British Rail Class 86

British Rail Class 86

Infobox Locomotive
name = British Rail Class 86
powertype = Electric

caption = Class 86/6, nos. 86613 and 86610, painted in the new Freightliner livery, at Ipswich on 14th February 2004. Freightliner are now the largest operator of Class 86 locomotives.
builder = British Rail Doncaster Works (60);
English Electric at Vulcan Foundry (40)
builddate = 1965–1966
totalproduction = 100
gauge = RailGauge|ussg|lk=on|al=on
wheeldiameter = convert|3|ft|9|in|m|3|abbr=on
tractionmotors = convert|900|hp|abbr=on AEI 282AZ, or
convert|1000|hp|abbr=on AEI 282BZ, or
convert|1250|hp|abbr=on GEC G412AZ, (all 4 off)
electricsystem = 25 kV AC
collectionmethod = Pantograph
whytetype = Bo-Bo
uicclass = Bo'Bo'
trainbrakes = Dual vacuum & air
locobrakeforce = convert|66.5|LTf|kN|sigfig=3|abbr=on
length = convert|58|ft|6|in|m|2|abbr=on
width =
height =
weight = convert|81|LT|lk=on
trainheating = Electric Train Heating
topspeed = convert|100|-|110|mph|km/h|abbr=on|lk=on
poweroutput = convert|3600|hp|kW|sigfig=3|abbr=on|lk=on, convert|4040|hp|kW|abbr=on, or convert|5000|hp|kW|abbr=on
tractiveeffort = convert|60000|lbf|kN|sigfig=3|abbr=on|lk=on
railroad = British Rail,
Network Rail,
GB Railfreight
roadnumber = E3101–E3200; later 86001–86048, 86201–86252
axleloadclass = Route availability 6

The British Rail Class 86 was the standard electric locomotive built during the 1960s, developed as a result of testing with the earlier Classes 81, 82, 83, 84 and 85. One hundred of these locomotives were built from 1965-1966 by either English Electric at Vulcan Foundry, Newton-le-Willows, or British Rail (BR) at their Doncaster works. The class was built to haul trains on the then newly electrified West Coast Main Line, from London Euston, to Birmingham, Crewe, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool and later Preston and Glasgow. They helped to replace steam locomotives, which were finally withdrawn by BR in 1968.


Under the earlier BR classification, the type was given the designation AL6 (meaning the 6th design of AC Locomotive), and locomotives were numbered E3101-E3200. In 1968, this was changed to Class 86, when BR introduced the TOPS classification system. In the early years the locomotives became notorious for track damage, being fitted with axle-hung traction motors, in place of the bogie-frame-mounted motors of the earlier designs. This additional unsprung mass was causing damage at high speeds. In 1969 number E3173, was fitted experimentally with the large helical 'flexicoil' springs which can be seen on present day versions, giving it the nickname "Zebedee" (after a character in The Magic Roundabout). Trials carried out under the direction of the British Rail Research Division proved successful and the modification was applied gradually to the whole fleet.

As a result a batch of locomotives was modified with improved suspension and modified wheels and from 1973 onwards, locomotives were progressively renumbered into the 86001-86048 (unmodified design, restricted to 80mph) and 86204-86252 series (improved suspension, 100mph). Within a short time a further batch was modified to the new specification: 86040-86048 were renumbered 86253-86261.

At the same time three locomotives were converted into 5000 bhp test-bed locomotives for development of the Class 87, initially numbered nos. 86201-86203, and quickly renumbered 86101-86103. These locomotives are capable of 110 mph running. The most obvious visual difference between the classes is that the class 86 has a windscreen with 3 windows whereas the class 87 only has two; likewise Class 86 was fitted with headcode boxes (later plated over) while Class 87 was built without them.

Throughout the 1970s, the class saw use on both express passenger and freight services. Locomotives in the 860xx series (or Class 86/0) were used mainly on freight, whilst the higher-speed 861xx (or Class 86/1) and 862xx series (or Class 86/2) tended to be used primarily for passenger trains.

In 1974, demand for electric locomotives grew due to the extension of electrification north from Preston to Carlisle and Glasgow. From 1978 onwards, BR started to name some of their Class 86 fleet, many of them after cities or counties along the lines that they worked.

In the early 1980s, electrification from London Liverpool Street to Cambridge, Harwich, Ipswich and Norwich saw the class employed on passenger trains to these towns. Accordingly, some Class 86/0 locomotives converted to Class 86/3 with modified wheels, to allow them to operate at higher speeds. In addition, many of the freightliner trains to Felixstowe were also hauled as far as Ipswich by Class 86 locomotives working in multiple. By the end of the 1980s, the need for a standard fleet saw all remaining Class 86/0 and Class 86/3 locomotives fitted with improved suspension and converted to Class 86/4. These locomotives were now inter-operable with Class 86/2, and thus gave greater operational flexibility.

A later development saw Class 86/2 and 86/4 locomotives fitted with TDM to enabled them to operate push-pull passenger trains, to avoid having to run the locomotive round a train at a terminus (see DBSO, DVT). The 86/4s were already fitted with an older multiple-working system and this was gradually phased out after TDM was fitted across the fleet.

In the late-1980s and early-1990s, the majority of the Class 86/4 subclass were dedicated to freight traffic. As a result, they had their electric train heating isolated, and their maximum speed reduced to 75mph. These locomotives were reclassified as Class 86/6, and were renumbered by adding 200 to their number. Eight Class 86/2 locomotives were also dedicated to freight work, and were reclassified as Class 86/5, being renumbered into the range 86501-508. However, the InterCity sector of BR decided that it wanted these locomotives back, so they were soon renumbered back as Class 86/2 locomotives.

The late-1980s also saw the introduction of many new liveries. The class had previously only worn electric blue when built, replaced by the standard BR Blue livery from 1967. The first new livery was introduced by the InterCity sector in 1984 with the unveiling of a new grey and white livery, with a red bodyside stripe. This was subsequently followed by several variations, culminating in the final "InterCity Swallow" livery in 1989. The Railfreight sector introduced its new two tone grey livery in 1986, followed by revised Railfreight Distribution livery in 1992. Finally the parcels sector introduced a new red livery in 1990, which was replaced with Rail Express Systems livery in 1993.

Over the years, several Class 86 locomotives have been involved in accidents.The most serious of these was the Watford Junction rail crash in 1975, when no. 86209 collided head-on with Class 83 no. 83003. The Class 86 was seriously damaged after falling down an embankment, coming to rest in a field. It was eventually recovered several weeks later. Surprisingly, considering the seriousness of the incident, it was authorised for repairs and later returned to service.Also in 1975, nos. 86006 and 86242 were involved in the Nuneaton rail crash. Both were later repaired.Another serious accident was the Colwich rail crash in 1986, when nos. 86211 and 86429 were involved in a head-on collision. Both locomotives were written-off and subsequently scrapped.A more recent accident occurred in 1996, when a TPO train hauled by no. 86239 collided with the rear of a freight train at Stafford, writing-off the locomotive and killing one of the Royal Mail employees on board the train.Finally, the Norton Bridge rail crash in 2003, saw an intermodal train hauled by nos. 86631 and 86611, collide with the rear of another stationary freight train. The force of the impact broke the leading locomotive in half, although the driver was not killed. Not surprisingly, both locomotives were written off as uneconomical to repair.

Former operators

In the mid-1990s, British Rail was privatised, and the Class 86 fleet was divided among several operators. These are dealt with separately below.

Anglia Railways / ‘one’

Anglia Railways was one of three passenger franchises to inherit the class. A fleet of 15 locomotives (nos. 86215/217/218/220/221/223/230, 86232/235/237/238/246/250/252/257) were inherited, which were used to exclusively haul London Liverpool Street-Norwich express services. The locomotives were used in push-pull mode with Mk.2E/Mk.2F coaching stock and a DBSO, which removed the need for the locomotive to swap ends at the termini. Generally, the locomotive was at the south end (or London end) of a formation, with the DBSO at the north (or country end) of the train.

In 1998, Anglia Railways introduced a new livery of turquoise, with a central white stripe. The first locomotive to be treated was no. 86223 "Norwich Union", followed quickly by no. 86218 "NHS 50". Over the next few years the whole fleet was treated as they received works overhauls at Springburn Works, Glasgow.

Over the years, several of the Anglia fleet were withdrawn following mishaps. For example, nos. 86220, 86221 and 86237 were withdrawn in 2002, 2003 and 2004 respectively, following transformer failures. Another machine, no. 86252 was written-off in 2002 after catching fire near Diss, whilst no. 86257 was withdrawn in 2003 due its general bad condition. These locomotives were replaced by locomotives made redundant from Virgin Trains Cross-Country (nos. 86234/242) or West Coast (nos. 86209/260) franchises. Another locomotive, no. 86227 was reinstated to traffic in 2002 after being stored for many years. It was repainted in a variation of Anglia's turquoise livery, with a large Union Flag painted on the side, and named "Golden Jubilee" to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II's 50th anniversary of reign.

The first major changes to the fleet occurred in late 2002 when Anglia started to hire Class 90 locomotives from Freightliner. This was because at the time, the Class 86 fleet was suffering from reliability problems. In late 2003, Anglia swapped to using EWS-owned Class 90 locomotives, hiring up to five at any one time. Consequently, the use of the Class 86 fleet was decreased, which subsequently allowed reliability to improve.

In early-2004, two locomotives suffered from serious transformer failures. One locomotive, no. 86246, was subsequently repaired, but the other, no. 86237 was withdrawn, and later scrapped. This prompted the suggestion that the Anglia Class 86 fleet be replaced by the 15 Class 90 locomotives from Virgin Trains, which were soon to be made redundant by the introduction of new Class 390 "Pendolino" units.

On April 1, 2004, the Anglia Railways franchise ended, and was merged with the other operators in East Anglia to form the new 'one' franchise. With this came the news that the Class 86 fleet would progressively be replaced by Class 90 locomotives cascaded from Virgin Trains. The first day of the new franchise saw two Class 90 locomotives unveiled in the company's new livery. However, despite this announcement, one Class 86 locomotive, no. 86235, was authorised a complete overhaul, somewhat surprising considering its bleak future. As such, this locomotive became the last to receive classified repairs.

For the first few months of the new franchise, all the Class 86 fleet was retained, to insure against reliability issues with the new Class 90 locomotives. However, in October 2004, the fleet was reduced to just six examples, these being nos. 86218/232/234/235/246/260. The rest were withdrawn, but three (nos. 86217/223/250) were subsequently sold to Fragonset Railways. By December, the fleet stood at just two operational locomotives, these being nos. 86235 "Crown Point" and 86246 "Royal Anglian Regiment". These were the last two locomotives to receive classified repairs, and consequently were the most reliable (in theory, at least).

It was originally planned to withdraw these final two locomotives on 31 December 2004. However, all did not go to plan, as the replacement Class 90 locomotives did not prove to be as reliable as hoped. Therefore two locomotives were reprieved until at least March 2005. A final twist saw no. 86232 repaired, replacing no. 86246, which had again suffered from a serious failure. A third locomotive, no. 86234, was also repaired and briefly returned to traffic in April 2005, but was later stored again after failing. The last two locomotives (nos. 86232/235) saw occasional use, when not enough Class 90 locomotives were available. By mid-2005, no. 86232 was out of use, and no. 86235 was operational but not used. The final use of the class came on 17 September 2005, when no. 86235 was used on several Norwich-London return trips to mark it retirement from service. This has brought an end to 40 years of Class 86-hauled passenger trains.

English, Welsh and Scottish Railway (EWS)

EWS inherited a small fleet of 15 locomotives (nos. 86208/210/239/241/243/254/261, 86401/416/417/419/424-426/430) when it bought the Rail Express Systems parcels business. The locomotives were employed on mail trains from London to Newcastle, and Birmingham to Glasgow. One of the locomotives (no. 86239) was destroyed in an accident at Stafford in 1996.

EWS soon diversified the use of its fleet, hiring its locomotives to charter train operators, and also to Virgin Trains to supplement their unreliable fleet. Three locomotives (nos. 86261/401/426) were repainted in EWS's red and gold livery.

The rundown of the fleet started in 2001, when the locomotives were replaced on charter and mail trains by Class 67 or Class 90 locomotives. They saw continued use with Virgin Trains, however, but were gradually withdrawn as new Class 390 Pendolino units entered service, reducing the need for hired locomotives. By the end of their working careers, most of the EWS locomotives were in an appalling state and suffered from numerous failures. The final locomotives, nos. 86210/401/424 were withdrawn from traffic in late-2002.

Following withdrawal from traffic, two locomotives, nos. 86426/430, were subsequently reinstated and hired to Freightliner, on a long-term contract. This was due to a Class 90 locomotive, no. 90147, being badly fire-damaged, resulting in a shortage of electric traction. The two locomotives were repainted in Freightliner's racing green livery, and employed on intermodal traffic with the rest of Freightliner's Class 86 fleet. The contract ended in mid-2004, following deliveries of new Class 66 locomotives, meaning the two electric locomotives were withdrawn from traffic.

In late-2003, with the exception of the two locomotives on hire to Freightliner, EWS advertised all of its remaining locomotives for sale. Most were subsequently sold for scrap, but one locomotive (no. 86401) was preserved, and two others (nos. 86210/424) were sold for further use with Network Rail. The former Freightliner pair were sold for scrap in late-2005.

FM Rail

FM Rail (previously Fragonset Railways) briefly leased several locomotives from HSBC. These locomotives were previously used by Anglia Railways (86217/223/250), Virgin Cross-Country (86231/251) or Virgin West Coast (229/233). One locomotive, 86212, has been hauled to East Ham depot in London to be used for carriage power duties for the new Blue Pullman train. It does not operate services on the mainline, however.

FM Rail entered Administration in December 2006 without having returned any of their locomotives to traffic, and they were returned to the lease company.

Hull Trains

The open-access passenger operator Hull Trains obtained the use of 86101 (one of the preserved Class 86 locomotives) between January and April 2008 to provide cover in the short term for its badly damaged Class 222 "Pioneer" DMU. The locomotive, together with a rake of Mark 3 coaches, was introduced to public services between London and Doncaster on 11th January 2008, following several months of tests and training, and ran until 20th April 2008 when Class 180 "Adelante" DMUs were introduced to the service.

Virgin Trains

The Virgin Trains group was formed of two franchises; Cross-Country and InterCity West Coast.


The Cross-Country franchise inherited a fleet of 18 locomotives (nos. 86206/207/214/224/225/226/231/234/236/240/242/244/ 86248/249/251/253/256/258). These were employed on various services, such as Birmingham New Street to Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Glasgow Central. Other services continued south to Birmingham International, whilst others originated from Preston. At Birmingham New Street and Preston in particular, it was common for the Class 86 locomotive to be removed, and replaced with a Class 47 diesel locomotive, before the service continued south to destination such as Bristol, Penzance, Reading, Brighton, Poole and Weymouth.

From 1998 onwards, locomotives began to be outshopped in the new Virgin Trains red and black livery. However, a few locomotives, namely nos. 86207/214/224/234/249/253 retained the old InterCity livery.

In mid-2001 Virgin Cross-Country started to introduce new Class 220 "Voyager" and Class 221 "Super-Voyager" units. These new trains enabled Virgin to start to retire its older traction. Several of the early withdrawals were transferred to other operators, such as nos. 86234 and 86242 to Anglia Railways. However, the majority of locomotives were retained in service until September 2002, when virtually the entire fleet was withdrawn en-mass. Prior to this, Virgin had specially repainted no. 86253 in InterCity livery to commemorate its final few months in traffic. The final Cross-Country operated service was actually operated by no. 86233 from the West-Coast fleet, which had been repainted in original electric blue livery a few weeks earlier.

Since withdrawal from traffic, several locomotives have been scrapped at Immingham Railfreight Terminal. The majority, however, are still in store at various locations. A few locomotive have been sold to other operators for further use, such as no. 86253 to Network Rail and nos. 86231/251 to Fragonset Railways. One locomotive, no. 86249, was retained by Virgin until late-2004 as a driver-training locomotive at Polmadie depot in Glasgow.

West Coast

The West Coast franchise inherited a small fleet of thirteen locomotives (nos. 86101/102, 86205/209/212/213/228/229/233/245/247/259/260), which were employed on WCML express trains from London Euston to Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, Carlisle and Glasgow Central. By 2001, the fleet had been cut to nine locomotives, with 86209 being transferred to Anglia Railways, and three more (nos. 86101/102/213) withdrawn from traffic.

In 1998, no. 86229 became the first of the class to be repainted in Virgin's red and black livery. By 2001 all except one locomotive had been repainted in this livery.

The West Coast fleet contained several 'celebrity' locomotives, including no. 86245 "Caledonian", which was repainted in Caledonian Railway blue to celebrate the company's 150th Anniversary. In 2002, no. 86233 was specially repainted into original electric blue to commemorate the last few months in traffic for the fleet. One locomotive, no. 86228, also retained in the old InterCity livery.

In mid-2003, the rundown of the fleet started, as new Class 390 "Pendolino" electrical multiple units entered service. The final three locomotives (nos. 86229/233/247) were removed from traffic in September 2003, the final service being operated by electric blue locomotive no. 86233. Several of the fleet were later transferred to other operators, including Anglia Railways (no. 86260) and Fragonset Railways (nos. 86212/229/233). Two former West Coast locomotives (nos. 86213/259) have been preserved. Most of the rest of the locomotives are stored at Long Marston awaiting disposal, most likely scrapping.

Current operators


Freightliner inherited a large fleet of 30 Class 86/6 freight-dedicated locomotives, most of which had previously been operated by Railfreight Distribution, but some came from Rail Express Systems. The fleet therefore consisted of locomotives in many different obsolete liveries, so from 1995, Freightliner started to apply its newly introduced livery. This was based on the previous Trainload two-tone grey livery, with the addition of Freightliner's red triangle logo.

The Freightliner fleet were originally employed on intermodal traffic along the northern half of the WCML from Crewe to Coatbridge (near Motherwell, Glasgow). The steep gradients along this route meant that trains were hauled by pairs of locomotives working in multiple. The class also worked services south from Crewe to Tilbury and Ipswich (for onwards movement to Felixstowe by diesel locomotive), and some services to Trafford Park in Manchester. The class have occasionally been used on the ECML, particularly when services are diverted due to engineering works.

In 1998, following the introduction of the rebuilt Class 57 diesel locomotives, Freightliner introduced a new livery of racing green with yellow cabsides. The first Class 86 to appear in this livery was no. 86631, which was hurriedly repainted for display at an open day at Toton. The majority of the fleet have slowly been treated over the years, such that by the end of 2004, only a handful remain in the original grey livery.

In 2000, locomotive no. 86608 was experimentally regeared to allow it to work trains single handedly. It was reclassified as Class 86/5 and renumbered to 86501. This was the second time this classification and number had been used, the first occasion being former Class 86/2 dedicated to freight work in the late 1980s. Despite the apparent success of 86501's conversion, no further locomotives have been similar regeared. In mid-2004 the locomotive suffered fire-damage, but was subsequently repaired and returned to service, therefore demonstrating Freightliner's faith in its ability.

Due to a locomotive shortage in 2002, two further locomotives, nos. 86426/430, were hired from EWS, which has just withdrawn its last examples. Since the hire contract was long-term, both locomotives were repainted in Freightliner green livery. They were used in a common pool with the rest of the fleet. By 2004, the need for the extra locomotives was reduced, and so both were returned to EWS, and subsequently withdrawn.

Two other locomotives, nos. 86101/102, formerly used by Virgin Trains, were also briefly hired by Freightliner in 2001/2002. Neither of these locomotives were repainted, and they both retained obsolete InterCity livery. Due to their non-standard nature, both locomotives had been withdrawn by early 2002.

Following the withdrawal of the Anglia Railways, Virgin Trains and EWS fleets, Freigtliner is now the main operator of the class. As of January 2005, it has an operational fleet of 19 locomotives, with several more in "warm-storage", which are capable of being returned to traffic. In the last few years, several locomotives have been withdrawn from service, mainly due to the influx of new Class 66 diesel locomotives, although two locomotives (nos. 86611/631) were written-off following the Norton Bridge rail crash, and another two (nos. 86615/620) have been withdrawn following fire damage. In addition, Freightliner's Class 90 fleet, which were previously hired to passenger operators Virgin Trains and Anglia Railways have now all returned to the company, thus reducing the requirement for the Class 86 fleet. However, the class does still have a future with the company, and in the long-term, Freightliner plans to retain a core fleet of 14 locomotives in service until at least 2009, ensuring the class is in service well over 40 years after first being introduced.

Network Rail

In 2004, Network Rail acquired three locomotives (nos. 86210/253/424), of which the first two have since been converted to mobile load-bank testing locomotives, and the third used for spares. The two operational locomotives were reclassified as Class 86/9, and renumbered as 86901/902. They are currently based at Rugby, and carry the current Network Rail all-over yellow livery. Their primary use is to test the overhead line supply of electrified lines by simulating various loads. Both locomotives are capable of running under their own power for positioning purposes, but cannot haul any significant loads. Therefore, when being used to test the overhead supply, they will be hauled by a diesel locomotive.

GB Railfreight

In June 2008, GB Railfreight took preserved 86101 on hire as a standby loco for its mail services.

Vintage Trains

In 2008, privately preserved 86259 was returned to service on the main line. It is operated on occasional charters by Vintage Trains from their base at Tyseley.

Leasing Companies / Owners

Since privatisation, the whole Class 86 fleet has been owned by private companies and leased to the operators listed above. Below is a list of former and current fleet owners.

Electric Traction Ltd

This company is the operational arm of The AC Locomotive Group and has recently hired preserved 86101 to Hull Trains and GB Railfreight. Also in the fleet are preserved locos 86213 and 86401 (currently being prepared for a return to main line operation).


Post-privatisation owners of the 86/1 and 86/2 fleets.

Peter Pan Locomotive Ltd

Owners of preserved 86259.

Porterbrook Leasing

Owners of the Freightliner 86/5 and 86/6 fleet.

wift Rail

In 2007 Swift Rail purchased 86233 (which was in storage at Oxley Depot) from HSBC Rail, having earlier attempted to restore 47488 to mainline service. 86233 was towed to Crewe IEMD on 3 April 2008 to have OTMR fitted in preparation for a proposed return to mainline traffic early in 2008. (source: Company spokesman James Riise (also known as Tom MacKenzie of Pipeline Radio) then announced that 86233 would make a visit to Euston Station in early August 2008 with press on board. However, on 16 August 2008 Swift Rail announced that the locomotive was again up for sale.


EWS and Network Rail own(ed) their own fleets.


Currently, four locomotives have been preserved.
*The first locomotive to be preserved was no. 86401 'Hertfordshire Rail Tours'. This locomotive was operated by EWS until 2002, when it was one of the final three EWS machines to be withdrawn from traffic. Prior to that, it was the only locomotive to be painted in Network SouthEast livery, and was named 'Northampton Town'. In this guise it was used on London-Cambridge and London-Northampton passenger trains. In 2004, no. 86401 was preserved by the [ AC Locomotive Group] , which also owns examples of Classes 81-85 (based at Barrow Hill Engine Shed). It is currently planned to keep this locomotive operational, to allow it to operate charter and excursion trains.
*86101 was preserved by the AC Locomotive Group in August 2005. It was initially stored at MoD Ashchurch, but was restored to working condition at Barrow Hill. On 15th March 2007 it undertook its first test run, and made a return to the main line when it hauled the Carlisle-Crewe and return legs of "The Ynys Mon Express" railtour to Holyhead on the 24th March 2007.
*86213 was also preserved by the AC Locomotive Group in August 2005. It had been on loan to the group for several years, based at Barrow Hill Engine Shed. More recently, it has been returned to an operational condition at Wembley depot.
*86259 has been preserved at Tyseley Locomotive Works. It is owned by Les Ross, after whom the locomotive was once named.

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