The reason for the need for ‘73s’ was the infrastructure market for a period but in the past two years locomotives have been rebuilt for both Network Rail and CS. The 55-year old Southern Region design will soon be seen as far north as Aberdeen.
Millions of pounds have been spent refurbishing the ‘73s’. While keeping the same underframe, Wabtec Rail’s Brush Traction at Loughborough has replaced the original 600hp English Electric engine with a new 1,600hp MTU R43 4,000 V8 engine. This provides increased power, improved fuel economy and enhanced versatility. Five GBRf examples (73961-73965) are used on contract hire to Network Rail in a deal lasting for ten years, while a further six (73966-73971) will be used by CS in a 15-year deal. As RAIL went to press three CS examples had been released into traffic. The first two CS locomotives (73966 and 73967) were converted from 73005 and 73006 respectively. These had been preserved, with the former at the Dean Forest Railway and the latter at Crewe Heritage Centre. They had been withdrawn by Merseytravel in 2001.
Those working for NR will be rotated around two types of work, GBRf says. This will be infrastructure monitoring - hauling trains that monitor the track and record any defects - and possession management where they will haul engineering trains during the day and night.
GBRf says: “This increased power and versatility means that Network Rail will be able to cover a much wider area on their monitoring and possession work, extending beyond the Southern Region.”
GBRf Managing Director John Smith says: “GB Railfreight is delighted that the first of its new Class 73/9s have entered into service and that they will be supporting Network Rail with its infrastructure work across the UK rail network. These electro-diesel Class 73/9s are incredibly versatile and powerful and can be used on a wide variety of routes across the regions. This deal is another sign of the significant investment GBRf is making in the domestic freight industry.”
Paul Gilbert, operations director for Network Rail National Supply Chain, perhaps best explains the reason for the investment in the ‘73s’ rather than brand new locomotives: “Our infrastructure monitoring and engineering trains are absolutely vital to the work we do each and every day. The introduction of the ‘73/9s’ is a quick and cost-effective way of boosting our fleet and will improve reliability and increase in our overall capability.”
Elsewhere within GBRf’s fleet, four Class 92s have also been resurrected, having been out of traffic since 2006. The locomotives, 92014/018/023/033, are also for the CS fleet, and were overhauled by Wabtec at Brush. Reliability problems have plagued the fleet, resulting in their temporary withdrawal from main line operations while plans are drawn up regarding improving their performance. It is worth remembering that these locomotives have had little use since their introduction in the mid-1990s and this is the first time that they have been tasked with hauling heavy passenger trains (although one of their anticipated duties at construction was to haul the ill-fated ‘Nightstar’ international ‘Sleeper’ service on electrified routes). One insider described what the ‘92s’ have suffered as ‘teething troubles’ associated with brand new trains.
The ‘92s’ were bought a few years ago having been in store. The GBRf fleet was originally owned by French National Railways (SNCF) and Eurostar Passenger Services (EPS) when first delivered and saw nowhere near the level of use those owned by RfD (later EWS/DB). Many were, and still are, stored. GBRf bought them in 2014 (RAIL 741) outright from Eurotunnel, which in turn had bought them as it looked to grow its business. Eurotunnel owns GBRf.
There are still six Class 92s that could be resurrected by GBRf, although the company has often stated that not all 16 locomotives in its fleet would be returned to traffic.
A further three electric locomotives are hired by GBRf from Electric Traction Ltd (ETL) for empty coaching stock moves associated with the CS operations, but two of these locomotives have been pressed into main line operation too. ETL supplies 86101 Sir William A Stanier FRS, 86401 Mons Meg and 87002 Royal Sovereign.