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Who owns UK's main line locomotives

Four preserved Class 37s, with a combined age of 199, have been bought for use on the main line with Colas Rail. 

One (37175) has not been used on the national network since it was withdrawn in 1999. All had been withdrawn by December 2001.

The youngest of the four ‘37s’ is 37421, which was delivered brand new on February 13 1965. It ended its main line career in April 2005, when it was withdrawn by EWS and deemed surplus to requirements.

Elsewhere, a Class 47 withdrawn in 1996 (47715) is set for a return to the main line with GB Railfreight, via a third party hire (it is owned by Harry Needle Railroad Company). 

These sales all highlight a desperate need for traction, as companies win lucrative new contracts. 

The awarding of National Delivery Service contracts by Network Rail has seen Colas, GBRf and Direct Rail Services all acquire more traction. That need has in turn been recognised by smaller firms and individuals, who have been quick to snap up locomotives from preservation and scrap merchants with the aim of returning them to the main line. 

Because of this, examples of Classes 20, 31, 37, 47 and 73 all look set for returns to the main line. As this issue of RAIL went to press, it appeared that Class 47s, the first of which date from 1962, appear to be a hot commodity despite having largely fallen out of favour in recent years. Class 37s, the first of which dates from 1960, also appear to be popular with operators.  

But at the same time as these veterans are back in favour, Colas is also taking delivery of brand new Class 70s being built by GE Transportation. Three (70801/803/805) are in the UK already, with 70802 on its way from America. Six more (70804/806-810) will follow. 

Colas has also been snapping up Class 56s from scrap merchants, with several rescued from European Metal Recycling’s Kingsbury yard, having previously been sold by DB Schenker. 

Established companies such as Direct Rail Services and GBRf are also in the hunt for locomotives. DRS has bought and sold traction over the past 12 months, as it evaluates its fleet ahead of the arrival of 15 brand new Class 68s. 

GBRf has bought eight brand new Class 66s that will be delivered to the UK this summer, in addition to three ‘66s’ it has bought from Holland. Two more ‘66s’ were leased from Beacon Rail, having been imported from Germany. And a further 15 Class 66s have just been ordered, with delivery starting later this year. In total, the company will own 23 brand new locomotives.

As well as the ‘66s’, GBRf has also acquired 16 Class 92s owned by parent company Eurotunnel. These are now owned outright by GBRf. Six are operational now, and a further six will be reactivated, with the remaining four to be used for spares. 

Together with the purchase of the 21 new Class 66s, GBRf believes that this is the largest locomotive purchase in one go since EWS bought 250 Class 66s in 1996. 

As of January 16, there were 223 stored main line locomotives from an overall fleet of 1,286 (including 58 yet to enter traffic). So who owns what?

  • This feature was published in RAIL 741 on 5 February 2014

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