Class 58 History | Trainload Coal

Trainload Coal

As we saw in the ‘Railfreight’ pages, in the early 1980's, while the Class 58s were still being built, British Rail’s own internal 'sectorisation' program began. The plan was to split the business into separate entities. The businesses created became Intercity, Network SouthEast, Provincial (later Regional Railways), Parcels and Railfreight. The launch of Railfreight in 1982 and how the 58s operated in that period was covered in the first part of this series, so for this issue, we are looking at how Railfreight was split into sub sectors, each transporting, in bulk, its own specific traffic, but still under the overall control of the BR Board.
The sectors that Railfreight would be split up into were based on their main traffic flows:
  • Coal
  • Construction
  • Metals
  • Petroleum
However, there were some traffic flows that did not fit into any of these categories or did not operate in bulk loads. To overcome this, there was also a ‘general’ distribution network which became known as Railfreight Distribution. RfD (as it widely became known from 1988 onwards) was BR’s intermodal and international freight business which also carried non-bulk traffic, such as china clay, chemicals and automotive. As mentioned, one part of RfD was the ‘general’ haulage sector. Whilst only a few locomotives ever carried the ‘general’ logo, this itself was not a separate sector. The RfD business also incorporated the Speedlink network (formed in 1977), which was Railfreight’s general air-braked wagonload freight network (which in turn replaced the vacuum-braked network) as well as the Freightliner operations. However, Speedlink soon became unprofitable, losing traffic to road and “inappropriate in today’s distribution marketplace”, so in 1991, the service was withdrawn. Soon after (in 1994), the Freightliner operations also split off to form a separate company, known as Freightliner Ltd. In the 1990s, RfD started to specialise in Channel Tunnel traffic – this was proved by ordering thirty Class 92 locomotives specially designed for hauling international freight through the ‘chunnel’, working with another batch of sixteen Class 92s owned and operated by the French SNCF/SNCB and Eurostar.
The idea for the main sub-sectors was for them to concentrate and specialise in hauling their own traffic, i.e., they would be hauling a bulk train load of one commodity. Each of these sub-sectors however, had its own managers, staff, rolling stock and locomotives. The sectors, although given their ‘individuality’, were still under the direct control of Railfreight (BR) and the British Rail Board.
Deciding which of the hundreds of Railfreight locomotives would be allocated to which sub-sector was little more than a 'pick and choose' exercise, done by some members of staff in the DM&EE freight offices at Derby with input from what type of freight would be handled as well as information such as works and overhaul dates.
When it came to deciding which sector the Class 58s would be allocated to, there was a little bit of indecision. Originally, at the time of deciding, the Class 58s were going to be split between the Coal and Speedlink sectors. The reason was at the time, the Class 58s were working regularly on the ‘Speedlink’ services in many areas, most noticeably in the Hope Valley.
However, when it came to the final crunch, all the Class 58s were eventually allocated to the Coal sector.
The main reason for this is simply because at the time of the building process of the 58s, the main traffic they were intended for was on the ‘merry-go-round’ coal traffic in the Midlands and their construction was partially funded by the coal division of Railfreight.
It was now the mid 1980’s and Railfreight’s plans were slowly coming together for the ‘sub-sectorisation’, but again, like the original launch of ‘Railfreight’, a new-look image was required for the new businesses.
The task of designing and deciding upon a livery for the new sectors was given to the ‘Roundel Design Group’ – a design consultation company. In the end, a simple 'triple grey' livery was chosen. This was because the livery is so adaptable – it could be applied to all the classes of Railfreight locomotives operating. However, a bland triple-grey livery on its own simply wasn't enough. Like all businesses, a ‘brand’ logo, or set of logos were required…
Again, the task of designing a family of logos for the businesses was given to the ‘Roundel Design Group’ but the logos were to be decided upon in connection with the DM&EE and Freight Division headquarters in Derby.
The designs that came up, having been discussed and formally agreed, were based on the major commodity carried by that particular sector:
  • The Coal sector logo (black diamonds) represents coal.
  • The Construction logo (blue/yellow squares) represents building blocks.
  • The Metals logo (blue/yellow chevrons) represents corrugated iron.
  • The Petroleum logo (blue/yellow wavy lines) represents the fluid nature of the oil.
  • From what we understand, the Railfreight Distribution (RfD) logo (red diamonds/yellow) was supposed to show the four corners of the UK, but on the other hand, it might well simply be a design not based on anything…!
On top of all these designs, which were all contained within a square, was a request from the Freight Division that all the designs were to be based on the letter 'F' for freight. This is why on all the logos, there is what looks like a shadow in the top left hand corner of the designs. If you’re clever, you’ll be able to see what I mean by looking at the logo designs:

The official launch of the Railfreight sub-sectors: October 1987

Deciding which Class 58 would star at the launch in the coal livery was not a difficult choice!
58050, which was still on SEPEX trials, was repainted into the Coal sector livery by hand at Stratford in the days prior to the sub-sector launch. Then, it was hauled overnight (using the cover of darkness to hide its new livery), over to Ripple Lane depot where it was prepared to star alongside other locomotives in the official launch of the new BR Railfreight businesses.
The official launch of the sub-sectors of Railfreight came on Thursday the 15th October 1987 at Ripple Lane depot where, for the first time, the press could see the new liveries: 58050 was shown off in Coal sector livery, 56001 in Construction sector and 37892 in Petroleum livery.
Unfortunately, on the day, the event was very much scaled down due to the storm damage that hit the region just days prior to the event, but it went ahead anyway.
On the day, the plan was for 58050 to run out of the shed at Ripple Lane, through the streamers and park up in front of the press for the photographs to be taken. However, in true Class 58 style – the locomotive failed and couldn’t be started, so had to be pushed out by the Class 37!
The weekend following the official unveiling of the sectors and their liveries, Ripple Lane held an open day where members of the public could visit the site to see witness the new ‘era’ in the history of British Railways.
Eventually, one by one, all Class 58s were repainted into the new Coal sector livery, with 58049 being the last one in December 1991. Most interestingly, some of these repainting works were carried out at Vic Berry’s scrap yard in Leicester.

So where does Trainload come into all this…?

After the launch of the sub-sectors at Ripple Lane, the Railfreight sectors started to ‘specialise’ in hauling a bulk ‘trainload’ of one commodity. This is where the generic name of Trainload comes from.
However, in late 1988/early 1989, a re-branding exercise took place where the Railfreight business name officially became known as Trainload Freight. The Railfreight Coal sub-sector became known as Trainload Coal, Railfreight Metals became Trainload Metals etc. The only Railfreight sector that did not become a Trainload business was Railfreight Distribution which continued all the way up until 1998 as a subsidiary of the BR Board.
Trainload Freight was Britain’s biggest heavy haulier. In the year ending 31st March 1990, the sectors had hauled over 128 million tonnes of freight.
Trainload Coal was the biggest of the sectors. The department had over 200 locomotives (which included the complete fleet of 50 Class 58 locomotives) and 11,000 wagons, all allocated to the bulk movement of coal by rail, which amounted to 75 million tonnes in 1990 (58% of Trainload Freight’s total traffic).

Depot plaques

All Railfreight locomotives were allocated to a ‘home’ depot. But as usual, in reality, they were often out-stabled elsewhere where minor faults or running repairs could be undertaken if required. Usually, if a major repair or exam was imminent, the locomotive would move to its home depot for these repairs to be undertaken.
The depots were, and still are, a very important part of the rail industry – maintaining, servicing, repairing and fuelling locomotives in order for them to operate efficiently.
As part of Railfreight’s ever-growing desire to give everything a new identity for the launch of the sub-sectors, the depots would also have something that could be instantly recognised as ‘theirs’.
Again, the Roundel Design Group were given the task of coming up with some designs that could be carried by locomotives so that they could be identifiable as belonging to a particular depot. In the end there were well over 40 designs of decals (which became known as ‘depot plaques’) during this ‘sectorisation’ period of British Rail between 1987 and 1997. Most of these designs were by the Roundel Design Group based on industry local to the depot. Some logos, however, were designed locally by depot staff. Some plaques were cast in metal and carried by locomotives, while the other painted-on designs were carried purely on rolling stock, depot entrances, fuel tanks, offices and even road vehicles!
Some plaque designs were launched at the same time as the sub-sectors of Railfreight in October 1987. For example, 58050 in Coal livery also launched the use of the Toton ‘cooling towers’ plaque, whilst 37892 carried the Ripple Lane ‘torch’ logo. Other designs of the logos, for example, the Immingham ‘star and scroll’ came later.
Even now, many years after they were designed, the plaques are still instantly recognisable: the cooling towers symbolise Toton depot, synonymous with the 58s, the pit winding wheel symbolises Knottingley whilst the Spitfire design has come to represent Eastleigh and the seagull has become synonymous with Saltley depot and so on…
Unfortunately, after the demise of Railfreight/Trainload into Mainline Freight and eventually EWS, these depot plaques were progressively removed in line with the new companies’ livery policies. However, the popularity of these plaques is still evident, ex-locomotive plaques consistently being highly sought after by collectors who are willing to pay high prices for these items.
Class 58 operations
When operating under Railfreight (during the ‘red stripe’ era), the Class 58s were pretty much a “go anywhere, do anything” locomotive. Although they were mainly built for hauling the Merry-Go-Round coal circuit trains, they quite often were put to use on other freight services, such as steel, enterprise, Freightliner and engineers trains. This was proved during the 1984-85 miner’s strike.
Because each of the sectors had its own managers, staff, budget, rolling stock and locomotives, there became no need for one locomotive to haul a variety of different rail-borne freights. One pool of locomotives allocate to one sector would be expected to haul nothing but that particular freight traffic. In the case of the Class 58s, they were allocated to the Coal sector and so it became an extremely rare sight to see a Class 58 hauling anything other than coal traffic (but it did happen occasionally for one reason or another!).
However, railtours, which were probably more popular (and certainly more exciting) than they are now, frequently saw a Class 58, or sometimes a pair if you were lucky, at the head of the charter.

Trainload Freight Facts…

The total resources for Trainload Freight in the early 1990s was like this:
  • Over 16,400 employees throughout the UK
  • Over 500 diesel locomotives
  • 25 locomotive depots
  • 11 wagon repair depots
  • 51 traincrew depots
  • 975 private sidings and terminals served.
Trainload Coal Resources
In March 1993, the Trainload Coal sector had:
  • Class 20 x 6
  • Class 31/1 x 9
  • Class 37/0 x 8
  • Class 37/3 x 2
  • Class 37/5 x 11
  • Class 37/7 x 20
  • Class 47 x 1
  • Class 56 x 81
  • Class 58 x 50
  • Class 60 x 35
Total number of locomotives: 223
The Coal sector livery in detail…
Standard dark grey roof, mid-grey upper body, light grey lower body including below cab side windows. Dark grey grills, wrap around black window frames and black cab entrance doors with black solebar. Large sub sector logo applied on body side with cast BR Double Arrow fitted on drivers cab side and Toton depot plaque fitted on second mans cab side. The large radiator grille on the body side was painted dark grey and the three smaller grills below were painted light grey. Orange cantrail stripe applied. Small three digit locomotive numbers were applied on the cab fronts. Of particular note with the Class 58 is that the cast depot plaques that were fitted were a much smaller size than those applied to other classes.
All 50 Class 58s carried this Coal sector livery with the following variations:
  • Named locomotives were originally specified to have the cast depot plaques fitted on the body side engine compartment doors. 58002, 58014 and 58050 were treated in this manner however some had them fitted on the secondman’s cab entrance doors, examples being 58011, 58020 and 58040. This style is thought to have become the standard after an initial few were treated as 58002, 58014 and 58050.
  • 58023 was one of three 58s to have the larger standard size depot plaques fitted cab side.
  • 58002 and 58018 had larger sized three digit numbers applied to the cab front.
In 1992, under shadow privatisation, these Railfreight sub-sectors gave way to three regional Trainload Freight companies prior to the privatisation of British Rail.

Depot Plaques

There were well over forty different designs of depot plaques (or decals) during the ‘sectorisation’ period of British Rail between 1987 and 1997. Most of these designs were designed by the Roundel Design Group based on industry local to the depot, however, some logos were designed locally by depot staff. Some of these plaques were cast and carried by locomotives whilst other painted-on designs were carried purely on rolling stock, depot entrances, fuel tanks, offices and even road vehicles!