redundant by the incoming Class 66, and were suffering the axe at a shocking rate. In terms of locomotives, the 47/8s were among the least of railfans’ worries.

Enthusiast indifference to the Virgin 47/8 persisted until as late as 2001, mainly because CrossCountry was still hiring in more chaseable locos, like spot cover from EWS, the Fragonset 47/7s / BR green 47488, and until summer 1999, ‘Deltic’ power for Saturday trips on the Birmingham – Ramsgate route. In the CrossCountry compilation above, you can see a few indications as to why the standard 47/8s were not taking centre stage.

And Virgin had also acquired a duo of original series Class 47/7s in 1998, which proved more interesting for enthusiasts than the 47/8s. 47702, partner to 47711, is pictured above.

Then, in spring 2000, the EWS mail network switched to brand new Class 67 power, making available a large group of 47/7s. When Virgin pounced on a subgroup of these redundant Res locos – including 47722 The Queen Mother as depicted above – the diversion of enthusiasts’ attention, away from the 47/8s, continued further.


But in April 2001, several factors conspired to finally focus attention onto the Virgin 47/8s.

  • The Virgin Voyagers were almost ready to enter revenue-earning service.
  • Loco-haulage was projected to end in less than a year, at the close of March 2002 (this was later revised, and the official end eventually came in mid August ’02, with locos lingering on the network significantly longer for cover purposes).
  • The appearance of ex-works, newly-named 47828 as a Virgin red celebrity guest on the Severn Valley Railway, at its major diesel event.
  • Virgin’s announcement of further namings and heritage repaints for its 47/8s.

47828, seen here back in regular service at Longbridge, was named Severn Valley Railway on 28th April 2001, at the beginning of what would be a spectacular send-off for the diesel which had become synonymous with CrossCountry in both the Virgin era and the British Rail era.

The initial proposal in April 2001 was to repaint 47806 in a version of British Rail two-tone green and name it Traction Magazine, and restore 47853 to its former experimental XP64 guise, whilst naming it RAIL EXPRESS. In fact, the naming proposal had come before the livery idea. David Brown, then editor of Traction, confirmed that Chris Green proposed the naming directly to him, by letter, in early April. But the repaints were only publicised after in-person discussions with Chris Green at the Severn Valley diesel gala on 28th April.

In the coming period of just over a year, no fewer than six Virgin 47/8s were celebritised with special liveries, and most of the unnamed examples were named - some being reunited with names they'd had in the past.


I’ve listed and illustrated the seven liveries from the finale phase in chronological order of appearance.

VIRGIN RED. 47814 Totnes Castle was the first Class 47 to be decked in Virgin’s classic red and charcoal livery, in March 1997. Subsequent progress through the fleet of 25 locos was slow, with only eight more repaints having been completed in the next two years. The repainting of 47/8s into Virgin livery ground to a complete halt after early 1999, and no further examples were given the ‘Kit Kat’ treatment for over a year. There were then eight 47/8s repainted Virgin red in 2000, and seven in 2001. One – 47826 – never received Virgin red at all. Two if you count 47825 Thomas Telford, but the latter loco left CrossCountry's long-term ILRA pool in 1997 in a switch with 47845, so most people probably wouldn’t count it. The loco pictured is 47854 Women’s Royal Voluntary Service.

INTERCITY. 47826 was the only loco to work the full 1997-2002 period of Virgin CrossCountry’s loco-haulage timetable without ever wearing the house colours. It had survived into late September 2001 as the last remaining InterCity liveried 47 in service, after sister loco 47805 emerged from Toton in Virgin red on the 21st of the month. 47826 had, since the aforementioned 2001 SVR diesel gala, been expected to receive an InterCity repaint, and it was actually the first of the heritage repaints to materialise, in early November ’01. So somewhat bizarrely, ‘826’s heritage repaint more or less duplicated its existing livery!

For comparison, above you can see 47826 in summer 2000, before its heritage repaint. The only significant differences were a font-change for the numbers, relocation of the swallow logo, and the (re)fitting of Springburn nameplates. As you can see, even before the repaint, ‘826 was in extraordinarily good nick.

LARGE LOGO. 47847 appeared in large logo BR blue as the second of the heritage repaints. It debuted in traffic on the 06:05 Derby – Plymouth on 16th November 2001. Large logo 47847 ran unnamed until 2002, but was given one Brian Morrison nameplate and one Railway World Magazine nameplate in January of the new year. Because 47847 was one of the last 47/8s to lose its InterCity livery, it only wore Virgin red for a matter of months. It could be seen in InterCity, Virgin and large logo liveries in a period of less than a year.

Above, for interest I’ve added a rare shot of 47847 in Virgin red, taking a diversion through Tame Bridge on the Mayday Bank Holiday of 2001.

TWO-TONE GREEN. Although the loco originally scheduled to go BR Green was 47806, a switch due to “technical issues” saw 47851 selected instead. 47851's heritage livery was introduced to traffic on the last weekday loco-hauled 1S76 Brighton – Edinburgh service (23rd November 2001) before the train’s switch to Voyager power. '851 is seen above carrying its original D1648 number, just three days later on 26th November, with the 09:32 Reading – Manchester. The loco also retained the number 47851 at the other end of the body. Like 47847, 47851 initially ran unnamed, finally gaining its Traction Magazine nameplates less than a week after ‘847 was named, in January 2002.

XP64. 47853 emerged in XP64 blue just days after 47851 was outshopped, revealing itself static at Toton on 29th November 2001. Despite carrying its original D1733 number in addition to 47853, this loco was probably the least convincing of the retro-revivals.

The numbers were located very noticeably out of position, since the digits on the original were intentionally lined up vertically with the centre of the BR symbols. There were no longer any buffer beam lips on the loco by the time of the repaint, and no attempt was made to extend the blue down each side of the buffer beams. Also, because the loco had flush marker lights with no headcode recesses, it was impractical to try and repaint a black ‘headcode’ section onto the central cab front, as had been done with 47851 (and was later repeated on 47840). Some enthusiasts also alleged that the shade of blue was incorrect, although given the unreliability of the colour in old photographs, that was difficult to confirm.

'853 remained nameless for months, eventually getting its RAIL EXPRESS plates in late April 2002 during a North Yorkshire Moors event.

POLICE. 47829 was not part of the heritage programme. It was actually unveiled in this ‘Jam Sandwich’ livery at Birmingham International on 25th March 2002, as part of a promotional campaign to discourage vandalism and trespass. This was a joint initiative between the Police and Virgin, but the loco almost immediately settled back into regular duties on CrossCountry.

RAIL BLUE. 47840 North Star was the last of the XC 47/8s to receive a heritage repaint, and did not in fact make its debut trip in standard Rail blue until the 06:05 Derby – Plymouth of 22nd May 2002. It was used both on the last loco-hauled XC service of the official timetable – 16th August 2002, upon which date the above shot was taken – and on the special finale trip on 19th August, in a pair with large logo 47847. North Star was re-united with its pre-ETH number, 47077, for the special finale trip only.


The CrossCountry 47/8s had been taken for granted for many years, but thanks to Chris Green’s ‘celebritisation’ initiative starting in April 2001, they ended their intensive passenger service lives with kudos. Even the red and charcoal ones were kept looking very smart, and made for attractive photographs in the final period of frontline service.