The Gloucester RCW Class 119 and 122 Diesel Multiple Units followed the company’s distinctive two-car low density Class 100 diesel multiple units of 1957. The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Works went on to build both three car cross-county units and single cars with high density seating in 1958. In doing so Gloucester RCW embraced almost every format of train and passenger accommodation demanded by British Railways of its diesel multiple unit suppliers in the 1950s. This is an achievement probably unequalled by any other rolling stock builder of the time, especially as Gloucester RCW also built single car driving trailers and a fleet of diesel parcels units.
Like the Class 100s, the three car cross country Class 119 sets and the Class 122 railcars both featured pairs of BUT AEC 6 cylindered horizontal diesel engines, coupled to a four speed epicyclic gearbox and yielding 300 bhp for each powered vehicle. The new trains were also 9′ 3″ wide and fitted with Blue Square multiple unit wiring, but heavier and, at 64′ 6″ longer than their integral construction forbears. Moreover, their styling conformed more closely to the Derby look in DMU design. The latter trend had begun with the BR workshop’s Class 108, introduced earlier in the same year. Unlike the Class 100s, these vehicles had separate bodies and chassis but more importantly their front ends were to influence the work of Gloucester and Birmingham RCWs and Pressed Steel, although Swindon continued like the Great Western in its nonconformist ways Gloucester’s Class 100 and Derby’s Class 108 both featured triple windscreens with a destination box above and a two digit headcode display below the central pane of glass. There were also marker lights placed on either side of the headcode display, but on the Derby built unit all the windscreen panels were identical. Rectangular with tightly curved corners, they sloped back so that the line that they formed at the top was parallel to the straight roofline.
This bucked the trend toward an arched roofline above merely symmetrical windscreen arrays that had prevailed previously. it also meant that the destination box now had to be mounted on the roof, although later versions of this styling put a four digit headcode in its place with the destination displayed at the top of the central windscreen. In the case of the Class 119s and 122s that Gloucester built, the new Derby look with its essentially oblong shapes added chutzpah to the art of livery design. Waist and cantrail side stripes continued on a background of Brunswick green, but they were now accompanied by speed whiskers. It was these V-shaped yellow stripes more than anything that made DMUs turn heads in the days before warning panels.
Optimised for longer journeys than the low-density Class 100s – and based on the layout of the two piece windscreen Swindon Cross Country sets – the Class 119s comprised three vehicle types: 28 Driving Motor Brake Composites numbered 51052 – 51079, 25 Trailer Buffet Second Lavatories numbered 59413 – 59437 and 28 Motor Second Lavatories numbered 51080 – 51107.
The Driving Motor Brake Composites – built to BR Lot 30421 and sometimes known as Class 119/1 – weighted 36 tons 19 cwt and could seat 18 First and 16 Second Class passengers. The 37 ton 10 cwt Driving Motor Second Lavatory ( built to BR Lot 30422 and dubbed Class 119/2 in the 1970s ) meanwhile accommodated 68 Second Class passengers – albeit without the same room for luggage. This was an even larger capacity than the centre vehicle of the rake, built to BR Lot 30423. Weighing in at just 31 tons 8 cwt, the engineless Trailer Buffet Second Lavatory could only boast 60 Second Class seats, although four more were provided for patrons of the miniature buffet placed at one end for en-route refreshment. As became the trend on board a number of DMUs, the loss-making buffet eventually gave way to extra luggage space and the First Class was also desegregated in some instances. Similarly, line closures from the 1960s also reduced the need for cross country diesel units as envisaged in the 1950s and as a result the 25 three car sets of Class 119 were at one time spread about the country. The three spare DMBC and DMSL vehicles also permitted an additional trio of power twin Class 119 sets to be formed and one such rather unkempt train is seen above on 2 July 1966 leaving Yatton in Somerset on along the former GWR branch to Clevedon which was to close on 3 October that year. Similarly, Gloucester RCW Class 119 DMUs were also to be associated with the last days of branch lines to Plympton, Minehead, Calne and Bridport as well as main line work around Cardiff and then between London Paddington and Oxford. On the latter services, Blue Square multiple unit wiring allowed the Class 119s to work as 7-car sets, with the addition of ex GWR Hawksworth composites adapted to run as DMU trailers. By 5 April 1984, as can be see from the splendid Martin Loader shot below, Class 119s from Reading stretched as far as Moreton in Marsh with set L575 – comprising vehicles 51060, 59419 and 51088 – arriving at the Cotswold station with the 16:33 ‘all stations’ stopping service.
Shedded as far apart as Plymouth Laira, Bristol Bath Road, Tyseley and Chester in the 1970s, Gloucester RCW’s most complex diesels were to move back to Western Region completely by 1992. Barring Old Oak Common’s 51090 and 51103, the remaining refurbished members of the class were Reading based and all 20 vehicles carried Network South East markings. Typical workings for the refurbished DMUs – now powered by Leyland 1595 engines like the final Class 122s in service up to 1995 – were to Tonbridge and Gatwick Airport.
Many of the Class 119 vehicles had by then been withdrawn due to concerns over the high levels of asbestos used in their construction and in 1992 were replaced with Class 165 and 166 diesel hydraulic multiple units. Similarly, in common with many first generation British Railways Multiple Units, some vehicles within the class suffered from corrosion of the lower body panels where water collected just above the solebar.
However, DMBCs 51073 and 51074 have been preserved on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway in Derbyshire and Swindon & Cricklade Railway respectively while “Swindon’s Other Railway” also hosts DMSL 51104.
The Class 122 single unit Driving Motor Brake Seconds meanwhile represented a link back to the GWR streamlined railcars built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company a quarter of a century earlier as well as being the first of the British Railways Modernisation Plan single car units to enter service. Like Gloucester RCW’s Great Western railcars 5-16 too, BR numbers 55000 – 55019 , ordered as Lot 30419 were designed for short haul high capacity workings but could offer 68 rather than 63 seats and no less than 12 hinging – rather than sliding – doors for rapid passenger entry and exit.
Indeed, Gloucester RCW also supplied nine Driving Trailer Second vehicles for the Derby styled Class 122 railcars to tow or propel during rush hour in Western Region’s home counties commuter belt. Numbered 56291 to 56299, these 29 ton vehicles – with a driving cab at one end only and no gangway connection at the other – provided 95 seats but all had disappeared by the mid 1980s, some of them finishing their days on London Midland Region. Similarly rare until recently were Class 122s back in their county of construction, but in 2009 Nick Gillman of Rural Railways delighted visitors to the Triang Society gathering at St Margaret’s Hall, Cheltenham with his Anbrico kit built model of W55017, pictured above and below.
Complete with authentic local destination blinds and two digit headcode, this 4mm beauty also captured the distinctive exhaust pipes running up the front of the brake compartment end cab on either side of the central windscreen pane before uniting in a central fume outlet.
In contrast, as originally built, the very similar 1960 vintage Pressed Steel Class 121 Driving Motor Brake Second could be distinguished at the brake compartment end by the twin exhaust pipes forming a cow horn shape around a four digit route indicator box mounted on the front of the roof. Unfortunately for those of us who celebrate all things Gloucester RCW, it was the 36 strong Linwood-assembled Class 121 which Lima chose to model as a ready to run 00 gauge product. This offering has been perpetuated by Hornby and, as such, the Class 121 – which in real life had its own matching fleet of ten driving trailers – is much better known than the Class 122 on the nation’s model railway layouts.
However, seeing Mike Kelly’s splendid 4mm scale Class 121 on his North Bridge layout at St Margaret’s Hall in April 2011 – as pictured below – it was hard not to admire Bristol Road’s Caledonian counterpart, not least because both Classes promised a greater economy than a tank engine and single carriage in keeping marginal branch lines in profit.
Indeed, when introduced, the all-round visibility offered by Classes 121 and 122 to crew and passengers alike earned both Driving Motor Brake Second designs the nickname “Bubble Cars” after the fighter-style blown canopies of such small but economical automobiles as the BMW Isetta and Messerschmitt KR200.
As it turned out, American vocal group The Playmates – led by Chic Hetti – also achieved a hit on both sides of the Atlantic in July 1958 with “Beep Beep”, an amusing song about a lowly Nash Rambler that accidentally gets hooked on to the bumper of a Cadillac that then tries to shake it off by accelerating to 120mph. However, a product placement was banned by the BBC, a UK version of the song was recorded with “Cadillac” replaced by “Limousine” and “Nash” by “Bubble Car”. The US original version of the song can currently be found on YouTube
However exquisite the models above are and were though, they were both trumped by an invitation issued to me at the end of April 2011 to visit a surviving 12″ to the foot Class 122, back in God’s own county and reaching out towards Worcestershire along the northern section of the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway. As a result, Wednesday 4 May 2011 saw me don a high visibility orange vest and be welcomed to the restricted access maintenance area at Toddington by Ian Butler, secretary of Cotswold Diesel Railcar Ltd: the new owners of W55003.
As well as contributing the Class 122 free of charge to the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway, Cotswold Diesel Railcar Ltd – formed by a consortium of Honeybourne Line locomotive department members – also has the intent of operating diesel multiple units on a new off-peak winter service between Winchcombe and Cheltenham Racecourse, thus raising revenue for the repair of landslips currently keeping the two sections of the line apart.
Having arrived by road from the Mid-Hants Railway (a generous donor to the GWSR Emergency Appeal) 55003 was in excellent condition as the only preserved member of its class – and first ever diesel mechanical railcar or multiple unit – to have been passed for running on the national network. Indeed, the 36 ton 70 mph Gloucester RCW product may well have worked some of the last trains from Leamington Spa to Gloucester over the Stratford-Cheltenham route before withdrawal of services in 1968, bringing to a close a long association between the route and trains that could be driven from either end.
When the Stratford-Cheltenham line opened in 1906, the first regular train services between Cheltenham St. James and Honeybourne Junction were operated by Great Western Railway steam railcars. In fact, No. 93 – which has been subject to a long restoration project by the Didcot-based Great Western Society and has just returned to steam on the Llangollen Railway – once worked on such duties. Later, these trains were replaced by auto-trailer services worked by 0-4-2T locomotives until 1960 when local passenger services were withdrawn.
As recounted elsewhere on this website, Gloucester RCW built Great Western ‘Flying Banana’ diesel railcars were introduced in 1934 between Cardiff and Birmingham and became so popular that they were eventually replaced by steam locomotive hauled trains and finally by inter-city diesel multiple-units from 1957.
Class 122 railcars eventually served on London Midland and Scottish Regions of British Rail with allocations, amongst other depots, to Haymarket, Eastfield, Inverness, Tyseley, and Bletchley. Branch lines worked included those to Stourbridge Town ( where W55003 was noted in 1984 ), Ironbridge and St Alban’s Abbey with secondary duties linking Dundee and Arbroath, Langley Green and Birmingham Snow Hill.
From 1986 Class 122s were also associated with the Kettering-Corby shuttle service with M55004 carring NSE markings and the Corby crest on its blue and grey livery while in their departmental guises 55015 and 55016 were sometimes used for covert anti-railway vandal patrols by British Transport Police. In 1980, Scottish Region cars 55013–55015 were also converted to carry parcels traffic and were reclassified Class 131, though the vehicles themselves were not renumbered: echoes of previous diesel engined vehicles built in Gloucester to carry parcels for both the GWR and British Railways. By 1992 however the remaining six revenue-earning Class 122s – 55000,55003, 55005, 55006,55009 and 55012 – had gravitated back to the West Country and were allocated to Plymouth Laira depot. 55012 even became the first of the Class to be repainted in Regional Railways colours but all were to be withdrawn from passenger duties in 1995.
55003 had previously received an overhaul on the East Somerset Railway by Cranmore Traincare & Maintenance Services in 2004 and external clues to its Network Rail approved status were the bright green edges to the outward opening slam doors and the high intensity Wipac RX500 spotlight fitted below the central windscreen panes and between the original marker lights.
Internally the Class 122 also retained the cab telephones that, at Cheltenham Racecourse, can still pick up the Network Rail wireless network. This was particularly important for drivers to remember as pressing the red emergency button in such a situation would turn all nearby Network Rail signals red – causing massive disruption between Cheltenham, Worcester and Bromsgrove!
Also unique to W55003 was an internal plaque recording its ownership and restoration by Ian Edward McDonald from January 1996 to October 1999 and with a dedication to Cecil J. Hughes while original external features included a GRCW worksplate and a railway speedometer wheel adjustment instrument made by Smiths Instruments, now a part of GE Aviation and with premises in nearby Bishop’s Cleeve. Indeed, as Ian pointed out to me, the bogies that the Smiths component was attached to had a noticeably longer wheelbase than those found beneath otherwise similar diesel multiple units.
Internally, Ian was kind enough to show me the workings of the destination blinds, cab controls and warning light array (with provision for a six car lash-up) and also the features of the guard’s brake compartment. Not so visible – if at all fitted – on the current generation of diesel hydraulic multiple units were wire and wooden racks for sorting documents, an emergency access ladder, wooden hinging shelf restrained by chains, a warming box ( before the invention of microwave ovens ) and two long handled instruments clipped to the wall next to the guard’s seat. Of these, the thinner one was used to probe the railcar’s gearbox and set it to neutral from the outside to allow it to freewheel and be shunted while the thicker pole ended in a metal shoe for testing the railcar’s Automatic Warning System.
Perhaps most reassuringly though was the Preparation, Operation and Disposal Log on the driver’s desk. On the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway – and all good preserved lines – safety is paramount and no vehicle moves without all aspects being inspected and found fit for purpose. By July 2011 W55003 was used on the Southern end of the GWSR, stabled at Winchcombe, before briefly being sent back to the Mid Hants Railway for a week or so in August. The Class 122 railcar was however due return to the GWSR as “Daisy” (complete with face) for the Thomas weekend in September.