Home > History & Preservation > Class 86

The AL6 design was produced ostensibly from the experience gained with the first five designs in the early years of the WCML electrification. It featured a general construction design and bogies closely following those of the AL5, high-tension tap changing (power control) pioneered on the AL2 and a completely modular interior based around the concept of four 'power packs', one for each traction motor.

In a departure from the styling of the AL1-AL5 fleet, the AL6s featured squared-off front ends, as opposed to the raked back noses of the earlier designs. The three window arrangement was retained, as was the headcode box. Another significant change was the lack of a second pantograph when built.

Two builders were responsible for the construction of the 100 locomotives. BR Doncaster was given the job of completing 60 locomotives, while Vulcan Foundry was to build 40. Eventually the numbers were reversed with VF building the majority due to capacity problems at Doncaster. Electrical equipment was supplied by AEI and English Electric, and one area that received special attention was that of noise levels. The cooling fans on the AL6 were specially designed to avoid the sometimes deafening roar produced by the earlier locos!

The first locomotives from each manufacturer were noted on test in January 1965, however build dates, first testing dates, first passenger traffic dates and introduction dates for the AL6s were so varied that it is almost impossible to state which locomotives came first. E3101 and E3161 were amongst the first locos sighted, and E3173 (of which more later) is often quoted as the first delivered, though two locos became the first to haul passenger trains, both being charged with football specials in May 1965. Official introduction didn't come until August of the same year.

After much research we are now 95% sure that the AL6s all emerged painted in an early shade of Rail Blue, with white cab roofs and window surrounds) and not the Electric Blue of the early classes. The original number series was E3101 - E3200.

The whole fleet was delivered within 24 months, however, and the class soon settled down to regular service on a variety of trains, including pick-up goods! Two designs of traction motor were used on the fleet, with slightly different gear ratios, but with little impact on performance in the early years.

One significant failure of the AL6 design was that of the traction motor mountings. In the early designs, bogie-frame-mounted motors had been used with flexible drives to the axles, but with the AL6 the motors were mounted directly on the axles. It was soon found that the excess of unsprung weight at high speed was causing serious track damage and bad riding.

In 1969, one locomotive, E3173, was fitted experimentally with additional suspension in the form of large helical 'flexicoil' springs in groups of three on each side of each bogie, supporting the body. The trials with the loco, which was nicknamed 'Zebedee', were a success, and eventually led to the design being fitted to the whole fleet.

E3173 went on to perform an important role in the development of the HST or InterCity 125. Prior to the prototype of this train being built, E3173 was fitted with an aerodynamic nose and ran a series of high-speed tests in the Tring area, measuring air resistance and pressure effects in tunnels. It is reported that the loco reached 129mph during these tests, becoming the first UK loco to beat Mallard's record! BR chose not to publicise the event, however, as they were expecting better things from their HST, and didn't want to overshadow the new train.

The first significant change to the Class 86 fleet (as it became known in the early 70s) was the separation of the class into two principle sub classes, determined by the traction motor type. The 86/0s were the standard loco, essentially as built, and were generally restricted to freight and slower passenger duties, with their maximum speed dropped from 100mph to 80mph. The 86/2s became the high-speed passenger locomotives, all being fitted with flexicoil suspension. Forty-nine locomotives were originally converted, increased soon afterwards to 58. As traction motor types were distributed amongst the fleet seemingly at random, renumbering from the original E3XXX series to the new TOPS series was also essentially random, so, for instance, 86001 was not previously E3101.

In addition, three further locos were modified. Initially numbered with the 86/2s (86201-203), these were modified with new bogies of a design developed for use in the Class 87s, then under development. They were renumbered as Class 86/1s, taking the series 86101 - 86103, and undertook special testing, particularly on the northern stretches of the WCML as the line was electrified, in preparation for the new locos.

By the mid 1970s, all the 86s were in Rail Blue livery with aluminium BR double-arrows on each side, however in the late 1970s and early 1980s, several 86/2s were selected to receive names following the change in BR policy towards named locomotives. Two 86/2s were treated to a special livery to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Rainhill Trials in 1979; 86214 Sans Pareil and 86235 Novelty (both named after locomotives that took part in the original trials), were given large bodyside numbers and a full height emblem marking the event. They also received full yellow cabs and black window surrounds after a short time, being the first locos to carry the style that later developed into Large Logo Blue.

Eventually all the 86/1s and 86/2s received names, and many of the freight fleet have also been named as the years have passed. A number of the freight locos were fitted with multiple working equipment compatible with the Class 87s during this period, the addition of hefty jumper cables to the nose end being especially obvious.

By the late 1970s, the 86/0 fleet were still causing problems due to bad riding and track damage. In addition, there was a need for more 100mph-capable locomotives. Nineteen 86/0s were modified by the use of SAB resilient wheels - a new design of wheel in two sections separated by a rubber bearing. The converted locos (86011 - 86029) were renumbered into the 86/3 series (86311 - 86329).

Still more 100mph locos were needed, however, and a further conversion programme was undertaken, fitting all the 86/3s and 86/0s with flexicoil suspension, and fitting the 86/0s with SAB wheels, standardising the whole lot as Class 86/4, renumbered appropriately. Thus by the mid 1980s, all 100 locos were a near-standard interchangeable fleet. A number of 86/2s were moved to the Great Eastern for use on the newly electrified line to Ipswich and later Norwich. The fleet was flexible and saw locos move back and forth from the WCML at irregular intervals.

In 1986 two Class 86s locos were written off in the fatal Colwich crash. These were 86211 City of Milton Keynes (the only 86 never to receive a version of InterCity livery) and 86429 The Times (originally E3200 - the last numbered loco).

Sectorisation in the late 1980s then split the fleet up once again, with the 86/4s moving to dedicated parcels and freight use, and the 86/2s remaining on InterCity passenger services. Many 86/4s had their train heating capabilities removed, with other modifications, and became Class 86/6s, with a reduced maximum speed of 75mph. These generally operated in pairs on long-distance freight services.

At the end of the 1980s, the Freightliner subsector required a fleet of electric locomotives for dedicated Freightliner use, and so ten 86/2s were earmarked for regearing and removal of train heating. Nine of these were renumbered into a new Class 86/5 series before the InterCity sector demanded the locos back and they reverted to their 86/2 identities!

The increased use of fixed-formation trainsets, coupled with the delivery of new DVT (Driving Van Trailer) vehicles, saw the 86s modified with Time Division Multiplex (TDM) multiple working equipment. Railway Clearing House (RCH)-style jumpers were added to the cab fronts of all locos, used to control the loco whilst propelling for the 86/2s, and for general multiple working amongst the other sub-classes. The 86/4s and 86/6s lost their original multiple-working equipment soon afterwards.

At the dawn of Privatisation, the 86 fleet was divested to a number of owners and operators. The 86/1s and the majority of 86/2s passed to Eversholt Leasing Company (later Forward Trust, and later still HSBC) and hired to InterCity West Coast and InterCity Cross Country (later Virgin West Coast and Virgin Cross Country). A small fleet of seven 86/2s passed to Rail Express Systems and later EWS, together with the eight remaining 86/4s. Ten 86/6s moved to the Freightliner business, with the remainder becoming the property of Porterbrook Leasing, leased back to Freightliner.

The third loss to the fleet came in 1997 when 86239 L S Lowry was written off in the Stafford crash, however a number of locos began to be stored in the late 1990s as strategic reserves or unofficially as 'Christmas Trees' for spare parts. Some eventually returned to service, while others did not.

Freightliner chose one of their locomotives for special re-gearing trials in 2000, and 86608 was renumbered 86501, just to confuse anyone who thought that 86258 had been 86501 for a while in 1989. This loco re-entered service but remained a one-off conversion.

In mid 2002, Virgin Trains replaced all its Cross Country loco-hauled services with new stock, displacing the dedicated 86/2s which were placed into store. On a more positive note, however, Virgin, Alstom (who maintained the fleet) and HSBC agreed to repaint one of the remaining West Coast 86/2s into a good approximation of original Electric Blue livery. 86233 (E3172) was the chosen loco, renamed Alstom Heritage on the occasion of its unveiling.

2002 also saw the start of disposals, with 86219 Phoenix having the dubious distinction of being the first to be cut up. Several other locos, including numerical pioneer E3101 (86252), 86103 and 86204 (E3173 - 'Zebedee') also met their end during the year.

86s on West Coast Main Line passenger services all but ceased in 2003, leaving Anglia to continue alone until the end of 2004 when their last three locos were due to be taken out of service. Many off-lease locos were stored during 2003, however a good number were sent almost immediately for scrap. By the end of 2004 no less than 25 locos had been disposed of or sold for scrap. Meanwhile The AC Locomotive Group purchased 86401 from EWS in June 2004.

Anglia surprised everyone by retaining a couple of 86/2s for most of 2005, but the end finally came on 17th September when 86235 ran its last diagram. In the meantime, two further 86/2s (86210 and 86253) gained a new lease of life, being converted into new Mobile Load Bank machines numbered 86902 and 86901 respectively. A third 86/2 took on a new aspect as 86258 was moved to Brush Loughborough for conversion to a battery powered short-haul locomotive.

86213 had been on loan from HSBC to The AC Locomotive Group since November 2002 and, along with 86101, was purchased by the Group in 2005. Initially stored at Barrow Hill, 86213 was moved in 2005 to Wembley for use as a train supply locomotive. 86101 had been stored unused for some years but was moved to Barrow Hill in 2006 for restoration to start. 86101 became the first preserved AC electric locomotive to operate on the main line on 15th March 2007, and it became the first preserved AC electric locomotive to operate a charter train on 24th March 2007, from Carlisle to Crewe and back.

West Midlands radio presenter Les Ross purchased 86259 from HSBC in 2007, and it was restored to main line running order in 2008.

86101 was hired to Hull Trains in late 2007 for use on weekend services between London Kings Cross and Doncaster. These services ran from 11th January 2008 to 20th April 2008. Thus 86101 became the first preserved AC electric locomotive to work scheduled passenger services. The services required use of the Time Division Multiplex (TDM) remote control system, and sustained running at 110mph.

In 2008 Europhoenix Ltd. completed a deal to purchase the remaining HSBC Class 86/2 fleet, numbering 23 locomotives, with the intention of overhauling some of them for use in Europe and the UK. 86248 and 86250 were sold to Hungarian private open access freight operator Floyd, and were delivered in February and May 2009, becoming Hungarian class 450. Trials with these locos were successful and up to eight further locos will be exported: delivered so far are 86232 (April 2010), 86218 (February 2011), 86215 (May 2012) and 86217 (February 2013).

Also during 2009, Europhoenix prepared 86205 and 86260 for use by Electric Traction Ltd as "commercial" locomotives to supplement "preserved" locomotives 86101 and 87002. Becoming 86701 and 86702 respectively, they have been approved for use at 110mph.

Since general withdrawal from service in 2005, a number of the poorest quality 86/2s have been scrapped, including 86258, the conversion project being abandoned. The Class 86 situation in July 2012 was as follows:

  • 86/1: 1 in traffic with The AC Locomotive Group/Electric Traction (86101)
  • 86/2: 1 in traffic with Les Ross (86259), 1 preserved by The AC Locomotive Group/Electric Traction (86213), 8 stored (of which 4 are expected to be exported to Hungary), 1 being used as a spares source
  • 86/4: 1 preserved by The AC Locomotive Group/Electric Traction (86401), 1 being used as a spares source by Electric Traction (86424)
  • 86/5: 1 in traffic with Freightliner
  • 86/6: 16 in traffic with Freightliner
  • 86/7: 2 in traffic with Electric Traction
  • 86/9: 2 stored, not being used

86233 was sent to Bulgaria in October 2012 for use by open access freight operator Bulmarket as a spares donor for 87009, 87017, 87023 and 87025.

86621 was scrapped at LNWR Crewe in April 2013.

Hungarian open access freight operator Floyd received two further operational locomotives in August 2013 (86228 and 86242) and also 86424 for use as a spares donor.

86401 was selected for preparation for mainline operation for the Serco Caledonian Sleeper contract, moving to Leicester TMD in February 2015, then via Loughborough (for repainting) and on to Willesden in June 2015.

86246 was moved to Willesden TMD in June 2015 to act as a spares donor.

The Class 86 situation in June 2015 was as follows:

  • 86/1: 1 in traffic with The AC Locomotive Group/Electric Traction (86101)
  • 86/2: 1 in traffic with Les Ross (86259), 1 preserved by The AC Locomotive Group/Electric Traction (86213), 5 stored, 2 being used as spares donors.
  • 86/4: 1 being prepared for mainline use by The AC Locomotive Group/Electric Traction (86401)
  • 86/5: 1 in traffic with Freightliner
  • 86/6: 15 in traffic with Freightliner
  • 86/7: 2 in traffic with Electric Traction
  • 86/9: 2 stored, not being used

86401 performed a solo main line test run from Willesden TMD to Watford Junction, Euston and back to Willesden on 4th August 2015. After a further test run, from Willesden to Bletchley and back, 86401 worked its first commercial train in preservation, 5M16 empty coaches from the Lowland Caledonian Sleeper, from London Euston to Wembley Inter City Depot on the morning of 8th August 2015.

The 2000 re-gearing conversion 86501 was converted back to standard 86/6 86608 in March 2016.

In March 2016 a further series of sales of Class 86 locomotives was announced. 86213, 86231, 86234, 86235, 86701 and 86702 were sold to Bulmarket in Bulgaria. 86229 and 86251 were sold to Freightliner for spares. 86246 remained at Willesden TMD as a spares donor.

The Class 86 situation in early April 2016 was as follows:

  • 86/1: 1 in traffic with The AC Locomotive Group/Electric Traction (86101)
  • 86/2: 1 in traffic with Les Ross (86259); 4 sold for export; 3 being used as spares donors
  • 86/4: 1 in traffic with The AC Locomotive Group/Electric Traction (86401)
  • 86/6: 16 in traffic with Freightliner
  • 86/7: 2 sold for export
  • 86/9: 2 stored, not being used

In November 2016, 86246 was moved from Willesden TMD via Wembley to the C.F.Booth scrapyard at Rotherham. 86902, resident at the same scrapyard since January 2014, was cut up there in November 2016.

In Bulgaria, some of the class 86 exports for Bulmarket have completed their conversions. To avoid conflict with the former Danish EA Class locomotives, which already use the Bulgarian Class 86 series, the UK exports are taking the number series from 87701 onwards. So far converted have been 86701 (now 87701), 86702 (now 87702), 86213 (now 87703) and 86235 (now 87704).

Similar Pages (History & Preservation): | 1st Generation Locos | Class 81 | Class 82 | Class 83 | Class 84 | Class 85 | Class 81-85 Data | 2nd Generation Locos | Class 86 | Class 86 Data | Class 87 | Class 87 Data | 3rd Generation Locos | Class 89 |

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Last modified: 18 February 2017 23:07:41.