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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 1971 onwards, locomotives were progressively renumbered into the 86001-86048 (unmodified design, restricted to 80 mph/129 km/h) and 86204-86252 series (improved suspension, 100 mph/161 km/h). 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 5,000 brake horsepower (3,728 kW) 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 (177 km/h) running. The most obvious visual difference between the classes is that the Class 86 has a windscreen with three 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 75 mph (121 km/h). 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.

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

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 Colchester on 1 December 2001 whilst no. 86257 was withdrawn in 2003 due to 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 1 April 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 its retirement from service. This brought to an end to 40 years of Class 86-hauled passenger trains.

Rail Express Systems ("RES")

This sector of British Rail was responsible for transport of mail and parcels traffic, including the Travelling Post Office trains, as well as taking over the charter operations from Intercity. The sector had maintenance depots at Crewe Diesel, Bristol Barton Hill, Cambridge and Euston Downside. Rolling stock was also maintained by other sectors at Heaton depot in Newcastle and Liverpool Edge Hill. During the existence of the Parcels sector there were many changes in the use of rail to deliver mail and parcels. Smaller services were cut back and in many cases saw the end of mail services using passenger stations. These changes were in part through the Railnet scheme initiated in 1996 which created mail hubs at Shieldmuir (Motherwell), Low Fell (Newcastle), Warrington, Doncaster, Bristol Parkway, Tonbridge, and Wembley PRDC (London) as well as dedicated platforms at Stafford.

The Class 86 lococs which operated in the RES fleet were 86208/210/239/241/243/254/261, 86401/416/417/419/424-426/430. The company was bought by EWS in 1996. The 86s continued to be used on mail trains from London to Newcastle and Birmingham to Glasgow. 86239 was destroyed in an accident at Rickerscote near 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 Rail. These locomotives were previously used by Anglia Railways (86 217/223/250), Virgin Cross-Country (86 231/251) and Virgin West Coast (229/233). One locomotive, ex-Virgin 86 212, was hauled to East Ham Depot in London to be used for carriage power duties for the new Blue Pullman train. However, it did not operate services on the mainline.

FM Rail entered administration in December 2006 without having returned any of their Class 86 locomotives to traffic, and they were returned to the lease company.


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 masse. 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.

After withdrawal from traffic, many locomotives were scrapped at Immingham Railfreight Terminal. Others went into store at various locations such as Long Marston, and a few were sold to other operators, such as Fragonset and Network Rail.

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" electric 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.

Vintage Trains

In 2008, privately owned and preserved 86259 was returned to service on the main line. It was operated on occasional charters by Vintage Trains from their base at Tyseley, and from 2011 has been based at Willesden and available for ad hoc charters. By August 2011 it had covered 5.7 million miles in service. It is currently cleared for operation at up to 100 miles per hour.

Current operators


Freightliner currently operate one 86/5 and sixteen 86/6s some of which have now been re-painted in the 'swirly' green and yellow livery.

Network Rail

Network rail operate 86901 (ex-86253) "Chief Engineer" and 86902 (ex-86210) "Rail Vehicle Engineering". They were rebuilt from 86/2s for use as mobile load bank test locos to test overhead line equipment. They can still move under their own power.

Electric Traction

Electric traction operate a hire fleet of ac locos including 86701 (ex-86205) "Orion", 86702 (ex 86260) "Cassiopeia" and 86101 "Sir William A Stanier F.R.S." (part of the AC Loco Group fleet).


Europhoenix have exported five 86/2s to Floyd, Hungary.