Rail Projects : The BRE-Leyland Pacers – the dream becomes a nightmare

Another development of the Leyland/British Rail partnership was the Rail bus. This time it all came to fruition for BL in a period when the bus market was dying. But this time, it got nasty, and had it not been for the Swedes, Leyland would have most certainly been sent into bankruptcy.

Story: Mike Humble

The BR / Leyland Class 142 (Pacer) - Still a common sight on Northern Regional Railways

Far from being put off by the failure of the APT, British Leyland entered into another engineering project with British Rail Engineering Ltd (BREL) to joint develop a commuter-style rail bus which would replace the elderly yet stalwart diesel multiple units (DMU) of which some classes dated back to the 1950s. Leyland had supplied engines for BR for many years with DMUs and these were powered by either AEC or Leyland 680 engines. Leyland knew what would be expected of a rail application, or so the company thought, while British Rail was looking to outsource new rolling stock production.

Experiments started using nothing more than a Leyland National body slung on to the top of a rail underframe for proving purposes.

More testing times

The first prototype became known as LEV1 (Leyland Experimental Vehicle) and was even powered by the National’s Leyland 500 series diesel coupled up to a semi automatic gearbox and was assembled at the Cumbrian Leyland bus plant in Workington. Differing to the National mechanically, LEV1 featured a freewheeling facility on the transmission to reduce fuel consumption and enable coasting on long flat sections of track similar in practice to existing mechanical transmission on other rail stock of this type.

The riveted construction, windows, seats and even the air operated doors were carried over straight from the National bus. Costs were kept low by the fitting of single axle bogies at either end of a modified freight wagon frame, so the number of wheel sets, axles, springs and brakes were halved over the traditional DMU.

LEV1 - Where it all started, and it's origins are more than obvious!

After some testing in the UK, and also in the USA, it became apparent that a two-car unit would be required, still heavily reliant on bus components but rail guidelines dictated a reinforced cab area and some extra internal body strengthening. The flawed 500 series engine proved, as it did in almost every other application, to be not fit for the job. The legendary 680 series engine had by now been replaced by the Leyland TL11 turbo diesel, so this engine rated at 200bhp per unit became the choice of power once again, coupled to a freewheeling version of the Leyland Hydra-Cyclic gearbox. The first running prototype became the class 140 which entered trails on various parts of the regional network in 1980 with a mixed reception from drivers and passengers.

Out with the old

Replacing the first generation DMUs would prove to be a tough task, regardless of how old some of them were (1950s). They were still the perfect solution for branch line running. They were cheap to run and of excellent quality, especially the Class 101 produced by MCW, and had useful features including plenty of doors and more than ample cycle space for those summer tourists. The simple Class 140 was nothing more than a glorified National bus bodied low cost alternative which was cramped, noisy, offensively uncomfortable at speed and downright ugly. But it was very cheap to produce, and was this factor alone which spurred the Government to be so keen to invest in this new rolling stock programme.

Leyland show the public a prototype 141 in Workington - Check out the vehicles too!

After modifications to the cab area, full scale production of 20 units started on what became known as the Class 141. All bodywork was constructed by Leyland Bus which was then transported to British Rail Engineering LTD (BREL) in Derby where the chassis and running gear were fitted. Once again, the drive ine was 2x Leyland TL11 horizontal diesel engines rated at 200bhp with Leyland Hydra-Cyclic gearbox and cardan shaft transmission with freewheeling function.

Although this new class looked superior to the prototype 140, the ride comfort, a consequence of a long wheelbase the axles being fitted directly to the frame, still caused many complaints from passengers, and tight curves in the track would cause noise & severe wear on the wheel flanges.

The same old story

Some major issues with regards to reliability to the drive line dogged the train’s reputation. Also, the rate of failure of both the engine and gearbox started to cause great concern to BR management. The main cycle of the engine in rail application involves constant bursts of maximum power followed by lengthy periods of idling. This causes a huge thermal shock as the engine heats up then cools down time after time, at the end of the line; the engine can then be subjected to extended periods of tickover. Carbon and soot rapidly build up within the combustion chamber at a far faster rate than in road use. Eventually, will cause hot spots within the engine, thus damaging or – at worst – melting the pistons, burning out the valves and contaminating the oil.

The gearbox was simply not man enough for the job either. The clutches or brake bands within the transmission were notorious for burning out rapidly, especially when driven hard. In cases where maintenance standards were not exacting, the oil filters in the gearbox would clog up resulting in oil starvation and eventual seizure of the transmission. The braking system was open to discussion also, the brake blocks acted directly on the wheel flanges but were actuated by cable rather than the traditional direct system using air chambers.

This meant that unless strict adjustment was regularly carried out, the brakes could potentially and quickly become ineffective, and later classes of train went back to a direct acting brake system or had it retro fitted.

A preserved BRE-Leyland Class 141 residing at the Weardale Railway, North Yorkshire

Problems for Leyland really hit home after it supplied 95 sets of new Class 142 units, which commenced production in 1985. Many of these new trains now ran in severe conditions and the failure rates soared out of control. In the ideal world, the engineering alliance of BR & BL would have been quickly scrapped, but this was vital business for Leyland at a time when the bus an coach market was dying, and British Rail was under extreme pressure to modernise while also being tied to contract with Leyland.

Matters came to a head in the late 1980’s whereby BR, frustrated and tired of persistant breakdowns and running problems with the driveline, forced Leyland into a corner and threatened them with legal action over lost revenue. By now Leyland had passed from State ownership to Management buy out and into the hands of the Volvo Corporation.

Leyland hits the buffers

Even though Volvo initially ran Leyland Bus as a standalone business, the enormous cost of rectification which included the fitting of Cummins L10 engines and Voith dual stage gearboxes, would have no doubt sent Leyland into bankruptcy. Volvo therefore, and with huge reluctance, footed the massive bill. Following this fiasco, Leyland sold the design patents to the Hydra-Cyclic gearbox and  rail powertrains to Cummins.

Many future classes of DMU on the BR network would feature the ultra reliable Cummins/Voith powertrain combination. The Class 142 eventually settled down to be a reliable and trusted set, even if they are still loathed by the passengers who rely upon them. The current Voyager fleet operated by Virgin Trains and Cross Country Trains feature Cummins power systems, specially developed for rail applications.

Mike Humble


  1. You missed out the main bit that all the class 141’s went to a single customer, and most have ended up in Iran 🙂

  2. Is that second picture a photoshop?

    The APT-E/P is an interesting story and is also another illustration of BLs most serious problem. They had the brains and came up with all sorts of new ideas – but the brain-trust didnt have the support to press home the ideas properly.

    Shame that it didnt come to much, although DMU’s and EMU’s are still floating about on the local line (and are much preferable to the mark 3 carriage and the class 90’s we often get on the london services).

  3. Is there going to be an article on the BL/BR Class 155?

    That had the 1988 plug-door fiasco which caused BR huge problems when it was scrapping large numbers of 1st generation DMUs and Mk1 coaches.

    Great article, BTW.

  4. I vaguely remember newspapers showing a photo of a NATIONAL bus on railway tracks and initially thought it was an April fool! That Class 141 Weardale train does look a bit like a National bus at the front/back too.

  5. Pacers are noisy and uncomfortable. They shouldn’t be on Britain’s railways, let alone at the fare prices charged to travel in them.

  6. After over 2 years and close on ten thousand miles in Pacers I bought myself a Montego with the money I’d saved from my student grant. My 50 mile a day commute now not only costs me less, but is infinitely more comfortable and refined. I didn’t think I could really hate a Leyland product – then I tried a Pacer.

    You mention the noise, the ride, and almost everything I hate about them. But the biggest bugbear is that sat straight in a Pacer seat I can not get my ticket between my knees and the seat in front. Many have the same issue, and solve it by sitting sideway across a bench with their feet in the other footwell. This effectively halves the available passenger space. So they’re not even that cost effective for the railways!

  7. The various classes of Pacer train where only meant to be deployed on lightly used rural branch lines as a low cost train that was easy on the track. In the end budget constraints meant that BR had to buy far more of them as part of the DMU replacement programme and press them into service on busy commuter routes, particularly in the North of England. They have also remained in service well past their expected service life. All the Sprinter and Pacer class trains are now almost as old as the 1950s DMU fleet they replaced.

  8. I have two memories of these trains. The first is from when they were relatively new. Climbing out of Northwich it kept slipping and then violently jolting everyone as it momentarily gripped the rails. This must have happened dozens of times during the same journey and even though I don’t know much about train design, I recall thinking this couldn/t be right. Years later was on one with standing room only, held at signals outside Warrington Bank Quay. Felt very vulnerable as other trains spend by. Not good.

  9. I work on 142s and 144s as a guard in the north of England and let me assure you that they are as awful to work as they are to ride as a passenger. Shocking things they are. If they go round a tight bend, they squeal like hell, if the station is on a camber, the doors won’t shut without a shove, working one all day feels like you’ve been in a washing machine on spin cycle, and they shake about so much that they broke my old flask when it was thrown onto the cab floor by the shuddering. On top of that, they now have a problem with the temperatures at the final drive, which means that some have had to be speed limited to 60mph. A year or so ago, one was derailed by its’ final drive breaking, coming loose and jamming against the ground, lifting one axle clear of the ground!

  10. @tonyw- as pacers are so light and only have 4 wheels per coach (no bogies) they don’t grip the rails as well as other trains. They slip A LOT in Autumn especially during leaf-fall season. The leaves fall on the rails, trains go over them and mash them down. This creates a black coating on the rails which is like teflon and slippery as hell. Just think how slippery leaves are to walk on and imagine loads more leaves, wet and mashed into a metal surface.

  11. @Andrew- Yeah. And passengers just laugh, thinking leaves are just an excuse. I heard of leaves causing a SPAD and a near tragedy at a level crossing once. Thankfully the signaller heard the train in distress warning and got the barriers down seconds before the train went through. Of course the driver was exonerated of any blame.

  12. I remember going on one of these when they were brand new. It was obviously a modern looking train and I was very excited to see what it would be like. My father, a train enthusiast, was not so enamoured about the prospect of riding on the mighty Pacer. As it rattled its way along the branch line I understood why my father had sneered at it! It was truly the most uncomfortable and noisy public transport experience I had ever had!

  13. You’re a glutton for punishment K.

    These excuses for DMUs seriously have no redeeming features.

    They bounce along the track and squeal round corners as they have no bogies. They aren’t comfortable in any way shape or form. I pity those that commute on them or work them. Thankfully the Sprinter series were much better.

  14. The second picture is not a photoshop its about 2 miles from my house. A chap called Ian Mc Nally has done a cracking job getting it working again. As its part of the national rail collection its not allowed to be painted as (for some reason) it will make it non original!! (its BL is going to rust!)
    As for the comment about new units are better than mk3 coaches -only if you are deaf and 3 foot tall!
    I still live in the 80s driving a metro or maestro to work to drive my class 20, 37 or 47. Just as I did 20 odd yrs ago!

  15. Keith, West Yorkshire is one of your best bets for some ‘142 action’ as Northern ‘Fail’ seem to have plenty. The minor routes out of Leeds are often 142 hauled. And I kid you not, there is a Pacer preservation Society, who’s aim is to preserve several class members. The Weardale Railway use the 141 as shown, and there is a preserved set at the Midland Railway Centre in Butterley I believe which is a Cummins/Voith repower. Also there is one set that is still unrestored at Earls Colne in Esssex that is still TL11/Hydracyclic.

  16. How can a DMU/EMU be superior to a Mk 3 coach, which are widely regarded as the best coach design BR had? The first time I travelled on a Pendolino I was shocked by the lack of overhead luggage storage that the Mk 3 offers. I travelled on an old Pacer “nodding donkey” a couple of months ago, they are still all over the shop in the North West. You don’t see many 30 year old buses still running around! The Pacers should have pensioned off years ago, however in the north we have to put up with a lot of old rolling stock. I caught a Sheffield-Manchester stopping service a few years ago, and was shocked to see “Heritage” DMUs that were probably about 50 years old still being used.

  17. I used to get the train to work in most days and it was always a laugh to hear the very audible groan and muttered expletives when one of these old clunkers was spotted clanking into view around the bend to the little station platform.

    Thankfully as it was a good old stopping service and the next station along was Swansea High St. As it was also used by FGW, most of us heading along to Cardiff used to jump off the rattlebox and nip across to jump on the FGW 125.

    At least that way we could get a bit of warmth and comfort for the rest of the trip. FGW conductors used to laugh as they saw us all scampering off the clunker and on to their trains. Never had any issues over who you bought your ticket from.

    Saw many people simply refuse to get on them full stop.

    Hard to believe they ever got away with using them for so long.

  18. The fun and games of Nationalised industry. Would BL or BR have entered in to this plan if they weren’t both state owned?

  19. I get what Keith means there, I had no idea that Leyland had also built trains or that they were so closely related to buses I remember in our local area. Great article Mike, I’m with Keith on this and intend to go and seek one out in the near future.

  20. Very interesting article, I remember reading all about this in one of the early BLMC pubication, Interesting concept, thats hope one turns up! I noted that back in 1968 BLMC owned a wide range of other companies not directly involved in building vechicles. Well done on another good feature. Regards Mark

  21. I have fond memories of these 142’s. On the Tarka Line (Barnstaple to Exeter). I entered the train in the station the familiar seats of a bus was the same throughout their life here. Getting ready to go…..The over revving engine, the Morse codes from the other end of the train. And we are off!! Pulling out of the station the squeal from the points (turnouts). On the run the rattling of the fish-plated joints in the track. The rocking from side to side. I’m unsure if the railway was this bad when the line was doubled and was part of the “Atlantic Coast Express” line with thundering West Country / Battle Of Britain class steam locomotives (Spam cans) were using it. The journey took an hour. I’m surprised not to have has sideways whiplash. Sadly last month they passed into train history books as far as North Devon line is concerned and to the relief of the passengers. Lord knows what the new stock is going to be… Ex stock from upcountry. Somebodies cast-off’s again.
    The sad thing is that I cannot offer Keith a ride of his life. Neither can I relive the moment. As it has been some years since I have travelled on them. But I won’t be forgetting the experience in a long, long while. That said the views on the Tarka Line are very beautiful.

    Whist we are on the topic of trains….. A class 47 was named “Herbert Austin” loco number 47337.

  22. Fascinating Article Mike, and still amazing that they are in regular use. I travelled on a couple last year Leeds – Gargrave, Northern rail have loads, many with original fixtures and fittings. Those which survived in the North East had a refurb in the late 90’s and got new seats and better heating, the ride quality was, and still is, shocking though!

  23. These still run on the line between Leeds and Sheffield. First time down I was amazed to see a pair of these ancient looking carriages sitting smoking away to themselves. The interior had been lifted straight from the early 1970s, when people were clearly 60% the size they are now. The train screeched, squealed and shuddered it’s way along between Leeds & Sheffield.

    I can see what people mean about the ride quality and noise etc, but to be honest I rather enjoyed it. Been on them many times since.

  24. As someone who had to commute on one regularly (my partner still does) all I can say is ‘you damned B#####ds: you damned merciless b#####ds.’

  25. I remember the news broadcast circa 1987, on Swedish television, announcing that Volvo had bought Leyland Bus. The then almost Godlike CEO Per G Gyllenhammar stating that they wanted “Leyland’s strong reputation in many of the world’s bus markets”. Perhaps he was on to something there. But I wonder if he knew he was buying a train manufacturer as well…

  26. When I lived in Marple the normal rolling stock for services into Manchester were either Pacers or a 101 unit until a few years ago. Only occasionally a Sprinter might turn up, often on a service starting in Sheffield.

  27. The Downpatrick railbus was in the Ulster Transport Museum for years. It literally looked like a Leyland bus on rails.

    Was amazed by it as a youngster. Liveried NIR Railbus and on Irish gauge I think it briefly performed North Coast journeys.

  28. For those still suffering the class 142 up North the blame needs to shift to the real unsung criminals of this story the ROSCOs (Rolling Stock leasing Companies). They got the MOLA fleet (ex BR rolling stock) for a very agreeable price but now lease them back for far beyond their market value during BR days. There is little incentive for the ROSCOs to buy new trains for lease when the old ones can make so much profit!

    If the ROSCOs that leased the 142 wanted to replace them it could be done in very short order… as well as Bombardier Derby a number of global manufacturers could have very nice replacement rolling stock built and delivered in very short order! Instead we are stuck riding on trains that we used to OWN with little comfort and at a vast ticket price!

  29. We used these trains regularly for a good day out. They are still used between Sunderland and Carlise. Basically, after the the Metrocentre all along Hadrians Wall, each station has a real ale pub alongside and/or a curry house. About a fiver buys you a return ticket from Hexham to Newcastle and theres about a dozen of us have a beano along the line for a birthday party. Smashing fun and more heritage than you can shake a stick at.

  30. Leyland products are common on the Harrogate line through Knaresborough where I live (and which also has more pubs per capita than anywhere else in England) we have the 142, 144, 153 and 155. Although it seems to be mainly 150s these days.

    The pacer was a short term expedient that have lasted way beyond their design life and some aren’t that bad. The 144s are quite good as are some of the 142s with a decent refub (some have bus seats still though).

    The Northern franchise was let on a zero growth basis and has grown hugely yet the trains seem to have been bought on e-bay and surely will be replaced when the franchise is renewed (as they would have been before if the last government had cared about anywhere other than London and Scotland!)

    p.s. Keith if you do give them a try in my area I will be happy to buy you a pint!

  31. Keith; Sheffield to Huddersfield often has them on as well as the Leeds service and I think the Manchester via Peaks one.They also go between Leeds and Huddersfield.

  32. As another Northern Rail Guard, I spend a hell of a lot of time on Class 142s. Yes, they are deeply unpopular with the travelling public, and often with good reason. But have one deployed on a lightly used route and use it in the sort of was it was intended and they are more than bearable. They can be fairly agreeable, being light, airy and offer good views out to the travelling public.

    Problems occur when they are deployed on routes that are totally unsuitable for them. On less than perfect track and at high speeds the ride can be very rough, in winter they are horribly draughty and the toilet facilities and seating are not up to the long distance routes they are more often than not turned out on.

    There are also a myriad of ‘refurbished’ examples. The two worst types are ex-Merseyrail examples with ‘individual’ type seating for dwarves and the ex-Arriva Trains Northern examples that are depressingly dark inside, suffering the effects of redesigned light diffusers that leave you struggling to see your hand in front of your face at night time. From my point of view as an employee, I much prefer working on an example that still retains its bus style seating.

    To get a true ‘feel’ for the Class, I would suggest a trip on one to Southport, where the line is flat, straight, still mostly of jointed trackwork…and has a linespeed of 70mph!

    The Class 155’s also feature the Leyland logo above each door, just so you don’t forget who built them. These – incidentally – don’t suffer any of the image problem of their cousins.

  33. Oh Good God Doug, all we ever got Sheffield to Huddersfield were what you’re describing as ex-Merseyrail. Bloody horrible things. From my point of view as a passenger the bus seating is better than those!

    “On less than perfect track and at high speeds the ride can be very rough, in winter they are horribly draughty and the toilet facilities and seating are not up to the long distance routes they are more often than not turned out on.”

    An hour for about 35 miles is QUITE far enough, thank you! Draughty doesn’t begin to cover it. Nor does rough, for the ride. Keith, by all means do as suggested and go to Southport on one, but also come up here in December and take a trip from Sheffield to Huddersfield in the snow. Will’s got it right in reply number 31, and to experience the Pacer properly you need to see it at its worst as well as its best.

  34. The Leeds to Sheffield route on a Pacer is quite traumatic. I couldn’t stop laughing at the fact everyone was grimmacing at the reckelss jerking and bucking!

    Like young Skelton says… it got be bad to get the full experience!

  35. Believe me 40 miles on the Tarka Line takes some beating. You are a nervous wreck at the end, unless your were to go on to Exmouth, You must be mad springs to mind. At least the trip from Exeter to Taunton was with an Intercity 125… nice..

  36. I rode on one of these yesterday morning! The ‘stopper’ service from Selby to Leeds is often run with a Pacer. I went into work with a colleague, I was sat right beside him and we still had to shout. Bloody awful machines, but I’ll still miss them when they finally retire.

  37. I lived 8 miles from this factory in Workington and spent 2 years there when it was converted into a warehouse and now ironically this has closed.
    However, for all the Pacer is crude and noisy, it has been around nearly as long as the DMUs it replaced and has proved to be reliable, even if I shudder when I have to get on one.

  38. Ive been a train driver since 1993 working for BR Regional Railways/ FNW and now Northern and it often feels like the class 142 has followed me about! (I was based in Workington, Carlisle, Manchester and now Leeds. In general I fully agree with the comments here because they are horrible things for the fare paying passengers, especially when they are used on lines with high occupancy like the Harrogate loop and the Skipton to Leeds services. I once had a four car ‘stopper’ from Leeds to Skipton made up of 2x Pacers which ground to a halt on wet rails because of the weight of about 300 people on board. The guard and I ended up having to call the BTP out because of the near riot on board but we couldn’t move forwards and there was a train in the section behind us.

    There are some routes they are okay on though. The old Manchester Victoria to Blackburn runs stood out, easy timings, little fast running (stopping at every station Salford – Bolton) and light passenger loadings. On the other hand there were some routes they were just massively unsuited for. They used to get used for the Oxenholme – Windermere branch in the Lake District which meant that they would have to run ’empty coaching stock’ back to either Carlisle or (sometimes) Newton Heath in Manchester to get refuelled and cleaned. Either way meant a flat-out ‘blast’ along the WCML for about an hour, which was a real brain melting job. Officially they can do 75mph but I had an indicated 85mph out of one running down Shap, which must be the quickest a Leyland National has ever gone!

    From a drivers point of view they are a doodle to drive with one power handle / controller and one brake. You had to do your own gears on the ‘heritage’ DMUs. THe only thing you have to remember is that braking on just four wheels can get a bit marginal, to say the least.

    Like Richard S I hate the things, but I think I will miss them when they are gone!

  39. that train, that train was the bain of my life when going to manchester as a kid. Noisy as hell, an awful lot of crashing banging cold in winter and crap …. how on earth they got on the rails still buggers me :/

  40. Mike Humble – you talk about traumatic? In the last 2.5 years I MUST have done 10,000 Pacer miles. I got through the trauma a long time ago, moved on to dread, learned to sleep on public transport, found that was no longer viable, tried blanking it out with newspapers and music and eventually even that became too much to bear. Started giving serious thought to commuting Sheffield to Huddersfield via Manchester in order to escape them!

  41. Keith, now I know you are mad! They are bloody awful things. The Hallam line is a popular route for these monsters (Leeds-Sheff via Castleford, Wakefield Kirkgate & Barnsley). I have a friend who works at Neville Hill depot as a driver for Northern Fail & hates them.

  42. From a driver comfort point of view I didnt mind them too much. quite a big cab and no gangway. I hated 156s. The 142s had terrible brakes especially when they were new. The brake cylinder was on the opposite side of the vehicle to the wheel it was acting on and the way they opperated was via a cable ( like a handbrake type) and it stretched resulting in crap brakes! they did alter them in the early 90s to rods which was better but any sign of a leaf and they were away! Also when they were new the heater slider knobs were mk1 metro!
    Incidently the 155 which was mentioned above was like the 142 a 2 car unit,towards the end of BR they had the idea of making them single car trains. This was done by hunslet barcley, Problem was there wasnt actually enough room for one the same as the other end. The result was a tiny cab and to traincrew the name ‘Dog box ‘ was given which has stuck in many places today.
    As rich says above they had leyland logos above the doors which was covered during there single car 153 conversion. I used to take pride in removing this to expose their leyland herritage to one and all!

  43. The Pacers are pretty reliable these days. The 143s in south Wales are the best – 14,000 miles between technical delays and won a prodigious ‘Golden Spanner’ at an industry award do in November – not bad for 1980s technology. They have been a bit like Trigger’s brush – all the parts replaced at one time or another.

    • I remember this railbus well, it ran between Coleraine and Portrush when I was a kid in the early-mid 80’s I mostly remember it as being very unreliable and breaking down and needing hauled away by another train,

      • Remember seeing it in the Transport Museum in the 90s and being amazed as it literally looked like a bus on rails. The later railbuses at least looked a little more train like with 3-split windows, yellow coloured ends, aerodynamic ends etc.

  44. Funnily enough the original No 1 cab has less knee room than the No2 cab on the 153s. 40 plus tonnes for a 285bhp NT855 Cummins engine with a 70% efficient Voith transmission is a big ask……

  45. @Keith “Who’s up for an AROnline field trip up North to have a go in one…”

    Trust me, you’d regret it. Have a go on a roller coaster at your local theme park, the oldest one there is with some of the bolts loosened and the rails buckled. It’d be preferable to a ride on a Pacer!

    BTW, I haven’t ridden on one since the early Nineties when they were fairly recent, I dread to think what state they are in now. They made you think that the track was buckled, they were that uncomfortable. They actually feel like they are sliding from side to side, which is quite an impressive feat for something running on rails. People say that it’s grim up North, personally I think that they’re going by the sight of depressed people bent double with pain alighting from the local Pacer trains!

  46. @Marty B

    I live not far from the Leeds Neville Hill depot, I’ll have to look over the bridge at the end of Pontefract Lane to see one rattling past for a bit of nostalgia. In fact, I can probably feel the vibrations from one passing without leaving the sofa – and the railway is a quarter of a mile from here!

    They are that bad.

  47. Hugely informative article – I read the APT article as well as a result. Thanks so much for both. I always feel a day has been worthwhile when I have genuinely learned something new.

    Also thanks to the commenters. It is _very_ rare to read through over 50 comments on _anything at all_ on the internet and see such informed and experienced information in the posts. A pleasure to read the comments, without exception.

  48. There are a few stations in West Yorks with boozers on the Hudds line I believe, so Pacer hopping with a pint or 2 in between would help numb the pain

  49. Used to use these things to get to and from work when they were new. Folding doors always seemed incredibly flimsy – especially if you were standing next to them and another train was rushing by. Probably because they were incredibly flimsy. Also didn’t do your nerves any good if you chose to look headlong into the front carriage from the back at speed (or vice-versa). Story in the local newspaper over this when it caused hysteria among a group of mothers with kids returning from a birthday party. DMU’s they replaced not much better ride-wise but at least felt like real trains. Always felt as though you were going to be wiped out at any given moment when going by Pacer

  50. @56 Steve, Your not going to stop Keith are you? Come hell or high water, Keith will want to experience the joys of the “age of the train” His has driven a bus you know.
    Keith can you report back when you have had the pleasure of the said trip up north.
    Thanks 🙂

  51. being picky but the correct and full name for BR engineering is British Rail Engineering Limited or BREL. The last bit of which lives on as Bombardier up in Derby… Well for now at least 🙁

  52. whoops only saw the title.. Read through it. I remember travelling on something similar to this when I was up in Sheffield.. Rickety looking things with bus like doors… Wouldn’t wanna have a head on with a Voyager in one of those..

  53. @64 Chris Lane

    Keith is welcome up here to try them, I’m just concerned for his health! For the full-on Pacer experience he should go on one when it’s cold and raining, to experience the poor heating and the scenery-obscuring condensation, making it a strange experience as the thing rocks up and down and side to side, sometimes both at the same time.

  54. I probably see more of these than most people having the Blackpool to Colne railway at the top of the street.

    Investment in Lancashire’s rail infrastructure extends no further than the recovering of seats & a paint job!

  55. Was only ever in a Pacer once…between Shotton in North Wales into Manchester Piccadilly, all I will say is that I am glad they never reared their ugly head north of the border in regular service…..

  56. @ Keith 69
    Leeds Station – its a hub for all the the other areas described here. Easy to get to but be carful if you want to take photos as I have heard Network Rail do not like it in this station, but it is manned so they may let you if you ask nicely. Good Luck and I look forward to reading about what you think of it!

  57. Yep, Leeds – easy for you to get to by train Keith, there will be plenty of Pacers to choose from plus you get to have a nosy at the Dark Arches (underneath the station is a warren of viaducts supporting it, a very atmospheric place.) Not sure which are the best routes to choose though.




    Leeds is full of Victorian architecture, worth a nosy if you’ve got time. Give me a shout if you come up and I’ll make you a cuppa and show you the sights!

  58. Barnsley station (Barnsley is just off the M1) normally has them running as well. If the discomfort of travelling on a Pacer isn’t enough to dampen your spirits, you could alight at the Meadowhall Shopping Centre (known locally as Meadowhell!)

  59. Keith if you do go to Leeds to sample a pacer, your best bet is a Metro Train day rover ticket, which means you can ‘bash’ any line in the West Yorkshire boundary, because the 142’s can turn up on all sorts of routes, but class 158s keep turning up on the Sheffield via Barnsley route.

  60. @ Keith
    If you do go to Leeds this weekend – enjoy your Pacers! I live about 16 miles from Leeds & I’d love to meet up and chat about BL and the web site but cannot make this weekend (I’m working on real (steam) trains at Keighley this weekend) but can another weekend if you feel like a natter

  61. Another less well documented version of this was the leyland rail-coach ,which was a leyland national bodyshell, withoug cabs,fitted to a mk1 coach chassis ,painted in inter city colours and used on trial between manchester and the south coast on the cross country services in the early/mid 80s.

    It was placed between 2 other mk2 coaches and passengers were asked which they liked best,someting that looked like the inside of a bus with seats from a train,or something that looked like a train,with seats from a train! 

    I beleive it is preserved now,but not sure where,perhaps some one has a photo or an idea which railway it is at.  

  62. Anyone else noticed the ‘Special’ destination banner on the front of the first picture?

    Now is that ‘special’ as in ‘special’ or special as in ‘no sharp objects please’?

    From what people are saying these things sound horrific, maybe Class 90’s arent so bad after all..

  63. I used to commute into Cardiff on these when I was a student. In the end I had to buy a car and drive in, although that was partly due to the chronic overcrowding. Anyone who wants to experience one of these trains should get down to Cardiff Central and take your pick of routes around the Valley Lines.

    I recently went on a pacer all the way from Barry to Merthyr – and as it was evening it only cost about £3 for a Valley Ranger ticket- bargain!!

  64. Only just noticed this page- this site is a real Aladdin’s Cave, isn’t it?

    I’m still coming to terms with a horribly traumatic journey from Southport, Merseyside, to Liverpool in one of these vile contraptions about 20 years ago.

    Railbuses were not a new concept when the idea for the Pacer was first mooted- they had been tried, and were found wanting, before.

    Never underestimate the management of British nationalised industry to revisit failed ideas from the past and to re-commit to making the same bad mistakes all over again. The Pacer probably costs more in infrastructure repairs (as its wheels effectively act as angle grinders on curves and points) than it ever saved in initial purchase price. By comparison, contemporary Sprinters have been hugely successful- went on a FGW Mk3 based Class 158 recently and was amazed by how refined and comfortable they are- despite how ancient the design is. Only when idling do they seem fairly crude.

  65. Its the Weardale Railway – County Durham, not North Yorkshire. They’ve got their own railway down there 🙂

  66. It will be sad to see the pacers gone. ive been on loads of them. the 3-car class 144 is the best of the lot. way too bouncy and rough at speed.british rail research and engineering was the best by far. the british rail mark 3 coach is an engineering masterpiece. shame br never got the support from government to build the 26m length br mark 5 coaches


    I can’t beleive how many people are saying how bad the pacers are!!! Yes they screech round bends, are slower than other trains, have old basic interior and bouncy ride, but i’ve been on the ones on the colne to blackpool line. Yes they look old, but they aren’t that bad at all. On the colne to blackpool line they have made the track smoother so the ride is smooth in most places.

    I actually like riding on the pacer’s and love the sounds that they make, even if i don’t get a table!! I suppose it all depends on your view of things. If i was in a wheelchair for example, I probably would not like the pacers as I would feel different having to use a ramp to get up while everyone else can just step on with ease. I saw someone with a wheelchair get on ONCE. There is even a youtube video where a guard refuses to let a disabled passenger get on because he refused to put a ramp down for him, you can view this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxyBU3SM4hk

    There are a lot of different opinions about this incident.

    Also the newer classes such as 150’s and 156’s aren’t nessessarily faster than than the 142’s, they seem to go at similar speed but with the pacers having slower accelaration.

    To me the pacer’s are like old but practical and reliable. My mum still has a hoover and tv from the 80’s or even earlier, along with other technology she still uses.

    Taking the example of the hoover, it is very “noisy” (get the reference there?), looks old, and still uses old bags.

    Why does my mum still use it? Because it still works! The older things are the longer they last! It’s true!!! My mum says the hoover may not be that deseriable or attractive or “modern”, but it does the job (just like the pacer’s), and quite well. She says it does a better job than her hetty (more commonly the henry hoover) at general hoovering, but she says hetty is better at getting into tight corners. Speaking of which, this hoover my mum has is the old type that is not very good at “turning corners” (another pacer reference there), unlike the modern hoovers you see today.

    Taking the old tv, that maybe unlike the modern flat screen wide screen tv’s you see today! And yes it does make a big buzzing “noise” with black and white dots apperaing on the screen as you turn it on!

    The point of what i’m saying is that my mum has the same view of the train companies. The older stuff may not be as good as the new but usually “does the job”. And at the end of the day thats all that matters. When the old technology my mum has no longer works, then she’ll upgrade, but for many years, she will use the older more reliable technology as long as it still works and does not cost more money to replace than buying new technology. If it still works, then why spend money replacing it? You may as well wait until it’s lifetime is over, then replace it with so,ething new, and start the cycle again. It makes no sense to scrap something that works pefectly fine just because it isn’t as new as something else.

    For those still not convinced by my lecture, the pacers will probably be taken out of service by 2020, because they are not disabled friendly (there is a step inside the train to get up) and that modifying this would be difficult and there is a law put in place that by 2020 all transport must be disabled friendly (ie easily accesible entrance). That will be the right time to get rid of the pacers, when they don’t comply with regulations or become inadequate to run for some reason.

    For those who like pacers and don’t mind the bounciness and screeciness ect (i actually like it!) then there is a Pacer Preservation Society set up so that some pacers will be preserved.) See thier website here: http://www.pacerpreservationsociety.co.uk/

    Who knows, 50 years later pacer’s from the 80’s could be running on preserved lines!

    People will be saying “remember them old clankers dat ya used to go ta blackpool om?”. lol!

    Anyway I’ve typed way more than anyone else here so i had better stop! If anyones read the whole of my lecture then well done to you. Just voicing my opinion. I do not work for any rail company and i do not have anything to do with the railway industry. Thanks.

    • I was just thinking exactly the same thing. Like the Marina their only real crime was lasting too long. The Marina’s reputation would be far better today if BL had replaced it – as originally intended in the mid 70s rather than letting it fester until 1984! Likewise, if the Pacers has remained in service for 10- 15 years, or been deployed properly on lightly loaded branch lines, they would not be the crime against travelling humanity they are considered today.

  68. I think the thing with the 140 series of DMU is this, BR needed a cheap easily maintained vehicle type to replace the worn out and knackered fleet that had been introduced in the 1950’s. The Leyland National body was and is still is a proven bus body readily available, I can see the reasoning – lets lob one on a wagon frame and see what happens. the result was the railbus. and let us remember the main thing here – they were to be used ON LIGHT USE RUNS, not on heavy jobs, they have their detractors and they have their supporters, The reason they are still in service is ease of maintenance, They are essentially cheap to run, and can be rebuilt for a reasonable price, something I think will happen. The big mistake was not placing on bogies, maybe have built a queen mary brakevan version of them – but this would have increased maintenance costs. BR could cost a job to the very bolt used in maintenance and did. The current fleets of 142 and their sister fleets do their jobs, without a great deal of fuss, there have been issues with them, they have had their share of major incidents all well publicised by the press, but they are still around…Personally I like them, they do their job, I haven’t been on one for a few years, they are only around 30 years old, not anywhere near their life expiry dates yet(remember the 40 year rule). so expect to see them for a few more years. if they were to be used on the rural lines they were designed for then you can expect them to be reliable…the single line branches or lines like the Bedford Bletchley etc. This is what they were built for, not 120 mile round trips 3-4 times a day

  69. At the moment they are still using pacers on the valley lines north of Cardiff. They are a bit bouncy and noisy, but if you commuted to Cardiff from the valleys it’s still the best way to travel in my opinion. Short local low speed running is what they were designed for, and on these lines which are definitely not high speed, they are fine. Until it snows anyway.

  70. Pacers are till used on the line through Brough to Hull sometimes, don’t think I’ve ever ridden on one. Are they really as ghastly as people say?

  71. Earlier this month I was on the Keith & Dufftown railway where the prototype Class 140 is stored out of use. I’ve actually had a ride on this when it was on trials on the Gunnislake branch in Cornwall, the route between Bere Alston & Gunnislake is very steeply graded and the curve’s are very severe. It didn’t help that the rails were wet and the unit had considerable problems in gaining traction and there was frequent stopping and restarting on the very long curve between Calstock and Gunnislake there was a definitely the smell of something burning but the train made it to the terminus at Gunnislake, returning To Plymouth was OK as it was downhill all the way. I never saw the 140 again on the branch but a few years later class 142’s branded as Skippers were on the line but they didn’t last that long. One thing of note was the interior in the prototype was a lot better that the production Skippers, more cost cutting I suppose

  72. While not BL related, it’s worth noting that the 143 and 144 Pacers were built by Hunslet-Barclay with Alexander bodies and have a slightly better reputation than the Leyland ones!

    Sadly these also had the TL11 engine, so also went through the expensive re-engining programme!

  73. I can remember a holiday in Devon as a child of about 13, wondering why we were on a train with bus seats, and which sounded like a bus. Then as an adult I discovered what a Pacer was, and I realised that this is what I’d been on. I’m amazed that some are still in service, but from what I read not for much longer.

    Also, the Class 140 – I’ve also seen that on the Keith and Dufftown Railway awaiting restoration. There’s a long distance walk up here along the track of the old Speyside Line which reaches Dufftown Station. Imagine my surprise when walking it to find what appeared to be a train almost in the middle of nowhere! I did a bit of research to find out what it is, and I can’t wait for the day when they get it up and running. BR and BL together – what could possibly go wrong?!

  74. Pacers are still sometimes used on off peak services on the Cumbrian Coast Line and seem to appear in the morning and the early afternoon on the Tyne Valley Line. Travelled on them a few times and will admit they’re noisy, the seats are hard and the ride is poor, but to have lasted over 30 years is quite an achievement for such a cheap design.

  75. Occasionally I take one on the service from Manchester Piccadilly to Chester, though I only go as far as Stockport.

  76. On the Cumbrian Coast Line, it’s mainly Sprinters on Carlisle-Whitehaven services and Class 37 hauled trains on Carlisle- Barrow services, but Pacers are occasionally used on off peak services. The Sprinter seems to have been a very durable, reliable design and passengers like the Inter City style seating and luggage space.

  77. As Kevin says, a lot of the problems are down to the underframes. Bogies would have solved many problems such as excessive rail wear and poor ride quality. Also the doors fitted originally were three 4 leaf bus style that could fly open when a train passed at speed and needed replacing under warranty.

  78. Had my first encounter with a Pacer today, and . . . not too bad! Yes, squealing wheels and ‘Bouncing Betty’ ride, and those doors . . . on the whole reminded me of the old Class 310 EMUs (but with LOUD diesel noise, naturally) I used to ride on as a student 30-odd years ago. But the seats were great, in fact, my seat on the Pacer was more comfortable than the Voyager seat I’d sat on, on the previous leg of my journey . . .

    • To be fair those weren’t the original seats, which were basically bus type benches!

      One thing I DO like about the Pacers is the excellent visibility. On a bus you take it for granted than can look out of the window, whereas many trains have thick pillars, high seatbacks and poor alignment so the view out of the window is quite restricted.

      • Oh, I know these were proper train seats, I remember the bus benches from travelling on Leyland National buses. I was just making the point that the seats on a train designed for short, local journeys, were _more_ comfortable than those on a train designed, and used for, long distance travel . . .
        Regarding the view, you are quite correct, I’ve recently travelled on a couple of Pendolinos, and the view is quite restricted on them. I can’t decide if the small windows are due to the need for the carriage to be stronger to cope with the high speeds, so more structure is needed, or if it’s an attempt to create the impression of being aboard an aircraft . . . ?

        • The view out of Pendolino windows is quite restricting and the seats in standard class are hard compared to the Mark 3 carriages. I find Transpennine Express of the rail operators in the North to have the best carriages, large windows with comfortable seats, but the rub being if you can get a seat between Leeds and Manchester.

          • At the moment, if I’m travelling any distance, my preferred trains are the Class 170 Turbostars. They’re certainly the most comfortable, but as they tend to be short trains, they’re often quite crowded . . .

  79. In the photo in Workington, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ital and the Metro were supplied by Mungo Graham, who was the town’s Austin Rover dealer at the time. Also I work near the former Pacer factory in Workington, which has been converted into a warehouse.

  80. I love this site, come here a lot as I build models of Brit lorries, cars and trains + I’ve driven 20th century vehicles in preference to the soulless for years. It has to said though I dont know whether to admire or be horrified by the fact that you never seem to mention the wanton political destruction of our industry because it was state owned and thus ideologically opposed to the blue meanies… As a kid in the 1970s my dad would tell me that I own a little bit of the Mini, the Deltic, Rolls Royce etc etc. The deliberate sabotaging of BR so it appeared to be unprofitable is well documented, as that succeeded I find it hard to imagine that the same tactics (along with other less savoury) was not applied to BL. 46 continuous years of right wing politics has very successfully asset stripped the whole automotive and transport industry of these islands not to mention me .

  81. If Alex Moulton had been engaged to work on the Pacers, then perhaps they would have interconnected suspension, axle to axle, to control the pitching action of the ride.

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