BR Class 59

The BR Class 59 (EMD JT26CW-SS) is a 3,300 bhp locomotive built by Electro-Motive Division (EMD), for Foster Yeoman, . The locomotives have a 95% availability rating and paved the way for the highly successful Class 66 locomotive.

Although only fifteen Class 59 locomotives were built for various quarry businesses throughout the UK, the unique locomotives paved the way for the highly successful Class 66 locomotive, which makes up most of the motive power for various rail freight operating companies throughout Great Britain. The reliability and strength of the Class 59 attracted the attention of various rail freight operators post British Rail, and realized the opportunity, power and economy that the locomotives could provide.

The locomotive came as a response to quarry company Foster Yeoman’s displeasure with the motive power British Rail was supplying them, as it was often unreliable and prone to failure. With the aggregate business becoming increasingly busy, the unreliable motive power began causing issues. The units were so unreliable, that only two-thirds of the company’s shipments arrived at their destination on time. As one of the country’s leading providers of asphalt and other materials, this was a factor of concern. In the early eighties, Foster Yeoman purchased their own wagons and experienced high reliability as compared to the BR examples previously in use, and concluded that the same feat could be accomplished with owning their own fleet of locomotives.

Richard Dyke

Foster Yeoman approached British Rail and requested to purchase new motive power with a 95% availability rating. As a result, domestic locomotive manufacturers, English Electric (GEC) and Brush Traction admitted that they could not provide a locomotive that performed at such a high level.

As a result of the performance of the EMD SW1001 Foster Yeoman used for switching duties, they looked towards the esteemed North American locomotive builder, whose locomotives were a mainstay in the United States and Canada during this time, and have a distinct reputation for reliability. Based on the SD40-2 locomotive, EMD began designing a locomotive for Foster Yeoman that would fulfill their strict reliability standards, and offer unmatched performance and technology. Initially, six locomotives were ordered, however, due to the advanced wheelslip system called Super Series Creep Control, which allows the locomotives to achieve increased traction at lower speeds, they soon realized double heading was not needed, and subsequently, reduced their order to four units.

Because of the various parties involved, the construction of the units was a combined effort of Foster Yeoman, EMD, and British Rail. The locomotives were to be constructed by a specialized team of engineers and workmen, as the locomotive was not part of the EMD catalog and was a specialized order.

Duncan Cotterill/railography

The first locomotive was delivered to the UK on 21 January 1986, at Southampton docks, and were then towed to Derby for further testing and assessment, where the units impressed both EMD and BR with their performance. The units were employed in regular service in February, and immediately exerted both their reliability and power, while boasting a reliability rating of 99%, even higher than initially expected. Although EMD-GM products have been the staple in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland since the sixties, this was the first EMD product to traverse the British Rail mainline. The unit performed so well, it shattered records for European traction with hauling a 11,982 tonne, 5,415 foot long train, using a single locomotive on 26 May 1991. The locomotives traversed much of the western and southern region of British Rail, delivering trainloads of supply between various power stations throughout much of the country. Foster Yeoman operated in the west country, while ARC/Hanson and National Power operated in the southeast and northeast.

Business for Foster Yeoman was booming during this time, and oftentimes found themselves using a BR locomotive, as there were not enough Class 59 units on the property. This led FY to purchase another Class 59 locomotive to fill the void, and avoid the use of BR locomotives. The success and reliability of the Class 59 did not go unnoticed by competitors of Foster Yeoman, and eventually competing agencies, ARC(later Hanson) and National Power purchased the locomotives, ARC purchasing four locomotives classified as 59/1, and National Power purchasing six locomotives classified as 59/2.

Due to various changes in the operations, Foster Yeoman and Hanson ARC combined their rail operations and formed an operating company called Mendip Rail, which catered to the moving of aggregates for both parties. Additionally, rail freight giant English, Welsh, and Scottish (EWS), acquired six Class 59/2 locomotives after they absorbed National Power’s operations.

Syd Young


The Class 59 locomotive encompassed the power of the EMD 16-645E3C prime mover, powering an EMD generator, heading power to the six EMD D77B traction motors. The locomotive exceeded its initial reliability rating of 95%, and was close to 99% reliability and availability, proving as one of the most reliable locomotives on the BR network.

One of many features that made this locomotive so successful was the wheel slip system that ensured traction at slow speeds. Coined Super Series Wheel Creep Control, the technology has proved successful on North American railroads, and was imperative to implement the feature on the Class 59 due to the extreme weight of the trains it would haul.

Height3.91 metres
Length21.40 metres
Width2.65 metres
Weight121 tonnes
Wheelbase17.29 metres
Wheel Diameter1.067 metres
Prime MoverEMD 16-645E3C
Horespower3,300, at rail 2,533
Brake Force69 tonnes
Tractive EffortMax:113,550lbs


Max Speed60 mph
Fuel Capacity990 gallons
Route Availability7
Multiple WorkingClass 59,66, and 67
Duncan Cotterill/railography


Many members of the class have carried their names through various amalgamations and new owners, however, the Class 59/2s that went to EWS have had their names removed upon the purchasing of EWS by DB.

59001Yeoman Endeavor
59002Yeoman Enterprise
59003Yeoman Highlander
59004Paul A. Hammond
59005Kenneth J. Painter
59101Village of Whately
59102Village of Chantry
59103Village of Mells
59104Village of Great Elm
59201Vale of York
59202Vale of Whitehorse
59203Vale of Pickering
59204Vale of Glamorgan
59205Vale of Evesham
59206Pride of Ferrybridge

The Class 59 proved to be a reliable and powerful locomotive, capable of hauling some of the country’s heaviest trains. Although it was a small order, it ushered in a new era of GM-EMD main line motive power to Great Britain, and built the foundation for the highly successful Class 66 locomotive, which included an updated prime mover and radial bogies. Much like its North American counterparts, the British EMD diesels have proven to encompass brute strength and reliability, and will continue their impressive performance for many years to come.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

Recent Posts