Very few 116s retired early and those that did were either accident victims or had suffered fire damage.
The first withdrawal occurred as early as 1961 after a fatal head-on collision in the Afan valley, South Wales on the 16th November 1960. The unit concerned was CAT343 consisting of W50083/W59033/W50125, which was operating a journey from Neath to Treherbert when the leading car, W50125 was struck by a runaway coal train headed by ex-GWR pannier tank 9737, on the single line track at Pontrhydyfen Junction. Sadly the DMU driver was killed in the accident and the leading car was so badly damaged that it was written off and later scrapped at Swindon Works. Trailer W59033 found a new home between W51139 and W51152 one of the last batch of 116s built, while W50083 went on to lead a nomadic life at various WR depots as a spare power car, eventually, as 53083 becoming one of only two Class 116 units to appear in Network South East livery, the other being 53820 it’s erstwhile partner at Plymouth Laira (LA) in set P307 and later at Cardiff Canton (CF) as C307, becoming one of Cardiff’s oddest 3-car units, easily identified as 53820 later sported a white cab roof dome and red painted buffer beam while in the blue and grey livery, (mimicking the Buxton allocated 104 and 108 units) along with various ‘Valley Lines’ adornments. As well as both cars being DMBS vehicles, operating with three different trailers in as many years, these were of Class 118, 101 and 116. Reduced to a 2-car twin in 1987 before moving to Old Oak Common as 2-car parcels unit L307. Both vehicles returning to revenue earning duty though in separate sets, before ending their days at M C Metals Glasgow in December 1992. The other notably odd 3-car unit was numbered C396 and consisted of one Derby Class 108 TBS(L) 59245 sandwiched between two ex-Tyseley DMBS cars, 51133 and 51136.
Chris Fern notes - "The Railway Observer records the formation of the set which got twatted by a pannier at Pontrhydyfen as 50083+59343+50125 (CAT343). I think you will find that 59033 was elsewhere by then, possibly formed with 50859 and 50912, 50860 and 50913 or 50861 and 50914".
The 1980s (nominally 1983) saw the mass withdrawal of the Tyseley allocated early built TC cars (59000-31 series), which had by this time been down graded to TS status as had all of the Midland allocation of TC vehicles. The withdrawals being mainly due to their asbestos content, replacements for them were found in the form of spare Class 101 and 127 trailers, the 127s coming from the St. Pancras - Bedford line which had been recently electrified. Initially two types of set were formed, gangwayed using the class 101 trailers, and non-gangwayed using the Class 127 TS and TS(L) vehicles. The units treated being given Tyseley set numbers in the 6xx series for the gangwayed units the non-gangwayed sets retaining numbers in the 5xx range. As the 1980s progressed, the Class 127 trailers along with a number of trailers of Class 115 acquired from Allerton were gangway fitted, replacing Class 101 trailers in the Tyseley fleet.
1987 saw the introduction of Class 150/2 Sprinter units onto Valley Line services at Cardiff. It was the decided to remove all the trailer cars from the Cardiff 116 fleet which by this stage contained a few ex-Laira 118s. This was done to improve the power to weight ratio of these units as they were diagrammed to work alongside Sprinters on the new tighter timetables, which it was thought they could not do as 3-car units. The passenger numbers had been increasing dramatically during the mid 80's due to a fare pricing policy introduced locally and against the national fare structure prevailing in England, but now with less seats available fares had to rise to d’etre ridership and therefore reduce over crowding, does it sound familiar? As more Sprinters were received more heritage 116s were withdrawn and stored, some sets moving to work out their last year or two at depots such as Manchester’s Newton Heath, Chester and even as far a field as Heaton in Newcastle. The remaining units were all fitted with high intensity head lights at about this time. Then came the bomb shell that the operating authorities didn’t envisage, the Class 155 Sprinters of which Cardiff had 35 sets, were grounded due to passenger door problems. This caused chaos to Valley Lines with heritage units being sought from anywhere to plug the gaps, as Class 150s and diverted Scottish allocation of Class 156 Sprinters were assigned to the long distance services diagrammed for the 155s. A small fleet of Class 101 vehicles were acquired but the unit shortage was such that Class 116 units were hired on a regular basis on rugby match days and at the weekends leading up to the Christmas holidays when the Tyseley sets would have been idle at their home depot. This saw the operation of units which were transferred from Cardiff years before, albeit now with trailers who’s origins were on the Midland line to Bedford.
The most ignominious end to a 3-car set came when Scottish allocated unit 116391 consisting of cars SC53836/SC59347/SC53889 was, along with the grounded body of Park Royal railbus SC79971, buried in Paterson’s Tip, Mount Vernon in July 1984.
During the late '80s Tyseley depot assembled around twenty 4-car hybrids to operate the Cross City line from Litchfield Trent Valley to Redditch via Birmingham New St. These units were made up of sometimes four different classes of vehicle. A Class 116 DMS was marshalled at one end, and a Class 115 DMBS acquired from Allerton (AN) or Marylebone (ME), at the other, plus two centre trailers which could be of Class 115, 116 or 127 or any combination. These hybrids were not known for their speed and one unit’s cab bore the pencil scribbled legend ‘The Snail’. These 4-car combinations created twenty or so redundant 116 DMBS vehicles, these were assembled back to back with a Class 127 TS(L) between, these reformed 116s were used widely and were capable of operating long distance routes as they now had toilet facilities. At this time Tyseley 116s operated over a wide geographical area which included, Holyhead and Blaenau Ffestiniog in the north west to Yarmouth in the east.
Introduced in 1990 the so-called ‘Go Faster’ sets, consisted of three power cars marshalled together, for use on certain Valley Line diagrams, or three power and one trailer at Tyseley, for use on the Cross City line. The Cardiff units were assembled to give extra seating on certain journeys, with no power to weight loss as there would have been if a normal unpowered trailer were to be used. A small number of these 3-car combinations were assembled, employing a further Class 116 power car to an existing two car set, or the use of a Class 108 power unit sandwiched between a 116 2-car set. One of these units was made up of a Class 108 DMBS 51416 sandwiched between a 2-car BRCW Class 118 unit which had been acquired from Plymouth LA. The units involved were given new set numbers in the C9xx range except the 118 combo which retained it’s C472 set number. They were diagrammed to work the heavily loaded peak journeys in and out of Cardiff’s main stations (Central and Queen St). However due to lack of over night marshalling space at Canton depot these units were often unable to depart on the specified diagrams. This caused operating problems as they often ended up on journeys or even lines that were unsuitable. An example of this being the newly reopened Aberdare branch which had a number of new or rebuilt stations with platforms which could only accommodate a 2-car set. This resulted in one car having to be locked out of use defeating the whole object of the exercise, which included providing an extra conductor at the two main stations to take fares in the third car which could not be accessed from the main body of the train due to the presence of the driving cab of the middle car. Needless to say these sets were soon disbanded and all except two sets who’s set numbers became transposed, regained their previous set numbers. The Tyseley 4-car units received a substitute power car in place of one of their trailers to improve power and consequently speed, until the delayed introduction of the replacement electrification was complete, but as these units dwindled through failure and withdrawal a number of 3-car all powered sets were assembled. 2-car sets were also common in Cardiff and Tyseley during the last years of 116 operation, these taking the form of 116 DMBS cars paired generally with Class 101 or 108 DMCs downgraded to DMS. By 1992 all the remaining Cardiff allocated units were transferred to Tyseley where they were used to replace other worn out units until the final withdrawal of all the Class 116's from passenger service in 1995. The last cars in revenue earning service being; 53053, 53055, 53132 and 53921. At least one 116 4-car unit was hired to the Channel Tunnel Contract Group during 1994.
In a life span of some 38 years the Derby Suburban class 116 units had served at a total of eighteen BR depots in England, Scotland and Wales.
Details about preserved Class 116s can be found here.
Thanks to Mac Winfield, Ian Fleming and John Thomlinson for much of the information on this Class.