Working with ‘Grids’

Steve Morris recounts his time on British Rail’s Western Region in the 1980s, trying to get the newly introduced Class 56 fleet up to scratch.

In early 1985, a number of Eastern Region ‘56s’ were sent to work out of Westbury. They were short of work due to the ongoing miners’ strike, so it was decided to make better use of them elsewhere. In this view on January 9 that year, Tinsley based No. 56117 is stabled on Westbury depot with more local members of the class Nos. 56033/031/056 behind. All pictures by the author
In early 1985, a number of Eastern Region ‘56s’ were sent to work out of Westbury. They were short of work due to the ongoing miners’ strike, so it was decided to make better use of them elsewhere. In this view on January 9 that year, Tinsley based No. 56117 is stabled on Westbury depot with more local members of the class Nos. 56033/031/056 behind. Picture by author

THE Class 56 fleet was born out of the need to move more coal to Britain’s power stations following the 1973 oil crisis. The country had become reliant on imported oil, which suffered from volatility in price and insecurity of supply, so there was a move towards using more coal and North Sea natural gas.

A tender for the new generation of diesel freight locomotives was issued in 1974, and it was won by Brush Electrical Machines and BR Doncaster works for an initial quantity of 30 locomotives each.

Brush sub-contracted its order to Electroputere in Romania, with the first examples Nos. 56001/002 being delivered in August 1976. The story of what happened to the Romanian batch is a long drawn-out affair, but in short the whole thing bordered on disaster, with numerous quality issues and the need for major rectification work before acceptance into traffic.

Read more in the latest edition of RE

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