Class 56 (BR/Brush 3,250hp Type 5 Diesel-Electric)

In the wake of the oil crisis in the early 1970s British Rail saw the need for a new generation of Type 5 diesel locomotives (rated for over 3, 000 hp) for what was expected to be a much greater demand for heavy coal haulage. The Class 56 was the first of these new locomotives and the new class of diesel locomotive for nearly a decade [1]. It was based on the successful Class 47 platform but with a more powerful engine (a development of the successful English Electric CSVT engines used in many classes of diesel like the Class 50) and slow speed control for Merry-Go-Round coal trains when they were loaded and unloaded [2].

Number built: 135
Built: 1976-84
Builder: Brush Traction/Electroputere (first 30)
Brush Traction/BREL Doncaster and Crewe (rest)
Engine: Ruston Paxman 16RK3CT diesel
Power: 3, 250 hp (2, 424 kW)
Wheel arrangement: Co-Co

Because of a lack of manufacturing capacity at the time at Brush Traction, who designed the Class 56, the first thirty were built by Electroputere in Romania with the rest being built at BR Doncaster and Crewe. The Romanian examples unfortunately suffered from a number of problems said to be due to poor workmanship which delayed their entry into service for over a year [3]. The decision to build the first batch in Romania and the urgency with which the locomotives were needed saw the locomotive have bogies of a Swiss design as these were widely used in Romania at the time and were easily available.

The Class 56 worked on heavy freights throughout the 1980s and into the privatisation era but most were withdrawn in the early 2000s. Some were later reinstated into traffic and undertook heavy refurbishment as the Class 56/3 [4].

Many have been scrapped, some sold for use on the continent and three have been preserved. Today around thirty remain in service usually used for spot hire. It is possible some Class 56s could be re-engined and rebuilt for extended service into the service though as yet no work has been undertaken.
Colas 50 078 at Kidderminster SVR

Front view of 56 303 at Derby

Colas 56 302 at York

Cab side view of 56 303

DCR 56 303 at Derby

Another view of 56 302 at York
[1] Chris Heaps, BR Diary 1968-1977 (Ian Allan, 1988) p. 104
[2] Brian Haresnape, Production Diesel-Electrics Types 4 and 5 (2nd Edition) (Ian Allan, 1984) p. 75
[3] Ibid p. 75
[4] Colin J Marsden, Traction Recognition (2nd Edition) (Ian Allan, 2011) p. 51