Class 56 (Type 5)
Class: Class 56 (Type 5)
Designer: British Rail
Weight: 126 tons
Purpose: Heavy Freight
Information: During the early 1970’s the need for more powerful dedicated heavy freight diesel-electric motive power led to the development of the Class 56 in order to haul the newly introduced Merry-Go-Round dedicated coal traffic. The Class 56 was to be the first newly designed diesel in 15-years and was first of the second generation diesels used by British Rail. The Class 56 was nick-named “Grids” due to the expanded metal mesh grille located at cab ends.
Details: Until the Class 56 was introduced in 1976 British Rail had relied on early diesels of mixed traffic design, often used in pairs to handle ever increasing freight loads. With the introduction of the Class 56 with no provision for passenger train heating this was to change forever.
By the time the class was finally introduced in 1976, the need for a Type 5 freight locomotive had reached a state of urgency, resulting in Brush Locomotive Works outsourcing the first 30 production units to affiliated sister company, Electroputere in Romania. Regrettably, quality control issues plagued the first batch and consequently 105 additional units were built at BREL in Crewe and Doncaster entering service between 1977 and 1984.
In addition to the intended MGR freight workings Class 56’s were commonly assigned aggregates, road stone, cement, and Freightliner workings. As with all new designs flaws became apparent fairly early and with remedial maintenance and repairs were corrected accordingly resulting in the class reaching an average 80% route availability.
Introduced during the “Corporate Blue” era, the class was painted as such with full yellow ends. As the 56’s were only withdrawn in relatively recent years, many consequently carried a variety of colourful liveries after BR sectorisation; as well as subsequent Private company ownership.
After nearly 30-years of hard service the decision was made by EWS, the largest operator of 56’s to replace them all with North American designed Class 59 / 66 and by 2004 only two members were actively employed in Britain while several found short-term employment in France on construction engineering trains. Today, five members remain operational and preserved for posterity.