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British railcars and diesel multiple units

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Title: British railcars and diesel multiple units  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: List of British Rail diesel multiple unit classes, GCR Class 9K, History of rail transport in Great Britain, British Rail Class 126, British Rail Class 151
Collection: British Rail Diesel Multiple Units, Railcars of the United Kingdom
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

British railcars and diesel multiple units

A modern Class 158 diesel multiple unit

Diesel multiple units and railcars are trains, usually with passenger accommodation, that do not require a locomotive. Railcars can be single cars, while in multiple units cars are marshalled together with a driving position either end. As of December 2010, 23 percent of the rail passenger cars used on Network Rail are part of an diesel multiple unit.

Some prototype steam-powered railcars appeared in the mid-19th century, and at the start of the 20th century over 100 were built. Diesel motors became powerful enough for a railway use after World War I, and the Great Western Railway built several single cars and multiple units. A 1952 report recommended the trialling of lightweight diesel multiple units, followed by plans in the 1955 Modernisation Plan for up to 4,600 diesel railcars. Most of these had a mechanical transmission, but the Southern Region had experience of DC electric multiple units, and diesel electric multiple units were introduced.

In 1960 the Blue Pullman service was introduced using high-speed luxury diesel-electric multiple units. To achieve a top speed of 125 miles per hour (201 km/h) the Intercity 125 had coaches sandwiched between two power cars. Initially the train was considered to be a diesel electric multiple unit, but for operational reasons the classification changed and the power cars became identified as Class 43 locomotives.


  • Origins 1
    • Steam railcars 1.1
    • Petrol and Diesel railcars 1.2
  • First generation DMUs 2
  • Diesel electric multiple units 3
  • Second Generation DMUs 4
  • Privatisation 5
  • Planned trains 6
  • References 7
    • Bibliography 7.1
  • External links 8


Steam railcars

Steam railcar Enfield built by William Adams for the Eastern Counties Railway in 1849. Note the raised buffers for use with other rolling stock.

From 1847–1849 William Bridges Adams built a number of steam railcars, vehicles with a steam engine for propulsion and passenger accommodation. These were the Express or Lilliputian, Fairfield and Enfield. Kitsons of Leeds built Ariel's Girdle in 1851. However, the next railcars were built in 1902 for the London & South Western Railway for the line from Fratton to East Southsea, although before entering passenger service it was lent to the Great Western Railway (GWR). By 1908 the GWR had purchased or built 99 railcars (or railmotors as they called them), but from 1917 began converting them into autocoaches for use on push-pull trains with a steam locomotive,[1] as these were more reliable and were able to haul additional carriages or goods wagons.[2] Between 1905 and 1911 the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&YR) purchased or built seventeen steam rail cars, some running into the 1940s.[3]

After trials in 1924, the London & North Western Railway bought three types of steam railcars from Sentinel-Cammell and Claytons.[4] As of 2012 a reconstructed GWR 1908 steam railmotor is operational, based at Didcot Railway Centre and an GWR autotrailer is being restored.[5][6]

Petrol and Diesel railcars

One of the earlier, more-streamlined GWR diesel railcars, still in British Railways service in May 1956

In 1914 the L&NWR commissioned a 90 hp (67 kW) petrol-electric railcar, although this was converted into a driving trailer in 1924. After World War I more powerful diesel engines were available and in 1928 the London Midland & Scottish Railway commissioned a four-car diesel-electric multiple unit using a 500 hp (370 kW) Beardmore engine, similar to that used on the airship R101, placed in a power car that had been used on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway's electrified line from Bury to Holcombe Brook.[7] In the early 1930s Armstrong Whitworth built three railcars for the L&NER, LMS and Southern Railway. These had a 250 hp (190 kW) Sulzer engine driving two GEC traction motors and could seat 60 passengers, able to pull trailers or run in multiple.[8] English Electric built a prototype railcar called Bluebird with a 200 hp (150 kW) engine.[9] In 1938 the LMS built a 3-car articulated multiple unit at Derby, with two 125 hp (93 kW) motors driving the axles using a torque converter, controlled using an electro-pneumatic system. Seating 162 including 24 first-class it ran in service between Oxford and Cambridge, but was withdrawn in 1940 due to World War II.[10]

Between 1933 and 1942 the GWR received 38 diesel power cars. The first stream-lined car used one AEC 120 hp (89 kW) engine, seating 69 passengers. This was followed by three cars with two engines for a cross country service between Birmingham and Cardiff,[11] then suburban passenger cars and a parcels car. No 18 was designed to pull horse boxes and with electro-pneumatic multiple unit control, followed by twenty more to a similar design. The last four were built with only one driving compartment so as to operated in pairs with a trailer between them.[12] As of 2012 a GWR diesel railcar is preserved in running order at the Didcot Railway Centre,[13] one is a static exhibit at the Museum of the Great Western Railway[14] and one is being restored at the Kent and East Sussex Railway.[15]

First generation DMUs

The railways were placed under Government control two days before war was declared on 3 September 1939.[16] After the war the railways were in poor financial state with a backlog of maintenance.[17] Government control was not relinquished before the Transport Act 1947 nationalised most of the railways in the United Kingdom and control passed to the Railway Executive of the British Transport Commission,[18] who inherited 37 diesel railcars.[19] In 1952 a report recommended the trialling of lightweight diesel multiple units, and a memo to the Board suggested diesel railcars could replace push-pull steam trains on 168 routes. After fuel rationing ended the first order was placed in November 1952 for 21 x 2-car sets and these were built at Derby works, and became known as Derby lightweights.[20] More were follow until this class numbered 66 motor cars and 55 trailers.[21] In 1952 British United Traction made a number of 4-wheeled single car railbuses.[22]

A Diesel Multiple Unit in 1983
As part of the 1955 Modernisation Plan of British Railways, plans were made for up to 4,600 diesel railcars.[21] The British Railway workshops at Derby and Swindon did not have the necessary capacity, so private carriage builders such as Metropolitan-Cammell, Gloucester, Birmingham and Cravens received orders.[23] Not all units could work in multiple with each other, but the blue square coupling code covered 84 percent of the cars built, using a four-speed gearbox with gear selection controlled pneumatically.[24] Engines could vary in power output from 150 to 230 hp (110 to 170 kW) and vacuum brakes were used.[25] Internally the units could be classified as suburban with doors for each seating bay and 3+2 seating in second class, such as Class 118, low density with two doors per vehicle side, 3+2 bus style seating in second class, such as Class 114 and Intercity with interiors to same standard as locomotive hauled stock, such as Class 124.[26]

In 1963 Beeching's The Reshaping of British Railways report recommending the closure of 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of mostly rural branch railways,[27] lead to the Beeching cuts and halted the manufacture of new vehicles.[28]

As of 2012 about 250 vehicles survive in preservation,[29] various vehicles (mainly 101s and 121/122s) survive in departmental use, and Chiltern Railways use a Class 121 on its Aylesbury to Princes Risborough line.

Diesel electric multiple units

Diesel electric multiple units were introduced on the Southern Region, where there was experience of DC electric multiple units. The Hastings line had special restrictions due to tunnels on the line and special narrow stock was needed. The six car sets had two power cars, each having 500 horsepower (370 kW) diesel generator driving two standard Southern Region 250 horsepower (190 kW) traction motors.[30] Introduction had been planned for June 1957, but special services were run early following a fire at Cannon Street in London. When the full timetable started 12-car trains divided en route into non-stop and stopping portions.[31] Elsewhere the standard loading gauge could be used and the trailer vehicles were similar to contemporary Southern Region electric multiple units.[32] Two car sets were built for local services on unelectrified lines in Hampshire, followed by three car sets, for which the generator was uprated to 600 horsepower (450 kW).[31]

A Midland Pullman in 1960

The Blue Pullman was a class of high-speed luxury diesel-electric multiple units introduced in 1960. Six coach sets were used on London Midland Region, all first class with at seat service served from two kitchen cars. The two power cars had diesel engines connected to a 870 hp (650 kW) generators, both supplying four 199 hp (148 kW) traction motors. The Western Region units had two additional second class coaches. All cars were double glazed and air-conditioned, the first on British Railways.[33]

There was a desire in British Railways for faster trains, but none of the main-line diesel locomotives could achieve anything faster than 100 mph (160 km/h). It had been calculated that 4,000 hp (3,000 kW) was needed, and after the Paxman Valenta engine with an output of 2,250 hp (1,680 kW) became available, a prototype train with two power cars and standard Mark 3 coaches was built.[34] In 1973 this prototype achieved 143 mph (230 km/h), and production Intercity 125 trains entered service in October 1976, becoming the first 125 mph (201 km/h) diesel train service in the world. Initially the rolling stock was considered to be diesel-electric multiple units, with coaches sandwiched between two power cars.[35]

Two prototype diesel multiple electric units British Rail Class 210 were introduced in 1981, based on the Mark 3 coach bodyshell with a diesel engine mounted at the end of one of the driving cars. It was not a success due to complexity and cost.[36]

Second Generation DMUs

The Pacer series grew out of a single car prototype developed for export that used a body designed by Leyland Motors with bus components mounted on a 4-wheeled high-speed freight underframe.[37] Two car production units were introduced into Britain from 1981[38] to 1987.[39]

A 1980s Sprinter at Knutsford.

A prototype Sprinter was built in 1983, based on the Mark 3 bodyshell design. The BREL British Rail Class 150 with a high density layout, followed by the 150/2 that had gangways between units.[39] The Leyland Class 155 and Metro-Cammell Class 156 were built in 1987–89[40] and some class 155 units were split into two single car units in 1991–92, (becoming Class 153), a new compact cab being fitted to the inner ends by Hunslet.[41] The Class 158 was built for long distance routes with air conditioning and a quiet interior. Three car versions of the Class 158, the Class 159 were built for Network South East for use of the West of England Main Line between Exeter and London Waterloo.[42]

The Networker Turbo was built for Network SouthEast in the early 1990s. The Class 165 is a two or three coach unit used on local services on Chiltern and Thames routes out of London and was followed by the 90 mph (140 km/h) Class 166 for long distance services.[43][44]


Train Manufacturer BREL was privatised in 1989,[45] and between 1994 and 1997 the rest of British Rail was privatised.[46] Ownership of the track and infrastructure passed to Railtrack on 1 April 1994; afterwards passenger operations were franchised to individual private-sector operators and the freight services sold outright.[47] Rolling stock is owned by ROSCOs and leased to the train operators; competitive tenders are invited from manufacturers for new trains. During the privatisation process, there was a gap of nearly three years during which no new rolling stock orders were placed. The first new order placed was in June 1996 for four Class 168 Clubman DMUs for Chiltern Railways. These were a development of the Networker Turbo design already in use by Chiltern and other operators, and themselves became the basis for the Class 170/171 Turbostar fleet.[48]

A modern high speed DMU (Class 180)

Alstom units were built in between 1999–2001. The family consists of the 100 mph (160 km/h) Class 175 Coradia 1000 (27 units), currently operating in Wales, and Class 180 Adelante, (14 units), a 125 mph (201 km/h) high-speed unit used by First Great Western, First Hull Trains and Grand Central Railway.[49]

The Siemens Desiro Class 185 Pennine is in service on Transpennine Express services. The 51 strong fleet was built between 2005–2006.[50]

The Bombardier Voyager family is a series of high speed DEMUs. Virgin Trains were looking to replace a mixture of life expired loco-hauled trains and mid-life HSTs and have tilt for use on the West Coast Mainline. The result was the non-tilt Class 220 Voyager and tilting Class 221 Super Voyager. Midland Mainline and Hull Trains since ordered a non-tilt version. Class 222 Meridian and Pioneer are in use on semi-fast mainline services.

Planned trains

As of December 2010, 23 percent of the rail passenger cars used on Network Rail is part of an diesel multiple unit.[51] Of these 40 percent are capable of 75 mph, 40 percent 90 or 100 mph and the remaining 20 percent 125 mph. The most common unit length is two cars, but this can vary up to 9-car.[52] Cars are 20 m or 23 m long.[53] Seating capacity depends on the intended use of the train; for example inner suburban units have lower number of seats giving more room, especially around the doors, for standing passengers and allow access, whereas an interurban high speed train would have comfortable seats.[53]

For Intercity Express Programme bi-mode trains are planned to enter service on the Great Western main line from 2017, after electrification of the Great Western Main Line and further trains on the East Coast route to Scotland are due from 2018.[54] 2013 and 2014 long term rolling stock strategy considered that new emission regulations will make DMUs with underfloor diesel engines not economical, that because of the planned electrification programme no new diesel cars are required before 2024 and if the current rate of electrification continues only 400 to 800 new self-powered cars will be required between 2024–42 which is enough to replace all trains that are before 1998 (excluding Turbostar).[55]


  1. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 7.
  2. ^ Bosley 1990, p. 168.
  3. ^ Jenkinson 1996, p. 257.
  4. ^ Jenkinson 1996, pp. 441–442.
  5. ^ "Steam Railmotor No. 93". Didcot Railway Centre. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  6. ^ "GWR Steam Railmotor and Trailer Project". Railmotor93. 29 May 2011. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  7. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 11.
  8. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 14.
  9. ^ Tufnell 1984, pp. 15–16.
  10. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 16.
  11. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 17.
  12. ^ Tufnell 1984, pp. 19–20.
  13. ^ "Diesel Railcar No. 22". Didcot Railway Centre. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  14. ^ "Locomotives and Rolling Stock". Museum of the Great Western Railway. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  15. ^ "No, 20 Great Western Railcar". Kent and East Sussex Railway. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  16. ^ WHSmith 1981, p. 103.
  17. ^ WHSmith 1981, p. 111-112.
  18. ^ WHSmith 1981, p. 113.
  19. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 26.
  20. ^ Tufnell 1984, pp. 26–27.
  21. ^ a b Tufnell 1984, p. 28.
  22. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 37.
  23. ^ Tufnell 1984, pp. 38, 45.
  24. ^ Tufnell 1984, pp. 30–32.
  25. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 30,32.
  26. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 46.
  27. ^ Beeching 1963, p. 97.
  28. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 34.
  29. ^ "Preserved Vehicles listed by number". Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  30. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 49.
  31. ^ a b Tufnell 1984, p. 50.
  32. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 54.
  33. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 58.
  34. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 66.
  35. ^ Marsden 2010, p. 10.
  36. ^ Tufnell 1984, pp. 55–56.
  37. ^ Tufnell 1984, pp. 91–92.
  38. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 92.
  39. ^ a b Pritchard & Fox 2008, pp. 11–14.
  40. ^ Pritchard & Fox 2008, p. 30.
  41. ^ Pritchard & Fox 2008, pp. 27–28.
  42. ^ Brown & Jackson 1990, p. 58.
  43. ^ Brown & Jackson 1990, pp. 68–69.
  44. ^ Pritchard & Fox 2008, p. 42.
  45. ^  
  46. ^ Her Majesty's Government (1903). "Railways Act 1993". The Railways Archive. (originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office). Retrieved 2006-11-26. 
  47. ^ "EWS Railway—Company History". Archived from the original on 2006-09-30. Retrieved 2006-11-26. 
  48. ^ Pritchard, Robert (March 2013). "Rolling stock developments since privatisation". Today’s Railway (135): p. 33. 
  49. ^ Pritchard & Fox 2008, pp. 50–51.
  50. ^ Pritchard & Fox 2008, p. 52.
  51. ^ Network Rail 2011, p. 12.
  52. ^ Network Rail 2011, p. 15.
  53. ^ a b Network Rail 2011, p. 16.
  54. ^ "Agility Trains signs Intercity Express Programme contract". Railway Gazette. 25 July 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  55. ^ "Long Term Passenger Rolling Stock Strategy for the Rail Industry" (PDF). Paragraphs 35, 75–76: Network Rail. February 2013. Retrieved 14 September 2013. 


  •   Archived at Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  • Brown, David; Jackson, Alan A. (1990). Network Southeast Handbook. Capital Transport.  
  • Bosley, Peter (1990). Light Railways in England and Wales. Manchester University Press.   Online preview available at Retrieved 20 September 2012.
  • Jenkinson, David (1996). History of British Railway Carriages, 1900–53. Atlantic Transport.  
  • Marsden, Colin (2010). HST: The Second Millennium. Ian Allan.  
  • Pritchard, Robert; Fox, Peter (2008). British Railways Pocket Books No.3: Diesel Multiple Units (21st edition ed.). Platform 5.  
  • Tufnell, R.M. (1984). The British Railcar: AEC to HST. David and Charles.  
  • 150 years of British Railway. WHSmith. 1981.  
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