Chronicling the development of my Cambrian and Narrow Gauge 4mm scale model railway

Fleet Guide – No.1: The Class 69

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I thought it would be good occasionally to write short posts about some of the stock to run on the railway, as a fleet guide that can be built up over time into a full Traction Recognition.

Each post will have a short description of the locomotive class, or locomotive, in question. To get the ball rolling, here is the less well-known history of the Class 69.

The history of the Class 69

With the growing demand for rail freight in the UK, several years ago the Rail Freight Strategy Group got together and brainstormed ideas to alleviate capacity on the railways. One suggestion put forward for freight trains was to lengthen them, thus reducing the paths required (although it was acknowledged that some loops were of insufficient length for this plan). In terms of moving products such as coal or minerals/aggregate this seemed a good idea. However, the need for a locomotive which could haul a coal train of 100 wagons from a standing start up the 1:37 of the Lickey incline meant that matters were put on hold.

It might have all ended there had it not been for an entrepreneurial individual who had been following the flourishing of railways in Europe and the UK and saw an opportunity. Understanding something of locomotives they knew that the best type of locomotives for starting a load (i.e. greatest tractive effort at start) were steam locos, and this may be a possibility as outright high speed wasn’t the issue (as long as the loco could get the train up to 70mph-ish then all would be well).

Early research soon dismissed the idea of hybrid traction, something that had been tried by Kitson back in 1924-1935 and hadn’t worked sufficiently well – and had pretty much bankrupted the company.

The experimental Kitson-Still steam-diesel hybrid.

The experimental Kitson-Still steam-diesel hybrid.

The final design that was put forward was a 2-6-2+2-6-2 Garratt which could burn either oil or pulverised coal, the latter being the preference as there is a large quantity of it shipped to the UK every day to fire the power stations, the transport of which being highlighted as a use of the locomotives. Automated operation included the introduction of two regulators, one for each power unit, controlled with a WSP system, thus curing the Garratt’s Achilles heel. This coupled with high levels of remote condition monitoring meant that the design would only require single man operation and the central cab where the firebox was only needed to be accessed in emergency. Instead full front cabs were installed at either end, styled like those on the Class 66s, making the design a cab-forward Garratt.

Initially one demonstrator was built and loaned to Direct Rail Services (DRS). It was named Janus, in recognition that the locomotive literally had two faces (in Thomas the Tank Engine world terms) and looked to the past and the future, just like the Roman god.

While DRS trials were continuing, three more demonstrators were completed and were loaned to DB Schenker, Freightliner, and GB Railfreight (GBRf) respectively.

GBRf Class 69 004 poses at the Great Central Railway during running in trials. Crimson Lake 8F 8624 can be seen in the background.

GBRf Class 69 004 poses at the Great Central Railway during running in trials. Crimson Lake 8F 8624 can be seen peeking through the gaps in the background.

DRS saw the potential in the locomotive and negotiated the purchase of 69 001 and placed an order for a further three, continuing the naming theme started with Janus.

While the DRS additional 3 were in production, the other three freight operators decided they didn’t agree with DRS and returned their demonstrators. These were then shipped to mainland Europe to be loaned to various freight operators, and the last news was that one was to be re-gauged for trials in Russia, and one was being shipped to China.

The fleet therefore stands at seven, these being:

69 001                 DRS Janus

69 002                 Originally DB Schenker now being re-gauged for Russia

69 003                 Originally Freightliner now in Europe

69 004                 Originally GBRf now in transit to China

69 005                 DRS Belinus

69 006                 DRS Aditi

69 007                 DRS Heimdallr

Pictures of the demonstrator Class 69s in service are rare but here 69 004 is captured drifting across Arten Gill viaduct with a rake of HTA wagons in tow

Pictures of the demonstrator Class 69s in service are rare but here 69 004 is captured drifting across Arten Gill viaduct with a rake of HTA wagons in tow


Author: Chris H

Having now officially reached middle age, I am a rolling stock engineer and have worked in many different locations including a 7 year spell in Sydney, Australia, where I arrived with a suitcase and left with a wife and a son. I am now based back in my home county of Yorkshire where I juggle full time work, being a Dad to two rascally mini-mes, and trying to fit in railway modelling, assisting the GWR 1014 County of Glamorgan project, and visits to the top left hand corner of Wales. In addition to my heavily railway themed life, I am interested in rugby, cricket, reading crime novels, falconry, and medieval re-enactments.

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