The Class 08 is currently the oldest locomotive and indeed train still in everyday use here in the UK, with the design being based on an earlier LMS 12033 series design from 1945, and the oldest examples entering service as far back as 1953.
The locomotives were built at the BR Works of Crewe, Darlington, Derby, Doncaster and Horwich between 1952 and 1962, and are powered by English Electric 6 cylinder, 4-stroke, 6KT engines, with a tractive effort of 35,000lbf. They are able to haul many times their own weight, and were employed by British Rail on a myriad of operations, from shunting at Freight Yards, to station pilots, to Coaching Stock moves and even operations on small branch lines. In all, 996 examples of this class were built, making it the most numerous locomotive on the BR Network. The loco also spawned a selection of sub-classes, including the larger Class 09, Class 10, Class 11, Class 12, and the Class 13 Slave units.
Since their introduction, though, the nature of rail traffic in Britain has changed considerably. Freight trains are now mostly fixed rakes of wagons, and passenger trains are mostly multiple units, neither requiring the attention of a shunting locomotive. Consequently, a large proportion of the class has been withdrawn from mainline use and stored, scrapped, exported or sold to industrial or heritage railways.
The first locomotive to be withdrawn was D3193 in 1967. Four other machines were withdrawn before TOPS reclassification in 1973. Withdrawals continued in subsequent decades until by the beginning of the 1990’s most of the class were no longer in service. At the same time as the withdrawals, many were purchased by heritage railways.
When British Rail was privatised and sold in the 1990s, EWS inherited most of the class. More units were disposed of, being sent to EWS’s Component Recovery & Distribution Centre (CRDC) in Wigan for stripping of re-usable components prior to scrapping. Others were stored in case of an increase in traffic.
As of mid-2008, EWS had over 40 class 08 locomotives in operation, with a greater number stored. Freightliner also had about five locomotives in operation, as did locomotive company Wabtec. First Group operated less than five; additionally, some work at industrial sidings – two for Foster Yeoman, one for Mendip Rail, one for Corus, one at ICI Wilton, two for English China Clays, amongst others. A few other businesses in railway-related business operated single examples. In addition, at least 60 have been preserved on a selection of heritage routes, being flexibly and powerful little engines for either operating passenger trains or carrying out their primary shunting function.