81002 is the oldest surviving British AC electric locomotive. It had two previous preservation owners before reaching the custody of the Group in 1997 and is virtually complete. 81002 is currently undergoing structural, cosmetic and electrical restoration at Barrow Hill. It is now complete electrically and mechanically, and work to restore it to working order is nearing completion.
The order for the first 25 locomotives for the West Coast Main Line electrification was given to the British Thomson-Houston division of AEI (Associated Electrical Industries) in 1955, who subcontracted the mechanical construction to the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, of Smethwick, Birmingham. As originally planned AEI was to deliver 20 Type A (mixed traffic) and 5 Type B (heavy freight) units, but this was later amended to 23 Type A and just 2 Type B. The original number series was E3001-E3023 (A), E3301-E3302 (B), though within 2 months of delivery, E3301 was renumbered E3096, while E3302 was delivered new already renumbered as E3097.
The first of the class, and the first new AC electric to be delivered was E3001 in November 1959, allocated to Longsight (9A), Manchester. Delivery of the rest of the class was protracted with the last loco, E3097, not entering traffic until February 1964. The class was reallocated to the general code of "AC Lines" following the official inauguration of electric services. This "allocation" covered the depots at Longsight, Crewe and Allerton (Liverpool), with Crewe as the main depot. When the code was abolished, the class came under the direct jurisdiction of Crewe. Three Class 81s were withdrawn before the TOPS numbering system was implemented in 1972. E3009 was written off in the Hixon level crossing accident on 6th January 1968, when a lorry carrying a heavy transformer became grounded across the running lines. E3002 and E3019 were withdrawn after suffering severe fire damage, believed to be caused by placing the master control lever in reverse while the locomotive was still moving forward. This caused the traction motors to regenerate and overheat, and the resultant fire spread to the rest of the locomotive. Following these and similar incidents on other early locomotives, the master controllers were modified with an additional safety switch to prevent any recurrence.
In 1975 the class was transferred to the new depot at Glasgow Shields Road to coincide with the opening of the northern section of the WCML electrification. They remained allocated here until withdrawal in the late 1980s. The class, along with the other types, showed a tendency to catch fire in their final years, and this hastened the withdrawal of many of their number. In 1989, following the withdrawal of the last Class 83s from Euston empty coaching stock (ecs) duties, several Class 81s were put to use in their place. 81002 and 81004 were used at first, but were replaced in 1990 by 81012 and 81017. These last two were withdrawn themselves in July 1991, displaced by Class 85s, and were moved to Crewe to join the rest of the class, awaiting disposal. Of the twenty remaining locomotives, nineteen were sold to Coopers Metals for scrap by the end of the year, while one, 81002 was purchased by Peter Holt for preservation.
The third of its class, and the third AC electric locomotive to be delivered, E3003 entered service at Longsight on 27th February 1960. Painted in original "electric blue" livery and fitted with two pantographs, it was initally used for testing and training prior to the launch of the full electric service in September of that year. Reallocated to Crewe in 1963, at first under the "ACLines" code and later the 5H and CE codes, it was to remain there until 1975 when it was transferred with the rest of the class to Glasgow Shields Road.
Repainted into Rail Blue, and renumbered 81002 in 1974, the loco was to spend the rest of its main-line career hauling passenger and freight on the WCML. It retained its Rail Blue livery, though with the addition of Shields Road trademark "leaping salmon" logo until withdrawal. A classic mixed-traffic loco until the end, 81002 was given a further lease of life in 1988 when it was transferred south to Willesden depot and restricted to 40 mph for London Euston empty carriage (ECS) duties, which it performed until October 1990 when it was replaced by classmate 81017.
After moving back to Crewe for disposal by BR, 81002 was sold to Peter Holt for preservation. Taken back into Crewe Electric Depot, it was returned to near-original "Electric Blue" livery, complete with cast aluminium numbers and crests. E3003 toured various exhibitions and open days over the following months, before being sold to Pete Waterman in 1993 to join his collection of classes 82, 83 and 85. E3003 continued to visit railway events, including the East Lancs Railway Diesel Weekend in October 1993 when it was hauled dead, at one point by a Class 50 / 52 combination.
E3003 was moved to store at Crewe South Carriage Shed in the mid 1990s, from where it was purchased in 1997 by the AC Loco Group.
Moved from Crewe to Barrow Hill on 5th December 1998, work began immediately to smarten up the loco's appearance.
The 'electric blue' paintwork, which had faded almost to white, was buffed up to something like its original shade during the first week, and flaked-off patches touched up. Further smartening was carried out in early 1999 with the complete repaint of one cab end which had suffered the worst of the weather at Crewe, and the application of small yellow warning panels to both cabs.
Priority work on other locos meant that the 81 took a back seat for the next few months, however its batteries were reconnected and charged in September 2001, and the paintwork has been kept clean.
The 81 suffered from a lot of corrosion around the cabs and throughout 2005 and 2006 rectification work was undertaken. While the loco still has some finishing touches to complete, the work is more or less complete.
Early 2006 saw 81002's electrical equipment overhauled, leading to a major milestone in April that year, when the loco's traction motors were powered up and spun, albeit slowly, via the transformer. The loco is now technically in a condition where raising the pantograph would be possible, however a lack of 25kV overhead wires is one of the obstacles at present!
During the first half of 2011 81002 was repainted into Rail Blue livery.