The Pacers – Cheap and Not So Cheerful


Director of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) Robert Nisbet told BBC 5 Live yesterday (30th July 2018) that the nation’s railways are:

“hugely successful in many ways,”

Adding that our European counterparts could only dream about having the British kind of performance and punctuality records.  He continued:

“A lot of us get on those gleaming fast trains that go from city to city in France, Spain and Italy, but a lot of their commuter lines are terribly inefficient. They have suffered for years with a lack of investment.”



Back in 1985 I wrote a shortish piece about what was the new self-propelled vehicles for “lightly loaded” and “suburban” services. Today, these Class 142 units are still in service, on quite extended routes, including around tourist hot spots like the Lake District, and some heavily used commuter routes around Manchester and other northern cities.

When they were introduced in the 1980s, they were not popular, and from the footplate crews’ perspective, decidedly unpopular. What was described as BR’s “build fast” policy with hindsight, looks more like desperation, and operationally, the marriage of a cheap and cheerful build of a bus body on a 4-wheel rail chassis was perhaps optimistic.

They were poor performers in their original builds, and the cheap and fast approach as an investment, was clearly a failure. Later attempts at refurbishment with Cummins engines replacing the origin al Leyland, and changes in transmission design did not entirely make up for their shortcomings.

Pacer Montage with USA

Coming at a time when rail transport was out of favour in the UK, the BREL designs were tested around the world, from the USA to Thailand, and BREL were unable to stave off their demise despite the innovative approach. Orders did not materialise beyond the UK, and the original builders here also disappeared from the engineering and manufacturing landscape.

That said, their longevity at the same time seems to disprove that idea – or have we just put up with them, because there has been no effective investment in rail across the country?

In BR parlance there were the Class 140, 141, 142, 143 and 144. The single example of the 1980 build prototype was No. 140001, a twin unit arrangement, is actually still in existence at the “Keith & Dufftown Railway”, and undergoing restoration.   The next generation, the 20 Class 141, or pre-production two-car sets also started out life in West Yorkshire, and one of these remains operational on the “Colne Valley Railway”.   Curiously perhaps, the majority of this first production series were sold to Iran, whilst the 142s and 143s are of course still with us.

142046 at Deansgate Station, Manchester

142046 at Deansgate Station, Manchester. Photo (c) Lee Worthington

This link is a PDF copy of my original item, looking at the most numerous and widely used class – “CLASS 142 – D.M.U. OR RAILBUS?”

Pacers Cover




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