Fleet Info (updated 19/03/13)
For a complete and current fleet list, click here. A brand new list was created in early 2013, this was last updated on Friday 10th May 2013.
For technical information on the class, click here.
To view a timeline of our former loco, 56040, click here.
The story begins in 1973, when British Rail decided that it needed a few fleet of dedicated freight locos for merry-go-round coal workings to and from Britains many coal fired power stations. Brush Traction of Loughborough succesfully tendered for the contract to build 135 new locos, but due to space constraints at the company’s Loughborough works, the work was sub-contracted to Electroputere in Romania. Parts for the locos were shipped out to Electroputere and the first Class 56s were handed over to British Rail on 4th August 1976 at Zebrugge, Holland. The first to enter revenue earning service on the national network was 56006 on 27th February 1977, following work to rectify several manafacturing faults.
56040 at Cardiff Canton in 1980.
In total, just 30 of the class were built in Romania. The first examples shipped from Electroputere suffered from poor reliability and spent lengthy periods out of service. As a result, BR brought the whole project ‘in house’, taking over production of the class from 56031 onwards at British Rail Engineering Ltd’s Doncaster Workshops (85 locos up to 56115) and Crewe Works (the final 20 locos up to 56135).
Class 56s replaced pairs of Class 20s and Class 47s on coal trains to become regulars on the MGR coal jobs aswell as working some of the heavy steel trains from South Wales and the North East of England. Delivery of Brush’s new Class 60 loco displaced them from the steel work and made them available for other general freight work including Speedlink trains, allowing withdrawal of other, older classes on the network.
The Class 56 fleet was dealt a massive blow in 1998 with the introduction of new General Motors Class 66 locomotives, with a total of over half of the original fleet of 135 being stood down and stored at various locations around the country. This figure was later reduced by the reinstatement of locos to cover for older classes being withdrawn. Improving productivity of the new locos coupled with traffic losses to other freight companies saw the fleet scaled down again from its total of around 40 during 2002 to just 25 active examples in late 2003.
2003 also saw the appointment of a new Chief Executive at EWS which signalled a change in direction for Britains biggest railfreight company. A desire to cut costs even further along with the need to improve the efficiency of the Class 60, 66 and 67 fleets saw the costly Class 56 fleet reduced further until just two examples were left in traffic by the last week of March 2004. 56078 and 56115 worked the final Class 56 hauled charter from Bristol to York and back on March 31st, and were removed from the active fleet just days later.
56301 passes Water Orton on a Fastline container service in March 2008. Oli Smith.
Following a long period of inactivity at locations such as Immingham, Toton and Healey Mills, the fortunes for some members of the class turned after a contract to supply 30 locomotives for use in the construction of the TGV-EST high speed line in France was secured. The first locomotive departed through the Channel Tunnel in September 2004 with successive convoys taking place until the full fleet was in place, staying in France until the contract ended in late 2006. A return to the UK saw the locos once again returned to the storage lines, alongside their less fortunate classmates that didn’t get the chance of a return to active service, to await further work.
In 2006, things once again looked up for the ‘Grids’. Freight operator Jarvis Fastline returned 56045, 56124 and 56125 to the mainline in the guise of 56301, 56302 and 56303 respectively following an overhaul, and spot hire firm Hanson Traction did the same in 2007, putting 56057 and 56003 back on the mainline running as 56311 and 56312. In 2009 Jarvis withdrew their three engines from the mainline due to a downturn in traffic. 56301 and 56302 were stored in Roberts Road depot in Doncaster until 2010 when they were moved for further storage in Hitchin, while 56303 was returned to RVEL at Derby. In early 2011, we were presented an opportunity that wouldn’t repeat itself. This saw both the ex Jarvis machines saved for preservation, 301 by us and 302 by Edward Stevenson. 56303, 56311 and 56312 are now owned by BARS as a result of the purchase of Hanson Traction at the back end of 2010.
In 2012, signs of a real class 56 renaissance started to appear on the horizon. In addition to DCR’s five locomotives, both Colas Railfreight and Edward Stevenson/Mark Winter purchased a large handful from European Metals Recycling (EMR) at Kingsbury and from DB Schenker’s storage pool at Crewe DMD. From this batch, 56094 was the first to be reactivated and made it’s mainline debut with Colas in June 2012. 56087 was the second to appear with the company and entered traffic in October 2012. This was then followed by 56105 in March 2013 which leaves 56113, 56078 & 56051 still to be reactivated from this batch. Of the locomotives purchased by Edward Stevenson, so far only 56302 has returned to mainline use, it was hired to Colas Railfreight in late 2012 and painted into their striking orange, yellow & black colour scheme. However, with plenty of interest from Colas and DCR alike, we should see many more members of the class reactivated in the coming year or two.
The Class 56 Group’s own 56301 was hired to Devon & Cornwall Railways in December 2012 and saw use largely on DCR’s Calvert to Didcot flyash service and on their scrap trains between Derby Chaddesden Sidings and Stockton. This hire period ended in March 2013 but signs of further work elsewhere for the loco remain optimistic. 56301 carries the now defunct Fastline Freight colours, albeit minus any branding.
Currently, 3 machines from the class of 135 are preserved. 56097 at Ruddington, 56006 at Barrow Hill and 56301.