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Class 66

photograph by Colin Duff

66147 photographed whilst running round at Meldon Quarry on 17th February 2001.

Having acquired three of the freight train operating companies and merged them to form the English, Welsh and Scottish Railway (EWS) the new concern's largely American owners surveyed the native locomotive stock and were far from impressed. What followed was the most remarkable renewal of rolling stock ever experienced on British Railways with construction and delivery of the new Canadian built General Motors class 66 locomotives at a quantity, rate and success which has stunned (and pleased) those used to the British way of doing things.

Being derived from and externally similar to the class 59 introduced by Foster Yeoman the class 66 is a different locomotive for a different purpose. It is a modern reliable replacement for elderly type 3, 4 and 5 locomotives for medium weight faster speed freight services. The significant differences from the class 59 are the use of a GM type 710 prime mover (class 59 has type 645), a self steering bogie, revised side grille layout, smaller silencer, and the front headlight mounted centrally above the windscreen.

The first delivery for EWS was on the 18th April 1998 and thereafter regular bulk deliveries ensured that the final (250th) locomotive was delivered only 26 months later on the 21st June 2000. The class 66 is used, subject to line clearance, system wide and whilst its main work is on most types of freight trains it is also used on a limited number of passenger services - principally charters - and also to rescue failed passenger locomotives. Due to the lack of ETH (HEP in its maker's terms) a generator van is needed when working passenger trains. The swift introduction of the class has seen the equally rapid withdrawal native locomotives such as class 31s, 33s, 37s, 47s, 56s and 73s.

Detail differences between members of the class are so far very small. Although generally appreciated by locomotive crews there was concern expressed about the noise level in the cabs. As a result the cabs of 66137 were modified in Canada before delivery and subsequent builds had the modifications incorporated from new. It is expected that earlier members of the class will be retro modified. Also later members of the class were fitted with combination hook/knuckle couplers from new whilst earlier locomotives will be retro fitted with them.

In 1999 Freightliner ordered 5 class 66s (designated class 66/5) and the order was extended in several stages through 2000 and 2001 to a total of 59. This large expansion of the 66 Freightliner fleet effectively spelt the end of the class 57/0 conversion project. After only ten weeks in service 66521 was written off in the terrible crash on the ECML at Great Heck on 28 February 2001. A replacement locomotive was ordered in the later batches however the running number will not be reused. Innovative GB Railways has decided to enter the freight market as GB Railfreight (GBRf) and ordered 7 (designated class 66/7) which were delivered in early 2001. GBRf class 66 locomotives are based at Willesden. Additionally 4 class 66s have been delivered to Europe, 2 to private operator HGK in Germany and 2 to TGOJ Trafik in Sweden. These 4 locomotives were taken from the EWS/Freightliner production batches and the shortfall for their original intended owners made up later in the build.

So in short time hitherto un-thought of the class 66 has rapidly become the definitive general purpose freight locomotive in the UK and has a foothold in mainland Europe. Little wonder then that General Motors Locomotives set up a European office in Germany.

Click on the thumbnails for a larger image.
  • 66001
    The alpha and omega (66001 left and 66250 right) of the EWS 66 fleet were displayed side by side at Old Oak Common on 6th August 2000 to enable those slight differences to be noticed.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 66019
    The renaissance of British freight? EWS class 66019 heading northbound at Kensington Olympia on 8th June 1999.
    Photograph by Michael Taylor.
  • 66019
    A close up view of the corrugated sides on 66019.
    Photograph by Michael Taylor.
  • 66033
    66033 runs light through platform 2 at Eastleigh on 17th April 2002.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 66130
    66130 on an engineers’ train at London Victoria (Chatham side) on Sunday 23rd June 2002.
    Photograph by Ray Soper.
  • 66146
    66146 approaching Factory Junction Wandsworth Road on 18th July 2000.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 66182
    66182 photographed whilst working light engine at Basingstoke on 18th September 2000.
    Photograph by Michael Taylor.
  • 66250
    Front end detail for modellers! The final member of the EWS class 66 fleet, 66250, was on display at Old Oak Common on 6th August 2000.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 66250
    The 66 front end is similar to that of the class 59 which was itself derived from the WR's "Western" diesel-hydraulic class. There are slight detail variations between early and later members of the 66 class.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • 66540
    Freightliner 66540 works an eponymous service through Eastleigh on 17th April 2002.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.

This page was last updated 14 August 2003

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