British Rail Class 56

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British Rail Class 56
Electroputere LDE 3500
56006 at Doncaster Works.JPG
Electroputere-built 56 006 at Doncaster Works in 2003 painted in rail blue livery
Type and origin
Power typeDiesel-electric
BuilderElectroputere (56 001–56 030)
British Rail Engineering Limited (56 031–56 135)
Build date1976–1984
Total produced135
 • UICCo'Co'
 • CommonwealthCo-Co
Gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length63 ft 6 in (19.35 m)
Width9 ft 2 in (2.79 m)
Height12 ft 9 in (3.89 m)
Loco weight123 long tons (125 t)
Fuel capacity1,150 imp gal (5,200 l; 1,380 US gal)
Prime moverRuston-Paxman 16RK3CT
MU working Red Diamond
Train heatingNone
Train brakesAir
Performance figures
Maximum speed80 mph (129 km/h)
Power outputEngine: 3,250 bhp (2,424 kW)
at rail: 2,400 bhp (1,790 kW)
Tractive effortMaximum: 61,800 lbf (275 kN)
Continuous: 53,950 lbf (240 kN) at 16.8 mph (27 km/h) [1]
Brakeforce59 long tons-force (588 kN)
OperatorsBritish Rail
Colas Rail
English Welsh & Scottish
Floyd Zrt.
UK Rail Leasing
Numbers56 001–56 135
Axle load classRoute availability 7
Disposition3 preserved, 35 still in service, remainder scrapped

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 1984 with a total of 135 examples manufactured.

The first 30 locomotives (56 001 - 56 030, factory classification LDE3500) were built by Electroputere in Romania, but these suffered from poor construction standards and many were withdrawn from service early for extensive rebuilding before re-entering revenue service.[2] The remaining 105 locomotives were built by British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) at Doncaster Works (56 031 to 56 115) and Crewe Works (56 116 to 56 135). 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 onwards.

Technical details[edit]

When specifying the Class 56, British Rail chose its bodyshell design to be based on the Brush Traction Class 47 design, minus some features like the obsolete headcode panel. According to the Romanian railway factory nomenclature, the locomotive was named Electroputere LDE 3500, with LDE coming from Locomotivă Diesel-Electrică (Diesel-Electric Locomotive) and the 3500 being the planned horsepower output.


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

The engine is a direct descendant 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 3,520 hp (2,620 kW), but was set at 3,250 hp (2,420 kW) for rail use.

Electrical equipment[edit]

A key difference between the 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.


The 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.


In 1974, British Rail placed an order for 60 freight locomotives, with BREL's Doncaster Works and Brush Traction, Loughborough to each build 30.[3][4] Because of capacity constraints at Loughborough, Brush sub-contracted its order to Electroputere in Romania.[5]

Subsequently the number ordered was increased to 135 and they were numbered as follows:

  • 56 001 to 56 030, built by Electroputere, Romania
  • 56 031 to 56 115, built by BREL, Doncaster Works
  • 56 116 to 56 135, built by BREL, Crewe Works

Construction of the class was moved from BREL's Doncaster Works to Crewe to allow for the commencement of the Class 58 construction at the former works.

Some locomotives were renumbered into the 56/3 series from 2006. This was used to initially identify refurbished locomotives introduced by Fastline but was later used for locomotives with less extensive overhauls. There are no technical differences to the 56/0 class.


In service the Class 56s proved to be a strong and capable locomotive, and less prone to wheelslip than the Class 58s. However, maintenance needs were high by modern standards, and notwithstanding significant investment by Transrail and Loadhaul 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.

Previous Operators[edit]

56 040 Oystermouth at Barrow Hill.

British Rail[edit]

On 4 August 1976, 56 001 and 56 002 were loaded for shipping from Zeebrugge to Harwich.[6] They were towed from Harwich to Tinsley on 7 August.[6] Initial trials were conducted on the Settle-Carlisle Line.[7] Subsequent examples (of the Romanian deliveries) went to Barrow Hill depot for preparation and subsequent commissioning on test trains from Tinsley, usually to Peterborough West Yard. The test train consisted of a rake of rail-carrying flat wagons, with a former East Coast Metro-Cammell Pullman vehicle marshalled immediately behind the locomotive. Testing of Doncaster-built examples was completed using the traditional Doncaster works test train, running north along the East Coast Main Line.

One class member, BREL-built no. 56 042, was chosen to test the CP3 bogies that were fitted to the Class 58s. It was the first of the class to be withdrawn in 1991 after only 12 years service and scrapped three years later in 1994 at Toton TMD.

DB Cargo[edit]

56 115 on a railtour

The entire class passed to English Welsh & Scottish (EWS) in 1995, when it purchased the Loadhaul, Mainline Freight and Transrail Freight freight companies from British Rail. Withdrawals commenced in the 1990s, with the last withdrawn on 31 March 2004.[8] Some were reinstated for use on construction trains connected with the LGV Est in France, although all such locomotives have now returned to the UK.[9]

In September 2011, DB Schenker (as EWS had become) placed its remaining 33 stored class 56s up for sale[10] with most expected to be sold for scrap.

UK-based locomotive provider Europhoenix[11] tendered for three of the DB Schenker locomotives (56 018, 56 115, 56 117) for export to Hungarian freight operator Floyd.[12] They finally bought 56 101 (from preservation), 56 115 and 56 117. With 56 101 moving to Europhoenix, 56 018 has been sold to preservationist Ed Stevenson. 56 101 arrived in Hungary on 19 June 2012 with 56 115 and 56 117 following later in the year. These have been renumbered 0659-001-5, 0659-002-3 and 0659-003-1 respectively.

In late 2011, DB Cargo UK sold 27 Class 56s for scrap to European Metal Recycling. These were 56 006, 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.[13] Despite the mass sale of scrap, 56 078, 56 087, 56 094, 56 105 and 56 113 were sold on to Colas Rail while UK Rail Leasing has bought a number of Class 56s, to form a pool of hire locomotives.


Fastline 56 303 passing Kingsthorpe, just north of Northampton station, 13 June 2007

In 2006, two locomotives (56 045 and 56 124) were overhauled at Brush Traction and renumbered as 56 301 and 56 302 for Fastline, the British freight company launched by Jarvis. 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 dispensed with Class 56 operation due to the loss of intermodal traffic and operated Class 66s on their coal traffic until March 2010 when the company went bankrupt. 56 301 was put into store, and 56 302 was purchased and run by Colas Rail. 56 301 was later purchased by the Class 56 Group as a replacement for their own 56 040 Oystermouth, which had just suffered a serious failure. 56 040 was subsequently stripped of spares and scrapped at Barrow Hill.

FM Rail[edit]

56 125 was returned to service after a less thorough overhaul by FM Rail and numbered 56 303. 56 303 was returned to RVEL (successor to FM Rail) 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. Since 2011 56 303 has been part of the BARS fleet, based at Washwood Heath.

British American Railway Services (BARS) / Devon & Cornwall Railways (DCR)[edit]

Formerly preserved 56 057 (renumbered 56 311) and 56 003 (renumbered 56 312) are now operated by British American Railway Services under their Devon and Cornwall Railways subsidiary (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. British American Railway Services currently use 56 311 and 56 312, along with 56 303, on their own freight flows including scrap metal flows between Cardiff and the North-East, landfill flows between Wembley and Calvert and for stock moves. During 2011, 56 312 was repainted into the same grey livery as 56 311, but with advertising for the National Railway Museum's forthcoming 'Railfest 2012' event displayed on the body side (this has since been removed). 56 128 (which was to have become 56 313) is also owned by BARS. In December 2013 it was moved from Wansford (Nene Valley Railway) to their facility at Washwood Heath for evaluation for a possible mainline return but work has not been proceeded with. 56 114 was stripped of usable parts and dispatched for scrapping during March 2012 and was cut up immediately after arrival at EMR Kingsbury. BARS 56 091 returned to service in April 2013 but has since been sidelined due to power unit issues. 56 103 was returned to service with BARS during July 2014. 56 301 remains under long-term hire to BARS. In November 2017 all six remaining locomotives (56091, 103, 128, 303, 311, 312) were put up for sale.[14] Only 56303 was operational.

UK Rail Leasing[edit]

Leicester-based UK Rail Leasing operates Class 56's on a spot-hire basis. They acquired a number of locomotives from DB Cargo, that had returned from working on high speed rail construction lines and returned 56 081, 098 and 104 to operational condition as of July 2014 at their Leicester depot. All three are in unbranded original Railfreight livery.

Railways Illustrated for June 2014 reported that UK Rail Leasing were considering upgrading a Class 56 with new engines and electronics. There would be two 1,900 hp engines, making a total of 3,800 hp. The magazine emphasises that this is "blue sky thinking" and is not likely to happen soon.[15]

Further information was published in Today's Railways for March 2016. Three different options were now being considered. These wre: two main engines, a single main engine, or a single main engine plus an auxiliary engine. It is expected that a re-engined Class 56 would cost around £1.8 million, compared to £3 million for a new locomotive.[16]

In December 2017 two further locomotives (56 311, 312) were acquired from BARS/DCR. However in 2018, 16 locomotives, the majority of their fleet, were sold to GB Railfreight.[17]

Current Operators[edit]

Colas Rail[edit]

UKRL 56104 at Wansford whilst visiting the Nene Valley Railway

As of 2015, Colas Rail Freight operates a fleet of 56 078, 087, 094, 105, 113 and 302 on a rotating basis on all its freight movements (most often seen on its 6E07 Washwood Heath to Boston Docks steel train, and 6M08 return). These locomotives are serviced at Washwood Heath.

GB Railfreight[edit]

In June 2018 GB Railfreight acquired 16 of the Class 56 locomotives owned by UK Rail Leasing, together with various parts.[17] Some may be returned to traffic quickly whilst others may be re-engineered. The locomotives were previously owned by DB Cargo and subsequently hired to Fertis, for high speed rail construction trains in France, before returning to the UK and were later acquired by UK Rail Leasing in 2014 for spot hire. Only 56081, 56098 and 56104 had been made operational by UKRL, with the majority stored at Leicester depot.[18] Locomotive (56128) ex DCR/BARS was acquired from CF Booth (scrapyard) and collected from there by GBRF directly. 56009, 031, 032, 037, 069, 311 subsequently moved to EMD Longport for Re-engineering in July 2018.

In April 2019, GB Railfreight announced that it had awarded Progress Rail a contract to repower the 16 locomotives that it bought from UK Rail Leasing. The locomotives will have their existing engines replaced by EMD 12-710 series engines, and will receive updated electronic controls. The work is planned to be undertaken at Progress Rail’s Longport site and the first locomotive is expected to be completed in May 2020. The rebuilt locomotives are to be redesignated as Class 69.[19][20]

DC Rail[edit]

In mid 2017, Devon & Cornwall Railways was bought by Cappagh Group a waste contractor. Branded as DC Rail the company acquired ex Fertis locomotives 56103 and 56091 from it former parent BARS. Both locomotives are now in traffic.

DC Rail are also current owners of the Willesden ‘F’ Sidings in London, just south of Wembley. Contracts out of the yard include loaded Spoil trains to Calvert Land Fill in Buckinghamshire. With more flows expected in the coming months.

Floyd Zrt. (Hungary)[edit]

Floyd acquired 3 locomotives for use in Hungary. Two 56101 & 115 for operations in 2012 and 56117 as a spares donor in 2013 [21]. 56115 suffered damage to one cab after hitting a lorry on a level crossing. Subsequently it was repaired using a cab supplied by UKRL from 56106 in 2017 and 56117 was also brought into use. [22]

Fleet Summary[edit]

Fleet summary 2018 [23]

Owner Number Numbers Notes
Colas Rail 10 56 049,[24] 051, 078, 087, 090, 094, 096, 105, 113, 302(124)
DC Rail 3 56 091, 103, 303(125) (stored) Offered for Sale by Devon & Cornwall Railways in 2017, acquired by successor company DC Rail. 56303 was accident damaged stored at Wembley.
Floyd Zrt. (Hungary) 3 56 101, 115 & 117.
GB Railfreight 18 56 007, 009, 018, 031, 032, 037, 038, 060, 065, 069, 077, 081, 098, 104, 106, 128, 311(057), 312(003) 16 from UK Rail leasing (of which 2 ex BARS). Only 56 081 & 098 are operational, the remainder stored or non working. 106 is missing one cab (Believed exported to repair 115). 56128 ex DCR acquired from CF Booth (scrapyard). To be converted to Class 69 with EMD710 engine.
Class 56 Group 1 56 301(045) Preserved - Mainline registered. Available for spot hire.
Total 35

Numbers in brackets are former numbers of renumbered locomotives.

  • Fleet summary 2013. The Class 56 Group has published a list of locomotives still in existence at 10 May 2013. This also includes locomotives stored, in mainline use and preserved.[25]


Sixteen locomotives are slated for rebuilding with new engines as British Rail Class 69.[26]


Although multiple members of the class have been purchased for preservation, most have re-entered mainline service. There are presently only three class 56s that are technically preserved.[27]

Number Name Livery Location Notes
56 006 - BR Blue UKRL, Leicester Owned by Class 56 Group
56 097 - Railfreight Triple Grey (Coal Sector) Great Central Railway (Nottingham) Operational.
56301 - Fastline (Unbranded) - Owned by Class 56 Group, on hire to BARS.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On 14 June 1988, locomotive No. 56 062 was hauling a freight train that overran signals and was derailed at Copyhold Junction, West Sussex. Recovery of the locomotive was a protracted affair. On 18 August, the locomotive was returned to an upright position. Its engine and alternator unit were removed on 4 September. The body was lifted from the bogies on 2 October. All were transported to Doncaster Works where the locomotive was rebuilt.[28]
  • On June 1991, 56002 came to grief whilst powering an MGR service at Caverswall, Blyth Bridge, Staffordshire. The locomotive remained on site awaiting recovery for around a month with one cab crushed by its MGR wagons. The 1977 built locomotive was withdrawn 8 May 1992 after only 15 years service and scrapped two years later at Doncaster MPD in March 1994, the second of the fleet to be withdrawn.


  1. ^ Platform 5 pocket book no.1. 2001. p. 51. ISBN 1-902336-15-1.
  2. ^ "The Locos that Came in From the Cold". The Railway Magazine. December 2000 – January 2001.
  3. ^ BR orders 60 interim freight locomotives Railway Gazette International October 1974 page 371
  4. ^ Sixty new freight locomotives ordered The Railway Magazine issue 883 November 1974 page 574
  5. ^ Romanian Built Locomotives for BR The Railway Magazine issue 902 June 1976 page 284
  6. ^ a b Toms 1978, p. 100
  7. ^ Toms 1978, p. 101
  8. ^ EWS has big loco switch-off The Railway Magazine issue 1236 April 2004 page 64
  9. ^ Fertis 56 unveiled The Railway Magazine issue 1241 September 2004 page 59
  10. ^ "Items for disposal". Archived from the original on 12 December 2010.
  11. ^ "Europhoenix: low cost 25 kV AC electric locomotives for Europe". Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  12. ^ "Floyd'S World". 16 June 2004. Archived from the original on 9 February 2014. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  13. ^ Railways Illustrated: 9. February 2012. ISSN 1479-2230. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^
  15. ^ Railways Illustrated (136): 15. June 2014. ISSN 1479-2230. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. ^ Pritchard, Robert (March 2016). "UK Rail Leasing looks to a re-engineered future". Today's Railways. No. 171. Sheffield, England: Platform 5 Publishing. pp. 50–51. ISSN 1475-9713.
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^
  19. ^ Railway Gazette. 3 April 2019 Retrieved 3 April 2019. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ "GBRf confirms Class 69 conversion". RAIL Magazine. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Class 56 Fleet List (updated 10/05/13)". 10 May 2013. Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  26. ^ Dunn, Pip (June 2019). "GBRf signs for 16 Class 69s". Railways Illustrated. No. 196. p. 10.
  27. ^ "Class 56 Fleet List (updated 10/05/13)". The Class 56 Group. 10 May 2013. Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  28. ^ Earnshaw, Alan (1991). Trains in Trouble: Vol. 7. Penryn: Atlantic Books. p. 46. ISBN 0-906899-50-8.


  • Lowe, P. J.; Russell, D. F. (1980). "The class 56 freight locomotives of British Rail". Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 194 (1980): 65. doi:10.1243/PIME_PROC_1980_194_070_02.
  • Russell, D.F. "Operational experience with Class 56 freight locomotives". Railway Engineer International. 3–5: 16. ISSN 0141-6049.
  • Toms, George (1978). Brush Diesel Locomotives, 1940-78. Sheffield: Turntable Publications. ISBN 0902844482. OCLC 11213057.
  • "The Class 56 story". The Railway Magazine. Vol. 146 no. 1188. April 2000. pp. 36–43.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]