British Rail railbuses

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British Rail Railbuses
Waggon- und Maschinenbau railbus no. 79964 at York Railfest exhibition on 3 June 2004. This vehicle is preserved on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.
In service
  • Passenger: 1958–1968
  • Departmental: 1950–1997
Capacity46–56 seats

British Rail produced a variety of railbuses, both as a means of acquiring new rolling stock cheaply, and to provide economical services on lightly-used lines.


Railbuses are a very lightweight type of railcar designed specifically for passenger transport on little-used railway lines. As the name suggests, they share many aspects of their construction with a bus, usually having a bus body, or a modified bus body, and having four wheels on a fixed wheelbase, rather than bogies. Some units were equipped for operation as diesel multiple units.

First generation[edit]

Park Royal railbus at Bedford Midland station
999507 Elliot on the Middleton Railway

In the late 1950s, British Rail tested a series of small railbuses, produced by a variety of manufacturers, for about £12,500 each[1] (£261,000 at 2014 prices).[2] These proved to be very economical (on test the Wickham bus was about 9 mpg‑imp (31 L/100 km)),[3] but were somewhat unreliable. Most of the lines they worked on were closed following the Beeching Cuts and, being non-standard, they were all withdrawn in the mid-1960s, so they were never classified under the TOPS system.

In addition to those railbuses, BR ordered three for departmental (non-revenue earning) service. The full list of passenger and departmental units is set out below.

Table of orders and numbers
Lot No. Manufacturer Diagram Qty Fleet numbers Service life Length over body Seats Notes
30483 Bristol / Eastern Coach Works 610 2 Sc79958–79959 1958–1966 42 ft 4 in (12.90 m) 56
30482 Waggon- und Maschinenbau GmbH Donauwörth railbus 611 5 E79960–79964 1958–1967 45 ft 10 in (13.97 m) 56
30481 D Wickham & Co 612 5 Sc79965–79969 1958–1966 38 ft 0 in (11.58 m) 48
30480 Park Royal Vehicles 613 5 Sc79970, 79974
1958–1968 42 ft 0 in (12.80 m) 50
30479 AC Cars 614 5 W79975–79978
1958–1968 36 ft 0 in (10.97 m) 46
D Wickham & Co 1 RDB999507 Elliot 1958–1997
Drewry Car Co. 2 RDB998900-998901 1950–1990
AC Cars railbus W79978 at the Colne Valley Railway


  • 79958/59, Gardner 6HLW of 112 bhp (84 kW) at 1,700 rpm
  • 79960–62/64, Büssing, 150 bhp (110 kW) at 1,900 rpm
  • 79963, AEC A220X
  • 79965–69, Meadows 6HDT500 of 105 bhp (78 kW) at 1,800 rpm
  • 79970–74, AEC, 150 bhp (110 kW)
  • 79975–79, AEC, 150 bhp (110 kW)

Second generation[edit]

The unique Leyland Railbus LEV1 is shunted at Weybourne Station, North Norfolk Railway.
RB004 at the Telford Steam Railway

British Rail returned to the idea of railbuses from the mid-1970s, and a prototype four‐wheel vehicle was developed jointly by British Leyland and the British Rail Research Division. Several single and two-car railbuses were built and tested, in co-operation with Leyland (hence the generic term for these vehicles as LEV (Leyland Experimental Vehicle) railbuses). The first three single-car prototypes were essentially Leyland National bus bodies mounted on a modified HSFV1 four-wheeled rail chassis. The prototype two-car railbus was allocated Class 140 and is dealt with on that page, but the prototype single-car railbuses were not classified and are set out in the table below:

Number Identity Builder Introduced Withdrawn
RDB 975874 LEV1 Leyland/BREL Derby 1978 1987
LEV2/R3 Leyland/Wickham 1980 19??
RDB 977020 R3 Leyland/BREL Derby 1981 1990
RB004 Leyland/BREL Derby 1984 19??
RB002 Leyland/BREL Derby 1984 19??

In 1978, tests were carried out with a modified double-ended Leyland National bus body placed on an unpowered wagon chassis derived from HSFV1, this was LEV1 (Leyland Experimental Vehicle 1). Whilst in its unpowered state this vehicle never left the Railway Technical Centre in Derby. In 1979 a powertrain was added to LEV1,[5] the engine being a Leyland 510 diesel, and the transmission a mechanical type with self-changing gears.

Even though some of these vehicles carried numbers in the departmental coach series, they were used in ordinary passenger service. LEV1 was initially tested in passenger service in East Anglia, and then elsewhere, before being temporarily exported to the US in the early 1980s. LEV1 was withdrawn and transferred to the National Railway Museum in 1987, [6] before moving to the North Norfolk Railway, where it underwent restoration, then moving in 2012 to the NRM's Shildon site.

LEV2, built especially for the US at 50 ft (15.3 m), was a stretched version of LEV1 and sometimes known as R3. Following export around 1981, it was used on an experimental extension of MBTA (Boston) commuter service to Concord, New Hampshire. When that experiment was ended in 1981 the LEV2 was sold to Amtrak for use on the Northeast Corridor, but it was quickly put out of service after an accident at a crossing. It was subsequently sold to the Steamtown Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania for use as a shuttle,[7] but was damaged during repair and sold for scrap. It was bought from the scrap dealer by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, a tourist railroad in West Virginia, and later sold to the Connecticut Trolley Museum, where it was eventually scrapped.[8]

In 1985, SEPTA tested a British Rail railbus on the Fox Chase Line as part of an effort to restore service to Newtown. Though the trial runs were relatively successful, ride quality was lacklustre, and SEPTA never purchased the railbuses.[9]

Similarly, the BR version of R3 (RDB977020) was run in service on BR for a few years before eventually being sold to Northern Ireland Railways in late 1982, where it was converted to the 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) Irish gauge. R3, also known as RB003, was withdrawn in 1990 and preserved, initially at the Ulster Transport Museum, then, in 2001, at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway.[10]

Another version, RB004 was built at Derby in 1984. The body was built at the Leyland plant at Workington and BREL Derby C&W were responsible for the underframe and final assembly. It is preserved in running order at the Waverley Route Heritage Association site at Whitrope.

R3, as NIR RB3, on an IRRS rail tour in Northern Ireland

RB002, another BREL-Leyland product from 1984, was exported as a demonstrator, going to the US and Canada, then Denmark and Sweden. Afterwards, the RB002 was used in the Netherlands and Germany, for a demonstration of light rail vehicles on the then defunct railway between Enschede and Gronau.[11][12] It was returned to the UK, having gained the nickname "The Denmark", and was used as a classroom/office by BREL for some time, but it too ended up in Ireland. Its present location is believed to be at the now‐closed standard gauge Riverstown Old Corn Railway near Dundalk, but it is in a poor state of repair.[13]

Those railbuses[which?] were sent abroad in the hope of gathering export orders, but they never transpired.

In addition, there was an experiment with a loco-hauled Leyland-built vehicle. A National bus-type body was placed on the 63-foot (19 m) underframe from Mk1 BCK coach number 21234. It was numbered RDB 977091 and was run in normal service around the London Midland region, alongside ordinary coaching stock, until withdrawn as being unsuitable. The only direct connection with railbuses was the use of the same type of bus-based body shell to reduce costs to a minimum. The coach is now preserved at the Llanelli and Mynydd Mawr Railway.


As a result of those tests, British Rail ordered a series of two- and three-car railbuses, which became known as Pacers (or Skippers in the Western Region), and were allocated TOPS Classes 141–144. The next generation of Sprinter units were based on conventional railway design and bogie-mounted bodies.


AC Cars railbus at Tetbury in the 1960s

Lines regularly served by railbuses include:


East Anglia[edit]




A number of the BR railbuses, both first and second generation examples have survived into preservation, as follows:

Vehicle no. Builder Year built Location Comments
First generation
79960 Waggon- und Maschinenbau GmbH Donauwörth 1958 Ribble Steam Railway Formerly North Norfolk Railway
79962 Waggon- und Maschinenbau GmbH Donauwörth 1958 Keighley and Worth Valley Railway
79963 Waggon- und Maschinenbau GmbH Donauwörth 1958 East Anglian Railway Museum Formerly North Norfolk Railway, now on loan
79964 Waggon- und Maschinenbau GmbH Donauwörth 1958 Keighley and Worth Valley Railway
79976 AC Cars 1958 Great Central Railway Purchased in 1968 without its engine and moved to Bristol and then Bleadon and Uphill museum.[26] Since then it has moved to Bodmin & Wenford Railway, County School railway station, Colne Valley Railway and then Great Central Railway, before moving to Nemesis Rail where it is stored as a sheeted-over carcass.[27]
79978 AC Cars 1958 Swindon & Cricklade Railway Sold to North Yorkshire Moors Railway in 1968[28] It was at the Kent & East Sussex Railway from 1979 to 1984, then moved to the Colne Valley Railway.[29] In November 2019, it moved to the Swindon & Cricklade Railway.
RDB999507 Wickham 1958 Previously Middleton Railway – moved to Lavender Line 2009 Elliot High-speed track-recording unit
RDB998901 Drewry Car Company 1950 Middleton Railway Overhead-line inspection car
Second generation
RDB975874 Leyland/BREL Derby 1978 Wensleydale Railway LEV 1
LEV2 Leyland/BREL Derby 1980 Connecticut Trolley Museum Was subject to a project to repatriate to the UK but has been reported as scrapped in August 2021.[30]
RDB977020 Leyland/BREL Derby 1980 Downpatrick and County Down Railway in Northern Ireland LEV3 aka RB3. Has been regauged to 5'3”
RB002 Leyland/BREL Derby 198? Riverstown Old Corn Railway? near Dundalk, Ireland RB002 aka The Denmark
RB004 Leyland/BREL Derby 1984 Currently at the Whitrope Siding (arrived 31 May 2012) Owned by Northumbria Rail Ltd. and The Railbus Trust. Moved from Telford Steam Railway to Llangollen Railway 20 May 2011 and then to Midland Railway Centre 19 August 2011

Additionally, AC Cars railbus 79979 was preserved. It was the first of the railbuses to be delivered and spent all its working life in Scotland. In 1968, it was moved to Craigentinny where the chassis was scrapped, and it was used as a battery store. It was moved to make way for the TMD in 1977 and the grounded body sold to the Strathspey Railway in 1977.[26] It was scrapped by MC Metals, Glasgow, in 1990.[31][32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hansard RAILWAYS (DISUSED BRANCH LINES) debate 23 June 1958 p. 208
  2. ^ "Bank of England inflation calculator". Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  3. ^ Railway Magazine November 1958 p. 800
  4. ^ ABC of British Railways Locomotives. Ian Allan. Winter 1962–63. pp. 316–317.
  5. ^ Gilchrist, A. O. (2009) [2006]. "A history of engineering research on British Railways" (PDF). Working Papers in Railway Studies. Institute of Railway Studies and Transport History (10): 54. ISSN 1368-0706. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  6. ^ "Railbus retires". Railway Magazine. April 1987. p. 252.
  7. ^ Alves, John (15–28 February 1995). Kelly, Peter (ed.). "Heritage in damage across the Atlantic?". Letters. RAIL. No. 246. pp. 26–27. ISSN 0953-4563. I 'rediscovered' LEV2 at Scranton, Pennsylvania at the back of Steamtown National Historic Site, hidden from all visitors, in 1990 ... it derailed on the platform line and chewed up the wooden edge of the platform all the way along.
  8. ^ "Rail Car Association LEV2". Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  9. ^ Woodland, Dale W. (December 2003). "SEPTA's Diesels". Railpace Newsmagazine. p. 26.
  10. ^ Marsden, Colin (2008). Second Generation DMUs. Ian Allan. p. 12. ISBN 978-0860936244.
  11. ^ NVBS: Op de Rails: Nieuwsberichten. 3-1985
  12. ^ NVBS: Op de Rails, W. Miedema: BOREG, Spoorwegmaatschappij voor één dag? 11-1985
  13. ^ Bulletin Pacerpreservation Society Archived 14 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Tolson, T. M. (January 1968). "Too little, too light, too late". Railway Magazine. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  15. ^ "page 625". Railway Magazine. September 1961. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  16. ^ Mackay, Stuart. "AC Cars Railbus Scottish Arrival". Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  17. ^ "Locomotive notes – Scottish Region". Railway Magazine. October 1964. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  18. ^ BR Atlas and Gazetteer p. 11 D4
  19. ^ "Change for Bodmin North". Railway Magazine. January 1965. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  20. ^ "Cornish Conclusion". Railway Magazine. April 1967. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  21. ^ Mackay, Stuart. "WR Services Begin". Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  22. ^ Tolson, John M. (October 1964). "End of an experiment". Railway Magazine. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  23. ^ "Yeovil under snow". Railway Magazine. March 1965. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  24. ^ Mackay, Stuart. "AC Cars Railbus ScR & WR Moves". Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  25. ^ "Yeovil services altered". Railway Magazine. November 1966. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  26. ^ a b Basil Hancock, Murray Brown (August 1979). "Railbuses Extant". Railway Magazine. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  27. ^ "79976". Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  28. ^ "Railbus to Grosmont". Railway Magazine. October 1968. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  29. ^ "79978". Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  30. ^ "LEV2".
  31. ^ "Traction News". Rail (138): 50. December 1990.
  32. ^ "AC railbus 79979". Railcar Association website. Archived from the original on 30 August 2008.

External links[edit]