A Brief History of the Class 56 Group – 1992 to the Present Day
In the early 1990s, there were no preservation groups dedicated to Class 56s and so there was the real danger that none of these fine locomotives would be saved for preservation.
So on 2nd May 1992, convening in the Strode Arms pub in Cranmore during a break in Pathfinder Tour’s “Aggregator” railtour (which was hauled by 56056 and 56062), founding members Alan Hawkins and Roger Elliott set about rectifying this situation. The result was the formation of the Class 56 Group in August 1992, with the aim of catering for people who are interested in the Class 56 locomotives and wanted to see one or more of these fine locomotives preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Over the years the group’s membership has grown steadily from 106 in October 1993, breaking through the 200 barrier in early 2004, to reach a peak of 240 members during 2005, during the height of the Class’s popularity before and after their full withdrawal from service by EWS in March 2004.
To help fulfill the Class 56 Group’s main aim of preserving a Class 56 for future generations to enjoy, fund raising started almost immediately, and in November 2005 all the hard work involved in fund raising came to fruition, when the group saved its first locomotive for preservation, namely 56040 “Oystermouth”. Whilst it had taken the group a long time to achieve this aim, when 56040 “Oystermouth” arrived at its new home at Dereham on the Mid Norfolk Railway on Tuesday 27th June 2006, it was the fitting culmination to nearly 14 years of hard work.
For some groups that would have been enough, but in February 2011 the Class 56 Group went one stage further and saved 56301 (the former 56045), which was (and still is) certified for use on the national mainline network. Unfortunately, the purchase of 56301 came with a “bittersweet pill to swallow”, in that to be able to afford to purchase 56301, the group would have to sacrifice 56040 to the scrap man!!
While no preservation group would normally sacrifice its first preserved locomotive, the group’s committee had to be pragmatic and show real leadership, by thinking with its collective mind, rather than its collective heart. While a lot of work had been done on 56040, a lot more expensive and time consuming work was required to fully restore 56040 back to pristine condition. 56301 on the other hand, had been fully overhauled at Brush Traction at Loughborough a few years beforehand, and it was also certified for use on the national mainline network, so it could earn the group valuable money, to help keep it in tip top condition for years to come. As decisions go, it was a “no-brainer“ in the end.
The loss of 56040 was further tempered, when in November 2012 the group was able to save the legendary 56006, whose purchase was part funded by some of the money from the hire fees earned by 56301, and part from a loan provided to the group by one of its long serving members. Initially 56006 was based at Barrow Hill, but on 25th July 2014 it was moved to UK Rail Leasing’s Leicester Depot, where restoration and repairs could be carried out more effectively. Today 56006 is still based on the East Lancashire Railway, where the locomotive is worked on by a small but dedicated team of volunteers who try to keep 56006 in good health and available for use by the ELR for diesel Galas or booked diesel turns of which 56006 normally operates 3 or 4 per year. The 56 has been used for one or two Driver Experience courses and is one of the most requested locos for there experiences.
SPECIAL NOTE – Leicester Depot is a working depot, and is out of bounds to visiting railway enthusiasts, unless as part of a special visit, such as those arranged occasionally by the Class 56 Group
To keep up to date with everything happening in the Class 56 Group and the world of Class 56s in general, as well as the news and information offered by this informative website, the Class 56 Group also produces a three times a year magazine called “GRIDIRON”, which is only available to members. Members of the Group are encouraged to take an active role in the Group, by submitting material and photos for use on this website and in “GRIDIRON”, by attend meetings and events organised by the Group, and by spreading details of the Group, so that others with a similar interest in the Class 56s can join us.
Are you interested in joining? To find out more details on membership of the Class 56 Group, please click on the link to the Sign-Up. There, you will be able to download a copy of the group’s membership form.
Alternatively, send a stamped A5 / C5 self-addressed envelope to the membership secretary’s address which is shown on the Membership page, and our esteemed membership secretary will send you a membership pack, containing a complimentary copy of “GRIDIRON”.