Pacer (train)

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Exeter St Davids - FGW 142064 and 143611.jpg
In service1984–present
Family namePacer
Number built165 sets
Number in service140 sets
Number scrapped7 sets
Great Western Railway
Transport for Wales
Regional Railways
Arriva Trains Northern
Arriva Trains Wales
Northern Rail
Valley Lines
Wales & Borders
Wessex Trains
Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (1997–2005)
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)

Pacer is the operational name of the British Rail Classes 140, 141, 142, 143 and 144 diesel multiple unit railbuses, built between 1980 and 1987. The railbuses were intended as a short-term solution to a shortage of rolling stock (with a lifespan of no more than 20 years), but as of 2019, many are still in use.[1]

All Pacer trains are scheduled to be retired by the end of 2019; the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations require that all public passenger trains must be accessible to disabled people by 2020. Only one Pacer (the modernised 144e) currently meets this requirement, and the remainder will, therefore, need to be withdrawn by that date unless they receive an extensive refurbishment. Furthermore, a ministerial directive in 2015 by the Transport Secretary required that such railbuses were removed from service by 2020 for the new Northern franchise stating that the "continued use of these uncomfortable and low-quality vehicles is not compatible with our vision for economic growth and prosperity in the north."[2]

As of April 2019, 140 units are in service with three operators: Northern, Great Western Railway and Transport for Wales. All operators intend to retire all Pacer trains by the end of 2020 in line with the statutory instrument to improve accessibility on trains.


The Pacer was based on the Leyland National bus

The Pacer series were built with low construction and running costs in mind, and so all of the Pacer units feature the following:[3][4]

  • The use of a lightweight modified bus body and other bus components, such as seating, with a reinforced driver's cab area to comply with crashworthiness standards.
  • The use of a long-wheelbase four-wheel freight-wagon-inspired underframe, rather than the conventional arrangement of two four-wheeled bogies. This arrangement has been criticised for rough-riding, and causing loud noise and excessive wear to the wheels and track on tight curves.


At the beginning of the 1980s British Rail (BR) needed to produce new trains to replace its ageing fleets of first generation diesel multiple units (DMUs) which had been built between the mid-1950s and early-1960s; these first-generation units had helped replace steam and had, when introduced, proved popular with the public. At the time BR was under severe financial pressure from the government and lacked the money to replace all of them with units of similar quality. BR developed two different types of units as second generation replacements: The Sprinter series, as conventional DMUs for use on urban and longer-distance services, and the Pacer series as low-cost DMUs built using bus parts and intended for short-distance rural and branch line services;[5][6] the Pacers were originally intended as a low-cost stopgap solution to the rolling stock shortage, with a maximum lifespan of 20 years.[3] BR set a challenge to several companies to design a cheap, lightweight train similar to railbuses. Since then, 165 Pacer trains (totalling 340 carriages) have been built. By 2015, some of these were over 30 years old.

Demonstrator units toured the U.S., Northern Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, without producing sales. However Iran purchased redundant Class 141 units, for use on suburban lines around Tehran until 2005.[5]

Class 140[edit]

The prototype Pacer Class 140

The Pacer series was the result of an experiment to see whether the possibility of using bus parts to create a diesel multiple unit was viable; the initial prototype, known as LEV-1, was a joint project by the British Rail Research Division and Leyland Motors using a bus body mounted on a modification of an existing freight vehicle underframe (HSFV1). This was followed by the two-car prototype class 140, which was built in 1980 at British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL)'s Derby Litchurch Lane Works.

Class 141[edit]

A preserved Class 141 at the Colne Valley Railway. The resemblance to the bus is clear by the flat roof and windows.

The prototype was joined by another 20 two-car units which formed the Class 141 fleet; the units were used mainly in Yorkshire, operating on predominantly suburban services. They had a capacity of 94 passengers per two-car set, and two Leyland TL11 engines gave a total of 410 bhp (310 kW), resulting in a top speed of 75 miles per hour (121 km/h); the entire class underwent a technical upgrade in 1988 at the Hunslet-Barclay works in Kilmarnock. The units were withdrawn from use in 1997. Many were sold to Islamic Republic of Iran Railways[7] but have been withdrawn and are left in disused sidings in Iran,[8] whilst a few remain in preservation; because it used a standard Leyland National body, the Class 141 was narrower than the later Pacers, and could therefore accommodate only standard bus seating. The later Pacers had widened body panels to allow an increase in seating.

Class 142[edit]

An Arriva Trains Northern Class 142 Pacer at Leeds

The next and largest Pacer class was the Class 142; this again was built by Leyland and BREL, in 1985. The body was based on a Leyland National bus, built at Workington in Cumbria. Many fixtures and fittings of the Leyland National could be found on the units; the new class had a greater capacity of 120 passengers per two-car set and the same engines were used. The first sets were used initially on Devon and Cornwall branch lines and on commuter services in the north west; the units from Cornwall were eventually moved to Liverpool and the north east, and the Class 142s have become a common sight on services across the north of England. The class was upgraded in the early 1990s to include more powerful Cummins engines, which gave a total power output of 460 bhp (340 kW) per two-car set. A number of units were then modified for use on the Merseyside PTE City Line on Merseyrail in the Liverpool region, which included dot-matrix route indicators, improved seating and Merseyrail PTE paintwork; this class moved into the control of Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western at privatisation, and subsequently passed on to Northern Rail, Arriva Rail North, Arriva Trains Wales and Transport for Wales. Eight Northern Rail units were temporarily withdrawn from service, replaced by a cascading of British Rail Class 158s.[9] First Great Western received 12 units on loan from Northern Rail from December 2007 to November 2011 (five units were returned to Northern in December 2008) to cover for refurbishment of its fleet and to allow most of its Class 158 fleet to be rebuilt as three-car sets.

Class 143 & Class 144[edit]

Three coach Class 144 at York

Around the same time of the Class 142 development, a Pacer railbus was being developed by Kilmarnock based Hunslet-Barclay; the units used a Walter Alexander bus body. The units were given the number Class 143 and entered service in 1985. Again with two 205 bhp engines giving a total output of 410 bhp (310 kW) and a top speed of 75 mph (121 km/h), the class originally had a capacity of 122 passengers; the class was used in the North East before being transferred to Wales and the South West, and were moved over to Valley Lines and Wales & West control during privatisation. They then passed on to Arriva Trains Wales, Wessex Trains, First Great Western and Transport for Wales; the interiors were completely changed in 2000, when the Valley Lines service was introduced, with full back, coach-type seating installed throughout, along with improved fittings. This reduced seating capacity to 106 seats per set.

Then came a similar Class 144 unit, a Walter Alexander body on BREL underframe, which was introduced in 1987. A unit was formed of either a two-car set with 122 seats or a three-car set with a total capacity of 195 passengers and 690 bhp (510 kW), though still limited to 75 mph (121 km/h); the units were used in the North East, passing to Northern Spirit at privatisation, then to Arriva Trains Northern, Northern Rail and now Northern.

Advantages and disadvantages[edit]


The Pacers have often been criticised as being of poor quality. Instead of the more usual bogies, Pacers use a basic four-wheel two-axle configuration which often results in a ride which is noisier and less comfortable than other trains; the lack of articulation can result in a rough ride, especially over points, and a loud squealing noise around tight curves. The lack of bogies also results in a more basic suspension, which can result in a bumpier ride; this has given rise to the nickname "nodding donkeys" owing to the trains' up-and-down motion on uneven track; the basic bench seating can also be uncomfortable.[3] The early units especially the Class 141s were also especially unreliable.[5]

The fact that Pacers have only been used in certain areas of the north and south west of England and Wales, but not London or south east England has also created resentment.[3][5]

Concerns were raised about safety after the 1999 Winsford crash,[10] which involved a First North Western Class 142 Pacer running as empty stock was run into by a Virgin Trains Class 87 express after it had fouled the main line at Winsford, Cheshire on the West Coast Main Line;[11] the body of the Pacer was severed from its frame, to which it was attached by wire straps, causing severe internal damage; the unit was written off. Twenty-seven passengers and crew were injured, four seriously. However, all passenger injuries were on the other train, as the Class 142 was running empty at the time. [12]


On the other hand, the Pacers have been praised as a pragmatic solution at a time when budgets were tight, and have been credited with saving services on some rural lines which might otherwise have been withdrawn had only more expensive rolling stock been available,[3] they have also proved economic to operate, achieving a fuel economy of 10 miles to the gallon.[5]


Pacers will be primarily replaced by upgraded 150s (interior pictured right) from other lines following the introduction of the Class 195. The 150 units will offer more capacity and in many cases operate as four carriage services.

As of 2019, the oldest Pacers are 34 years old. All were planned to be withdrawn and scrapped by December 2019 as they will not comply with Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations; as of July 2019, rollout of Northern's Class 195 CAF Civitys has begun. Porterbrook, which owns the Class 143 and Class 144 fleets, refurbished 144012 in 2014 to comply with the new legislation.[13][14]

A proposed replacement train is being designed by the Stratford upon Avon-based rolling stock manufacturer Vivarail, which plans to market a new class of DMU called the D-Train; these units will be built out of upcycled London Underground D78 Stock, constructed between 1978 and 1981, which were in service on the District line until 2017. Conversion of the old stock to heavy rail use will involve re-using the aluminium bodyshells, traction motors and bogies from the D78 units and fitting them out with new diesel engines and interiors; the D-Train units underwent acceptance testing in 2015 and Vivarail pitched them to train operating companies (TOCs), especially those bidding for the Northern franchise.[15] Transport for Wales will replace its Pacers with a combination of five D-Trains and rolling stock cascaded from other train operators.[16]

In April 2016, Arriva Rail North won the Northern franchise and decided to proceed with ordering new-build Class 195 CAF Civitys which would enable the Pacer fleet to be retired by the end of 2019.[17] The Class 195s are vital to enabling the retirement of the Pacer fleet as these will directly replace Class 156 and Class 158 Sprinter units, which are currently the main unit types operated on Northern's regional express routes; these released Sprinters will then replace the Class 150s on other commuter routes, which will in turn replace Class 142 and Class 144 Pacer trains on other local and commuter lines across the Northern network.

Pacer preservation and further use[edit]

Although most Pacer railbuses of the British Rail Classes 142, 143 and 144 are still in use on the UK rail network, at least three units of the British Rail Class 141 fleet have so far been preserved for tourism use on heritage railways. Upon withdrawal 142001 will be preserved by the National Railway Museum.[18]

In May 2019, the government called for a public consultation on re-use of the trains when they are withdrawn from service; suggestions have included re-using them as public spaces such as village halls or cafes.[19]


  1. ^ Alan Whitehouse (21 October 2011). "Long-term safety fears over Yorkshire's Pacer trains". BBC News.
  2. ^ "New trains to replace north of England's ageing rolling stock by 2020". The Guardian. 27 February 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e Kelly, Jon (7 March 2016). "Pacers: The train that the UK has struggled to get rid of". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  4. ^ Rail Projects : The BRE-Leyland Pacers – the dream becomes a nightmare –
  5. ^ a b c d e Simon Bradley (17 October 2015). "Will Pacer trains trundle into history at last?". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  6. ^ St John Thomas, David; Whitehouse, Patrick (1990). BR in the Eighties. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-9854-7.
  7. ^ "Iranian Railways Rolling Stock". Archived from the original on 28 September 2011.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Angel Trains leases 30 Class 158 diesel multiple units to Northern Rail" (PDF). Northern Rail. 13 March 2007.
  10. ^ "Safety fears over commuter trains". BBC News. 2 July 1999.
  11. ^ "Train driver averts disaster". BBC News. 23 June 1999.
  12. ^ "Report by the Health and Safety Executive's Railway Inspectorate into the train accident at Winsford South Junction on 23 June 1999" (PDF). Health and Safety Executive. 1999.
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 March 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Clinnick, Richard (1 May 2013). "Angel Trains to withdraw all its Class 142 Pacers by 2020". Rail. 721: 11.
  15. ^ Browne, Stefanie (15 January 2015). "Vivarail ready to start converting first LU D-Stock". Bauer Consumer Media. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  16. ^ £800m fleet renewal plan for new Welsh franchise International Railway Journal 4 June 2018
  17. ^ "Eversholt Rail to finance new trains for Northern franchise" (Press release). Eversholt Rail. January 2016. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  18. ^ Pioneer Class 142 claimed for National Collection Rail Express issue 268 September 2018 page 76
  19. ^ "Pacer trains 'could be used as village halls'". BBC News. Retrieved 13 June 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Reeve, Tom (24 September – 7 October 1997). "What future for humble 'Pacer'?". Rail. No. 314. EMAP Apex Publications. pp. 34–39. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.