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CLASS 90 ELECTRIC LOCO GROUP British Rail Class 90 Silver Anniversary: 1987-2012

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General Introduction

Updated 19/1/19

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This website is dedicated to the BR built class 90s, which were manufactured and assembled in Crewe Works by BREL from 1985 until completion in 1990 under contract to GEC. The original fleet size consisted of 50 locos as new and these were numbered 90001-90050. However, In the early 1990s several class 90s notably those higher than 90025 were renumbered to 90/1 and 90/2 for a number of years, but they all reverted back to 90/0 in the early 2000s. The total fleet tally has been reduced by 1/4 in recent years bringing the total number in traffic down to roughly 35 which has stabled. The dwindling numbers in service has largely arisen due to a lack of work for those owned by DBS (formerly EWS).

The class 90 locomotives celebrated their 30th birthday on July 12th 2018. The first 90 to work a passenger service was 90003 having been attached to the 13:46 Blackpool North to London Euston service at Preston on July 12th 1988 owing to a failed class 86 the previous day (90003 was used as a driver training loco in the Preston area at the time). It could however be argued that 90005 was in fact the first 90 to work a service train after it performed a VIP service to Northampton in March 1988 in readiness for naming - she was subsequently called 'Financial Times'. It is interesting to note that the first loco to be outshopped from Crewe was 90001 in October 1987 which went to Derby to be a test engine for several months and saw action on the WCML as well as on the Old Dalby Test Track.

One of the most bizarre situations to arise with the class 90 fleet in the beginning was the deployment of 90008 to Hamburg fresh out of Crewe Works as part of the 'Hamburg International Transport Traffic Exhibition' in May 1988. The 90 went in a convoy of other locomotives and wagons including 91003 and 89001. It is unknown if the class 90 (90008) worked under its own power for any part of the trip to/from Hamburg (pictures show a raised pantograph at the Hamburg depot). If you like more information on this event, then go to

The original 50 strong fleet of class 90 locomotives were built as a direct replacement for the then aging class 85s as well as being an opportunity to cascade a number of passenger class 86s to East Anglia. The design specification was based on a tried and tested system which BR had developed over the years. Furthermore, one must not forget that the class 90s were a later version of the class 87s. Incidentally back in 1987 the original number sequence for the 90s took the form of 87/2s - I recall seeing what is now 90001 at a Crewe Open Day in 1987 as a young lad with 87201 written on the bodywork, but this numbering system was short lived and the rest as the saying goes is “history”.

The maximum speed of a class 90 is 110mph, although they have been known to go faster in days gone by under test conditions. These engines are NOT permitted to operate at 125mph unless they are regeared and adapted to operating with disc brakes. The 90s entered service as a mixed traffic locomotive and have featured on both freight and passenger work throughout their entire history a trend still seen today in 2019. They have operated (and continue to do so) on a number of electrified routes including the West Coast, East Coast and Great Eastern Region.

A more detailed introduction and analysis of the class 90 fleet can be found in the 100th issue of “Today’s Railways (UK)” which was published on the 8th March 2010. Also further sub-pages of the website consider other areas of the class 90s history which includes operational routes, livery combinations, operating characteristics, technical capabilities and associated names/nameplates. It is also worth reviewing the “train testing” website which has a wealth of information on the class 90s.

Moving on to the present day (January 2019), the class 90s continue to operate passenger and freight trains under the stewardship of DB Cargo, Freightliner and Abellio Greater Anglia with approximately 75% of the fleet still in active use. However, there are a number of loco’s in long term store at Crewe in various guises. For more details on what 90s are in storage, please refer to the following link. At the time of writing, it was unclear what the short-term future will be for the remaining active loco’s, but it looks like the 90s are safe for now and will continue to work various types of trains across the UK railway network.

Further updates will be added to this page as they become known, so in the meantime enjoy the BR class 90s and if you have any questions or comments, please use the contact section or drop us an email and we will get back to you promptly and assist wherever possible.

Present & Future

Updated 19/1/19

As already noted the 90s entered their 30th year of operations on 12/7/18. It is unclear what will happen to these locomotives in years to come, but at the time of writing in 2019, the current fleet size has stabilised, with enough work to go around for the foreseeable future.

Focus now turns to DB Cargo - this fleet of locos are owned outright by DB and those currently in traffic primarily operate intermodal freight trains on the WCML, but they also work other types of freight as well as Royal Mail postal trains on an ad-hoc basis. DB90s are also spot hired to East Coast and they continue to work charter trains when needed just like they always have done. Not too long ago, they use to work sleeper trains to and from Scotland, but this ceased in 2015 as did the hiring of 90s to Virgin West Coast.

Now we turn to the Freightliner fleet - these loco’s primarily work intermodal freight trains to and from Coatbridge, but they are also currently spot hired to GBRF to work the core electric sleeper trains, but for how much longer the resurgence of working passenger trains was not known at the time of writing. In the past, the FL90s had always been a mixed traffic loco and it is good to see 30 years later that this practice continues. The loco’s used by this operator are owned by Porterbrook and are subsequently leased to Freightliner.

On the subject of Portorbrook, they also have 15 other 90s (numbered 90001-90015), which are currently leased to Abellio in order to operate passenger services between London and Norwich, which has been the case since the early noughties having spent most of their early career working trains on the WCML. It is not clear what will happen to these engines once the new franchise for Anglia is announced, but for now they are safe.    

In summary, the 50 strong fleet is facing a difficult future particularly those used by DB, but I suspect the Anglia ones will be around for a while to come. However, if the future electrification schemes come on stream, then we could see a potential resurgence and hence safeguarding the 90s future. For more information see other history links below or should you have any questions, suggestions or like something added to the site, then drop us an email.

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