EWS, an American owned company purchased, Transrail, Loadhaul and Mainline freight from BR in 1996. They decided to replace their freight locomotive fleet with a new GM designed locomotive based on the successful Class 59 design but with a new 3000hp power unit, a top speed of 75mph, radial steering bogies and computer control systems. An order was placed for 250 and the first locomotives were delivered from GM plant in Ontario, Canada and tested in the UK during April 1998 with the last of the batch arriving by June 2000. The new 68 tonne locomotives were very successful.
Other rail freight operators were quick to spot the advantages of the new design and now Freightliner, GB Railfreight and DRS own and operate this locomotive. Between the four companies there are now over 350 Class 66 operating in the UK. At least 24 have now been named with most owned by Freightliner and GB Railfreight. There are also external variations to be found with two types of lighting units, buckeye and conventional hooks, horn grille modification, and different combinations of lashing eyes welded on the front of the buffer beam.
Enthusiasts nicknamed them 'sheds' because of their basic utility design and the class can now be found working virtually all over the UK network. The success of the 66 has resulted in examples operating in small numbers across Europe.
In 1995 British Nuclear Fuels Limited decided to form its own subsidiary rail company called DRS (Direct Rail Services) to obtain greater operational flexibility plus reduced operating costs. The core business work is moving nuclear traffic but DRS has also developed a number of contacts with logistic companies, notably WH Malcolm. Initially the company started with ex BR designed locomotives 20, 33, 37, and 47 but by 2002 DRS needed to purchase new locomotives. In 2002 DRS leased two Class 66 locomotives from GBRf. These were so successful that the company ordered its own fleet of ten 66/4 locomotives. Directional Lighting.