Published: 13th May 2016
The National Railway Museum (NRM) was the location for creating a piece of railway history on May 10 when the final Class 66 locomotive No. 66779 was named Evening Star respecting the history of the final British Railways built steam locomotive to be built. This was built at Swindon Works and was a heavy freight engine, Class 9F 2-10-0 No. 92220 named Evening Star.
The new diesel will also be used, as with the other 699 of its class, on heavy freight services, was manufactured by Electromotive (EDM) and carries serial number 20148150-007 dated as being manufactured in December 2015 in Illinois USA.
And the final steam locomotive livery was replicated on the diesel complete with a steam era ‘shedplate’ 82F, the code for Bath (Green Park) shed where it was based for some of its short operational life. But unlike the steam engine, 66779 has been fitted with a traditional American warning bell on both ends.
The diesel, the last Class 66 to be built, has been leased by the 20 year old GBRF, a freight company headed up by co-founder John Smith but now employs 650 people operating over 1,000 trainloads a week, moving 15% of Britain’s rail freight with 99% reliability. Mr Smith made a highly charged, and at times, political speech castigating the government’s transport decisions and policy.
He said that as with the other freight companies, GBRF had taken a huge hit on coal volumes by rail because of Government decisions around the taxation of emissions due to the green agenda but the hard landing that all rail freight operators have had has been hugely painful.
He said: “What we now need from the Government is for them to understand the commodities that are growing in this country and for them to facilitate and help us grow those commodities and unfortunately a lot of those commodities are operating in the London area and from Felixstowe for delivery in the Southeast.
We need more [rail] capacity and we need the government to have an intelligent integrated transport policy which means spending on rail and road not just on roads. It would be useful to have intelligent efficient investment in key rail infrastructure facilitated by the Government and I’m still not quite sure that they get that.”
But turning to the matter in hand, the handing over of the last Class 66, Mr Smith recalled working in York diesel shed in 1975 when the NRM was opened and now using that same shed.
He added that “But we are here to celebrate GBRF and EMD - what a great business and who have been fantastic over the last 20 years. He pointed to the British Rail ‘Western’ preserved locomotive and said that it had almost as much power [as the Class 66] but over the last 40 years, the Americans have developed traction systems which enable the Class 66 to pull up to 3000 tons round some very hilly railways of the UK.
Today is about GBRF creating railway history and the business continuing to grow will achieve that and while we are very proud that this locomotive is ours at the moment (although with money borrowed from some German guys!) but we can offer it to the National Collection here once it has finished operations - probably in 40 years’ time.
We’re very proud to be able to offer this locomotive to the national collection here at York and he presented a certificate documenting the offer to Andrew McLean, Head Curator at the NRM as part of the ‘gifting’ process. At the end of the operational period of the locomotive the NRM has the right to claim the locomotive and place it on the NRM turntable here.
The American said: Billy Ainsworth from EMD joined John Smith and said the idea of donating this to the NRM was a great honour for EMD and to have their locomotive preserved in the future but don’t expect to see me here when its preserved, I’ll be 110 years old!
Mr Ainsworth added that it was a great honour to name the engine Evening Star after the iconic steam locomotive and we were so pleased to be honoured with this naming. He added that this is the last of the final tranche of 28 Class 66 locomotives to be built and there are 700 in use worldwide with 550 in the UK and has been an extremely successful locomotive. The Class 66 reliability and durability and how it performs on a worldwide basis is particularly important in the UK because of the delay penalties payable, unlike the US.
Mr Ainsworth then presented a miniature locomotive bell to John Smith to commemorate the event and said that this is a small token of our appreciation to GBRF and a sign of our commitment to GBRF and the future. The nameplate was then unveiled, the locomotive bell rung to a huge round of applause.
Andrew McLean was then presented with the scroll documenting the written donation offer of the locomotive to the NRM to which he cried out “It’s mine, all mine!” And patted the locomotive!
John Smith then invited Chris Hopcroft, a GBRF Train Manager to the stage and introduced him as the one person who has driven both Evening Star locomotives. Mr Hopcroft joined British Rail in 1959 and was presented with scale models of both engines to a round of applause. He thanked GBRF and congratulated John Smith’s 40 years’ service paused and added he joined the railways as a 15-year old in 1959 in the days of steam. So I’m a bit of a relic myself and feel quite at home in a museum!