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The railways have used Thunderbird locos for many years. These are locomotives that are kept on standby to rescue failed trains.

Following introduction of the Mk4 coaching stock on the East Coast Main Line in the early 1990s, British Rail identified the need for a dedicated pool of locomotives equiped with electric train supply to rescue trains that had failed.

Although a spare freight locomotive could be used to move a stranded train, an electric train supply was necessary to operate the air-conditioning and power doors.

Four Class 47 locomotives were used, stationed at strategic locations along the Anglo-Scottish route. York Intercity Control nicknamed them 'International Rescue' and coded the loco's Thunderbird 1, 2, 3 and 4 after the rescue craft in the classic TV series.

The term gained wider recognition after one of the loco's, 47520, was officially named "Thunderbird" by Gerry Anderson (creator of the TV series) at London King's Cross in December 1993.

Class 47s continued to be used on the ECML after privatisation, with GNER hiring locos from EWS?, until May 2003 when Class 67 locomotives became available.

Present Day

Currently two operators in Scotland use Thunderbirds: East Coast and Virgin West Coast.

EC hires four class 67 locos from DB Schenker, which are located at London King's Cross, Doncaster, Newcastle Central and Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Thunderbird usually sits at either Edinburgh Waverley or Edinburgh Craigentinny. Occasionally the 67 is used for pursuits other than rescuing their trains, such as driver route learning and to allow them to divert their electric trains over non-electrified routes.

67009 with a failed HST at Edinburgh Waverley after arriving from Inverness. Photo by Ewan Tait

Virgin West Coast lease sixteen Class 57 locomotives. The Scottish Thunderbird stables at Carlisle during the day and returns to Polmadie overnight. The Class 57s have been fitted with Dellner couplings that allow them to couple directly to the Class 390s.

The Virgin class 57 fleet all carry names of characters from Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds TV show.

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