BR Class 58


Built by BREL at Doncaster, the Class 58 diesel-electric locomotive was a 3,300 horsepower heavy freight hauler, that served the British railway network for twenty years before being retired by EWS between 1999-2002.

In the early to mid-eighties, the coal boom in Britain was at its peak. The various quarries throughout Britain requested to put together longer and heavier trains, some reaching 4,000 tonnes, which could only be handed by the Class 56 locomotives. The 56’s could have been used, however, two would of been needed for a single train, and the operating and maintenance costs would of been astronomical. Nevertheless, British Rail sought after a low cost, easily maintainable type five locomotive to fulfill the high demand of coal transport, additionally BR was looking to emerge into the export market to sell locomotives abroad. Additionally, the Class 58 was slated to assist in the Railfreight boom throughout the eighties and into the nineties.

Steve Jones photo
58004 at Leamington Spa on 06/05/87

The Class 58 was a unique locomotive to the British railways as it contained a modular design. This allows for easier overall replacement of parts, as both cabs and various engine components such as turbocharger, radiator, and electrical equipment. These parts could be removed from the frame separately from the rest of the locomotive, which decreased maintenance time and costs. Like many BR diesels at the time, the locomotive had a cab at either end, allowing for crews to easily run around trains.

Because ease of maintenance was imperative during this time, the Class 58 had a narrow body instead of the previous monocoque body  that had been standard on British Rail. This allowed maintenance crews to easily access the various components of the locomotive, and conduct repairs in a more cost effective and timely manner. Additionally, this was aimed at increasing availability of the locomotives. Because of this narrow body, the locomotives were nicknamed “bone” by enthusiasts and workers.

Although many Class 58 locomotives were designated to coal transport originating in the midlands, the Class 58’s could be seen hauling various types of freight trains throughout the system, and even occasionally made an appearance on a passenger or excursion train.

The Class 58 was the last diesel locomotive to be assembled at Doncaster. Because BR did not receive orders from customers abroad, the updated facility was disassembled, and Class 58 production came to an end. The Class 58 was slated to operate well into the 21st century, however, the locomotive was retired early by EWS, upon delivery of the Class 66 locomotive.


Assembled by British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) at Doncaster between 1983-1987, the Class 58 was a 3,300 horsepower type five locomotive designed for heavy freight services, primarily coal, and were powered by a Ruston Paxman 12 RK3ACT prime mover. With a tractive effort of 60,000 lbf, the locomotives had no issues hauling the heaviest coal trains on the system. Upon approval from the British Rail board to build the locomotives, BREL invested in millions of pounds to upgrade the Doncaster facility’s E2 shop to accommodate the new construction of the Class 58, primarily because they believed that they would receive orders from abroad, and would have large orders to handle.

Steve Jones photo
58005, 58010, 58007 & 58009 at Saltley on 06/08/88

One of the major pitfalls of the Class 58 was its pertinent wheel slip issue, especially with heavy trains. Upon realising this, the last unit, 58050 was equipped with a SEPEX (separately exited traction motors) wheel slip indicator, however, it was removed before entering revenue service. The wheel slip issue was mainly due to the design of the bogeys, which were manufactured by SEPEX. These bogeys were tested on the Class 56 locomotive and received positive feedback, however, they did not bode well for the Class 58. The wheel slip issue made the 58s unattractive to British Rail, however, continued constructing them because the parts were already ordered.

Unlike many other BR locomotive types, the Class 58 did not have a load bearing frame, instead, the girder construction within the chassis held the weight.


The Class 58 locomotives were retired relatively early in their operating life, as they were on around twenty or less years old. However, with the addition of the Class 66 locomotives which were all around improved performers, many 58s were displaced. Many were stored in the UK, however, many traveled abroad to various countries within continental Europe. Thirty-two locomotives in total traveled abroad including four in the Netherlands to ACTS, eight in Spain to GIF, and twenty in France to Fertis and Seco Rail.

Phil Richards photo

Service Abroad

Upon their retirement in the UK, the Class 58s accrued interest from railways in other countries, looking for a powerful and well built locomotive. France, Spain, and the Netherlands took interest and eventually purchased most of the locomotives. The Class 58s that were sent to Spain and France were employed with ballast and construction work related to the building of various high speed rail lines. In the Netherlands, the locomotives were sent to supplement ACTS’s fleet of locomotives. The Class 58s performed relatively well abroad with only a few having mechanical issues.


In the Netherlands, the Class 58 was purchased by ACTS( Afzet Container Transport Systeem) to supplement the locomotives already in its fleet. The railway was impressed by its pulling power and decided to purchase five examples of the type from EWS. Before its transplant to the Netherlands, the locomotives received various upgrades including headlights to Dutch specifications, electrical modifications, and the Dutch version of Automatic Warning System (AWS). The Class 58 was chosen due to the ease of maintenance because of the narrow, non-monococque body. These locomotives saw service in the Netherlands to work the “Veendam Shuttle” from Veendam to Amersfoort, and would occasionally be seen on other various other services.

Steve Jones photo
58036 at Saltley on 18/04/87.
Scanned from a Kodacolor Gold 100 colour negative.

The Class 58s were hired in France to haul ballast trains for the new LGV Est route, which was being constructed between  Vaires-sur-Marne and  Vendenheim, with construction beginning in 2002. The route although being constructed by SNCF, contracted their work train services out to Fertis, which was a freight rail subsidiary of SNCF. Fertis hired a number of Class 37s to assist with the ballast trains, however, these locomotives would have to be double headed. Fertis decided to lease fourteen Class 58 and twenty-six Class 56s, as these locomotives were more powerful and had greater tractive effort than the 37s, and therefore could haul the same size train with a single unit. Additionally, SECO and TSO, who were railway builders, ordered an additional eight of the locomotive, bringing the total to twenty-two. By 2006, most of the Class 58s were returned to the UK, and stored at Eastleigh depot.


In 2001, EWS sent fourteen Class 37 locomotives to GIF located in Spain, to assist in building a new high speed line between Barcelona and the French border. However, three Class 37s were involved in incidents while in Spain and deemed beyond repair, and were scrapped on site. As a replacement EWS decided to send two Class 58s as replacements, and a further six when EWS was contracted to supply additional locomotives to GIF the following year.


There were many firsts for the Class 58, as they were the first BR freight locomotive to be painted in the Railfreight gray livery, under the recently implemented sectorisation. Also a departure from the norm was the addition of “Railfreight” underneath the cab window on the second man’s side of the locomotive, as previous BR liveries had only the “arrow of indecision” logo.

Upon delivery, the Class 58s were painted in Railfreight grey livery, with the front of the cabs being painted bright gray. In 1987, when the Railfreight divisions began to break into sectors, the new triple gray scheme was introduced, and received the Railfreight coal logo, due to its extensive use in the coal regions. When British Rail was transitioning to privatisation between 1994-1997, a new company called Mainline Freight took over operation of the fleet. Many received the Mainline Freight logo on top of the triple gray livery, whereas others received the companies blue paint scheme. From 1997 onward, English Welsh and Scottish (EWS) took over the fleet, and the class received the maroon and gold paint scheme.

Steve Jones photo
58025 at Millbrook on 26/07/02


The Class 58 Locomotive Locomotive Group purchased 58016 in 2010, which was the first of the type to enter preservation, however, it was not in working order. The group also bought 58045 as a donor locomotive. Additionally, there are other examples preserved on various heritage railways and societies. In total, five of this class are preserved.

The Class 58, although not the longest lasting locomotive on the British railways, was unique and had a character unlike any other.


BuilderBritish Rail Engineering Limited (BREL)
Total Built50
Wheel ConfigurationCo’Co’
Wheel Diameter1,120 mm
Wheelbase4.18 m
Weight130 tonnes
Fuel Capacity4,480 litres
Prime MoverRuston Paxman 12RK3ACT
AlternatorBrush BA1101B
Traction MotorsBrush TM73-62
Cylinder Size254mm x 305mm
Multiple Unite OperationRed Diamond
Max Speed80mph
Tractive Effort60,000 lbf
Brakeforce60 tonnes
Route Availability7


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