Class 58 History | Railfreight


Freight has always been an important part of the railways. All railway companies that existed, from the pre-grouping, the 'big four', to the nationalised British Rail have all carried freight by rail in one form or another.
The operating fleet of the freight side of British Rail was comprised of many of the modern classes of diesel locomotives - 37s, 47s and 56s to name but a few, but at the same time the new modular locomotive - to be designated the Class 58 - was also under construction at Doncaster Works BREL for BR to use almost exclusively on the MGR coal freight traffic flow.
During the design stage of the Class 58, several drawings were produced to show how the locomotives would look in various liveries, including maroon and even large logo BR blue (which at the time was the standard livery for all BR locos)!
However, with the building of the first few of the Class 58s underway in 1982, British Railways’ own sectoring programme came to light, changing from a corporate, centrally-controlled entity to a number of semi-independent business orientated bodies under the overall control of the BR board. Therefore it was decided that the new, modern, class of locomotive, the Class 58, would not emerge in the ‘Corporate Blue’ livery applied to all other BR diesel locomotives, but would emerge from Doncaster Works in a new livery symbolising a new, modern image for the Railfreight business of BR.
It was the job of the BR Design Panel in conjunction with the Freight Director in Derby to design this new livery to represent the perceived new identity for Railfreight.
As it turned out, a mid-grey body was decided upon, simply because it could be applied not only to the 58s, but the scope could be widened and each and every class of locomotive could be painted in this colour to make them look uniform without any discrepancies. The BR Design Panel now turned their attention to the cabs. Whilst it was mandatory to have yellow front ends (to improve visibility of approaching trains to track workers), what colour could the cabs themselves be painted? It was then that the panel decided to give the cabs the full treatment and paint them completely yellow. Not only did this improve the look of the locomotives for the new image, but in practice, in the collieries where the 58s would be working, the full yellow cabs improved their visibility to workers, even with all the coal dust flying around.
On a traditional, monocoque locomotive, such as the 37s, 47s and 56s, there was no separate colour for the solebar/underframe – it was the same colour as the locomotive body and blended in with the livery. On the Class 58s however, this provided a problem. With the narrower body to the full-width cabs, it simply wasn’t possible to blend it in with the grey body and the full yellow cabs.
On American railroad locomotives at the time, it was noticed that a third colour was used for the solebar to break the monotony of the overall livery.
Going back to the 58s, it was originally decided to paint the solebar black but this didn’t really improve the appearance. When a red solebar was tried, it complemented the grey and yellow perfectly as well as being the eye-catching design the Design Panel were after.
Adding a large white BR ‘double arrow’ logo to the full height of the bodyside was Railfreight’s own version of the ‘large logo’ livery
Then a rather radical decision was made by the BR Design Panel – they would also have the name of the business, ‘Railfreight’ applied to the side of the cabs. Prior to this date, British Railways had never done this with their diesel fleet. Although locomotives had the BR ‘emblem’ applied, they never had any wording applied as part of the overall livery – another first for the 58s!
However, this wasn’t as easy as it seemed! Because this was the first time the use of the Railfreight name was being used as part of the livery, there seemed to be a bit of indecision as to how the insignia should look once applied.
The original version of the logo simply started as the wording Railfreight in black on the yellow cab sides. Then a black border was put around the name to trial out a different version of the logo. However, these were both decided as ‘non eye catching’ and so to extend the use of the red solebar, a solid red box, with a white border and the text Railfreight in white was finally decided upon.
Have you ever seen a picture of 58001 carrying either of the two pre-production Railfreight logos? The chances are unlikely, simply because when the locomotive was rolled out of Doncaster for the first time, within an hour the logo had changed from the first design, to the second and then to the final design which remained unchanged until the livery became obsolete with the advent of sectorisation!
The Railfreight logo was carried in the centre of the secondman’s cab side on un-named locomotives. However when 58020 and then 58034 were named the logo was placed above and then below the nameplate on the respective locos. The next five Class 58s to be named (58039/40/41/42 and 050 to be exact) were again treated in a different manner from the previous two. When named they had their cab-side Railfreight logo removed and replaced by a cast Railfreight nameplate which was fitted on the front of the cab instead.
On Thursday the 9th December 1982, Doncaster Works handed over the first Class 58 to British Rail at a ceremony at ‘The Plant’. During the ceremony, Mr. Henry Sanderson, BR’s Freight Director, unveiled the Railfreight logo on 58001, so therefore, officially, this counts as a locomotive ‘naming’, even though all the rest of the Class 58s as well as many other classes of locomotive carried the ‘name’.
Despite what many people think, all the Class 58s emerged from Doncaster Works in the new Railfreight livery, including 58050. However, due to the extensive testing of the SEPEX system fitted to 58050, she never operated solo on a revenue earning train in this livery.
The success of the new Railfreight livery was so outstanding that the livery was soon applied to many other diesel locomotives classes including Classes 20, 26, 31, 37, 47 and 56.
However the red stripe was only applied to locomotives that had an obvious solebar, i.e. Classes 20 and 26. All other classes which were repainted into the grey/yellow livery were restricted to having red buffer beams only. The re-paints came as the locomotives passed through works for repairs or overhaul.
The first non-Class 58 to have the Railfreight livery applied was 56135 from new, quickly followed by more and more locomotives with the painting being undertaken at several depots, including Crewe, Doncaster, Stratford, Thornaby and Tinsley, all of course, adding their ‘customisations’ to the livery making plenty of variations!
It soon became the new national identity of the Railfreight sector of British Rail, achieving the aims the Design Panel set out to achieve in the early 1980’s.
From early 1987 Railfreight decided to ‘tweak’ the livery by extending the application of the Class 58 style red solebar to all classes of locomotive that carried the livery, but this in itself was short lived because of the introduction of triple grey sub-sector livery.
For more information and a more detailed look at the Railfreight livery carried by locomotives other than Class 58s, please see the June 2004 issue of “Rail Express” which carries a ‘Retro-spectrum’ series of articles looking at classic locomotive liveries.
Class 58 operations with Railfreight:
Delivery of the Class 58s from Doncaster Works to Toton (after tests at Derby RTC) soon led to driver training at the Nottinghamshire depot. The drivers at Toton quickly noticed and remarked on the superior cab comfort and condition in relation to the 1970’s designed Class 56s which they were used to. This should not have been surprising because through the design stage the drivers union was consulted and the cab was designed around the driver and his operating needs rather than the engineering constraints imposed with the former designs.
Rather than supersede the 56s, the 58s were designed to work alongside the ‘Grids’. The main traffic for the Class 58 was to be on the ‘Merry-Go-Round’ coal circuit, hauling rakes of MGR hoppers loaded from collieries to power stations and return empty, ready to do the trip all over again.
With all fifty of the locomotives allocated to Toton depot, they soon became a common sight in the Midlands. With crew training taking place at locations such as Worksop and Bescot, it wasn’t long before the fifty eights could be seen over a large area of the English countryside with regular trips to the Southern Region around the London area and the Western Region to Didcot. However saying this, they very rarely strayed far from their true territory of the Midlands.
However, being a very versatile locomotive, they were able to try their hand at anything and were very successful at what they were doing. During the 1980’s miners’ strike, the 58s could often be seen hauling ‘Speedlink’ services and were also a common sight on the ‘Freightliner’ and flyash trains. When the miners’ strike was resolved and the collieries started to produce coal once more, the 58s went back to the MGR circuit, but could still occasionally be seen on other types of freight as well. Examples of this were the Saturdays only Birmingham Lawley Street to Nottingham and the Birmingham Lawley Street to Southampton Freightliners during 1987 using Saltley crews and a 58 if one was spare. It should be noted though that the 58s on the Southampton train only worked as far as Reading.
Being a designated freight locomotive, the 58s had no electric train supply and therefore had no permanent diagrammed passenger work at all because they couldn’t operate the on-train machinery, such as air conditioning in the summer or heating in the winter. However, that didn’t stop them appearing on rail tours, drags, or even assisting failed trains! The 58s soon became popular on railtours with the enthusiasts because of their ‘rarity’ on passenger trains.
The ‘Railfreight’ livery in detail…
Standard ‘aircraft grey’ body ; red underframe; Wrap around yellow cabs; wrap around black window frames; large black running number on cab driver’s side; large Railfreight logo on cab second man’s side; large white body side BR ‘Double Arrow’ and white cantrail stripe.
All handrails were white except the cab front handrails which were yellow.
Detailed notes/differences:
All fifty Class 58 locomotives carried this livery from new with the following variations:
58004 had white handrails on the cab fronts and was missing one Railfreight logo at No.1 end only from new. This was never applied retrospectively.
58020 when named “Doncaster Works BRE” the cab side Railfreight logo was moved to a higher position to allow for the nameplate which sat immediately below it.
58020 when this locomotive was renamed “Doncaster Works” it had a Railfreight cast plate applied to the front of the cab in the style above losing its Railfreight side logo.
58034 when named ”Bassetlaw” the cab side Railfreight Logo was positioned at the bottom of the cab to allow for the nameplate and crest which sat above it.
58035 to 58050 had an orange cantrail stripe which extended onto the cab sides and all the way around the front of the cab.
58039, 58040, 58041, 58042 and 58050 all emerged from new in the standard livery with orange cantrail stripe (see description above) but were given small cast Railfreight plates fitted to the front ends when they received their nameplates. The cab side Railfreight logos were removed.
58049 when this loco was named “Littleton Colliery” the cab side Railfreight logo was removed. However, cast Railfreight plates were never fitted to the loco’s front ends. 
A number of locos had small black rabbits painted onto them unofficially at Toton. These were painted next to the data panels. 58002 and 58004 amongst others were locomotives that were treated in this manner!
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