Making the Class 60s 'super' again

There is a real team spirit at the Toton Traction Maintenance Depot, and a desire to see things done in the correct way. 

The Nottinghamshire depot is the principal maintenance base for DB Schenker in the UK. And it has been the location for one of the most interesting (and high-profile) jobs in recent years - the ‘Super 60’ project that is breathing new life into Class 60s. 

On January 18 2011, DB revealed plans to invest £3 million to upgrade an initial batch of seven ‘60s’, to create a new fleet of ‘Super 60s’. The freight operator, the largest in the UK, announced: “During the first half of this year seven Class 60 locomotives will be overhauled in a programme to improve their reliability and to extend the life of each locomotive by 15 years.” 

It added: “A further 14 Class 60 locomotives are also planned to be refurbished, creating a fleet of over 20 ‘Super 60’ locomotives. A fleet of this size ensures DB Schenker has the capacity to meet growing demand from its bulk customers to move more by rail.”

The company said the locomotives would be especially suited for customers in the steel and aggregates sectors, which require a powerful locomotive to haul particularly heavy loads.  

DB Schenker Rail UK Chief Executive Alain Thauvette said at the time: “The ‘Super 60’ represents one of the most powerful locomotives in Britain today, delivering unsurpassed and proven traction capability. This investment illustrates DB Schenker’s programme of continuous improvement to deliver industry-leading levels of reliability, while having the capacity to deliver solutions to our customers that meet their specific market needs.”

The first overhauled locomotive was 60007, which re-entered traffic on September 5 2011 hauling a Toton-Whitemoor engineer’s train. Following a naming ceremony at Knottingley, when it was christened The Spirit of Tom Kendell, the ‘60’ was released into traffic on September 8 2011 (RAIL 679). Meanwhile, DB also had another seven Class 60s in traffic at the time (60010/011/015/019/065/071/096). 

Prior to the overhaul, it seemed as if the class, which was built in 1989-1993, may have been destined for withdrawal. 

In early 2009, then Chief Executive Keith Heller told RAIL 611 that all the locomotives would be stored, due to a 20% downturn in traffic. The lowest point came on December 7 2009, when only four ‘60s’ were left in service. 

However, they were never all stored - they were just too valuable to the business because of their haulage capabilities compared with the newer Class 66s. 

And behind the scenes, Heller was planning for the future of the big Type 5s. His successor Thauvette continued that planning process, appreciating the locomotives’ capabilities. DB recognised the asset it had on its hands, and set about ways of improving it. 

Rumours abounded that the ‘60s’ would be fitted with new engines, but that never occurred. Nevertheless, the core fleet in use was getting long in the tooth, and something needed to be done. 

It is also worth noting that no major works visit had been carried out on the Class 60s since their introduction. Just over a decade ago they had undergone major exams, but they had never visited a works facility for a complete rebuild (as other British Rail fleets had done). 

And so the ‘Super 60’ project was born.

In 2008 DB introduced the LEAN process at Toton. LEAN, a process improvement philosophy that teaches staff to take ownership of projects, has been adopted in many depots across the country, and has had a positive impact on the overhaul of the ‘60s’. 

Dave Ethell is depot manager at Toton. His teams work 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the locomotives, and he is immensely proud of the quality of work. 

“People do the work and they know the machines,” he says. “There have always been guys pushing to get them working. They are proud of them. They love them.” Ethell explains that there is a dedicated team for the project, and all are DB staff.

DB Schenker Rail UK’s Head of Production, Procurement & Axiom Rail Stephen Hill describes the project as a “priority”. He says various options were looked at regarding the future of the locomotives, including fitting new engines, but explains: “The Mirrlees engine is a good engine, so why change it?

“We look at it like this - we have the market-leading fleet in the UK. Figures show we are more reliable than others. How do we maintain that? It was not a case of throwing money around, but we wanted to improve.”

There has been much speculation about how many ‘60s’ will return. Currently 17 locomotives have been overhauled (60007/
010/015/017/019/020/024/039/040/054/059/062/063/074/079/091/092), while another four are in the overhaul programme (60001/044/066, 60100). For 2013 that’s it. No more will enter traffic. But going forward there is no set figure, so anything you read is merely conjecture. 

Says Hill: “There is a constant review of the numbers being done. It is not a directive from Germany saying that we must do this or this. It is more organic. We may decide that there are enough, or we may need to do more.”

He explains that there is a five-year rolling plan regarding the market, which he believes is only now starting to recover following the recession. “But every year that changes. It is a five-year plan that evolves constantly.”

Hill explains that the locomotives are chosen via a number of different factors. “With an asset you need to know the engine life and bogie life. The criteria look at the most cost-effective solution.” 

Hill says that when he started work at Toton about 50 Class 60s were stored at the Nottinghamshire depot. Unfortunately, many suffered from cable theft. However, with the depot being a secure site, that should not happen any more. 

He also admits that while no locomotive is a complete write-off, those that have been stripped will need more work. “If we have to re-wire them then obviously this adds cost,” he says.

Each locomotive overhaul takes around six weeks to complete. There is a flow line of work, with a core team of 20 working on the project. 

Says Ethell: “I think a lot of the engineering work was developed under Keith Heller, and Alain Thauvette is the biggest fan of the ‘60s’. The drivers love them, too.”

Hill adds: “The ‘60’ is the best locomotive in the country. Look at what they can do. Look at the technology. On a ‘66’ the traction control starts at 8mph, on a ‘60’ it’s at 0mph, which allows all their tractive effort to be applied to the railhead. That means they are ideal for certain routes. 

“They are like a monument to British engineering. We wouldn’t be doing what we are doing if we didn’t believe in them.” 

He adds that the ‘66s’ are very good for what they were built for - a powerful, versatile freight locomotive.

Brush built the locomotives, and has been involved in the overhaul project because it has some of the technical data and engineering drawings. 

Business Improvement Manager Harry Southwell has been at Toton for two and a half years. In his office he has a ‘process map’ that forms part of the LEAN way of working. It is an excellent visual aid that helps staff see exactly what is being done, what needs to be done, what is next in the process, and how that process can be improved. 

“It provides understanding of the requirement for the overhaul,” he says. “We strip the power unit right down, and a team of engineers works out how long it will take to overhaul and rebuild. We try each time to be more efficient.” 

Southwell, who started on the project 18 months ago, has changed processes to speed up each locomotive. Several tasks are now carried out concurrently, rather than after one another. This process, he says, has also been rolled out into the maintenance of the ‘66s’. He says that about 150 man hours are spent on a Class 60’s engine. 

Ethell adds: “Our engineers are our consultants. They tell us what works and what is needed. We always look to gain 10%-20% efficiency improvement. It is a number of things, such as space, costs, time taken. We want to improve our guys. LEAN is the key, and the staff are willing to learn.”

In the office overlooking the maintenance roads within Toton depot, a team of engineers busy themselves on various tasks. 

Production Manager Wayne Buckley is checking a map of the depot that pinpoints the location of each locomotive. He is the man in charge of the ‘Super 60’ project. He was also involved in renumbering 60016 to 60500 for RAIL’s 500th edition. He remembers that project well. 

Buckley explains that there are three phases to the overhaul process - the first is strip down, the second is rebuild, and the third is testing. On the day of RAIL’s visit 60044 is in phase one, 60100 is in phase two and 60024 is in phase three. Additionally 60001 is undergoing overhaul work, and is about to be painted. 

Of the three locomotives in the various phases (024/044/100), two had been stored for a number of years, while 60024 was removed straight from traffic.

Buckley says it is easier to work on locomotives fresh out of traffic because it takes a lot less time to strip it. “Phase one is a massive job. It is completely stripped down,” he says. 

Looking at 60044, there really is not much left. It looks almost like a model that has been taken apart. The roof is missing, the glazing has been taken out, various components have been removed, and the bodyside grilles are no longer in situ. Its engine is inside its bodyshell and that’s about it, other than it is still standing on its bogies. 

Says Buckley: “This was chosen at the start of the year. We want the best value for money, and so if it’s ‘out of hours’ it is better. We have the ability to potentially put anything back together.” 

Although mechanically it is easier to work on a locomotive that has been out of traffic for a few days, rather than a few months or years, those that have been out of traffic for a significant period are more likely to be ‘out of hours’ - this means it is more cost-effective to rebuild these locomotives than one that still has life left in it. 

While most of the work is carried out at Toton, some material goes away for refurbishment. This includes motors and electronics, and brakes. “90% of the locomotive is stripped,” explains Buckley.

He says that one challenge for the team was where to store the material. A solution is to use wagons that are moved around the depot depending upon what needs to be worked on. During RAIL’s visit, one had a blower motor on it that needed re-winding. 

To improve the electronics, a test bed was constructed with Brush. There was a whole host of electronic and control problems on the locomotives, and so with help from the manufacturer, a controlled test bed was built at Loughborough. This enables static testing to be carried out, to examine ways to improve a locomotive’s performance. “This was a big learning curve,” admits Buckley.

When everything is removed from the ‘60’, staff take the opportunity to improve the general appearance of the locomotive’s interior. Corrosion has been discovered, although Buckley says it is not as bad as had been feared when the project began.

Like Ethell, he lauds the team effort on the project. “We have a consistent team here. We do not move people around.” 

In terms of moving the locomotives themselves while they are being rebuilt, this is kept to a minimum, but does happen.

For example, lifting is required, such as when the bogies are removed or when the engine is craned out. This work uses a 40-tonne crane, which is located in ‘The Cathedral’, adjacent to the main shed. In here are all kinds of components from various Class 60s, while outside the building stand a pair of Class 60 accommodation bogies. 

Team Co-ordinator Richard Ellison has worked on the ‘60s’ for the majority of their careers. He worked for Brush when they were being built and (following a period away from the rail industry) is now involved in their overhaul at Toton. 

His part in the process takes place in ‘The Cathedral’. The engine is lifted from the ‘60’ on number 12 road. The alternator is then removed and sent away to LH Group. The engine itself remains at Toton, and is rebuilt. 

A rotator (bought by DB from Mirrlees) is also housed in ‘The Cathedral’, and this inverts the engine and reworks the crankshaft. This is the piece of equipment that means no Class 60 is a write-off, says Buckley.

The bogies are also removed from the ‘60’, and stripped bare. “This is the first time that they have been stripped back, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them,” says Ellison. “If you didn’t know what they were, you would think that they are five years old.”

Bogies are tested for geometric reasons, and their overhaul takes five weeks. They are not fitted to the locomotive they are removed from, but to the next one in the process. 

For example, 60001 will enter traffic using the bogies previously fitted to 60024. When 60100 enters traffic, that will use the bogies originally fitted to 60001. 

At the start of the project 60007 (the first to be overhauled) was fitted with a pair of spare bogies. When the programme ends, there will be a spare pair of bogies (as it currently stands, they would be from 60066, although it is unlikely that will be the last ‘60’ overhauled). 

“The bogies are removed when the engine is taken out, and the ‘60’ is put on accommodation bogies,” says Ellison. “The radiator and engine rooms are then washed, and welding is carried out.” 

During RAIL’s visit, there was a slight anomaly in the programme - 60001 stood on accommodation bogies, even though it had already moved through to the paint shop. This was because the bogies it was to receive required extra work, and the team did not want to delay the programme.

Team Co-ordinator Peter Dunn calls the ‘60s’ “phenomenal”, in terms of what they are capable of. He is also impressed by their condition: “60001’s body was pretty good. The only issue really is around the blower motor duct, which is rusty.”

Dunn explains that while the welding is carried out on a ‘60’, the electrical team (led by Steve Blake) works on the locomotive. “They go through everything to make sure it is ready,” he explains. 

Walking next to 60100, RAIL asks what happens next. On August 1 it had reached Phase 2 of the project (rebuild), and its engine was sitting on a wagon next to it. The alternator had been refitted and its bogies reconnected. 

The next major part will see the engine dropped back into the bodyshell, after which testing commences. This involves the locomotive being run for a period of two minutes, then five, then ten and then finally for 15 minutes. 

After each running period, which is conducted statically, the locomotive will be examined. Once that is completed, work will then concentrate on the cabs (which were fairly well gutted when RAIL inspected them). 

The cooler group had yet to be put back in the locomotive, and that will be carried out at the same time as the engine is placed back into the ‘60’.  This was expected to start in early August, with the locomotive due to follow 60001 into traffic. 

“We try to synchronise the power unit, cooler group and bogies to be ready at the same time,” explains Buckley. “It is a 24/7 project.”

To make the entire process work, he says that three locomotives are needed in the project. This allows for a constant flow of work. 

“We draw off all the guys and their experience,” says Buckley. “We come up with an idea, and let them develop it.” 

He also explains how it is not only the engineers who feed input into the project. He shows RAIL the cab of 60024, which has been overhauled and is about to re-enter traffic. 

“We have added fans after speaking to drivers. Phone points have been fitted, and a new vent fan is in the cab now.” 

The driver’s seats are from a Class 66. But because the Class 60s’ engine is not bolted to the floor (as per a ‘66’), the driver will not suffer from the excessive vibrations that have dogged the newer locomotives.

60024 has already made two light locomotive test runs, and on the day of RAIL’s visit is being examined ahead of its next trip. This is expected to be a Toton to March Whitemoor engineer’s train. 

This is a favourite test trip for the class - it returns to the depot later that night, thus allowing staff to examine the locomotive. “We don’t want it escaping and breaking down,” says Buckley. 

GB Railfreight took over this duty in late August. No ‘60’ has been overhauled since, so a new route will have to be found.

Various tests were carried out on locomotives prior to the project beginning, with 60065 used as a crankshaft test bed. 

But this does not guarantee its future. Buckley points to 60011, standing outside the shed. It is in DB red, but has not been overhauled. It is stored until the autumn, when it will replace Class 66s deployed to railhead treatment trains. 

“20,000 hours is the cut-off point and then they need an overhaul, so they have to be managed and have limited use. That is also governed by bogie condition.” 

Buckley suggests that after this autumn, if 60011 is to work again it will need an overhaul, but is non-committal over whether this will happen. 

He also knows which non-overhauled ‘60s’ are in use: “We have 60035/049/041/099/045 and 065. If they have life in them, then they won’t be done.” 

Outside the shed stand three rows of ‘60s’. Beyond that, in the Yard, is a further row of long-stored and often derelict-looking ‘60s’. “Those in the yard are decommissioned,” says Buckley. “But they could be returned.”

Once they are out in traffic, each locomotive receives maintenance every three months. One visit will focus on the engine, while another will look at electronics. These exams remain the same, regardless of whether or not the ‘60’ has been refurbished, Buckley explains. 

“These have been Toton’s babies,” he smiles. He recalls when 60007 returned for its first exam. The overhaul team swarmed to it and looked at their individual areas. This was unheard of, he says, and showed the level of dedication they have for their work, and for the locomotives they work on.

The potential for these powerful machines has not been overlooked. Their emissions are good, and Buckley says it is a case of patience while the team discovers just what they are capable of. Longer, heavier trains are an option, although he acknowledges that further investigations need to be carried out into their true capabilities.

Walking over to the paint shop, past more stored ‘60s’, RAIL finds 60001 in grey primer. It is stood in the ‘baking booth’, and will be painted into DB red that night. The following day (August 2) it will be dry enough to touch, but will still be drying off. The day after that (August 3), its decals will be applied. 

The paint job uses spray guns, and is meticulous. It follows a series of tests on small metal panels, and is designed to last 15 years. Apart from one locomotive, there have been no problems yet. 

As RAIL walks back into the offices at the end of the visit, we pass 60500, which was once named RAIL Magazine. 

“Will it ever work again?” asks RAIL. It has a Group 2 sheet in its cab door window. What does that mean?

Buckley explains that DB Schenker Rail UK has four categories for its fleet out of traffic: Group 1 for locomotives that are serviceable; Group 2 for those that need only minor attention; Group 3 for those that require more serious repairs; and Group 4, which is for disposal. 

No Class 60 is in Group 4, he explains, adding: “I don’t think that they ever will be.” The future for the class seems much brighter than it did a few years ago.

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  • True Informer - 22/07/2015 19:25

    Oh dear!

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