Class 86 Electric at Crewe

British Rail Class 86 Electric Locomotive

Read more about the iconic Class 86, built in large numbers for use on the West Coast Main Line after electrification and throughout the 1960s and 70s.

100 Locos

The British Rail built class 86 was developed during the 1960s with an order for 100 locos placed and delivered during the early to middle of that decade.

Vulcan Foundry

60 locos were constructed at the famous Vulcan Foundry in Newton Le Willows and 40 at the British Railways Workshops at Doncaster.

Express Passenger Services

The loco class had a maximum speed of 100 mph and was designed specifically to work express passenger services between London Euston and Birmingham/Liverpool and Manchester these routes having been recently electrified as the electrification of the West Coast Main Line continued they could then be seen working further North to Preston/Carlisle and then Glasgow.


They were designated class AL6 when classified, quite simply the sixth class of AC Electric Traction ordered by British Rail and numbered E3101-3200.

West Coast Main Line

Locos were equally at home on passenger or freight services within the classes operating sphere, initially on the West Coast Main line for which they were designed.

Track Damage

The class gained a bad reputation for causing excessive wear and tear to the infrastructure and it was decided as an experiment to fit additional springs to the locomotives bogies to improve ride quality and also help to prevent track damage.


In the 1970s British Rail adopted the computerised TOPS (Total Operations Processing System) and with its introduction came the wholesale renumbering of the class to Class 86 split into two batches 86001-86048 and 86201-86252 the latter locos had the improved suspension hence were recognised in an early form of sectorisation as being express passenger locos befitting the newly created Inter City name.


86201-86203 were to become test bed locos for a soon to be built class 87 loco design and were rated at 5000 hp and in time were regeared to operate at 110 mph, these locos to help with identity were renumbered again to 86101-86103.

Loco Naming

In the late 1970s a British Rail policy decision saw the revitalising of loco naming, something that was nearly obsolete since the days of steam locos and a list of names were drawn up and locos receive them, some at naming ceremonies and others at depots, 86101 was to be named after the famous Loco engineer Sir William A Stanier whereas other locos were to be allocated names after cities through where they plyed regularly and others were named after locos synonymous with the early days of the Railways in the UK such as 86214 Sanspareil and 86218 Planet.

Further Modifications

By the time the 1980s arrived the locos were to see further modifications and also see them expanding the classes operational sphere, with the progressive electrification of the Great Eastern mainline initially to Ipswich and latterly Norwich it was decided to use class 86 locos in that area for the first time and they would be introduced to work Inter City services from London Liverpool Street to Ipswich initially as well as freight services destined for Felixstowe which they would work from the North west via London as pairs of locos which they worked the train to Ipswich yard changing to diesel traction for the much shorter leg to the Docks of Felixstowe.


A further sub class was created with additional differences to the bogies, this saw some of the class 86/0 sub class renumbered to 86/3.


Britain’s Railways were ever changing and a new concept was looked at to save on the number of locomotives required on West Coast passenger Trains as well as improve station layover times, it was intended that a brand new non passenger carrying vehicle would be built designated DVT (Driving Van Trailer) and this vehicle coupled to the London end of the Train would communicate with the electric loco at the Country end of the train via a number of electronic signals using a new system called TDM (Time Divisional Multiplex) enabling it to take control of the locomotive in a surrogate form, the class 86/2 locos were to be fitted as were the remaining 86/0 and the 86/3 sub classes which were also renumbered to 86/4. The class numbering now being 86401-86439 86101-86103 86204-86261.


As the class, carried on in to the 1990s a number of locos were decelerated to 75 mph and dedicated to freight trains these were primarily in the 86401-86439 batch and would be renumbered in 866Xx range with a 6 replacing the 4 to denote this from an operational point of view.


Also Inter City Trains to and from Norwich would also become push pull operated using the class 86 locos and redundant Driving Trailers from the Edinburgh-Glasgow services which had become formed of sprinter trains. These Driving Trailers were unique in being passenger carrying and were known as DBSO (Driving Brake Second Open).


Going back to freight operations a batch of Inter City locos randomly chosen from the 86204-86261 range were numbered 86501-86508 for a short period of time and had the Electric Train Heating supply disconnected to dedicate them to freight use also, however this was a short lived development and the locos were returned to the Inter City sector.

As the locos were built in Electric Blue and then repainted in BR Blue, they only had a few celebrity liveried locos with 86214 and 86235 being painted in a special livery to celebrate the Rainhill trials, gradually locos gained some unique identities as they were painted in different forms of the Inter City/Mainline livery and also Grey freight liveries and Red Postal liveries for working Royal mail trains.

Private Operators

As the Railways were privatised in the 1990’s then the ownership of the locos would change and with the creation of Rolling Stock leasing companies such as Porterbrook and Angel then these companies would become the leasor and loco’s would be hired to the new private operators.

Voyager and Pendolino

Going through these operators, Virgin had the larger passenger fleet when it took over the newly formed Cross Country and West Coast franchises with 31 locos being leased 18 by Cross Country and 13 by West Coast these locos would work for a number of years until they were all replaced by brand new build Voyager and Pendolino trains.


Anglia inherited 15 locos for push pull Inter City working, the Liverpool Street Norwich route being the exception to the rule with Electric Traction being found at the London end of the trains when in push pull mode, this came about due to difficulties with trains coming to a stand at signals in neutral sections, where power could not then be taken when they came to pull away from a particular stop.

Replacing Class 86's

Effectively with the end of the Anglia Franchise in 2004 came the beginning of the end of 86s on Inter City type trains as written into the new incumbent One’s Franchise commitment was to replace class 86’s with the more modern but displaced former Virgin class 90 locos.

Golden Jubilee

The Anglia locos although suffering unreliability fleet problems soldiered on for a few more years and one loco was painted with a large Union jack on the body side and named Golden Jubilee in honour of her Majesty’s 50th anniversary as our Monarch.


The bulk of the remaining locos were to transfer to freight operators with Freightliner taking on 30 locos for working container trains usually in pairs although one loco 86608 was regeared and renumbered to 86501 the second time a loco carried that number, although Freightliner seemed happy with this, no further conversions took place and as the class slowly runs down with a number of locos now being stored or withdrawn, how much of a future these 45 year old veterans have left remains to be seen. 86501 usually is found working freight trains in a dedicated diagram and even though it has suffered two serious fires it has been repaired on both occasions and can usually be found on it’s regular diagram from Lancashire to Ipswich.

English Welsh and Scottish Railways

EWS (English Welsh and Scottish Railways) took on 15 loco’s these were primarily for Rail Express Systems parcels/postal arm but became more common user when EWS took over ownership, being found working Charter Trains on the West Coast and also could be seen on postal trains on the East Coast as well as making on appearance on Charter Trains on this route.

Heating Units

Other operators took advantage of the leasing process and Locos could be found acting as Heating Units at places as diverse for the class as East Ham and also at a former home Wembley as well as being hired by preservationists to Hull Trains to operate weekend services between Doncaster and Kings Cross to assist with fleet availability issues after an accident involving one of the companies trains at a repair facility.

Operating in Pairs

Moving on, currently freightliner operate about a dozen locos still and these can be found still operating in pairs between The Freightliner terminals of the North West and Ipswich and Tilbury.


86101 is owned by the AC Loco group and can often be seen working Charter trains, being employed on Ice Breaking duties in Freezing weather to keep the overhead lines from freezing over and also has been used on Postal trains, this loco continues to be available for spot hire.

West Midlands Radio DJ Les Ross

Vintage Trains operate 86259 which is owned and named after a West Midlands Radio DJ Les Ross.

This has operated a few charter trains, although currently it is awaiting repairs before it is seen working again hopefully later this year.

86701 and 86702

Phoenix Rail operate two locos numbered 86701 and 86702 which are also available for spot hire although they have seen some limited work with freight operator GBRf.

AC Loco Group

86401 is also owned by the AC Loco group and has recently undergone a bogie swap with 86424 which was bought from network rail although this loco is currently not certified for use on the main line.


Network rail also own 86901/902 and these are painted in yellow like 86424 and can usually be found at LNWR workshops at Crewe, they did not work anything this Winter and are assumed to be out of traffic currently, they were to be used as Load Banks allowed to run at reduced speed and also used for Ice Breaking duties.


86213 is the final class member owned by the AC Loco group, this has been recently repainted in InterCity colours but is usually not visible at Wembley Depot where it is used to pre heat carriages.

Export of 86's

One final chapter is the export of a handful of 86s to Hungary for use by a Private open Access freight operator, these locos were given some TLC at Long Marston and repainted in a distinctive Black Livery and can be found working in pairs to Hegyashalom on the Austrian/Hungarian border.


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