The class first entered traffic on the 17th June 1957 operating Western Region suburban services radiating from Birmingham Snow Hill. This was the same day as the Class 126s were introduced on the region on services from Birmingham to Cardiff and Swansea.
After a fanfare of publicity, posters and pamphlets showing diesel trains, and having set 50058/59008/50100 on exhibition at Snow Hill on the 14th June, it was a bit of an anti-climax on the official introduction date of the 17th to find that less than half the trains were actually diesels. The public was disappointed and sceptical, and at least two DMU services failed that day. The steam hauled trains working to the DMU schedule had difficulty keeping time because of running around and water stops.
The "improved suburban services" by "new diesel trains" described in the single sheet handbill (which featured a route map on the rear) had suffered from various delays in the deliveries of the new sets, and it was expected to be mid-August before the Wellington, Kidderminster, Stratford-on-Avon and Leamington services could be fully implemented.
At the time the sets were stabled overnight at terminal points with Tyseley the service centre. A single road shed was being built at Leamington. Noted seen to this date were 50050 - 68 plus partners.
The Birmingham services included a regular interval service from Lapworth to Wellington with some extended to Shrewsbury and others to Leamington Spa (General). An hourly regular interval service ran to Stratford-upon-Avon via the North Warwickshire line and the 116s also worked between Leamington and Stratford and Bewdley - Kidderminster - Birmingham. The Stourbridge Jct - Stourbridge Town service was to remain steam worked.
By July 1957 Cardiff was supposed to have had 29 sets delivered in preparation for winter services but none had arrived by that date. There were three sets at Newport, where they were supposed to begin on the Blaenavon, Brynmawr, Aberbeey and Ebbw Vale branches from August 1957, but this was postponed to 16/9/57.
116s were "in evidence" at Pontnewynydd and Newport but they were not in public service by 10/10/57, and steam locos were again finding it hard working to the modified timetable drawn up in anticipation of the DMUs introduction on the 16/9/57.
On the 13th Oct. ‘57 50085/59035/50127 were in the works of Leyland Motors on the downside of the WCML at Leyland. It has been quoted that it was there for trials with more powerful engines, although there is no further info on this.
At Liverpool Street on the 25th Nov. ‘57 were 50819/59327/50872 for official inspection. One blind was showing ‘Rhymney’.
The South Wales services were introduced on the 2nd December ‘57 comprising the majority of services to/from the Eastern & Western valleys between Newport and Blaenavon, and Newport, Brynmawr and Ebbw Vale (Low Level). They were worked by ten 116 sets with only 2nd class.
They were introduced to regular working in the Cardiff Valley’s on Monday the 13th January 1958. There were two turns that day from Barry (88C). Both were worked by 6-car sets. The first started with the 05:35 Barry Island - Treherbert and ended with the 11:30 Treherbert - Barry island, being replaced by a steam train for the rest of the day. The other diagram began with the 06:50 Barry - Aberdare Low Level, and continued with subsequent trips between Barry Island and Merthyr, ending with the 21:00 Methyr - Llantwit (with a mail van attached to it at Cardiff). On that day there were three other 6-car sets noted in the sidings at Barry.
By the start of 1958 the West Midland 116s were part of Tyseley’s pool of 107 vehicles (33 3-cars and eight singles inc. Parcels cars) which operated all Birmingham local and suburban traffic, including some longer runs to Worcester, Oxford and Didcot. 87 of them were 116s and 12 120s. While all were based at Tyseley there were additional fuelling and servicing points at Leamington, Wolverhampton Cannock Road and Stonebridge. They had shown satisfactory results, in the first four months of diesel operation passenger bookings rose by 360,000, 28% greater than the previous years, receipts rising by £32,000 or 22 1/2 %. Some of the increase was credited to a bus strike and increase in bus fares.
At the start of ‘58 three spare Tyseley sets were split and the power cars added to 3-car sets to provide additional seating on certain services. Or that is one possibility, the other being the widely believed fact that they were underpowered and could not keep to timings. However it was reported in the enthusiast press that a 3-car set could easily maintain timings with one engine out of use. There was also a 5-car operating, with a power car and trailer added. One other problem that the sets had at this time was with the vacuum brake system.
Six 6-car sets were working on the TVR from 10/2/58, although certain sets finished with the early turn of duty, being replaced by steam for the later half of the day. By mid-Feb 22 3-car sets were noted in the Cardiff Valleys Division and it was hoped that all the services would be DMU worked in the summer timetable.
On the 10/3/58 Treherbert increased its diesel workings from 2 to 4, this making, with Barry, a total of 8 6-car sets working over the whole of the TVR. On the same day the local service between Pontypridd, Abercynon and Aberdare (LL), formerly worked by two push-and-pull sets, was taken over by two 3-car sets. The rush hour extra through trains between Cardiff and Aberdare were still steam hauled. Two 2-car sets (the power cars from 3-cars) were noted working from Barry, and 3-car sets had been working on trial on the Rhymney main line.
The rosters for the Cardiff Valley lines at the time were as follows:
Duty BA: 3-car set, covered Barry - Cardiff and back to Aberthaw, ran then to Pontypridd via Wenvoe and back to Cadoxton, next making for Creigiau and on to Clarence Road via St Fagans; after two trips from Cardiff to Penarth, from the second of which it returned to Barry. The set's evening work covered Barry - Cardiff - Penarth - Llantwit Major and ended just before midnight.
Duty BB: 6-car set, left Barry at 05:35 for two morning trips to Treherbert, followed in the afternoon by two trips to Merthyr, after the second of which the return run was through to Llantwit Major, a total of over 280 miles.
Duty BC: 6-car set, two morning return trips between Barry and Merthyr and two between Barry and Treherbert in the afternoon, a total of 260 miles.
Duty BD: 6-car set, covered Barry - Llantwit Major - Merthyr - Barry Island - Treherbert - Pontypridd - Merthyr - Barry.
Duty BF: 6-car set, covered Barry - Aberdare - Barry - Merthyr - Barry - Cardiff (Clarence Road) - Llantwit Major - Barry - Merthyr - Llantwit Major.
Duty BG: 3-car set, covered Barry - Llantwit Major services until working the 16:55 Barry - Pontypridd via Wenvoe and a return trip, after which it returned to Llantwit Major and back to Bridgend and back.
Around April '58 all the sets started to carry a small plate- 'CAT 300', 'CAT 301' etc which indicated the set number and the area in which they were based, 'CAT' indicating Cathays (Cardiff). At this time this shed was still being converted for diesel use, hence the workings beginning from a temporary base at Barry. They were sent to Cardiff Canton at 3,000 mile intervals for inspection.
Further diesel sheds were set up at Treherbert and Rhymney, and four Treherbert duties to Barry were soon dieselised, turns TA, TB, TC and TD, using 6-car sets, as were turns FA and FB on the Porth and Ferndale branch with 3-car sets, and AA and AB also with 3-cars on the Aberdare and Abercynon branch.
On the Tyseley sets shed code/set numbers in the form of small oblong plates (white lettering on a green background), fixed on the frame of the end coach, started appearing in about March ‘58. An example was 50051/59001/50055 carrying TYS 305. Several of the later type sets were working in the Birmingham area during February / March. They had indicator blinds for the South Wales area. Those noted were in the series 50830-51/59338-59/50883-904.
By April ‘58 Barry had four 3-car sets to work three new diesel diagrams. The Maerdy - Porth branch was now 116 worked, with the trailer removed (again lack of power was blamed!). On the 30th March two power twins were noted at Ferndale (50879/50826 & 50857/50910).
The Birmingham to Oxford & Didcot service started Monday 21/4/58 after several weeks of driver training. A 6-car set worked the 16:40 from Wolverhampton to Didcot, where they are stabled overnight, returning the next morning at 07:04. A 3-car set formed the 08:40 Wolverhampton to Oxford and 11:20 return. In the summer timetable this had point-to-point timings of 25 mins for the 23 miles from Oxford to Banbury, and 22 mins for the 20 miles from Banbury to Leamington, both start to stop.
Also on the 21st April they also started on the Rhymney Valley line (stage four of the Cardiff Valleys diesel scheme), although a few trains were still steam operated on this day. Four DMU services were introduced on the Rhymney section, affecting six steam diagrams. In some cases two former steam diagrams were merged into one DMU diagram.
From either the 28th April or the 5th May ‘58 two of the former Merthry steam turns were dieselised, MA & MC, both involving through running to Barry Island as part of the regular interval services. The fitting of fuelling facilities allowed diesel workings to spread to Cathays on Monday the 9th June, displacing yet more steam in the valleys, particularly in the Rhymney Valley. The Valleys services were then over 80% DMU operated. The DMUs allowed the elimination of the two-hour mid-morning break that steam locos required for re-coalling etc. The DMU diagrams now gave a continuous four-hour cycle on the Barry Island - Treherbert and Barry Island - Merthyr services. The 04:30 ex-Treherbert made five return trips covering twenty hours. Sets also now worked some of the Coryton branch trains, and the Senghenydd branch was DMU worked from the 9th June.
On the 10th June '58 bubble 55009 was noted attached to a Class 116 power & centre car, and was working between Birmingham Snow Hill and Lapworth.
Noted at Swindon on the 27th July '58 were 50050/70, and 'new set for the London area' 51128/59438/51141.
In September ‘58 it was noted that it was difficult to find a set in the formation it left Derby. There were still 4-car sets made up of three power cars and one trailer used on rush hour services. Also noted were 2-car Class 122s working with them, such as 55009/56292/59360/50852). An argument against the lack of power idea!
After seven weeks of driver training turns the first phase of the Bristol Suburban dieselisation scheme was introduced on the 5th October '58. At this time there were just four DMU rosters, three for the Bristol local services and one for the Chippenham - Calne branch. 3-car sets were used, except for Suns to Fris on the Calne branch, when the centre car was removed to enable the two power cars to tow the sausage vans from C&T Harris's works at Calne. About half of the Bristol - Clifton Down - Avonmouth - Severn Beach - Pilning - Bristol, and Henbury line trips were now diesel worked, all by 3-car sets. One weekday diagram included a morning trip from Bristol to Chippenham and back. The Calne set ran light from Dr. Day's sidings, Bristol, early every morning, returning after the last branch trip at night. It was reported that phase two of the diesel programme would take place early in November, doubling the current workings by DMU. By Oct 6th there were eleven 3-car sets at Bristol in preparation for this.
Phase two came into effect on Monday 17th Nov. '58. Three new 3-cars were involved, making a total of seven, plus the Calne branch set. All services on the Clifton Down line were now DMUs, although none had yet worked the Portishead branch, which was still steam and GWR railcar. Main line workings of the sets included the 10:30 Bristol - Westbury and 12:30 return, 18:30 Bristol - Chippenham and 22:18 (SO) return, 22:30 Bristol - Weston-super-Mare and 00:15 return (Sunday mornings only, other days light to Dr Day's).
55009 was again (still?) noted working with two Class 116 vehicles, on the 25th Feb. '59 when it was on the 14:05 Birmingham Snow Hill to Stratford-upon-Avon.
51135/48 were noted working with 55018 on the 1st May '59, and on the same day 50904 / 50851 were noted in Southall.
By October ‘59 the other WR sets were acquiring set numbers. These were relevant to each depot, and changed if they were transferred. The 3XX and 4XX series was used for suburban sets, prefixed by the depot code, and were displayed on small rectangular plates fixed in clips to the solebars of the power cars only.
The depot codes were: CAT - Cardiff (Cathays); CDF - Cardiff (Canton); BL - Bristol; RDG - Reading, and TYS - Tyseley.
An examples was 51135/59443/59447/51148 which was Bristol’s BL307 (one of several 4-car sets, although the majority were 3-cars).
A crisis arose on the WR London Operating District towards the end of '59 when it was attempted to work the diesel timings with steam trains resulting in deplorable timekeeping. As a temporary measure DMUs were borrowed from Tyseley and Cardiff, resulting in some advertised diesel services in these areas returning to steam. All but two Cardiff sets were returned within a fortnight when about twenty Cathays suburban sets were sent to the London District. Cathays in turn borrowed 2 and 4-car Derby Lightweights from Gosforth, which because of their MU code were restricted in what they could do. They were noted on the Rhymney and Barry lines. Class 116 sets noted on loan working in the Paddington suburban area included:
50064 / 59008 / 50109 - TYS 324
50831 / 59339 / 50884 - no set no.
50838 / 59346 / 50891 - no set no.
50109 was noted carrying a 84E shed plate on the solebar.
Noted on outer suburban services between Paddington, Reading and Oxford during the week ending 19/12/59 were:
50833 / 59341 / 50886 - CAT 317
50827 / 59367 / 50880 - RDG 300
50841 / 59349 / 50894 - RDG 301
50079 / 59351 / 50121 - RDG 303
50837 / 59358 / 50890 - no set no.
51130 / 59440 / 51143 - BL
Bubble cars were still being noted working with 116s at the end of '59.
The mid-'60s also saw the contraction of the Southern Region to the WR's benefit. To help cover some of the longer journeys some toilet sets were created by swapping vehicles with Class 120 sets.
Set CAT404 received lower ratio final drive gearing to assist operation on the steeply graded eastern valley services out of Newport and was dedicated to these services until the closure of the eastern valley network to passenger services, on the 30th April 1962. As a matter of interest the last passenger working from Blaenavon to Newport was worked by set CAT328 W50842/W59328/W50895 and it is noteworthy that although the power cars are correctly paired the trailer was from another set, the correct trailer W59350 was later recorded in this set.
Some of the WR sets spent some time around Newcastle, regarded as ‘loaners’, used on North Tyne electric routes and occasionally to Berwick; they’re noted as transferred circa 11/67 and were still there 25/4/68. Cars included 50824/27/28/30/77/80/83/906, 59332/36/43/61.
Mark Alden notes that 51128 + 59357 + 51141 were at Exeter on 10/08/72. They had failed on Exeter bank working 2B95, the 15.35 Exeter - Exmouth Junction. They were then pushed to Exeter Central (terminated) and then hauled back to St. Davids by Peak D185. The set was then hauled by Warship 825 on 2B58 17.03 Exeter - Axminster and return 5B58 17.52 ECS via Chard Junction.
In July 1968 50054/60/8/71, 50101/6/11 and 59008/17/21 moved from Tyseley to Cricklewood. They replaced the Rolls-Royce Cravens sets on City Widened Lines services as the restriction on longer vehicles had been lifted. In September they were joined by 50840 + 59348 + 50893 from 86A, and 50838/49/50/70 and 50891/902/3/23 from 84A (and centre cars?), and in October 1969 another two Tyseley sets arrived - 50063/75, 50102/14 and 59011/20. In February 1970 50073/100 also moved from Tyseley, and other sets arrived later in the 1970s. The image shows a Class 116 set entering Farringdon in 1973. John Law.
The first regional transfers took place in October 1966 when three sets moved, one each from from Cardiff, Bristol, and Plymouth to the Scottish Region at Hamilton (66 / HN), by the end of the year there were eight sets there, and sets would continue to operate in Scotland until 1987.
In 1970 seven sets moved from the WR Stratford (SF) in east London of use on services from Liverpool St. Station. All these units were the expendable non-gangwayed cars made redundant on the WR by line closure and the introduction of ‘pay train’ operation. At this time the fitting of gangways to all the remaining WR sets was well under way, this resulted in further mixing of power cars and trailer vehicles as gangway fitted trailers were not always returned to their correct operating sets and most of the vehicles built as 2-car units aquired gangwayed trailers which had originally operated in other sets. Three digit set numbers started to appear on the cab fronts at about this time, and by 1971 the prefix ‘C’ for Cardiff and ‘P’ for Plymouth had appeared. Units based in the London area received L prefixes a year or two earlier. Previously set numbers had been carried on the solebar of all WR units, prefixed by either CAT for Cardiff Cathays, BTL for Bristol Marsh Junction, and LA for Plymouth Laira. The Tyseley based units carried three digit black on white unit numbers on a plate displayed at the bottom of the second man’s cab window, this later being superceeded by a white on black plate bearing the depot code ‘TYS’ and later ‘TS’ the set number which was also the diagram number, and the day’s date which was written in chalk. By 1974 a further five 3-car sets had been dispatched to Scotland, this time including some gangwayed units reflecting the contracting services for the class in the South Wales valleys, and the West of England. Transfers continued to take place throughout the '70s and '80s particularly between the SCR and ER with Scottish allocated sets moving to Stratford (SF) and some the other way. 1976 saw a major set renumbering of the WR units, and the transfer of five Class 117 3-car sets from the London division to Cardiff, their TC(L) trailers were stored and five gangway fitted Class 116 TS cars were substituted, these trailers being removed from Laira based units which received trailers of Class 118 and 101. The Class 117s were later refurbished while still at (CF) along with their 116 trailers and when eventually transferred to Bristol (BR) their original trailers were returned, the 116 trailers took their places back in Class 116 sets at Cardiff.
P319 is seen arriving at Honiton, led by 50868, with the evening Axminster to Exeter St. Davids. 13th July 1979. Neil Cannon.
The class, as well as others, feature prominately in the video "A Day on the Valley Lines" by Ian Walmsley.
Both Tyseley and Cardiff units could be seen operating in very long trains, nine car formations were not uncommon these looking very impressive indeed if not a little unwieldy when negotiating complex point work or winding their serpentine way up a Welsh mining valley. Three car units could often be seen hauling a BG or a GUV in their earlier days as a 3-car set was allowed a 100ton trailing load. It was common practice for single units and/or their DTS cars to be attached and detached at various interchange stations on route which would then go on independently to serve other connecting routes, perhaps rejoining a service later in the day or at peak times. A good example of this practice was the Cardiff - Treherbert service, prior to 1969 certain journeys would be lead by a Class 121 ‘Bubble Car’ which on arrival at Treherbert would be detached the 3-car 116 would then form the Treherbert - Barry Island service, while the single unit would continue on, forming the Treherbert - Bridgend service via the single track Blaenrhondda tunnel and Cymmer Afan. Sadly this through service ceased in 1969 due allegedly to the cost of repairing the mile long tunnel.
It was common practise for Class 116 vehicles to run with other types, as already mentioned, normally involving Classes 121, 122 and their respective DTS cars, this was also the case at Laira and at Tyseley, while the Scottish and Eastern units being paired with many more varieties, it being not uncommon to observe a Craven Class 105 2-car set working with a 3-car 116, on the ER.
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.