BR Class 56

Resource Type: Image | Posted on 5th December 2011 by Liam Physick

Here we see a locomotive from British Rail’s Class 56, a class of diesel-electric locomotives designed for pulling heavy goods trains. Their engines were nominally rated at 3520 horsepower, but for rail use they were set at 3250. They marked a significant development in diesel design, with signficantly uprated turbochargers; gear-driven camshafts rather than a timing chain; uprated cylinder heads, fuel pumps and injectors; self-exciting alternators rather than direct current (DC) generators to generate traction current and auxiliary supply, thus making the power unit more robust and reducing the risk of flash-overs and other earth faults; and air train brakes only (rather than vacuum brakes or a dual braking system), the first such diesel locomotives on BR. They were ordered by BR in response to the rise of coal traffic to and from power stations. The contract was givem to Brush Traction (the builder of Class 47): with time short, Brush used a modified Class 47 bodyshell and a Ruston-Paxman power unit. Because of capacity problems at its Loughborough base, Brush contracted the first 30 locomotives in the Class, Nos. 56001-56030, to Electroputere, a company based at Craiova, Romania. The first locomotove, No. 56001, was handed over to BR at Zebrugge on 4th August 1976, and the first to enter service, though not the first to land in Britain, was No. 56006. The 30 Romanian-built locomotives proved unreliable due to poor construction, often having to undergo modifications many months after delivery, so BR decided that the rest would be built in Britain: 85, Nos, 56031-56115 were constructed at BREL Doncaster Works, and the last 20, Nos, 56116-56125 at Crewe (because Doncaster was also required to built the locomotives of Class 58, another class of diesel-electric goods locomotives) between January 1983 and December 1984 - the British-built examples proved to be much more reliable than their Romanian counterparts, which were withdrawn from service early. They were nicknamed “Gridirons” or “Grids” because of the grid-like horn cover on the cab ends fitted onto No. 56056 and all subsequent engines in the Class. They replaced the ageing Class 20s and Class 47s on merry-go-round coal trains on the Eastern and London Midland Regions, and also hauled steel, and iron ore trains on the Western Region: however, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Class 60 locomotives replaced them on the heavier steel work. Following privatisation, along with most of BR’s goods vehicles, the Class 56 locomotives were acquired by English, Welsh and Scottish Railway (now DB Schenker Rail [UK]), which overhauled them. They gave sturdy service on both BR and EWS, and were less prone to wheelslip than Class 58, but they required a high degree of maintenance, and in the late 1990s began to be replaced by the more efficient Class 66, introduced in 1998: by 2003, just 25 Class 56s were still in service, and by the end of March 2004, just two: Nos. 56078 and 56115. On 31st March, these two locomotives pulled EWS’s last-ever Class 56-hauled train, from Bristol to York and back: two days later, they were formally withdrawn. EWS’s withdrawn locomotives were stored in various locations across the country. Subsequently, EWS’s subsidy Axiom Rail won a contract to supply 30 locomotives to construct the TGV-Est, a high-speed line in France opened in 2007. The best-conditioned Class 56 locomotives were sent to France via the Channel Tunnel beginning in September 2004, and worked alongside Class 58 locomotives: in late 2006 and early 2007, when the contract was finished, all returned to Britain and were once more placed in storage. Many of EWS’s Class 56s were put up for sale, and, with little initial interest from other freight operators, most of those were sold either to scrap dealers or to preservationists - three preserved locomotives, Nos. 56045 (now 56301),  56124 (now 56302) and 56125 (now 56303), were subsequently bought by Fastline (a railway freight operator owned by Jarvis), in order to pull an intermodal train between Doncaster and the Isle of Grain. Overhauled at Bush Traction, they returned to the main line in May 2006, but in 2009, Fastline went out of business due to the recession, and 56301 and 56302 were in storage until they were sold to preservationists in 2011. 5603 was returned to RVEL in Derby: generally, it was out of use, but twice in late 2009 it was twice hired by Colas Rail to haul the steel train between Boston and Washwood Heath and return empties. In 2008, Nos. 56057 (now 56311) and 56003 (now 56312) were bought from preservationists by Hanson Traction Ltd., and loaned to Colas for steel trains between Immingham and the West Midlands, supplementing the Class 47/7 locomotives owned by Colas: since late 2010, these two locomotives and 56303 came into the possession of BARS after that company bought Hanson. Hanson also purchased 56114 and 56128, but 56114 (to be renumbered 56314) has donated its power unit to to 56311, and 56128 (which was to be renumbered 56313) is stored at Wansford, Hanson’s former base, now on the Nene Valley Railway. In addition to those mentioned above, eight Class 56s have been preserved, but No. 56031, seen here, is not one of them, and remains in storage at Crewe DMD

BR Class 56

Tagged under: rocket 150, british rail, diesel locomotives, grand cavalcade, heritage railways, privatisation, diesel-electric locomotives, colas rail, english welsh and scottish railway, nene valley railway

Categorised under: Landmarks, Landscapes & Locomotives

Share this page:


Remember my personal information?

Notify me of follow-up comments?