The Class 56 Grid: Power & Versatility.

by | Jul 7, 2023

Our first locomotive tag has arrived, introducing Class 56 023 to the Rail Tags fleet!

The Class 56 is a British Rail Type 5 locomotive introduced from 1977 to replace the aging Class 47s and other locomotives on merry-go-round coal operations.

In 1974 British Rail placed an order for 60 Class 56 locomotives, originally they were designated to be constructed in two batches with half being built by BREL at Doncaster Works and the other half being handled by Brush Traction Loughborough Works. Due to Brush Traction being at max capacity at their Loughborough site they decided to subcontract their batch of thirty locomotives to Romanian manufacturer Electroputere at their site in Craiova.

Class 56 trial on the Felixstowe freight line.

An unknown Class 56 trials a service on the Felixstowe Branch (CC BY-SA 2.0 – roger geach)

On April 1st 1977 Class 56 023 + 024 arrived in England via Harwich International Port on the Great Eastern region and was subsequently hauled by 37027 to Grassmoor Junction. Upon import to the UK the Electroputere 56s (56 001 – 030) were found to suffer from poor build quality and therefore removed from service to be overhauled by BREL Doncaster Works where the sister units were built, the home built Class 56s impressed with their performance.

Once teething issues were ironed out and the fleet stabilized the 56s were allocated to heavy freight operations such as MGR coal runs and hauling steel. They developed a reputation for being powerful and reliable locomotives. Enthusiasts would nickname the Class 56 “Grids” / “Gridirons” due to their horn grill looking like a grid.

Specifically 56 023 would operate with the British Rail Coal Sector being painted into the BR Trainload Grey Coal livery.

Class 56 015 in BR Trainload Grey Coal Sector Livery at Leicester Station

Identically pained and produced Class 56 015 at Coalville in 1991. Note the Toton Depot emblem near the cab side window above the number panel depicting a coal wagon and plant. (CC BY-SA 2.0 – kitmasterbloke)


The 1980s were a transitional era for UK railways. Privatization and the continued electrification of lines led to the introduction of newer locomotives such as the Class 59 which started to render the Class 56s more and more obsolete on certain diagrams, this was partially due to their aging design and their high maintenance needs. Regardless the 56s would continue their service throughout this period due to their highly versatile nature which gave the locos other opportunities despite the collapse of the coal industry in Britian.

The early 90s saw the introduction of Class 60 locomotives which supplemented the 56 fleet, this caused earlier members of the Class to be withdrawn from service and placed into storage / scrap.

023 was placed into cold storage as a donor locomotive during this decade and was untouched for another ten years before being sent to Booths Rotherham in 2004 and eventually scrapped.

During this period other members of the fleet were exported to Bulgaria and preservation efforts were made to save examples of the fleet.

These being: 56 006 at the East Lancashire Railway in BR Blue, owned by The Class 56 Group. 56 097 at the Great Central Railway Nottingham in Railfreight Triple Grey, owned by the GCR but offered for sale in 2022 and 56 301 in Fastline unbranded also owned by The Class 56 Group. Multiple members of the class are purchased for preservation however most are still in service on the mainline today.

Class 69 008 passes Eastleigh on a service to Southampton

In a turn of fortune for the Class 56 multiple members of the Class are in the process of being retractioned and reclassed to the Class 69 being fitted with the same engines as the EMD Class 66 as can be seen here at Eastleigh Station being operated by GBRf. (own work)

The Class 56 presents a story of power, versatility and reliability with multiple examples still being used today and others being retractioned. While some have met their end we are proud to have preserved the history of one of the Romanian built examples through Rail Tags. Available is Class 56 023 in BR Trainload Grey Livery in three variants. Grey, Black and Grey & Scrapyard Spraypaint Red.

Secure your piece of Class 56 history here: Edition Three: British Rail Class 56 023


Class 56 Rail Tags Three Colour Variants