Kent Rail

Class 92

 

During the development of what became the Class 373 ''Trans Manche Super Train'', British Rail had registered interest in pursuing a locomotive-hauled concept, but with heavy French influence in the form of SNCF, a formation based on the highly successful TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) was swiftly selected and indeed, this decision has proven its worth. However, all was not lost for locomotive-hauled passenger trains via the Channel Tunnel, and such an idea was to be included within the specification for a brand new, highly advanced, but very expensive, electric locomotive for use on continental freight workings.

 

In May 1988 the search began for: a) a locomotive which met the specification set out by the Department for Transport and: b) a contractor to build the selected design. Eventually, the British Rail Board formally placed an order with Brush Traction Ltd at Loughborough, on 22nd July 1990, for an initial batch of twenty locomotives; this same company had previously been awarded a contract worth £120 million in 1988 for the construction of one-hundred Class 60 diesels. The then new electric Co-Co locomotive was to utilise the fundamental body shell shape of the Class 60 and also feature similar bogies, but thereafter the similarities between the two types stopped. Firstly, the order would not have been overly popular with the Treasury, at £3 million per locomotive! Secondly, the body shell - manufactured and delivered complete by Procor, Wakefield (the company of which built that of the Class 60) - was packed with high-tech complex electronics. Some of these electronics had already been tried and tested on the Class 60, but others were wholly new breeds. Linked with the internal electronics were twelve third rail collecting shoes for the Southern Region 750V DC system and two pantographs - one located at either end of the locomotive - for 25kV AC overhead wires. The provision of two pantographs was a Eurotunnel requirement, as was the duplication of most electrical systems onboard, to ensure that any electronics failures did not leave a train stranded within the tunnel. Electric Train Supply was incorporated within the design to heat the proposed Nightstar stock. After repeat orders, there were forty-six electrics scheduled for completion, totalling a whopping £138 million.

 

The first of the type, now known as ''Class 92'', was completed in August 1993 and underwent static tests in that month. It was expected that the locomotive would be able to haul up to 2,200 tonnes, although the heaviest typical load on Channel Tunnel freights would be approximately 1,600 tonnes. Ownership of Class 92s would also be split between three operating bodies: Railfreight Distribution (thirty), European Passenger Services (seven) and SNCF (nine). Official allocation of all examples would be to Crewe Electric Depot. Completion of the whole order was to come in 1996 and it was envisaged that the class would be deployed on Wembley to Dollands Moor freights, thence through the tunnel, and Glasgow / Edinburgh to Calais via London night passenger workings. With a top speed of 87.5 MPH and most examples bearing the names of famous composers and writers, the class was, sadly, in for a bumpy ride on introduction.

 

The TrainLoad Business Sectors were privatised on 24th February 1996 (in their ''Mainline'', ''Transrail'' and ''Loadhaul'' shadow franchise forms) when they were purchased by ''North & South Railways'' (EWS), but Railfreight Distribution remained part of the British Rail Board during the Class 92 deliveries, not finally being purchased by EWS until 22nd November 1997. Railtrack had taken over the whole of the infrastructure by Summer 1996 and very soon began implementing draconian new rules and regulations concerning the level of interference (however minimal) between motive power and signalling equipment. That saw the type barred from their intended Wembley to Dollands Moor route via Redhill - only were they permitted over this line (which had been specifically electrified in 1994 for this purpose) if being dragged dead by a diesel. Another consequence was that in light of the Class 92's high electrical power rating, it was nigh on impossible for the type to adhere to most of the new signalling interference criteria laid down by Railtrack. This then led to the bizarre situation of the type being banned from operating over the section of line which gave access to its home depot at Crewe, subsequently having to be dragged there - this was from as far away as Wembley! Then came the aforementioned sale of Railfreight Distribution to EWS; the latter company was initially proposing to acquire the Business Sector, but without the locomotives. Due to the drastic restrictions imposed on the type by Railtrack, a senior EWS official was allegedly quoted as saying their only practical use was as ''battery chicken ranches''! However, the eventual sale of Railfreight Distribution to EWS did include the locomotives. There were yet more declining fortunes on the horizon for the class; the Nightstar project had been repeatedly delayed as a result of overrunning costs and difficulty in finding a contractor to build the coaching stock. GEC-Alsthom finally filled the breach and assembly of Nightstar stock began, but London & Continental Railways (Eurostar holding company) decided to abandon the project on costs grounds, official cancellation coming on 9th July 1999. Now the seven EPS Class 92s were left without any work and in the following year, these examples were offered for sale. Unfortunately, no buyer was found, any potential group probably deterred by the highly complex electrical systems and the class' inability to meet current European safety criteria. Subsequently, these examples - Nos. 92020, 92021, 92032, 92040, 92044, 92045 and 92046 - went into store at Crewe, their home depot, in April 2001.

 

During February 2007, there was quite literally light at the end of the tunnel for five members of the stored EPS fleet. In this month, Chunnel operating body ''Eurotunnel'' purchased EPS locomotive Nos. 92020, 92021, 92032, 92040 and 92044 for a cumulative total of £2 million. This indeed proves to be quite a steal, for in nominal terms, the five together cost £15,000,000 to construct in 1993, which equates to some £21,120,000 by 2006 prices. However, these locomotives are by no means ''ready-to-run'', and their considerable time in storage now requires each example to be fully overhauled before use. Their condition, combined with EPS' desire to relinquish their responsibilities with them, would appear to be reflected in the final asking price. Eurotunnel are to undertake the overhaul task in conjunction with the original manufacturer, Brush Traction Ltd, on the French side of the operation at Coquelles. As far as the British railway network is concerned, the revived Class 92s will reach only as far as the Cheriton Terminal once in service. Their acquisition forms the beginnings of Eurotunnel's venture into open access freight operation, which so far appears to revolve around breaking onto the scene on the continent. Any venture into the British market is so far being considered as having future potential.

 

Class 92 Names

 

Railfreight Distribution (RfD)

European Passenger Services (EPS) 

Now under Eurotunnel ownership

 

Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) 

''National company of the Railroads''

''Nightstar'' Service Durations:

 

Note: Class 37/6 on non-electrified lines; Class 92 through the tunnel


21st February 2006

 

On 21st February 2006, former British Rail locomotive (and now EWS-owned) No. 92003 ''Beethoven'' is seen

rumbling over Eynsford Viaduct with the 09:48 Wembley to Dollands Moor ''enterprise''. David Glasspool

 


3rd May 2006

 

The trees had grown some new leaves and the fields were green when this later view of Eynsford Viaduct was

observed. Another Dollands Moor working headed by a two-tone grey Class 92 is seen cruising over the structure

on 3rd May 2006. David Glasspool

 


18th June 2006

 

On 18th June 2006, three Class 92s were in evidence at Dollands Moor, wearing Railfreight Distribution grey,

but with recent ''EWS'' stickers. On the left is No. 92011 ''Handel'', whilst on the right is No. 92037 ''Sullivan''.

David Glasspool

 


 

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