The resurgent '60s'

It seems incredible that the first Class 60 was delivered 24 years ago, and that the £125 million order for 100 Type 5s was placed two years before that. They still seem so modern. 

Few are left in traffic, but that is changing. DB Schenker is carrying out a comprehensive overhaul of the ‘60s’, the biggest since their introduction in 1989, and the company believes there is still plenty of life left in these locomotives.

The Class 60s seemingly owe their existence to the Class 59s ordered by Foster Yeoman and built by General Motors. 

Foster Yeoman had grown increasingly exasperated with the performance of Type 5s supplied by British Rail to haul its heavy aggregates trains that operated from the Mendips. 

The locomotives (Class 56s) were proving unreliable, and so FY looked to America, where GM products were recording performance figures unheard in the UK.

BR felt stung into building a new locomotive. There was a suspicion it was also interested in the GM product, but wary of battles with the unions, which had voiced their displeasure over the construction of locomotives abroad, it decided its new fleet would be built in the UK.

The rail freight fleet in 1987 contained a mixed bag of locomotives in varying conditions - from Class 20s dating from 1957 to Class 58s that had just been delivered. 

Class 25s had just been withdrawn, but Classes 26, 31, 33, 37, 47, 73 and 86 (none
of them newer than 1968) remained in the fleet. There were also the Class 56s, built in 1976-1984 but which suffered from poor build quality (56001-56030) and poor reliability.

Specified within the order for the Class 60s was an availability of 95%, far in excess of what had been required from previous designs of BR diesel locomotives.

When initially ordered, they were to be split between the new sectors, with Coal receiving 42 locomotives, Construction 13 locomotives, Metals 17 locomotives and Petroleum 17 locomotives. A further seven would be used on Channel Tunnel construction trains, and when this work finished, they would move to the Construction sector. The other locomotives would be on maintenance.

RAIL 72 (September 1987) said: “The Class 60 locomotive is seen as the saviour by Railfreight, as the savings to be made are colossal and will be a significant factor in helping Railfreight achieve the government target for the freight business.”

Savings were to be made in two ways. The first was as a direct result of a planned cascade, with the withdrawal of locomotives that were expensive to maintain. The second was that fewer trains would run, because of the haulage capacity of the Class 60s. 

It was reported at the time that 100 Class 60s would replace 236 locomotives of various classes (see panel). Of those to be replaced, the most affected would be Class 20s (86 locomotives replaced), because ‘20s’ usually operated in pairs hauling coal trains. 

It was expected that ‘20s’, ‘33s’ and ‘47s’ would be withdrawn, with the newer and refurbished machines redeployed elsewhere. RAIL 72 added: “The new Class of locomotive can be best summed up with one word - revolution.”

Railfreight had decided that what it needed was a high-powered, low-speed locomotive for its core traffic, defined as having a certain future and large revenue. This covered coal, aggregates, metals and petroleum.

Extensive research went into the design of the new locomotive. Jones Gerrard was appointed, and spoke with various personnel to define what was required. 

Key to the design was that it had to be ‘forward looking’. Around a dozen designs were produced, but some were discounted because they looked sleek - this indicated speed, and was not the desired look. 

Three designs were eventually decided upon. One was for a design described as “with a decidedly raked-back look, reminiscent of many French locomotives where both the driver’s windows and the nose end have a raked finished line”. 

Another design was seemingly modelled on the Class 59s. In fact, all the designs shared a common theme of having a ‘high bottom bodyline’ exposing the bogies and wheels. This was regarded in the design world as conveying “a powerful image”. 

Mock-ups were produced ahead of a meeting at the Railway Technical Centre in Derby on August 12 1987, where the ‘French’ design and a design resembling what the ‘60s’ eventually looked like were displayed. Sixteen managers attended the meeting - five voted for the ‘French’ design, and the remainder wanted the design we see today. All the engineers within the 16 chose the ‘French’ design.

A later design decision was to assume a slightly smaller engine room compartment. This in turn allowed more space at each end of the locomotive, which could be used for improvements. The cab interiors received design improvements as a result.

In RAIL 73, Railfreight Project Manager Rod Gray said: “Our thrust to our customers is to say we are dedicated groups looking after you, Mr Coal, or you, Mr Metals. Customers have this view that British Rail is a great amorphous mass, and how do they break into it? If the train is late, whose fault is it? We are saying: this locomotive is dedicated to your business, and we are not going to pinch it for something else.”

On August 10 1987, two days before the Derby design meeting, and following authorisation by the BRB Investment Committee, Railfreight had invited tenders for the construction of 100 Class 60s. 

Six firms were invited to tender: Brush Electrical Machines, GEC Transportation Projects, General Motors, GE (USA), Metro-Cammell and NEI Consortium. The tenders were to be returned by November 6 that year.  

The £120m deal was finally awarded to Brush Electrical Machines Ltd, and was announced in the House of Commons on May 17 1988 by Paul Channon, the then-Secretary of State for Transport.

On July 1 1989, less than 14 months after Channon’s announcement, 60001 Steadfast left Brush Traction, Loughborough, for Toton. It had been formally handed over to BR the day before. 

Following its depot visit, it went to the Engineering Development Unit at Derby for acceptance, and moved to the Mickleover (Derby) test track on July 10. The chosen design featured an eight-cylinder Mirrlees MB275T power unit that was similar to those experimentally fitted in 37901-37904.

The first locomotives did not enter traffic until a year later - 60017 Arenig Fawr and 60018 Moel Siabod were the first to be accepted in late-1990 - as the class was spreading its wings in terms of artisan training, but not revenue-earning traffic. 

By the end of 1990, there were 12 Class 60s accepted for traffic. They slowly began coming on stream, although it was not until March 1993 that the final member of the class was accepted into traffic (60015 Bow Fell). 

One of the last to be accepted was 60002, despite being the second locomotive built. Even 60001, the first to be handed over, was not available for traffic for more than two years, as a host of problems and faults were found with the locomotives. 

Most of the faults centred on the computer software, while the ‘60s’ also suffered from structural and bogies problems a result of suspension faults.

At one point it was rumoured that some locomotives had more than 100 faults. Indeed, there was a point when Railfreight threatened to cancel the order unless the outstanding problems were resolved. Because of this, for several months the sight of semi-complete Class 60s standing outside Brush Traction’s Loughborough workshop was a common sight.

As planned, the arrival of the new Type 5s allowed the withdrawal of several of the older fleets. The Class 20s were decimated, and Class 58s were slowly cascaded away from the coal trains they dominated. The new locomotives also replaced Class 37s in South Wales. 

The class carried names of hills and mountains in the UK, or the names of prominent historical figures. One anomaly was 60098, which was named Charles Francis Brush (the founder of the Loughborough company) because it was the 1,000th locomotive built at the Midlands facility.

In the build-up to priviatisation, rail freight was split into six businesses, with the Class 60s split between three. It was not an equal split: Mainline (serving the East Midlands, East Anglia, London and the South East) had 52 Class 60s; Loadhaul (the North West) had 31; and Transrail (which operated freight in Scotland, the North West, West Midlands, Wales and the South West) had 17. 

EWS bought five of the six BR freight companies in 1995, and so inherited the ‘60s’. As with most of the British traction on its books, it was not impressed with the class, but vowed to use them. 

In May 1996, the American company’s corporate maroon and gold was unveiled on 60019. Three months later 60006 Great Gable and 60033 Anthony Ashley Cooper were painted into British Steel blue and renamed Scunthorpe Ironmaster and Tees Steel Express. These locomotives were later painted into Corus grey when that company bought British Steel.

Class 60s have since regularly been named after various companies that had contracts with EWS/DB Schenker, while 60099 has also since been painted in Tata livery.  

When it was painted into a light blue livery to promote the Teenage Cancer Trust charity in 2008, 60074 (renamed Teenage Spirit) became the first locomotive in the UK to carry the DB Schenker logo, following the German giants’ purchase of EWS in 2007. By then the fortunes of the ‘60s’ had changed… and not for the better!

EWS had introduced 250 Class 66s (delivered in 1998-2000). They were not as powerful as the Class 60s, but were more reliable and perhaps more resourceful. 

The first Class 60 had been withdrawn in 2004. This was 60098, which was a mere 11 years old. It has now been out of traffic for nine years, and has been extensively stripped, although it is not deemed to be beyond economic repair. It is currently dumped next to the paint shop at Toton, looking sorry for itself.

Since 2004, EWS and later DB has shuffled its fleet in and out of store, depending upon market requirements. Another factor is the condition of the locomotives, which had never visited works for major attention. 

They are deemed ‘out of life’ when they have completed 20,000 hours work, and so require an overhaul. Many ‘60s’ reached that figure, but work was not authorised. At one point the number in traffic dropped to four, and then DB Schenker Rail UK Chief Executive Keith Heller told RAIL that the company was looking to withdraw the final remaining class members. Their future, it seemed, was bleak.

In 2009, with few of the class in traffic, DB decided to offer 20 for sale. Most had suffered catastrophic failures - 60081, for example, had been removed from traffic in April 2005 after a piston passed through the engine casing and struck the bodyshell. Several ‘60s’ had also been withdrawn following fire damage.

The fleet appeared to be trapped in a downward spiral, but rumours persisted that the German owner wanted more from the locomotives. Suggestions of new engines being fitted were never far away. And on January 18 2011 the German giant revealed its hand. 

In a statement, DB revealed: “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. 

“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 Rail has the capacity to meet growing demand from its bulk customers to move more by rail. 

“These powerful locomotives will be especially suited for customers in the steel and aggregate sectors, where a high-performance locomotive is required.

Alain Thauvette, chief executive of DB Schenker Rail (UK), said: “I am pleased to announce that the first of the Super 60 locomotives has been released into operations. 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.”

Work on each locomotive includes a complete power unit overhaul, and fitting new pistons, cylinder liners and cylinders heads, crankshaft and camshaft.

The locomotives receive a full bogie refurbishment that also sees the traction motors undergo similar work. The electrical system is overhauled, including radiator fan motors and fuel pump motors, while the traction control gear is upgraded and fitted with the latest software. Cabs are refurbished, and reliability modifications carried out. 

So far, in order, 60007/054/091/074/079/
062/024 have been treated, with 60001/100/
044/066 to be released in that order later this year. 

No more will enter traffic in 2013, but DB does not rule out more ‘60s’ being overhauled.

First to enter traffic was 60007, on September 8 2011, following a high-profile launch showcasing DB’s commitment to safety. 

With a ‘Switch on to Safety’ logo adorning its side, and carrying The Spirit of Tom Kendell nameplates, the ‘60’ re-entered traffic only to fail with a fuel pump problem while working a St Pancras-Ketton cement train. It was rescued by 67030. Once the fault was repaired the ‘60’ was able to join its classmates in traffic, and a new chapter in the Class 60 story began.

The future now seems bright for these locomotives, which remain the last main line diesel locomotives to be constructed in the UK for use in the UK. 

DB owns the entire fleet and seems very keen on them, believing that their potential has yet to be fulfilled. Ironically, it was Heller who set the ball rolling with their transformation, while Thauvette is described as a “very big fan of the Class 60s”.

These big Type 5s look set to be a sight on the UK rail network for quite some time yet.

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  • Dan - 06/01/2015 21:58

    So is there a chance 60081 will return to traffic?

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