Tug Life - The History Of The Class 60 — Accurascale Skip to content
Tug Life - The History Of The Class 60

Tug Life - The History Of The Class 60

The 1980s saw a requirement for more heavy freight locomotives to deal with a growth in the heavy haul sector. British Rail’s incumbent fleet of Type 5 locomotives (i.e. those with a rated power of over 3000 hp) consisted of Class 56 and Class 58 - 185 locomotives in total, but more were needed. British Rail drew up a Specification of requirements, and an Invitation to Tender was placed with manufacturers in 1987. Bids were received from Metropolitan-Cammell, GEC and Brush Electrical Machines, Traction Division. After an extended tender evaluation period, the 100 locomotive order was given to Brush, who offered the most specification compliant and cost-effective bid. Jones Garrard Consultants were employed by BR to style the locomotive’s appearance, and they were responsible for the most unorthodox cab roof with the flat corner platforms, this giving it a passing resemblance to HGV’s of the day.

A full-size mock-up was made to gather opinion of two different styles of cab, one of a design that wouldn’t look out of place on a French electric locomotive, and the one that we are familiar with today. The locomotive was to be at the cutting edge of technology and harnessed a 145 litre, 8-cylinder, 3,100 horsepower Mirrlees Blackstone Four Stroke Diesel engine coupled to a Brush alternator providing power to the two, three axle bogies. With one DC traction motor per axle, each was ‘SepEx’ controlled. The ‘Separately Excited’ traction motor control scheme offered an improvement over the basic type of wheel slip “creep control” employed by General Motors, and it gave an advanced form of traction control which operated from standstill which allowed full use of the 500 kN tractive effort of the locomotive in all weathers to maximise the power at the rail.

The Class 60’s were constructed at the Brush Falcon Works in Loughborough between 1989 and 1991. Although all the design work was conducted by Brush, the bodyshell fabrication was subcontracted Procor of Wakefield to a monocoque load bearing design which alleviated the need for a deep section underframe type chassis like the imported Class 59s. These bodyshells were delivered to Brush by road fully painted and were set on stands in the Erecting Shop where they were met by the other major components such as the Power Unit from Mirrlees in Stockport, Cooler Group from Serck, and the bogies which were built at in a separate facility within Brush Works. 98 locomotives were allocated names initially, the naming policy was either ‘mountains and peaks’ or ‘notable Britons’. 96 of the locomotives conformed to this, but 2 were different. 60001 ‘Steadfast’ was chosen from a BR Staff competition to convey the power and reliability expected from the class (perhaps also to act as a name for the type), and 60098 was given the Name ‘Charles Francis Brush’ after the founder of the Company to commemorate it being Brush Works number 1000.

The first locomotive was completed for the formal handing over ceremony on the 30th June 1989 just 13 months after the contract was awarded. Representatives from British Railways Board, Trainload Freight, Brush and various invited guests descended on Loughborough for the naming before 60001 ‘Steadfast’ was delivered to Toton TMD under its own power. It was then moved on to the Railway Technical Centre in Derby for instrumentation fitment, testing and analysis. As could have been foreseen, there were various teething issues with the early build locomotives. As modifications and solutions were still being devised, construction continued apace at Loughborough, leading to a backlog of brand-new locomotives awaiting acceptance to traffic. Commissioning was conducted at Old Dalby and Mickleover Test Tracks, and on the Mainline. With the onerous high standards required by a nationalised operation such as BR, acceptance was not a quick process. With the modifications required, the first loco did not get formally accepted into traffic until September 1990.

This difficult birth over a contracted timescale sadly led to the railway press reporting negatively about class 60 in these early days. Once the locomotives began to operate in traffic, it was clear that the haulage capacity of the Class 60 was beyond expectations, and it then set a new standard for heavy freight haulage capacity across the Country. Part of the justification for the new Class 60 fleet was that it would replace 240 older obsolete types, and this did indeed come to pass. 

In performance terms, the Class 60 was actually very successful. The fuel consumption of 186 gm/kwhr was (and still is) the lowest of any BR diesel engine, as is the oil consumption. The external and Cab noise levels were significantly lower than any other classes on BR at the time, and the ride index performance was superior to all other heavy freight locos. Many technical innovations had been incorporated which made class 60 a very useful locomotive for British Rail’s Trainload Freight as it was capable of moving the heaviest trains that BR could operate. Once accepted, the 100 class members settled down and led a relatively trouble-free working life. The locomotives were allocated between 4 sectors of the Trainload Freight business, Construction, Coal, Petroleum and Metals, as such they could be seen the length and breadth of the UK. Traffic varied by sector, the Construction machines could be seen on everything from Aggregates traffic to Cement, Metals were used in the conveyance of everything from ores to finished products. Petroleum sector allocated machines could be seen on the heaviest Class A and Class B petroleum and oil trains whilst Coal sector covered the widespread requirements of power station and domestic coal. Of course, these were not hard and fast allocations, locomotives would be utilized where required and could also be seen hauling other types of traffic from Automotive to Timber, China Clay and even on Departmental engineering trains.

In 1994 the trainload freight business was broken up into three shadow franchises, Loadhaul, Mainline and Transrail. Unlike the previous ‘sector’ era which was broken down by traffic type, these were separated regionally. Loadhaul covered the Northeast and Yorkshire, Transrail from Scotland to Cornwall down the West of the country, and Main Line Freight which covered the South and Midlands. All three operators received members of Class 60 and they would go on to paint their locomotives in house colours (except for Transrail as their base colour retained the original triple grey albeit with added embellishments). The Loadhaul allocated machines received a distinct modification to the others and were fitted with an additional fuel tank of 200 gallons, this was sited between the compressors underneath the locomotive. The additional fuel tank was required after a couple of high-profile incidents on a particular long distance Oil train where the locomotive was unable to complete its diagram due to running out of fuel! The additional tank displaced an air tank which was re-sited in the radiator room and is visible through the large side grille.

Unfortunately, the shadow franchise’s colourful liveries only lasted 2 years, as the three Companies were purchased in 1995 by ‘North South Railways’, a company parented by Wisconsin Central in the USA. This name however did not stay for long, and EW&S was unveiled to the press in 1996. Now around 6 years old, all 100 locomotives passed to the new freight operator. The fleet was ageing gradually and coming up for BR style maintenance & overhaul requirement when some locomotives began to suffer unusual engine failures on some high hours engines. As a result of analysis, EWS began to sideline locomotives coming up for costly high hours/high mileage maintenance Exams. As a result of this, EWS took the decision to place numerous locomotives in store based on their accumulated engine hours. Around the same time there was an instruction to use the leased class 66’s to their full potential and place in to store as many unrequired locomotives as possible.

DB Schenker arrived on the scene in 2008, taking over from EWS and as such, inheriting the dwindling class 60 fleet. Their assessment of the class held them in much higher regard, but overhaul plans that were drawn up were unfortunately stalled by the recession. This, coupled with the prior EWS policy, led to a low point in class 60’s history in 2009 when just six of the one hundred locomotives were available for traffic.

Luckily though this was not the end for Class 60, with the overhaul plans were dusted off in 2011 and DB Schenker announcing a program to not just overhaul but upgrade seven class 60’s with a view that further members would be upgraded at a later date if successful. This was the launch of the ‘Super 60’ program

The Super 60 was essentially a heavy works overhaul with a series of upgrades processed at the same time. It is notable that no class 60’s had received this level of works visit at 20 years old when comparable Type 5 locomotives would have been through the works several times! Two locomotives were trialled first, 60011 received an electrical overhaul/upgrade and 60099 had a mechanical overhaul/upgrade. The results of this gave DBS the confidence to press on with the first Super 60 being 60007, and to date over 20 locomotives have been through the program for DBS / DB Cargo, and they have continued to provide power for the trains for which they were built.

During 2010 DBS had offered various locomotives for sale without success. However, a later deal between DB Schenker and Colas Rail in 2014 led to the acquisition of 10 locomotives which were to be put through the ‘Super 60’ programme. 60087 became the first Colas 60 to be released to traffic in May 2014. The Colas 10 were short-lived as an additional order for General Electric class 70s led to the class 60’s being sold to GB Railfreight in 2018. Several other Class 60’s had also been offered for sale by DBS, some failed to attract reserve bids, and some were sold to metal recyclers which sadly led to 60006 being the first member of the class to be scrapped. Fortunately, some of those sold for scrap have since been ‘preserved’, but yet to be made serviceable. Further sales in 2019 led to DCR buying four locomotives and having them overhauled by DB Cargo. These entered service in late 2019. The success of these four locomotives led DCR to buy a further 15 locomotives in 2022 to cover future fleet expansion requirements.

This brings the class 60 story full circle as with the closure of Wabtec’s Brush works in Loughborough in 2021, UKRL have subsequently taken Lease of part of the Falcon Works site to use as an overhaul facility for Class 60s amongst other types. It will be interesting to see what the future brings for the last mainline diesel locomotives built in Britain for British Rail, and how our model will reflect the story in the years to come.

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