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Railfreight Iconography

Stuart Jordan

STUART JORDAN looks at the distinctive iconography designed for Railfreight.

Railfreight Class 37

Trainload Freight Petroleum Sector Class 37

In this article I am going to look at the interesting iconography used on Railfreight stock and signage during the late BR period. Having an eye for design, in a rather sad way I was quite taken by the simple but effecting way the different freight types were depicted.

In 1987 British Rail's previous Railfreight division was split into sub-sectors, under the title of Trainload Freight. The advertising agency Roundel Design was tasked with bringing the livery of the new parts up to date. They did this with a bold new look for BR locomotives, which was inspired by the easily identifiable markings on WW2 aircraft.

Railfreight F Design

The Petroleum Sector icon, with the stylised 'F' outlined.

Each sub-sector of the operation was given their own two-colour design of two overlapping squares. The front square showed a stylised image of the type of freight being carried, and the rear square would form a right angle, which combined with the design on the front square would form a stylised 'F'. These designs would be on the side of the locomotive, and a similar motif strip next to the driver cab door.

The introduction of the new 'Triple-Grey' paintwork also meant locomotives were better presented, because it didn't hide the dirt as well as the previous Railfreight Grey did!

Trainload Freight Sub-Sector Designs

Railfreight Coal Design


The black diamonds represent lumps of coal, simple as that! The Coal sector provided resources for power plants, cement works, and steel mills, as well as carrying nuclear flasks and fly ash.

Railfreight Construction Design


This design features alternating blue and yellow building blocks. Loads carried by the Construction sector included aggregates, lime, gypsum, and refuse, and also materials for the Channel Tunnel construction.

Railfreight Metals Design


The sharp chevrons on this design represent sheets of metal. Obviously this sub-sector transported materials such as iron ore, wire coil, scrap metal, and aluminium.

Railfreight Petroleum Design


Alternating wavy liquid lines make up the design for the Petroleum sector, carrying oil, petroleum, chemical loads, liquid petroleum gas, and aviation fuel.

Railfreight Distribution Design

Railfreight Distribution

Railfreight Distribution (occasionally referred to as Speedlink in the early years) was a separate entity to Trainload Freight, and was made up of non-Trainload Freight (or mixed-traffic) operations, container trains, and freight trains running through the Channel Tunnel. In 1992, Railfreight Distribution's locomotives were re-painted with dark blue roofs to match Eurostar stock. In 1995 container traffic was transferred to Freightliner.

Railfreight General Design

Railfreight General

Another separate entity, Railfreight General covered any loads that were not covered by the other sectors. Incredibly short-lived, it only lasted from 1987 until 1989 with a fleet of only four locomotives.

Depot Plaques

In order to instil a sense of pride in their locomotives, Roundel Design worked with staff at each Railfreight depot to design a specific plaque for each one, which would be affixed to each locomotive held there.

Railfreight Depot Plaques

A selection of different plaques, click image for larger version. Image: Class 58 Locomotive Group

Modelling Railfreight

Dapol Class 56

DA2D-004-008D Dapol N Scale Class 56 Construction Sector

Currently Railfreight items of this era are produced by Bachmann (OO), Dapol (N), Graham Farish (N), Heljan (OO). You can view all of the Railfreight items from all eras produced by clicking here.

Gaugemaster Catalogue

As an aside, during the design process for the Gaugemaster product icons (as shown on our catalogue to the left) were partly inspired by the Railfreight icons. We wanted to ape the duo-chromatic design with our own company colours, and a simple device was chosen to represent each product group in the range.

Fordhampton Kits
Graham Farish
Oxford Diecast
Deluxe Materials
Revell Paints
Humbrol Paints
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