The history of the Class 58 locomotives
from the outset to the present day
In the early 1970s British Rail projected a large increase in mineral traffic, in fact an increase so large that BR’s recently rationalised fleet would not be adequate to cover the traffic requirements. A solution was needed, and quickly. BR needed high horsepower locomotives and Brush Traction had an off-the shelf design available as a result of work on Kestrel, the 4,000 HP prototype. This was the Class 56, and in excess of 100 locomotives were built to this design. However, by 1978 a BR design was ready, work commencing on the first locomotive in 1979. This design was to be known as the Class 58 and was a dramatic departure from previous design conventions. It was geared to the export market.
BR designed the Class 58 to be economic to both build and maintain. As a result, it was to be of modular construction, allowing quick and easy interchange of parts. The most noticeable departure from BR’s previous designs was in that the body sides were non load-bearing. Instead, the chassis which supported all weight, was of girder construction. Another departure from the norm was that there was no interior walkway between the cabs (i.e. within the engine room). Instead, the body was thinner than the cabs, leading to the class nicknames of ‘bones’ and ‘egg-timers’.
Deliveries commenced in 1983, with the last locomotive being accepted in March 1987. Early deliveries were subject to extensive testing and indeed for most of 1984 58001 did little else. However, the testing soon found the 58’s Achilles’ heel – that of a tendency to slip. Naturally much crew training was carried out during the first few months, using a mixture of revenue earning trains and special workings. The class was soon settling into service on MGR trains, of which they were to do little else for much of their lives. 1984 saw an exception to this, as the miners’ strike meant that there was little coal traffic to haul. Another notable exception to coal was the Fletton fly-ash service which was popular with photographers owing to the policy of double heading over the Christmas period, as insurance against failure whilst Toton staff had their Christmas holiday.
In spite of being designed as freight only locomotive, the 58s saw semi-regular work on railtours, the first occurrence being on 18th September 1983. 58s had seen passenger stock before then however, in high-speed tests on the WR and ER. They were also used on drags from Nuneaton to Birmingham, as class members were often stabled at Saltley.
Delivered from new in Railfreight grey with a red solebar, the class soon gained Trainload Coal livery, the first locomotive to carry this being 58050, which had only carried Railfreight grey for a few months. All members were to receive this livery and remained in it until the run up to privatisation when Mainline Freight received ownership. Some received the full Mainline Blue livery, whilst most retained triple grey with the addition of Mainline branding.
Upon privatisation the class became the property of EWS, with two variants of EWS livery being carried. After only a couple of years they were displaced from MGR workings and withdrawals began. Most of the remaining members were moved to Eastleigh where they were mainly used on departmental and MoD traffic. By 2002 less than half the class remained in service and withdrawals continued at a steady rate. The class hauled its final passenger train on Bank Holiday Monday, 26th August 2002. The train was Hertfordshire Railtours’ `Bone Idol’, with 58020 and 58024 providing traction. Currently, only 58050 has a secure future, having been designated for the national collection by the Railway Heritage Committee.
58001 was repainted in original railfreight grey for the Doncaster 150 open day in July 2003, moving to Barrow Hill for a `first born’ diesel event, where it currently resides. 58039 and 58044 have gone to Dutch operator ACTS, numbered 5811 and 5812 respectively. Potentially more may go, offering these superb locomotives a second lease of life, reminiscent of the EM2s.
We have split the detailed history of the Class 58s working in the UK into their relevant periods:
Railfreight | Trainload Coal | Mainline Freight | EWS
Each of these pages takes the you through the ins and outs of that specific time of the Class 58 history. To read about the Class 58s working overseas, please use the France, Spain, or Netherlands links on the left to navigate your way around the site.