British Rail Class 59

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British Rail Class 59
59001 'Yeoman Endeavour' at Doncaster Works.JPG
59001 Yeoman Endeavour at Doncaster Works in revised Foster Yeoman livery on 27 July 2003
Type and origin
Power type Diesel-electric
Builder General Motors Electro Motive Division
Model JT26CW-SS
Build date 1985–1995
Total produced 15
 • UIC Co'Co'
 • Commonwealth Co-Co
Gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Wheel diameter 45 in (1,143 mm)
Length 21.40 m (70 ft 3 in)
Width 2.65 m (8 ft 8 in)
Height 3.91 m (12 ft 10 in)
Loco weight 126 t (124 long tons; 139 short tons)
Fuel capacity 1,000 imp gal (4,550 l; 1,200 US gal)
Prime mover EMD 16-645E3C
MU working AAR system (Classes 59, 66 and 67)
Train heating None
Train brakes Air
Performance figures
Maximum speed 60–75 mph (97–120 km/h)
Power output Engine: 3,300 bhp (2,460 kW)
Tractive effort Maximum: 508 kN (114,000 lbf) at 11 km/h (7 mph)
Continuous: 290 kN (65,000 lbf) at 23 km/h (14 mph)
Operators DB Cargo UK
GB Railfreight
Mendip Rail
Numbers 59001–59005
Axle load class Route availability 7

The Class 59 Co-Co diesel-electric locomotives were built and introduced between 1985 and 1995 by Electro-Motive Diesel for operation in Great Britain.


With Foster Yeoman dissatisfied with the availability and reliability of British Rail's Class 56 diesel freight locomotive,[1] and their satisfaction with their EMD SW1001 shunter, four Class 59/0s were ordered from Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) which arrived at Southampton on 21 January 1986.[2] A new design to the British loading gauge and specifications, derived from the EMD SD40-2, it used the cab layout of the British Rail Class 58 to aid driver assimilation.

They were the first United States built and the first privately owned diesel locomotives to operate regularly on the British main line, although EMD powered locomotives have been the mainstay in both the Republic of Ireland since 1961 and Northern Ireland since 1980.

Following Foster Yeoman's example, Amey Roadstone Construction ordered four Class 59/1 and National Power six Class 59/2s. Foster Yeoman and Amey merged their rail concerns into Mendip Rail, and the rail interests of National Power were taken over by EWS.[3]

Ultimately EMD's diligence and flexibility in designing and constructing such a small order paid off in opening the way for the later, much larger, Class 66 order. This design uses the same body shell but is internally different.

Mendip Rail[edit]

To better manage their fleet availability and scale needs, Hanson ARC and Foster Yeoman founded Mendip Rail. The assets are still owned by both parent companies and the staff are seconded. Subsequently Mendip Rail has obtained train operating company status. Mendip Rail's Class 59s work services between various destinations, which have changed over time according to demand and specific contracts. They have worked regularly in the Southern Region, most notably to the Foster Yeoman terminals at Eastleigh and Botley, as well as on Channel Tunnel construction work.

Class 59 derivatives[edit]

Class 59/0 - Foster Yeoman[edit]

As a result of poor reliability and low availability of the various locomotives used by British Rail to haul stone trains from the West Country, Foster Yeoman negotiated with British Rail to improve service. Foster Yeoman had already supplied their own wagons with a reliability level of 96% and proposed they operate their own locomotives. British Rail's problem was the hard tie-in and control of the rail unions, but accepted the proposal in principle.

Foster Yeoman invited tenders for the supply of six locomotives from a manufacturer with a proven availability record of 95%. It is untrue that British Rail refused to tender, but withdrew having conceded that they had nothing which was of the required combination of power and reliability. Foster Yeoman had already operated an EMD SW1001 shunter in the Merehead Quarry with good results, so approached General Motors, who were able to demonstrate the required long-term 95% availability. Derived from the EMD SD40-2, the cab layout was based on the British Rail Class 58 for easier driver assimilation. To meet the British loading gauge, an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 man-hours of design work was carried out by EMD. Some compromises were required; the large exhaust silencer required to meet BR noise levels left no room for Dynamic Braking equipment. However, it was possible to retain the all-important Super Series wheel creep control which, because of its superior traction, can eliminate the need for double heading. Foster Yeoman therefore reduced their original requirement from six to four locomotives, ordering four in November 1984, and a fifth in 1988. All five locomotives were custom built by General Motors Diesel Division at its La Grange, Illinois plant.

In their first ten years of operation, the five locomotives between them hauled over 50 million tonnes of aggregates away from Merehead.

Class 59/1 - Amey Roadstone Construction[edit]

59104 at Allington Sidings

Built by General Motors Diesel Division at their Canadian plant in London, Ontario in 1990. The four Class 59/1 locomotives owned by Hanson (parent company of the former owners Amey Roadstone Construction) are similar to the Class 59/0 locomotives of Foster Yeoman, the main differences being a revised head light and marker light layout and the fitting of yaw dampers to permit the maximum speed to be increased to 75 mph (121 km/h).

Class 59/2 - National Power/EWS[edit]

59202 and 59205 in Acton in September 2012

Following Foster Yeoman, National Power decided to investigate the possibility of running its own trains, by ordering a single pilot locomotive. Following the trial, National Power ordered a further five locomotives and a fleet of hopper wagons to carry coal and limestone.

Again built at the London plant in 1994 and 1995, the six Class 59/2 locomotives differ from the Class 59/1s in several ways. A carbon dioxide fire control system replaces the original Halon system, and the fleet were originally fitted with drop-head knuckle couplers but were later replaced with standard screw couplings. A more advanced slow speed control suitable for merry-go-round power station coal train operation has been fitted, as well as yaw dampers for a higher top speed.

In April 1998, EWS took over National Power's rail operations.[3] With the locomotives under EWS management, they were used more widely over the network until 2005 when they were allocated to work beside the Mendip Rail fleet. The 59/2s are also now maintained by Mendip Rail at Merehead.

Sanding gear[edit]

Classes 59/0 and 59/1 feature automatic sanding gear which releases fine sand under the wheels when wheelslip is detected. If this occurs when the locomotive is running "light engine", i.e. without pulling a train, it can become electrically isolated from the rails by the fine layer of sand, albeit temporarily, and "disappear" from a track circuit as if there were no train occupying the section. Drivers are therefore instructed to isolate the sanding gear (via a cut-out switch on the control panel) when running light. This anomaly is peculiar to the Class 59 and well known to signalmen. A Class 59 pulling a load does not exhibit this behaviour because the other vehicles in the train can complete the track circuit.

Notable workings[edit]

Designed for reliability and 95% availability, the Class 59 has achieved a 99.8% level during ten years evaluated from the first four locomotives.[4] On 26 May 1991, 59005 set the European haulage record for a single locomotive, with a stone train weighing 11,982 tonnes (11,793 long tons; 13,208 short tons) and 5,415 feet (1,650 m) long.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On 19 September 1997, 59101 was involved in the major Southall railway accident. The locomotive had just passed across the main line, under clear signals on its way into the goods yard, and escaped damage, but the oncoming InterCity 125 struck the hopper wagons in its train immediately behind. One of the wagons was thrown upwards and became caught on a stanchion before falling onto the derailed high speed train.
  • On 12 September 2000,while working the 6A20 Whatley to Acton stone train, 59103 and the first ten hopper wagons derailed at 23:20 between Great Elm Tunnel and Bedlam Tunnel on the single track branch line to the Hanson Quarry at Whatley. The locomotive and the first two hoppers rolled and 59103 came to rest on the parapet of a small bridge on the driver's side (left by direction of travel) with the trailing bogie partially torn off by the following hopper wagon. The locomotive was pulled upright on 19 September 2000 and removed to Whatley Quarry where an initial assessment of the damage was made and repairs made to make the locomotive safe for removal by road. The locomotive was then moved by road to Derby on 2 November 2000 for further assessment before moving to Eastleigh for repairs.
  • On 20 March 2017, a locomotive of the class was hauling a freight train which was derailed at East Somerset Junction, Witham Friary.[5]


In 1997, one of the Foster Yeoman locomotives, 59003 Yeoman Highlander was exported to Germany, renumbered 259003, and operated by Yeoman/Deutsche Bahn hauling stone trains.[6][7] It was sold in 2001 to Heavy Haul Power International.[8]

In August 2014, it was purchased by GB Railfreight.[9] It was repatriated back to Great Britain from Germany via the Port of Immingham in October 2014 and then moved by rail to Eastleigh Works for recommissioning by Arlington Fleet Services.[10]

Fleet details[edit]

 Specification   Sub-class 
 59/0   59/1   59/2 
Built for: Foster Yeoman ARC, subsidiary of Hanson plc National Power
Currently owned by: Foster Yeoman, GBRf Hanson DB Cargo UK
Operated by: Mendip Rail, GBRf Mendip Rail DB Cargo UK
Built: 1985 and 1989 by General Motors, La Grange, Illinois 1990 by General Motors, London, Ontario 1994-1995 by General Motors, London, Ontario
Engine: General Motors 16-645E3C two stroke of 2,460 kW (3,300 hp) at 900 rpm
Main alternator: General Motors AR11 MLD-D14A
Traction motors: General Motors D77B
Maximum tractive effort: 506 kN (114,000 lbf) until 14.3 mph (23.0 km/h)
Continuous tractive effort: 291 kN (65,000 lbf)
Power at rail: 1,889 kW (2,533 hp)
Train brakes: Air brakes
Brake force: 69 t (67.9 long tons; 76.1 short tons)
Dimensions: 21.35 m × 2.65 m (70.0 ft × 8.7 ft)
Mass: 121 t (119 long tons; 133 short tons)
Wheel diameter: 42 inches (1,067 mm)
Design speed: 60 mph (97 km/h) 60 mph (97 km/h) 75 mph (121 km/h)
Maximum speed: 60 mph (97 km/h) 60 mph (97 km/h) 75 mph (121 km/h)
Fuel capacity: 1,000 imp gal (4,550 l; 1,200 US gal)
Route availability: RA 7
Electric train supply: Not equipped
Multiple working: AAR System
Number Works No Commissioned by Build Date Ship Arrive UK Revenue Owner Name Notes
59001 848002-1 Foster Yeoman 1985 MV Fairlift 21 January 1986 February 1986 Foster Yeoman Yeoman Endeavour
59002 848002-2 Foster Yeoman 1985 MV Fairlift 21 January 1986 February 1986 Foster Yeoman Alan J Day Renamed from Yeoman Enterprise at Merehead Quarry on 21 June 1996 by Alan J Day, Managing Director of Day Aggregates
59003 848002-3 Foster Yeoman 1985 MV Fairlift 21 January 1986 February 1986 GB Railfreight Yeoman Highlander Transferred to Germany in 1997 and renumbered 259003, sold to GB Railfreight August 2014[10]
59004 848002-4 Foster Yeoman 1985 MV Fairlift 21 January 1986 February 1986 Foster Yeoman Paul A Hammond Renamed from Yeoman Challenger at Merehead Quarry on 21 June 1996 by Paul A Hammond, Managing Director of Yeoman Aggregates
59005 Foster Yeoman 1989 MV Fairlift 4 June 1989 June 1989 Foster Yeoman Kenneth J Painter
59101 878029-1 Hanson (formerly ARC) 1990 MV Stellamare 20 October 1990 11 November 1990 Hanson Village of Whatley
59102 878029-2 Hanson (formerly ARC) 1990 MV Stellamare 20 October 1990 11 November 1990 Hanson Village of Chantry
59103 878029-3 Hanson (formerly ARC) 1990 MV Stellamare 20 October 1990 11 November 1990 Hanson Village of Mells
59104 878029-4 Hanson (formerly ARC) 1990 MV Stellamare 20 October 1990 11 November 1990 Hanson Village of Great Elm
59201 918273-1 National Power 1994 MV Haskerland 16 February 1994 26 April 1994 DB Cargo UK Carries DB Schenker Livery
59202 948510-1 National Power 1995 MV Condock V 4 August 1995 October 1995 DB Cargo UK Carries DB Schenker livery (Was the last 59 to carry EWS livery.)
59203 948510-2 National Power 1995 MV Condock V 4 August 1995 October 1995 DB Schenker Carries DB Schenker livery
59204 948510-3 National Power 1995 MV Condock V 4 August 1995 October 1995 Carries DB Schenker livery
59205 948510-4 National Power 1995 MV Condock V 4 August 1995 October 1995 Carries DB Schenker livery
59206 948510-5 National Power 1995 MV Condock V 4 August 1995 October 1995 John F Yeoman Carries DB Schenker livery (First locomotive to carry the verkehrsrot livery. Previously named Pride of Ferrybridge under EWS.)

All of the DB Cargo UK locomotives apart from 59206 are nameless.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "The 'Leaders' have arrived". Rail Enthusiast. No. 55. EMAP. April 1986. p. 12. ISSN 0262-561X. 
  3. ^ a b "EWS to acquire National Power's entire rail division from next April" Rail issue 312 27 August 1997 page 6
  4. ^ Heavy Haul Power International:The track record of Heavy Haul Power EMD General Motors locomotives over ten years Archived 8 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine., as of April 7, 2012
  5. ^ "Freight train derailment, East Somerset Junction". Rail Accidents Investigation Branch. Retrieved 3 April 2017. 
  6. ^ "Mendip Rail confirms Class 59's German transfer" Rail issue 298 12 February 1997 page 9
  7. ^ "59003 handed over to DB" The Railway Magazine issue 1153 May 1997 page 59
  8. ^ "59003 departs Yeoman fleet as new company orders 66s" The Railway Magazine issue 1206 October 2001 page 12
  9. ^ "GB Railfreight brings hardy 'Yeoman Highlander' back to the UK" (Press release). GB Railfreight. 19 August 2014. 
  10. ^ a b "Yeoman Highlander to return to the UK". Rail Express. 20 August 2014. Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. 

Other sources[edit]

  • Fox, Peter; Hall, Peter; Pritchard, Robert (2004). British Railways Locomotives & coaching stock 2004. Sheffield: Platform 5. ISBN 1-902336-39-9. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]