Template:Infobox Locomotive The British Rail Class 56 is a type of diesel locomotive designed for heavy freight work. It is a Type 5 locomotive, with a Ruston-Paxman power unit developing 3,250 bhp (2,423 kW), and has a Co-Co wheel arrangement. The fleet was introduced between 1976 and 1983.

The first thirty locomotives (Nos.56001-56030) were built by Electroputere in Romania, but these suffered from poor construction standards and many were withdrawn from service early[citation needed]. The remaining 105 locomotives were built by BREL at Doncaster Works (nos. 56031 to 56115) and Crewe Works (Nos.56116 to 56135). Enthusiasts nicknamed them "Gridirons" (or "Grids" for short), due to the grid-like horn cover on the locomotive's cab ends fitted to nos. 56 056 on.

Technical details Edit

Engine Edit

When introduced, Class 56s were arguably the first of the "second generation" of UK diesel locomotives.

The engine is a direct descendent of English Electric CSVT types, its closest relative being the 16CSVT used in the Class 50. Technical advances included significantly uprated turbochargers, gear driven camshafts in place of the timing chain used on Class 50s, and uprated cylinder heads, fuel pumps and injectors. The engine was nominally rated at Template:Convert/hp, but was set at Template:Convert/hp for rail use.

Electrical equipment Edit

A key difference between Class 56s and the earlier designs of the 1950s and 1960s is the use of self-exciting alternators rather than direct current (DC) generators for the generation of traction current and auxiliary supply. This produces a far more robust power unit, and greatly reduces the risk of flash-overs and other earth faults. Traction supply was rectified since the type employs DC traction motors. Many auxiliary machines (such as compressors and traction motor blowers) used the unrectified 3-phase AC output of the auxiliary alternator, and therefore run at a speed proportional to engine r.p.m.

Brakes Edit

Class 56s were the first British Rail diesel type to be built with air train brakes only, using the Davies and Metcalfe E70 system. Earlier designs had variously been fitted with vacuum train brakes, or a dual braking system.


A total of 135 locomotives was built, numbered as follows:

  • 56001 to 56030, built by Electroputere, Romania
  • 56031 to 56115, built by BREL, Doncaster
  • 56116 to 56135, built by BREL, Crewe

The Class 56 Group has published a list of locomotives still in existence at 29 March 2011. This includes locomotives stored, in mainline use and preserved.[1]

Operation Edit

In service the Class 56 proved to be a strong and capable locomotive, and less prone to wheelslip than the Class 58. However, maintenance needs were high by modern standards, and notwithstanding significant investment by Trans-Rail and Load-Haul in their Class 56 fleets in the 1990s, the class could not compete with the more modern Class 66 in terms of availability or maintenance costs. As Class 66 imports gathered pace the writing was on the wall for EWS operated Class 56s, which looked increasingly like locomotives from another era.

Class 56s today Edit

File:Oystermouth 56040 at Barrow Hill - - 2314597.jpg
File:56115 'Barry Needham' at Cheltenham Spa.JPG
File:56303 Kingsthorpe Fresh Air Express.jpg

Most examples were withdrawn by EWS on 31 March 2004. Some were subsequently reinstated for use on construction trains connected with the LGV Est in France, although all such locomotives have now returned to the UK. The rest work for Fastline or other private operators.

In 2006, two locomotives (56045 and 56124) were overhauled at Brush Traction and renumbered as 56301 and 56302 for Fastline, the British freight company launched by Jarvis. 56125 was returned to service after a less thorough overhaul by FMRail and numbered 56303. They were used on intermodal traffic. The small fleet never achieved particularly impressive availability, and there were significant problems with bogies, turbochargers, and low power. Fastline have now dispensed with Class 56 operation due to the loss of intermodal traffic and operate Class 66s on their coal traffic. 56301 and 56302 are stored while 56303 has been returned to RVEL (successor to FMRail) and sat out of use at Derby, but in September 2009 it was repainted into Great Western Railway green livery, to mark the 175th anniversary of The Great Western Railway in 2010. The loco was expected to move to the Severn Valley Railway in October 2009 to participate in their 2009 diesel gala, before being used as part of the GWR 175 celebrations next year, but its involvement was subsequently shelved. The loco is however in use with the freight spot hire market, having twice been hired from RVEL to Colas Rail in late 2009 to work the Boston to Washwood Heath steel train and return empties. 56303 is currently (2011) part of the BARS fleet, based at Washwood Heath.

Formerly preserved 56057 (renumbered 56311) and 56003 (renumbered 56312) are now operated by British American Railway Services (formerly Hanson Traction), these were frequently hired to Colas Rail to work their intermodal services between Dollands Moor and Hams Hall, steel diagrams between Boston and Washwood Heath and their Dagenham to Dollands Moor "Transfesa" workings in London, supplementing Colas Rail's own class 47/7 fleet. Now British American Railway Services use 56311 and 56312, along with 56303 on their own freights flows including scrap metal flows and for stock moves. During 2011, 56312 was repainted into the same grey livery as 311, but with advertising for the National Railway Museum's forthcoming 'Railfest 2012' event displayed on the bodyside. 56128 (which was to become 56313) is also owned by British American Railway Services but it's use on the mainline is now uncertain, as it remains stored at Wansford (Nene Valley Railway; BARS' former base which they no longer use, instead favouring the former Alstom facility at Washwood Heath). 56114 was stripped of usable parts and dispatched for scrapping during March 2012 and was cut up immideately after arrival at EMR Kingsbury. BARS has recently taken delivery of 56091, still in Fertis livery, which it is currently being returned to service with 56103 expected to be collected from Crewe DMD to follow 56091 in the overhaul plan.


In September 2011, freight operator DB Schenker (formerly EWS) announced that all 33 stored class 56s in its fleet were up for sale[2] with most expected to be sold for scrap.

For re-use

UK-based locomotive provider Europhoenix[3] has bought three of the DB Schenker locomotives (56018, 56115, 56117) for export to Hungarian freight operator Floyd.[4] They finally bought 56101 (from perservation), 56115 and 56117. With 56101 moving to Europheonix, 56018 has been sold to preservationist Ed Stevenson. 56101 arrived to Hungary on 19 June 2012. The deal is for six locomotives, so Europhoenix will be seeking three more class 56s from other sources.[5]

For scrap

In late 2011, DB Schenker sold 27 Class 56s for scrap to European Metal Recycling. These are 56006, 031, 032, 037, 038, 046, 049, 051, 058, 060, 065, 069, 073, 074, 077, 078, 081, 087, 090, 094, 096, 104, 105, 106, 112, 113, 133.[6]. Despite the mass sale of scrap, 56087, 56094, 56105 and 56113 were sold on to Colas Rail while Ed Stevenson has bought 56051, 56060, 56065 and 56081 to form a pool of locomotives with 56007, 56301 and 56302. BARS and Europheonix may be looking into purchasing more 56s for future use.

Preservation Edit

Five Class 56s are currently preserved.[7] [8]

Number Name Livery Location Notes
56086 - BR Large Logo Blue Battlefield Line Railway Operational.
56097 - Railfreight Triple Grey (Coal Sector) Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre Operational.
56098 - Load Haul Battlefield Line Undergoing repair.
56301 - Fastline Freight Burton[9] Undergoing repair.
56302 - Fastline Freight Burton Operational.


  1. Class 56 fleet list 2011
  2. Items for disposal.
  5. Railways Illustrated, February 2012, page 8, ISSN 1479-2230
  6. Railways Illustrated, February 2012, page 9, ISSN 1479-2230
  7. "Two more 56s preserved" (March 2009). Railways Illustrated: p.30. 

External links Edit

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Template:British Rail Locomotives Template:Use dmy datesfr:Classe 56 hu:British Rail 56 sorozat simple:British Rail Class 56 zh:英铁56型柴油机车

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