Here’s a look at yet another of the BR commissioned ‘new’ train fleets which were built to replace the 1st generation of diesel and electric trains back in the 1980s but that are now being retired themselves.
The single car Class 153s – or ‘Dogboxes’ as they’re nicknamed were originally 2 car Class 155s which were built by British Leyland at their Workington factory back in 1987-1988. 42 sets were built but only 7 remain in original form.
The other 35 sets were split and rebuilt as railcars by Hunslet-Barclay at their works in Kilmarnock between 1991-92. Squeezing a second cab into the bodyshell was a challenge which led to the new cab being very cramped, causing surprise that the rail unions agreed to such a restricted space. The cars were renumbered by changing the 523xxx numbered 155301 – 335 to 153301-335 and adding 50 to the numbers of the 573xxx cars to make them correspond to set number 153351-153385.
The 70 new railcars (each with 72 seats) were spread around the regional railways network. The depots that received an allocation were Newton Heath (Manchester), Tyseley (Birmingham), Heaton (Newcastle), Canton (Cardiff) and Crown Point (Norwich).
On privatisation the fleet was divided to became the property of rolling stock companies Angel and Porterbrook.
Over the years the trains have been operated by a wide range of TOCs which include former franchises Central Trains, Anglia, Arriva Trains North, Arriva Trains West, and Wessex trains. Later they were used by Greater Anglia, First Great Western (later GWR), East Midlands Trains (later EMR), London Midland, Northern Trains, and the Welsh Franchises which became Transport for Wales. Over the years they’ve been a familiar sight – from Penzance to Carlisle, across the Midlands and North-East and through Wales. The only places they’ve never operated in have been Scotland and the Southern 3rd rail Network.
In recent years the vehicles have suffered from the fact most of them are not PRM (Persons of Restricted Mobility) compliant. Add to this the reduction of services due to the Covid pandemic and their use has dropped dramatically. The majority of the vehicles are now stored with just two passenger operators using them. Transport for Wales retains 26 cars which are all PRM compliant for services across its network, although these are due to be made redundant by the arrival of new trains by 2023.
Scotrail – who never operated the trains before – received 5 units in 2019-20 which have been converted to carry bicycles. These hybrid (part bike, part seating) trains are coupled to Class 156s and used between Glasgow and Oban.
Apart from passenger service handful of sets have been taken over by Network Rail for departmental use.
In this blog I’m not going to try and give an exhaustive list of their movements as individual cars have swapped between franchises many times. Instead, I’m going to illustrate the wide range of liveries and places the trains have operated.
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