British Rail Class 90

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British Rail Class 90
90012 and train London Liverpool Street.jpg
Abellio Greater Anglia Class 90 No. 90012 and train are seen at London Liverpool Street.
Type and origin
Power type Electric
Builder British Rail Engineering Limited Crewe Works
Build date 1987–1990
Total produced 50[1]
Configuration Bo-Bo
AAR wheel arr. B-B
UIC class Bo'Bo'
Gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Wheel diameter 3 ft 9 12 in (1.156 m)[2]
Minimum curve 80 m (4 chains)[2]
Wheelbase 43 ft 6 in (13.26 m)[2]
 • Bogie 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m)[2]
Pivot centres 32 ft 9 in (9.98 m)[2]
Length 61 ft 6 in (18.75 m)[2]
Width 9 ft (2.7 m)[2]
 • Pantograph 13 ft 0 14 in (3.969 m)[2]
Loco weight 84.5 tonnes (83.2 long tons; 93.1 short tons)[1]
Electric system(s) 25 kV AC Catenary
Current collection Brecknell Willis HS Pantograph[2]
Traction motors
  • 1,250 hp (930 kW)
  • 4 × GEC 412 BZ[2]
  • 4 × GEC G-412CY[1]
Gear ratio 32:73[2]
MU working TDM system
Train heating Electric Train Heating index: 95[2]
Loco brake Air, Rheostatic[2]
Train brakes Air
Performance figures
Maximum speed 110 mph (180 km/h)[2]
Power output:
 • Continuous 5,000 hp (3,730 kW)[2]
Tractive effort 58,000 lbf (258 kN)
Loco brakeforce 40 tons[2]
Numbers 90001–90050
Axle load class Route availability 7[2]

The British Rail Class 90 electric locomotives were built by British Rail Engineering Limited at Crewe Works in 1987-1990, weighing 84.5 tonnes and with a top speed of 110 mph (180 km/h). They operate from 25 kV AC overhead lines and produce 5,000 bhp (3,700 kW). The class is employed on express passenger and heavy freight trains. Their main passenger roles are Greater Anglia services from London to Norwich. Freight operations are with DB Cargo UK and Freightliner on a mixture of roles mainly on the West Coast and the Great Eastern Main Lines.


Fifty were built in the late 1980s, numbered 90001-050. They were developed from the Class 87, with many improvements and new features, and were initially classified as the Class 87/2 prior to introduction.[1] However, due to many visual and technical differences, they were reclassified.[1] The Class 90s were primarily built to replace the ageing Classes 81, 82, 83, 84 and 85 dating from the early 1960s, which were prone to fire damage.

The class is fitted with rheostatic brakes in addition to standard Westinghouse air brake equipment. A Time-Division Multiplexer (TDM) is fitted to enable two or more locomotives to work in multiple. It also allows a Class 90 to work a push-pull passenger train with a Driving Van Trailer (DVT), DBSO or Propelling Control Vehicle.

A Class 90 with a rake of eight British Rail Mark 3 coaches and a Driving Van Trailer (DVT) will reach 60 mph (97 km/h) in just over 1 mile (1.6 km), and 100 mph (161 km/h) in another 1 12 miles (2.4 km).[citation needed]

In the early 1990s, with the sectorisation of British Rail, 26 locomotives were dedicated for freight traffic; they were reclassified Class 90/1 and renumbered 90125-150 by the addition of 100 to the original number. The modifications included lowering the maximum speed to 75 mph (121 km/h) and isolating the electric train supply. Many of these locomotives were repainted in the new Railfreight Distribution two-tone grey livery, which was replaced by a revised version in 1994. Three locomotives, 90128, 90129 and 90130, received special "continental" liveries (NMBS/SNCB blue, Deutsche Bahn red, SNCF grey respectively) to celebrate the Freightconnection event in 1992.

Around the same time, five locomotives, 90016-020, were repainted into the new Rail Express Systems livery and dedicated to postal trains. They were primarily used on London-Glasgow, London-Newcastle and Birmingham-Glasgow services.

Of the remaining locomotives, the first 15, 90001-015, were operated by InterCity West Coast on express passenger services. 90021-024 were operated by Railfreight Distribution, but remained as standard Class 90/0 locomotives to enable them to rescue passenger trains.

Despite being built to be less susceptible to fire damage than Classes 81-85, 90050 caught fire at the end of September 2004, prompting its storage and subsequent stripping for spares.

Many Class 90 locomotives have received names. The passenger locomotives were named after cities, newspapers or famous institutions. Many of the freight locomotives have been given names with a commercial link. The Class 90 was the first new locomotive to carry InterCity Swallow livery.

The first Class 90, 90001, in brand-new condition at Crewe in 1987 in InterCity Swallow livery
90018 in DB Schenker livery on a south bound freight at Euxton WCML in October 2016

Current operators[edit]

Upon the privatisation of British Rail in 1996, the Class 90 fleet was divided between several operators.

DB Cargo UK[edit]

English Welsh & Scottish acquired the largest fleet, 20 locomotives from Railfreight Distribution and five from Rail Express Systems. DB Schenker were contracted to provide locomotives for the Caledonian Sleeper services between Scotland and London Euston, and the class 90s are frequently used for this purpose as well as on freight duties. An agreement was reached in 2006 to livery a number of class 90s for First ScotRail, for their exclusive use hauling the Caledonian Sleeper. In 2015, with Serco taking over the Caledonian Sleeper Franchise, some class 90s have been stood down from sleeper duties. However, due to some replacement class 92s not being ready for Sleeper workings in time for the franchise change, some class 90s are still on sleeper workings.


Freightliner inherited ten Class 90/1 locomotives. These have since been returned to their original Class 90/0 configuration.

Greater Anglia[edit]

In early 2004 'One' (later National Express East Anglia) needed a replacement for the ageing Class 86 locomotives on the Great Eastern Main Line. At the same time Virgin Trains was starting to retire its Class 90 locomotives as Class 390 units were introduced.

A deal was struck and progressively 90001-015 were delivered to Norwich Crown Point to replace the Class 86s, but their reliability was not good and the last few Class 86s were kept in service, and Class 47s hired from Cotswold Rail were sometimes used. 'One' then borrowed Class 90s from EWS and Freightliner to retire the remaining Class 86s. The Class 90s' reliability improved and the borrowed locos were returned to their owners.

Through 2006 and 2007 reliability has improved greatly: in 2007 the whole fleet won the 'Silver Spanner' from Modern Railways for the most improved main line fleet reliability in the UK.

National Express passed their franchise onto Abellio Greater Anglia in February 2012, who now operate the trains.

Former operators[edit]

Virgin Trains[edit]

Virgin Trains inherited 15 locomotives, 90001-015, to work passenger trains on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). They were based at Willesden depot in London for services from London Euston to Birmingham New Street, Wolverhampton, Crewe, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, Preston and Glasgow Central.

In 1998, 90002 became the first locomotive to be repainted in Virgin Trains' red and black livery. It was named "Mission: Impossible" to launch the challenge of upgrading passenger services on the WCML. The rest of the fleet was quickly repainted into the new livery.

In 2002, Class 390 Pendolino electric multiple units started to enter service to replace locomotive-hauled trains on the WCML. The first locomotives to be replaced were the elderly Class 86/2s and some of the less reliable Class 87 locomotives. However, since the Class 90 fleet was relatively small and subsequently non-standard, it was decided to retain the larger Class 87 fleet. Therefore, from March 2004, Virgin started to replace its Class 90 fleet, being transferred to the new 'one' (later National Express East Anglia) franchise.

The final service operated by a Virgin-liveried Class 90 was on 27 August 2004, 90015 London Euston-Glasgow Central and return.

Following the derailment of 390033 at Grayrigg in 2007, Virgin Trains had the need for an additional set. As a result, Virgin used Class 90 locomotives hired from DB Schenker, but more recently Freightliner, along with a rake of Mark 3 coaching stock and a DVT. Nicknamed the Pretendolino, this received re-upholstered seating, power points, wi-fi and a full external re-paint at Wabtec, Doncaster in 2009.[3] Virgin used this set with a Class 90 locomotive hired from Freightliner on a Euston to Crewe (via Birmingham) Friday relief service until December 2012, and also hired the train out as a charter train. It is sometimes used on London - Birmingham services in the event of a Pendolino shortage.

From the December 2013 timetable change, Virgin Trains used the Mk3 set once again on London - Birmingham services on a Thursday and Friday only basis, Class 90s leased from Direct Rail Services (which were sub-leased from DB Schenker) were used once again. This set was retired from service on 25 October 2014 with a rail tour the following day. In November 2014 the "Pretendolino" was transferred to Norwich Crown Point depot to enter service with Abellio Greater Anglia having come to the end of its agreed lease to Virgin Trains.

East Coast Main Line[edit]

In the late 1990s, GNER hired class 90s to stand in for Class 91s on London Kings Cross and Leeds services. One (90024) was repainted in GNER livery. In 2016, DB Cargo Class 90s will return to the East Coast Main Line on Virgin Trains East Coast London to Newark North Gate services while the Class 91 locomotives are overhauled.[4]


The Greater Anglia fleet is scheduled to be replaced. In August 2016 it was announced Stadler Rail to build 10 FLIRT Electric multiple units, which will come into service between January 2019 and September 2020.[5]


Subclass Number built (year) TOPS number range Operators Comments
Class 90/0 50 (1987-90) 90001-90015 Greater Anglia
90017-90040 DB Cargo UK 90017, 90022-90025, 90027, 90030-90033 and 90038 are stored at Crewe Electric TMD.
90021 is in First ScotRail livery.
90020, 90026, 90028, 90037 and 90039 are in EWS Livery.
90018 and 90040 are currently still wearing now defunct Schenker branding in the DB red livery.
90034 is in DRS Blue with DB branding.
90019, 90029 and 90036 are in the revised DB Cargo livery.
90024 is in promotional Malcolm Logistics livery.
90016, 90041-90050 Freightliner 90050 withdrawn after catching fire in 2004 currently stored at Crewe Basford Hall.
90042, 90043, 90045 and 90049 are currently in Freightliner Powerhaul Livery.
90016, 90041 and 90046 are in Freightliner 'Racing Green' Livery
90044, 90047 and 90048 are in Original Freightliner Two Tone Grey Livery.



  1. ^ a b c d e Morrison 2013, p. 59
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Marsden & Fenn 2001, p. 117
  3. ^ Charter train potential for Virgin Trains 'new-look' loco-hauled trainset Virgin Trains Press Release 1 July 2009
  4. ^ "DB Class 90 to operate on King's Cross-Newark Northgate route" Rail Magazine issue 807 17 August 2016 page 32
  5. ^ Abellio wins East Anglian rail franchise for nine years in £1.4bn deal East Anglian Daily Times 10 August 2016


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]