GB Railfreight signs loco leasing deal with Akiem

Continental class 66 on road low loader
Continental class 66 on road low loader set for export to the UK Image Akiem press release

British rail freight operator GB Railfreight (GBRf) has announced a ten-year locomotive leasing deal with Akiem, the well-known European rolling stock leasing company. The deal will see examples of the familiar class 66 diesel workhorses and the visually almost identical class 77 variant on the design, originally built for the mainland European market, brought to Great Britain. According to a joint statement, the agreement will see 25 million pounds (29,75 million euros) invested to increase the number of locomotives across GBRf’s operations.

Demand for additional fleet strength at GBRf has become necessary after the company made recent wins in the intermodal sector and continued growth across several of their key target markets. To answer the call, the company has turned to mainland Europe for a ready-made fix to the need. Over the next year and a half, the company will deliver eleven Class 77 and Class 66 locomotives. They will operate services for businesses across intermodal, energy generation, infrastructure, waste, construction and rail services. Arrivals from continental Europe are scheduled between now (January 2023) and May 2024. The first unit has already been delivered to Doncaster for modification work.

Refurbishment by the original manufacturers

The technical and operational specifications of the locomotives require reworking to meet the compatibility standards of the UK network. Although all the units are supplied in running order, they will require attention on arrival in the UK. GBRf has committed further investment to convert the locomotives to make them compliant for UK service at EMD Doncaster Roberts Road. The first locomotive will operate across the UK’s rail network by summer 2023.

Class 66 on the quayside (Akiem)
The first class 66 on the quayside, heading for Doncaster and a new life with GBRf in the UK (Akiem press image)

In an enthusiastic post on their social media feeds, GBRf said they were proud to announce the new ten-year deal with Akiem. “We’re investing 25 million to lease locomotives”, they said. “The first locomotive has already arrived in the UK, and we cannot wait to show you pictures of them in the blue and orange GBRf colours later this spring.”

Perfectly adapted to the UK market

John Smith, the chief executive at GBRf, has presided over a growth in the company’s business, saw them open a new administrative centre in Peterborough, and now, he gets eleven extra locomotives with which to play. “Over the past two years, we’ve seen a significant growth in rail freight, with new customers and markets coming to us for support with their supply chains”, he explained. “This new deal with Akiem is part of our commitment to maintain this growth and offer a more sustainable alternative to transporting goods across the UK.”

“We are very pleased to be adding such renown and appreciated class 66 and 77 locomotives to the UK market while strengthening our partnership with GBRf”, said Simon-Pierre Trezeguet, the managing director of Akiem’s locomotive leasing business unit. “In a few months, when our mainland European high-performance class 66 and 77 locomotives have been perfectly adapted to the UK market, they will greatly contribute to the development of rail freight across the United Kingdom.”

Imported from Europe, not from the 1950s

Akiem has a fleet of 670 locomotives under management and other motive power and rolling stock assets. The company serves over 80 customers in 21 European countries, including the UK.

In NS livery, a preserved BR class 27 (later class 77) on display at the Manchster Museum of Science and industry
Not going anywhere. Old BR class 77 or 27 at MOSI (Chowells – WikiCommons)

Heritage enthusiasts need not be concerned. The class 77 locomotives are not the unique 1950s-designed British locomotives which carried the same designation. Those 1500Kv electric locomotives operated between Sheffield and Manchester on the now-closed Woodhead Route. Most of their number were exported to the Netherlands several decades ago. A few examples remain in preservation around the country – including at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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