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Railcar Memories

by Eric Stuart

My first extensive travels in the UK by rail coincided with the Modernisation Plan and, of course, classic dmus (I heard them called 'chariots' by fans at the time). These are some of my recollections.

Railcar Memories – 100s

The only trip I recall on one of these was Glasgow to Princess St via Shotts. I don’t recall it being a worse ride than any other unit – rather better than some, in fact.

I may have traveled in one between Millers Dale and Buxton, with a 3-car 104 for the return.

Railcar Memories – 101s

Class 101 Whitby

E50264 leads a three-car Met-Camm away from Whitby with a Scarborough service on July 22nd, 1958. Michael Mensing.

Eric - this vehicle is shown in the ABC as a 2-car, but has a TCL added. This was unusual, as the majority of trains on the line were 101 4-car sets with the TSL removed, meaning that First Class (usually empty) was always at the front or rear.

The first classic dmu I ever saw ‘in the flesh’ was a Derby Lightweight at Doncaster (I think) when travelling to Whitby for a holiday in June 1958. But arriving at Whitby Town by steam from Malton, I was able to see a 101 up-close and personal in the bay. For the next fortnight, I had a few trips to Scarborough on them on the attractive Coast line. (Sadly, there was no chance to travel by any form of traction on the northern section through Staithes, as that had just closed.)

Most of the units were shown in the ABC as 4-car, but, around Whitby, the TC was removed and they ran as three car, but with a TBS and two DMCs. I recall on one occasion a Power Twin with an added trailer appeared instead.

Virtually all trains were Met-Cams, with the occasional 108 3-car. One day, a twin 108 was stabled in Whitby Town station, presumably it had arrived on the morning ‘school train’ and would be added to the evening return trip. As I stated, one trip I saw had a fish van as trailing load from Whitby to Malton or possibly York. I understand one evening train via Pool-in-Wharfdale was two x 3-cars plus bogie van.

Many of my trips around the NER in the early 60s were by 101s, as they had the virtual monopoly. One train I traveled in from Harrogate to Leeds had 4-a-side seating in 2nd class. I assume these were intended for longer journeys, but I don’t think the NER actually segregated them in any way from 2+3 seated units.

Railcar Memories – 103s

These were possibly the most good-looking of the ‘classic’ dmus. The only one I can recall riding in was from Harrow to Belmont and back, soon after they had arrived.

Railcar Memories – 104s

I saw and traveled on these many times, mainly on the Scarborough – Leeds run.

When the Great Central was denuded of its expresses, the York – Bournemouth through train was a casualty. In its place, a classic dmu (usually a 4-car 104, I think) was operated York – Banbury and back, with no convenient southern connections. It was stated at the time to be the longest dmu run in the UK.

Latterly, they could be seen in Network Sotheast colours in the London area, especially on the WR.

One 104 TSL ran on the Chiltern in a hybrid 3-car set for some months. Just before the end.

Railcar Memories – 105s

I got my first job in 1959 and, with it, the first opportunity to have some money to travel. Steam in the London area was dying and the 1955 Modernisation Plan making its appearance.

Living south of the Thames, I started to make forays to the north of the City.

Working in the City, I used some of the Saturday mid-day peak services, just before they ended with the 5-Day Week. So I used 105s from Moorgate to Kings Cross and often beyond. The trip on the Widened Lines was of interest, being LT signalled, not knowing then that I would one day be an LT driver and then manager.

Cambridge depot seemed to keep the GN suburban dmus separate from the other units and I never saw other than the de-classed 105s in the area, athough there were reports of occasional visits by others, including a Wickham.

4-and 6-car sets were used on occasional Cambridge semi-fasts to get the units to and from Cambridge and were advertised as 2nd class only.

A journey northbound on a 105 on a local service, especially to Hertford North, could be very relaxing. At a station, especially if the trailer was leading, one would sit up front in a de-classed First Class seat. There would be the two buzzes from the guard. The driver would put the brake handle to release, then buzz back, then move the gear handle to first and then apply power. After what seemed an age, there would be a slight murmur from behind, followed by a gentle surge of power. The train would begin to move and the driver would take us up through the gears, with pauses. The car would start to rock from side to side, accompanied by a gentle “ting-ting, ting-ting, pause, ting-ting, ting” at the rail joints. (If a motor car, there would also be vibration from the window frames or luggage racks: I’m not sure which. We might reach 40mph, but, by now, the next station would probably be in sight. The driver would shut off and coast, the train slowing on the generally rising gradient. As we entered the platform, the driver would make a brake application, release and then a final blast to stop. Then the procedure would start again.

The 105s were totally unsuited for the suburban job, but it was an emergency. The M&GN had gone, the GN suburban needed some stop-gap between steam and for what was expected to be electrification not far ahead. They probably did the job beyond what could be expected of them.

When I visited friends near Sandy, I would try to get to KX in time to take the Hertford train ahead of it, as it now traveled beyond Hertford to Stevenage about every two hours and I changed to the Huntingdon train there.

Class 105 and 101 DMU at Lanark

A Glasgow area working for Class 105s was to Lanark where Hamilton allocated SC56474 is seen on the 3rd August 1963 with the 9.25am to Douglas West, the Met-Camm set is on the 9.30am to Glasgow Central, led by SC56409. Hamish Stevenson.

The Cravens always were one of the best-looking dmus, in my opinion. I later traveled on them on the GNS lines and around Glasgow in 1960 – 62, plus occasionally in East Anglia.

In 1961-2, I traveled from Elgin to Keith via Craigellachie by one. At that time, the Buchan line was advertised in the timetable to be worked by dmus – presumably 105s. The timetable did not make it clear if through portions to and from Peterhead would have operated or if connections were to be made between units at Maud Jc. However, in fact, only the first train each day to and from Fraserbugh was dmu-worked, to get the St Coombe’s unit into position, I suppose. The change to mainly loco-hauled trains was shown in a supplement to the time-table.

I heard some 105s had been sent to Hamilton to strengthen the supplies there! – but can’t confirm that.

One morning, I turned up at Queens park for a train to Glasgow Central,which turned out to be a Cravens, plus two new 107s. I took a trip around the Cathcart Circle in a 105. It was advertised a an outer Circle, but had to run anti-clockwise because of electrification work on the other line. (Now-a-days, the line would be shut for weeks!!) Later, I think one to East Kilbride and back.

Comparing with the Glasgow blind you feature, it would presumably be post-initial South-Side electrification, as it does not include the Circle. The dmus showed CATHCART in larger print with INNER CIRCLE or OUTER CIRCLE underneath in smaller print. The electrics assumed you know which Circle and had OUTER or INNER in large caps, with CIRCLE in smaller caps underneath, with no mention of Cathcart!

I believe the GN suburban units were used for the new Camden Road – North Woolwich line, which was really the start of London Overground.

Railcar Memories – 107s

I first saw these one morning (1960?) at Queens Park station, when a service to Glasgow Central arrived, consisting of a 105 and two 107s, almost new. Despite journeying a fair bit in Strathclyde, I actually can recall no other trips on them.

Railcar Memories – 108s

Of course, they were as common as muck!

I first encountered them in North wales, where some of the last batch, with 4-digit headcode boxes were there, along with Lightweights.

Went on one up to Bettws-y-coed and on another from Amlwych to Gaerwen.

On a trip to Liverpool, travelled on the earlier batches from Chester to New Brighton on the then recently dieselised old Great Central line.

Later, traveled on them in Yorkshire in the Leeds/Bradford area, where they were common in two-car form. Also went on the 3 & 4-car NER sets. A 3-car took me from Barnard Castle to Middleton-in-Teesdale and back.

108/115 DMU

A pair of Class 115/108 hybrids seen at High Wycombe, date unknown. Tom Clift.

Some later came to the Chiltern line in their twinnings with 115 power cars as the ‘GTs’, as they were known locally. They were very nippy. One hybrid set had a 108 DMC and this was my favourite, as roaring up and down to and from work with the 150hp engines brought back memories of my first runs with them 20+ years before! Ah! – the nostalgia! It also attracted attention from ordinary punters, as it was so unlike the regular trains of 115s!

Railcar Memories – 109s

I only ever saw one of these rare birds once and travelled on it from Bishops Stortford to Cambridge, probably early 60s (1961?), but, then, they didn’t last long. Nice interior. Little more to say!

Railcar Memories – 110s

Had one or two trips, but nothing of note.

Railcar Memories – 111s

I have a theory about the 10 NER units.

In 1958, Trains Illustrated announced that the Calder Valley line was to be dieselised with “Cross-Country units with buffet facilities”. It never happened and the line was listed for closure, remaining steam-worked. However, the 111s appeared anyway. If my theory is correct the Buffet 111s were the units referred to by Trains Illustrated. Not being used in the Calder Valley, the buffets went elsewhere.

To support my theory, when the Calder Valley line survived and was dieselised, the 110s had the same motors as the 111s, but no buffets were provided. QED?

I actually can’t recall ever travelling in one, altho’ I saw one as a 2-car at York one day.

Railcar Memories – 112-3s

I had very little to do with these. I seem to have missed their time in the London area. Went on one, I think, from Skipron to Manchester one evening. We had to get the driver to turn the heating off, as we nearly collapsed in the heat!

Railcar Memories – 114s

I traveled little in their area, although I made one or two trips down through Lincolnshire, starting with a steamer from Hull Corporation Pier to New Holland, traveling on various lines, seeing the somersault signals then in existance (are they still?). Also Nottingham to Derby.

Railcar Memories – 115s

I probably got to know these units best, being resident in the Chilterns and travelling frequently on them. They were comfortable, especially in First Class, although not suited for trains to Nottingham, which they covered for a while.

When first delivered, they worked a single diagram from Bletchley, returning there each night. The First Class was de-classified, as First Class was only restored in the area when the units finally took over. However, the Chiltern steam trains were normally six coaches and the 4-car set was crammed on some workings. On occasions, if one could be spared, a 108 was added to make six coaches.

Other services worked before going to the Chiltern Line (and delaying their introduction there) were

  • helping out on the St Pancras – Bedford line,
  • working the Shenfield – Chelmsford shuttles during the dc/ac changeover period,
  • assisting to the main dc/ac changeover week-end and, later,
  • working the Liverpool St – Bishops Stortford peak-hour semi-fasts, that ran ahead of the through Cambridge trains to keep the latter free of shorter-distance passengers.

Their activities on the GE were really to make up for 125s, that were helping out the ailing electric units that were dropping like flies.

CLC line Class 115 DMU

A Class 115 set at Barrows Green (East side of Widnes) with a Manchester Piccadilly to Liverpool Lime Street Service in 1978. Paul Wright.

They also worked the CLC line from Manchester Cent to Liverpool Cent and I travelled on one once from Manchester Cent to Guide Bridge on the South District line. Later, these 115s were twinned with 108 DTCs and later still, they came to the Chiltern Line. The plan was to double the off-peak service and run faster trains, but there were not enough staff and the timetable went in tatters: one never knew which train would be cancelled. One evening at about 23.00, it was discovered that passengers for the last Chiltern Aylesbury train and the last via High Wycombe had been put on the same unit and the correct train had left early – empty! The unit with all the passengers – a 115 + 108 - had to run to Aylesbury direct and then back via Wycombe. Who knows what happened to any passengers waiting to be picked up along the Wycombe line!

Oddities included three 115 DMBS facing the same way and even one the wrong way round on the back of a train; but otherwise the years passed with little to disturb the boredom!

Toward the end, a Class 116 was drafted in to help the ailing units – first as a 3-car, then broken in two and paired with 115 DMBSs to make two hybrid units. And a bizarre 115 DMBS, 104 TS and a 108 DMC unit that ran for many weeks.

One working of 115s was the last BR trains to and from Chesham. A unit ran empty to Chesham from Marylebone with a parcels brake. It ran around the parcels brake at Chesham and pushed it into the goods shed. It then returned to the platform to form the 05.38 to Marylebone. I think this ended in 1960.

Railcar Memories – 116s

I spent some holidays in the Cardiff Valleys and rode these there.

Later, these and 117s and 118s were fitted with corridor connections for pay-Train operation, although this also allowed the pasegers to reach the toilets, where on was included in the set. One summer, I saw a lot of ex-GW style coaches withdrawn at Crediton, minus their corrodor connections, so I assume they were re-fitted to local dmus second hand!

Railcar Memories – 117s

These I came across from their introduction in the London area.

As you know, they were late arriving and so units were cobbled together from elsewhere - S Wales mainly. Originally they came in 3-car sets, but soon they had 121s,122s, trailers and other odd vehicles to make 4-car and other length sets.

Travelled on the 117s in the London area. They started as 3-car sets, but many became 4-car, with the addition of 121 driving trailers, 121 power cars or anything else to make them longer! Some inherited a 101 TCL that had come to replace the Hawksworth CK/TSLs that had run with 119s. I had one ride on such on a Bank Holiday Aylesbury - Maidenhead train.

Later, one Bank Holiday Monday, I traveled on an Aylesbury - Maidenhead train of a 117, plus a 101 TCL (normally just a 121). The 101 was presumably one of those drafted in to replace the Hawksworth SKs in 119s and then moved to 117s.

Railcar Memories – 118s

I traveled on these units on holidays in Devon (mainly the Tarka line), and Cornwall especially on the Exeter - Ilfracombe line.

One night ride on the Tarka line, the driver was sharp-eyed and realised that, had we taken the signal, we would have hit the rear of the train we were crossing at Lapford, as it was still fouling the points. Little to remark on these units, really. But nice views of Devon, including the coast!

Railcar Memories – 119s

As a 'spotter' at Paddington, I first saw these with the Hawksworth SK/TCLs on the Oxford service.

Railcar Memories – 120s

I think my first encounter with these was on the Aberdeen - Inverness Inter-City service. They provided a much improved service speed-wise, but they could be very lively. On one trip, I had to move from the DMC to the trailer, as the bucking and hunting and overall vibration was so bad. My return trip on the Fraserburgh - St Coombes Light Railway was in a 120 - probably the most luxurious train ever to work what was really a roadside tramway! (I have photos somewhere, if I can find them.)

At Aberdeen, some non-standard publicity accompanied the 120 trains. The refreshments were advertised as "MINI-CAR BUFFET". This was the 60s, so there were the new 'Minis" (mini-cars), whilst BR had indtroduced the new Mini-Buffet Cars (RMBs). Obviously, the sign-writer had got the two mixed up!

Class 120 DMU

A 2-car Swindon Cross-Country set, with a 515xx DMBC leading, in an early form of the corporate rail blue livery. Seen north of Cowley Bridge Junction (Exeter) with the 5.10pm Exeter (St Davids) - Barnstaple Junction service, 7/5/67. Michael Mensing.

Eric - this train was an example of trying to serve different markets with one train. It came dowm from Central to St David's and then would wait, as it connected out of a train from Newcastle, which was often late - could be 20 minutes or more. If you were a regular, going home from work, you could leave the office at 5 and still be sitting in the train at St David's 3-quarters of an hour later. If you lived 2 or three stations up the line, probably quicker to take the more frequent buses or car. There were often only a couple of people off the Newcastle train. Who best to serve, when the next train was, I think, 2 or more hours later? Difficult call.

I traveled by these in West Wales and then on the Exeter - Barnstaple line, when they took over from the 118s; then on the Falmouth line; North to West line and on the Central Wales line (my first attempt to stop a train 'on request' by 'making the appropriate hand signal to the driver'), where they ran as Power Twins and sometimes hauled a Mk1 second class coach, the trailers having been scrapped.

My last trip on one was, I think, on a Derby - Nottingham service.

One of my favourite dmus and one I'd like to have as a model.

Railcar Memories – 121s

These took over the WR branches in the London area from steam, the GWR cars and the 122s.

I had trips on them on a number of branches and also one Saturday on the Chesham branch, on one of their 'Different Traction' days. (A 3-H 'Thumper' ran some other trips).

Another trip was on the Llyfi Valley, after the tunnel through to Treherhert had closed; and to Bridport.

Railcar Memories – 122s

These came early to the London area and took over the 'Greenford Car' as it was called. It always had a trailer when I travelled on it.

Railcar Memories – 123s

Unfortunately, I have virtually no experience of these units. I can only recall one encounter with them. Similarly to Rick Squirrel, there were two units, in pristine condition, but in this case coupled to a 120 at the seaward end, standing at Portsmouth Harbour one Bank Holiday evening, presumably working to Cardiff. They looked as if they had come direct from the paint shop to work the train!

It seems odd they were so unsuccessful. They seemed to have everything going for them: power, B4 bogies and main-line ambiance. I’d like to know more of the causes of their demise. Marylebone had experience of the 230hp motors; it’s a pity they weren’t used on some longer-distance Chiltern services!

I read that the WR offered the Henley through train passengers a buffet car as a sort of Club Train, but it never came to fruition.

It seems a little strange that they were called Inter-City sets, not Cross-Country, although Cross-Country sets worked inter-city services and Inter-City sets worked cross-country services; so, what’s in a name? A possible answer? During the dieselisation period on the WR, Trains Illustrated suggested that the London – Oxford – Worcester – Hereford service would be operated by multiple units. Would the 123s have been originally planned for that? If 8-cars ran east of Worcester, 4 could have operated west to/from Hereford. There would even have been the possibility of running 12 cars east of Oxford on busy services. Would it ever be possible to know?

Railcar Memories – 124s

These I had only one major trip as far as I can recall. Just after they were introduced, I travelled from Liverpool to Hull in the First Class section and used the Griddle Car. Nice train.

Railcar Memories – 125s

Class 125 DMU

An unidentifed Derby 3-car (later class 125) dmu passes the long closed Gas Works at Tottenham, London c.1962. 53A Models of Hull Collection.

These were a solid part of the renovation and modernisation of the GE. I traveled on them on a number of services: Lea valley, St Margarets to Buntingford, Wickford - Southminster and on the main line during the voltage-change day. I think I also went Romford - Upminster in one; and possibly North Woolwich. And, one Boxing Day, Liverpool St to Epping on one of the nocturnal Central Line trains.

Railcar Memories – 126s

First Series

I only travelled once of one of the initial Edinburgh – Glasgow sets. They were lively! My return trip was in a set of new Mk1s, hauled by a Cl 27 as a peak-hour extra: much nicer!

I saw one in 3-car format on a Shotts line train at Glasgow Central.

Second Series

The idea of the make-up of these sets, as distinct from the usual Edinburgh – Glasgow formation, was that the 3-car units had a corridor connection at one end. A set with a corridor connection at the north end would leave Stranraer and combine with a set with a corridor connection at the south end at Girvan or Ayr. Passengers from both sets could then use the buffet. Best laid plans! But sometimes one or both units were the opposite way round, so that would not work, as on one of my trips, so the buffet could not be accessed through the corridor connection. And sometimes 9-car trains were run, so one set at least could not have through access. There were allegations that the buffets closed too early on trips to Glasgow, so takings were less than possible. One way and another, the demise of the buffets set in.

One trip to Stranraer at the front of one of these was interesting. Way south of Girvan, we ran into a herd of calves, whilst travelling at 60+mph. We survived, but not all the poor animals. The crew had a good look around and then we continued at reduced speed to the next station, where the staff we wondering where we were (no radio in those days, so it would be “Train delayed in section”!). We went on to Stranraer, where the unit was taken out of service and a scratch set of Mk 1s and a Cl 25 took us back to Ayr, an hour or so late. Along the line, the staff had warned waiting passengers to “come back in an hour”! Imagine a train crew being able to undertake their own H&S assessment today!!! It rather spoiled our plans for other trips that day.

As you record, some went to Liberia.

Railcar Memories – 127s

Traveled on these from quite early on, on the Midland Main Line and Kentish Town - Barking. Very useful units, but not a lot to say, I think!

Railcar Memories – 128s

Used to see these at Paddington and St Pancras, the former towing other vehicles.

Railcar Memories – Lightweights

Derby cars:

I had just one trip from Leeds to Bradford via Pudsey Greenside line in a Red Triangle unit.

Had a number of journeys in North Wales, the lake District/Cumbria and Cambridge – Bletchley – Buckingham – Oxford in the single and twin units.


These were used in East London and planned for Epping Ongar, but never used there; Romford – Upminster – Grays – Tilbury; and Central Line night trains. They also worked week-end shuttles Barking – Tilbury – Pitsea. I had a Tilbury Riverside – Pitsea trip. Also on a Railtour of east and north London, including Isle of Dogs, the NLR and Finsbury Park to Edgware (GN). (At Finchley Central, a waiting passenger told us we couldn’t get to Edgware, as it was not electrified beyond Mill Hill East!)

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