Freightliner strengthens electric locomotive roster

Two Class 90 electric locomotives sold to Freightliner from DB Cargo UK, seen at Crewe. Image: Tim Shoveller.

UK operator Freightliner, part of the American Genesee and Wyoming corporation, has made a pair of locomotive purchases. They come from rival DB Cargo UK, part of the German Deutsche Bahn operation. The two biggest rail freight operators in the UK have agreed a deal that sees a pair of ‘class 90’ electric locomotives transfer to Freightliner, for use on high-speed freight operations.

Freightliner has restated its commitment to the class 90 electric locomotive marque by adding two more examples to its roster. Nominally, this makes Freightliner the largest operator of the class. The two units were purchased from DB Cargo UK. That operator has a number of the units still on its roster but has effectively withdrawn the class from service.

Electric locos are even cleaner

If these were football clubs, then this would be a double transfer of two reliable and sturdy midfielders – strong and able to ride a tackle, with good stamina and an impressive turn of speed when needed. That would make Tim Shoveller, the chief executive of Freightliner, something of an astute manager who shuns a sheepskin jacket for a high-vis vest and hard hat.

“We have increased our fleet, purchasing two further locomotives”, said Tim Shoveller. “We all know a tonne of freight moved by rail emits 76 per cent less carbon than road – that’s for a diesel locomotive. Our electric locos are even cleaner, over 90 per cent less carbon. Freightliner Group love our electric locos, which are faster, cleaner and more reliable.” Freightliner now operates 25 examples of the former express passenger units.

Built in the 1980s, running in the 2020s

Last week, Shoveller, paid a visit to the Crewe maintenance facility. The locomotives will be brought up to operational readiness at that location. Crewe will also be the home depot for the units for the duration of their Freightliner careers. “It was great to visit our team to examine the new locos and see the team that looks after them”, he said.

Freightliner double headed electric locomotives hauling intermodal train in countryside
Freightliner regularly use a pair of class 90 locomotives on heavy express intermodal services. This pair seen near Beattock Summit on the West Coast Main Line. Image: © Freightliner.

Clearly, Shoveller sees some legs left in the venerable units. The nationalised British Railways designed and built the class 90 in the late 1980s. They were a regular sight on the East of England expresses out of London Liverpool Street, to Ipswich and Norwich, and visitors on the East Coast Main Line too. More recently, their passenger duties have been on the Caledonian Sleeper services from London to Scotland.

Repurposed for fast freight duties

The decision of one operator has been the benefit of another. In July last year (2023), DB Cargo UK said it would withdraw its entire Class 90 fleet of 24 locomotives. They cited high energy costs for electricity, and have since been making headway with experiments in alternative fuels, notably HVO, in which the company is leading the way for the industry.

Tim Shoveller, CEO of Freightliner in the UK, gets his hands on 90014, literally. Image: © Freightliner.

Despite having had issues with energy costs themselves, Freightliner has remained loyal to its fleet of repurposed class 90 locomotives. The units have been reworked – mainly with a slightly lower top speed but geared for a higher tractive effort.

The company has also made the astute move of acquiring the services of Stuart Lawler, an engineer held in high regard for looking after the locomotives throughout much of his career. The locomotives are likely to join other examples of the marque on fast intermodal services.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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