The first car emerged from GRCW's works on 22/4/58, and all were delivered to the Western Region between 5/58 and 7/58. Reading received 55000/1, Tyseley 55002-9, and Southall 55010-19. Southall also received trailers 56291-4 and 56297/8 while Tyseley had 56295/6/9.
They entered traffic in May 1958 on the Leamington - Stratford, Birmingham - Dudley and Stourbridge Town - Stourbridge Junction routes of the WR. The image shows brand new W55006 and W55007 in the platform in Leamington Spa station ready to work the 9pm to Stratford-upon-Avon on Whit Monday, May 26th, 1958. Michael Mensing.
On 25 August 1958 the class were introduced on the Ealing - Greenford branch. Several trains which had been withdrawn in the economy cuts of 30 June were reinstated from that date.
In September 1958 they replaced the AEC/GWR railcars on the Slough to Windsor branch. They also replaced these railcars on the Twyford to Henley-on-Thames branch, and steam push-pull on the West Drayton to Staines branch on the 6th October 1958. The 07:48 and 08:43 from Henley to Paddington and 17:15 and 18:15 returns remained steam hauled to retain a first class section.
As well as the Thames Valley, other lines they would work included branches in the West Country to Kingsbridge, Looe and St. Ives, also Plymouth - Saltash. The delivery of the Pressed Steel bubbles displaced some of these to Worcester and the Severn Valley line, Dudley - Old Hill and Stourbridge branches.
Their original nickname was "coffin nails", as most of the routes on which they were used became victims of the "Beeching Axe" with closure usually soon after introduction. Lines such as Barry to Bridgend, Penarth to Barry, Snow Hill to Wolverhampton (LL), Worcester to Bromyard, Bewdley to Hartlebury and Didcot to Newbury. As these lines closed the cars were concentrated in the Bristol, Cornwall and Plymouth areas. Workings included local services over the ex-SR lines to Gunnislake, Axminster and Barnstaple.
The Class spread to the Scottish Region in the late 1960s, 55000 being the first to move north from Laira to Ayr in January 1967. It would take over the Ayr - Kilmarnock service, once regularly worked by railbuses. It was joined in April 1968 by 55011/3 while 55014/5 moved to Leith Central that month, and Hamilton received 55002/5/7 two months later in June. The image shows three vehicles in three liveries in the bay platforms at Kilmarnock, circa 1969. 55011 is closest, the green unit on the left is 55013, behind is 55000 carrying blue livery with a small yellow panel. Stuart Rankin. 55002/5 moved further north in October 1968 when they moved to Inverness for three months before returning to Hamilton. Both would return to Inverness in the mid-'70s, along with 55007, 55011 would spend ten years there from October 1969.
The declining passenger duties for the class on the Western Region also saw 55001 converted to a route-learner in June 1969, the first of many of the Class to enter departmental use.
All the remaining passenger vehicles were eventually cascaded to the West Midlands based at Tyseley. They were used on local services, most notably the Leamington Spa to Stratford-upon-Avon route. One was for the Stowbridge Town - Jct shuttle and for fitting into formations when a car would be removed for depot or works attention. The image shows >M55003 waiting to leave Stourbridge Town for the 3 minute trip to Stourbridge Junction in 1977. Stephen Burdett.
55000 had moved from Scotland to Tyseley via Longsight where it spent a month, working with 55005/6 to replace life expired Class 108s on the Stockport - Stalybridge service. The same year 55004/9/11 were transferred to Bletchley for work on the St Albans and Bedford branches.
The only vehicle withdrawn with accident damage was 55002 following a collision with an EMU at Coventry on October 30th, 1986.
In 1987 wheel-slip problems with Class 142 units on the West Country branches resulted in a reprieve for six cars, 55000/3/5/6/9/12. The diagrams in the West Midlands were rearranged and the cars sent to Vic Berry's in Leicester for asbestos removal. 55003 was the first in July, followed by 55000/9 and then 55005/6/12. Plaques were fitted to the solebars proclaiming this work was done.
The cars worked the Cornish branch lines to Looe, Newquay and St Ives until Class 153s could be delivered in 1993. The image shows 55006 and 55003 at Plymouth on 29-12-1989. Gordon Thomson. 55005 was withdrawn in November 1992, 55003/6/9 in September 1993.
The last two passenger vehicles 55000/12, now in Regional Railways livery, were withdrawn in December 1993 due to mechanical defects. They had spent their last days as motive power for Laira sandite vehicle 977466 (ex-Class 121 DTC 54286).