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photograph by Colin Duff
|Having acquired three of the freight train operating
companies and merged them to form the English, Welsh and Scottish Railway (EWS)
the new concern's largely American owners surveyed the native locomotive
stock and were far from impressed. What followed was the most remarkable
renewal of rolling stock ever experienced on British Railways with construction
and delivery of the new Canadian built General Motors class 66 locomotives at a
quantity, rate and success which has stunned (and pleased) those used to the
British way of doing things.
Being derived from and externally similar to the class 59 introduced by Foster Yeoman the class 66 is a different locomotive for a different purpose. It is a modern reliable replacement for elderly type 3, 4 and 5 locomotives for medium weight faster speed freight services. The significant differences from the class 59 are the use of a GM type 710 prime mover (class 59 has type 645), a self steering bogie, revised side grille layout, smaller silencer, and the front headlight mounted centrally above the windscreen.
The first delivery for EWS was on the 18th April 1998 and thereafter regular bulk deliveries ensured that the final (250th) locomotive was delivered only 26 months later on the 21st June 2000. The class 66 is used, subject to line clearance, system wide and whilst its main work is on most types of freight trains it is also used on a limited number of passenger services - principally charters - and also to rescue failed passenger locomotives. Due to the lack of ETH (HEP in its maker's terms) a generator van is needed when working passenger trains. The swift introduction of the class has seen the equally rapid withdrawal native locomotives such as class 31s, 33s, 37s, 47s, 56s and 73s.
Detail differences between members of the class are so far very small. Although generally appreciated by locomotive crews there was concern expressed about the noise level in the cabs. As a result the cabs of 66137 were modified in Canada before delivery and subsequent builds had the modifications incorporated from new. It is expected that earlier members of the class will be retro modified. Also later members of the class were fitted with combination hook/knuckle couplers from new whilst earlier locomotives will be retro fitted with them.
In 1999 Freightliner ordered 5 class 66s (designated class 66/5) and the order was extended in several stages through 2000 and 2001 to a total of 59. This large expansion of the 66 Freightliner fleet effectively spelt the end of the class 57/0 conversion project. After only ten weeks in service 66521 was written off in the terrible crash on the ECML at Great Heck on 28 February 2001. A replacement locomotive was ordered in the later batches however the running number will not be reused. Innovative GB Railways has decided to enter the freight market as GB Railfreight (GBRf) and ordered 7 (designated class 66/7) which were delivered in early 2001. GBRf class 66 locomotives are based at Willesden. Additionally 4 class 66s have been delivered to Europe, 2 to private operator HGK in Germany and 2 to TGOJ Trafik in Sweden. These 4 locomotives were taken from the EWS/Freightliner production batches and the shortfall for their original intended owners made up later in the build.
So in short time hitherto un-thought of the class 66 has rapidly become the definitive general purpose freight locomotive in the UK and has a foothold in mainland Europe. Little wonder then that General Motors Locomotives set up a European office in Germany.
This page was last updated 14 August 2003