Railfreight is great, but which livery is the best?

Can it really be 20 years since the Railfreight division of British Rail launched the triple-grey sub-sector livery at a damp press event at Ripple Lane in East London? Gareth Bayer makes the case for this being the best colour scheme ever applied to a British loco fleet, before opening up the debate to readers, who can also vote for their favourite below.

Railfreight sub-sector symbols

PRIVATISATION HAS BROUGHT with it an explosion of different paint jobs. It barely seems like a month goes by before another locomotive or multiple unit is rolled out in a new and expensive designer scheme, but sadly most disappoint.

The humorous and satirical livery mock ups that did the rounds before the 1994 break up of BR have come back to haunt us now ten fold, as trains liveried in a mess of vinyl bus designs rub shoulders with schemes that look like they have been put together using Microsoft Paint. So you can forgive those enthusiasts of a certain age, somewhere between 32 and 50, who might hark back every now and then to the launch of the Railfreight sub-sector brand in 1987.

While earlier liveries are remembered with nostalgic fondness, especially the likes of large logo and corporate blue itself, it is difficult to argue that they were always a success. This is especially true of the all-encompassing Rail blue dip, which cut the famous ‘Deltics’ down to size and would have just looked silly on the later BR Type 5s.

Roundel’s masterpiece, meanwhile, was designed around the soon to be introduced Class 60, and continuing BR’s philosophy of commissioning a new paint scheme every time it bought a new loco type, was cleverly backwards compatible and looked as good on the grilled up Class 31s and 37s as it did on the US-inspired ‘easy access’ body style of the Class 58s and the minimalist Brush Type 5s – even more so when correctly fitted with cast arrows and depot plaques.

The quality of the design has been re-inforced with its adaption into Transrail ‘big T’ and by the application of EWS’ ‘zoo’ branding, which when applied well almost looks half decent. It is also no surprise that one of the more popular liveries of recent years has been Fastline Freight’s two-tone grey, which borrows so heavily from Roundel’s design that you’d think a licence fee had changed hands.

So that’s my opinion. Whether you agree or disagree, you can make your opinion heard by commenting below. RAIL EXPRESS has also set up a rather unscientific vote to determine what readers consider to be the best colour scheme ever applied to British diesel and electric locomotives.

Just click on one of the liveries below, which will automatically create an e-mail with a pre-formatted subject line. Please don’t change this if you want your vote to count. You can, however, add a comment in the body of the e-mail relating to your favourite livery. Vote away, and please don’t spam us!


British Rail era:
Original British Railways green
BR Rail blue
BR Rail blue (with silver/grey roof)
Large logo blue
Original Railfreight (grey/yellow)
Railfreight red-stripe
Derby RTC (red/blue)
GWR 150 green
InterCity Executive
InterCity Swallow
InterCity Mainline
Network SouthEast
Network SouthEast (revised)
Railfreight triple-grey sub-sector
RfD European
Foster Yeoman (silver/blue)
ARC (mustard/grey)
Provincial (and Regional Railways)
Parcels (red/grey)
Rail express systems
General grey
Civil Engineer’s ‘Dutch’ (grey/yellow)
Mainline Freight (aircraft blue)
Transrail ‘Big T’ (triple grey)
Loadhaul (black/orange)

Privatisation era:
Blue Pullman
Colas Rail (yellow/orange/black)
Cotswold Rail
Direct Rail Services
Direct Rail Services Compass logo
EWS (maroon/gold, inc. EW&S)
Fastline Freight
First Group ‘Barbie’
FM Rail/Fragonset black
Freightliner original grey (with red triangle)
Freightliner green
GB Railfreight
GB Railfreight/Metronet
Harry Needle Railway Co. triple grey
Mendip Rail (green/orange)
Network Rail yellow
‘One’ Railway
Porterbrook purple
Railtrack (green/yellow)
Riviera Trains blue
Royal specials
South West Trains
Stobart Rail/DRS
Virgin Trains
Virgin Trains ‘Thunderbird’
Waterman Railways black
West Coast Railway Co. maroon
XP-64 blue

If your favourite livery isn’t on the list above, drop us an e-mail and we’ll add it to the list.


9 Responses to Railfreight is great, but which livery is the best?

  1. John Arnold says:

    I think my all time favorite livery has to be Railfreight Triple Grey as it works well omn so many classes and yes I am 31 yrs old!.

    A livery that I can see is missing is the Hull Trains Livery as used on the Pioneers. This is my 3rd best choice of livery, and it will be a shame if first repaints its Class 222’s into First Neon Colours. My 2nd best livery is the Large Logo Blue, especially with the little Scottie Dog and Large Numbers. This looked excellent on the Class 37’s and 47’s, & 50’s. It also looked brilliant with the 3 piece snowploughs and silver roof. I put this second as it appeared a less classes than my 1st choice, and also why the Hulltrains was 3rd.

  2. lastarial says:

    Hull Trains isn’t bad, but it only appeared on multiple units, hence why we’ve not included it in our survey. If we included all the various TOC unit schemes then the list would be too large.

  3. kev says:

    I’ll take GNER. It’s classier than Virgin’s. But I can’t say no to large logo blue or InterCity Swallow or Mainline. Although class91s and 90s would have looked terrible in large logo blue

  4. Damon says:

    I like the Central Trains green and blue used on the Centro 150’s in Birmingham, but since thats not on there, i will go for Network Rail yellow!

  5. Barry Adams says:

    Sorry, but Railfreight grey does nothing for me. Take away the sud sector markings and the depot plaques (based on designs already existing) and your left with nothing.
    I’m not surprised US owned operators have gone home for livery design. Sorry, Mike Denny, put your ruler away and use some colour (like First Group perhaps). Anyhow, best livery – Large Logo, Virgin 57s or Blue Pullman. Worst livery – ONE, WCR Royal Scotsman or anything grey.

  6. Daniel Cawkwell says:

    I personally think the best livery has to be Anglia Railways Turquoise And White Livery, it looked smart and presentable, and made the Class 86’s look newer and respectable, even the variations of this scheme on the Class 150, 153 and even the fading version on the Turbostars looked far greater than any of these newer “lighter” liveries.

    My vote will have to go to GNER, as it is the same scheme but different colours

  7. Robert Clarkson says:

    I like the south west trains livery (stagecoach revised network south east). The red suburban units and the 450 blue is horrible.

    But I love the old res colour of red with grey strips. but working for the post office i had include that one.



  8. jackie jaye says:

    Best livery?easy Loadhaul, great on any big freight engine,closely followed by Freightliner green,Transrail’s ‘BigT’ looked good too loved the original Virgin red
    the worst is easily any First Group one[look how they ruined the original Great
    Western green]

  9. dan griffin says:

    best livery was railfreight red stripe, followed by intercity rasberry ripple. especially stylish on the 43’s 91’s and the 89.

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