by Phil Marsh

UK Rail Leasing launch Class 56 fleet back into main line service

Published: 18th November 2014

Leicester based Class 56 fleet owners opens its doors to followers and rail users in the Leicester area may have noticed a diesel locomotive fleet being assembled at the former DB Schenker depot just to the north of the station over the last year.

The company behind the re-opening of the depot is UK Rail Leasing (UKRL) which was formed in September 2013 by a group of ex financiers. They have purchased 15 Class 56 freight diesel locomotives which were laid up by DB Schenker a decade ago.

They were then hired for a couple of years by Fertis for use on the construction of high speed lines in France before returning to the UK for another period of storage. This was despite many of the engines having years of residual engine life available. UKRL purchased 15 surplus Class 56 diesel locomotives over the last few years, some from scrap metal dealers as well as several Class 33s and 37/9 locomotives. They realised that there was still significant usage to be had from these engines with some engineering attention and being fitted with the new safety equipment.

The UKRL locomotive fleet is stabled at several preserved railways such as The Mid Hants Railway and the Battlefield Line but around ten are within the Leicester depot confines.

Who is behind UKRL?

The company is led by managing director Mark Winter, finance director Kristian Mengel and Alan Lee as engineering manager. They are supported by a mixture of dozen staff and contractors.

UKRL has three main activities; locomotive leasing, maintenance and overhauls and are currently working on their first private restoration contract overhauling the Class 56 Group owned locomotive No. 56006 at the Leicester depot.

The company invited the railway press into their Leicester HQ on November 7 when their first locomotive had passed all the required main line engineering acceptance tests and just after Freightliner had issued a Locomotive supply certificate to UKRL. This was the end result of much hard work by the UKRL team in returning No. 56081 to main line revenue earning service. UKRL told that the support they had received from Freightliner was immense and that they were very grateful for their assistance.

The locomotive departed from Leicester on November 14 for use at Freightliner’s Basford Hall (Crewe) infrastructure yard, initially as a ‘supershunter’. But the engine could soon be used on local infrastructure trains once proved as a reliable locomotive.

Why bring back Class 56s?

UKRL owns 15 Class 56s and intends to have eight available for service by April 2015. With new freight locomotives costing around three million pounds each, the lease charges alone can be £1000 a day, plus operational costs such as fuel. New locomotives can also take between two and three years to enter service from when the order is placed.

UKRL’s thinking is that if they can provide a fleet of locomotives that can pull 2000 tons at up to 80mph at half the price of a new engine and within a third of the time it takes to get a new engine, then this will reduce costs and increase opportunities for the freight operators.

Please release me…

If these British Rail ordered locomotives are used as ‘supershunters’ at the huge freight yards then this releases the more expensive newer locomotives for other services, again reducing operational costs. There is a shortage of locomotives in the UK because of the growth in commercial freight and the massive investment in the UK rail bringing more and more engineering trains required across the network.

The UKRL fleet is being turned out in neutral grey livery with yellow ends and for the moment, there is no UKRL branding or identity. It should be noted that UKRL is not a train operating company but has become an accredited provider of main line locomotives.

The initial plan is to return between eight and ten Class 56s to traffic with the first three leased by Freightliner. No. 56081 has been provided with a zero hours engine and was overhauled and tested at the Brush Works at Loughborough – where much of the Class 56 fleet was built nearly 40 years ago .No. 56081 made a guest appearance at the Nene Valley Railway on October 4 and 5 and will soon be joined at Basford Hall by classmate No. 56104.

UKRL fleet as at Nov 10, 2014
















37905 and 37906.

What next?

By end of 2014 three more Class 56s from the UKRL fleet will be in service, two with Freightliner and these will be taken from: 56098, 56104 and 56018. These will be followed into service by the end of May 2015 by 56060, 56032, 56065 and 56037.

Once these have been operating for a while, the decision will be taken as to return more to service under a similar refurbishment project or to embark on a second scheme totally re-powering the rest of the fleet with a new traction package.

UKRL has a huge quantity of spare parts in their stores at Leicester and they will move into the locomotive maintenance and servicing market as time goes on. It is also likely that the UKRL Leicester depot’s train refuelling point will be reactivated once the ‘paperwork’ has been completed.

A little history

British Rail ordered the Class 56 fleet in 1973 for freight use on coal merry-go-round trains serving the many coal fired power stations. Loughborough based Brush Traction won the order for the 135 strong fleet but somewhat controversially at the time due to manufacturing capacity constraints, some work was sub-contracted to the Romanian company Electroputere.

The first engine into service was the now Class 56 Group owned No. 56006 on 27th February 1977. In 1998 around half of the fleet was placed into store as the Class 66 fleet was introduced. The class carried on working until 2004 when the last pair were used on a charter train and then withdrawn.

Since then, several of the class have returned to the mainline in recent years initially with Fastline, then Colas and Devon & Cornwall Railways. The active main line fleet looks set to double and maybe triple with UKRL’s investment. It could even be that their Class 56s repeat history by being used on construction trains for HS2.

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