Class 90 Electric at Crewe Works Open Day

British Rail Class 90 Electric Locomotive

Learn more about Class 90, which was designed and built to replace the 1960s-built Classes 81 to 85 – and is still in regular service today.

British Rail Class 90 Electric

Fifty Class 90 Locomotives were constructed at BREL Crewe Works between 1987-1990, primarily as a mixed traffic locomotive, working Passenger, Parcels and freight trains.

The locos were ordered to replace early 1960s built electric designs class 81-85. Originally they were to be classified class 87/2 , however a change in policy saw them numbered 90001-90050.

They had a maximum speed of 110 Mph and started passenger duties on West Coast Mainline and Cross Country services from Euston-Manchester/Liverpool and Glasgow as well as Manchester and Liverpool to Birmingham.

In the classes early years they rarely strayed far, although they did work freight trains to Ipswich and occasional passenger forays to Harwich International on Boat Trains.


Until Sectorisation very little changed, it was when British Rail was sold off that duties changed and 15 engines transferred to the Intercity sector later Virgin West Coast, 5 transferred to the Parcels sector, 5 to Railfreight Distribution (retaining the 110 mph maximum speed for spot hire work to Passenger Train Operators), and the remaining 25 transferred to the Freight sector and had the maximum speed reduced to 75 mph and had the Train Supply to heat passenger coaches isolated.

This situation didn’t change for a number of years, it was only when the Anglo Scottish sleeper contract was renegotiated that some of the freight locos were authorised to work at 110 mph again and had the train heating reinstated, in time 90025-90040 regained these characteristics and these could also be used for spot hire work to other passenger operators.


Many Locos received names, some of Cities, others Newspapers and some of Freight customers, the most innovative promotional use of the locos was to paint 90128/90129 and 90130 in the liveries of the Belgian (SNCB) French (SNCF) and German (DB) Railways and these ran like this for a number of years and were in conjunction with a Freight Connection event in 1992.


With Privatisation of Britains Railways, EWS, later to become DB Schenker, inherited 25 locos for Freight/Parcel/Charter/Spot Hire Passenger and Sleeper work, of these 12 are currently stored, in need of serious re-engineering if they are to ever run again, a smaller number can be found in store depending on day to day requirements. Nowadays the bulk of the work is on Scotrail sleepers, occasional work on charters and freight trains can also occur.


Freightliner operate ten locos which can be found on Freightliner container trains between Ipswich Yard and Crewe/Manchester and Mossend near Glasgow, usually singularly, one engine has in the past six months even been employed on Passenger working usually on Fridays being hired to Virgin West Coast to assist with high demand Friday passenger loadings on a Virgin owned Mark 3 coaching set, this latter contract is expected to last until the end of the Virgin Franchise in 2012.

Finally National Express East Anglia have a fleet of 15 locos for working the half hourly Liverpool Street Norwich service, 11 of these have daily work on a typical Monday to Friday and one less on a Saturday. These locos were inherited from Virgin West Coast from 2004.


Reliability has been an issue in recent years but the fleet, be it passenger or freight locos, do accumulate huge mileage on a daily basis and reliability modifications have improved availability.

The class have carried many different liveries. Delivered in InterCity or Mainline freight liveries, they have received various non standard liveries. Currently they can be found in National Express Livery, the Blue Livery of One a previous Branded Franchise name for the Anglia Franchise, Scotrail Blue for the sleeper dedicated locos, EWS Livery, Freightliner Liveries of Grey, Green and the more recent Powerhaul as well as 90036 currently carrying a very faded Grey with extended yellow around the cabs.

Although not the success story of other loco classes, they have been a dependable performer and have a good many years of service to look forward to, the rumour that some would be sold to Romania has never come to anything and the cost of rebuilding the 12 long stored examples is prohibitive to them ever re-emerging on the Railways in the UK again.


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