British Rail Class 156

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British Rail Class 156 Super Sprinter
156408 Peterborough.JPG
156409 Interior.JPG
Interior of Abellio Greater Anglia 156409
In service 1987 - Current
Manufacturer Metro-Cammell
Family name Sprinter
Constructed 1987 – 1989
Number built 114 trainsets
Formation 2 cars per trainset
Fleet numbers 156401 - 156514
Capacity Northern Rail:
146 or 152 seats per unit[1]
Operator(s) Current:
East Midlands Trains
Abellio ScotRail
Abellio Greater Anglia
Northern Rail
British Rail
Central Trains
Car body construction Steel
Car length 23.03 m (75 ft 7 in)
Width 2.73 m (8 ft 11 in)
Height 3.805 m (12 ft 5.8 in)
Maximum speed 75 mph (121 km/h)
Weight DMS: 35.5 t (34.9 long tons; 39.1 short tons)
DMSL: 36.1 t (35.5 long tons; 39.8 short tons)
Prime mover(s) Cummins NT855-R5 Diesel
(1 per car)
Power output 213 kW (286 hp)
Transmission Voith Hydraulic T211r
(2 axles driven per car)
Safety system(s) AWS, TPWS
Coupling system BSI[2]
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) Standard gauge

The British Rail Class 156 Super Sprinter is a diesel multiple-unit train (DMU). 114 of these units were built from 1987 to 1989 by Metro-Cammell (now owned by Alstom) at its Washwood Heath works in Birmingham. They were built to replace elderly first-generation "Heritage" DMUs and locomotive-hauled passenger trains.


The design of the Class 156 was more conservative than Metro Cammell's earlier Class 151 design. The bodyshell was made of steel instead of aluminium, and the cab design was deliberately similar to the BREL Class 150 to ease union acceptance.[3]

The units were all built as two-car sets, numbered 156401-514. Each unit was formed of two driving motors, one of which contained a toilet.[4] Individual carriages numbered as follows:

  • 52401-52514 - Driving Motor Standard Lavatory (DMSL)
  • 57401-57514 - Driving Motor Standard (DMS), containing an area for storing wheelchairs, bicycles, bulky luggage etc.

The vehicles are powered by 6-cylinder Cummins NT855-R5 diesel engines through Voith T211r hydraulic automatic transmissions and Gmeinder final drive units.[4] They have a top speed of 75 mph (121 km/h).

Unlike the Class 150 units, the 156s have a single-leaf sliding door at either end of each coach. This reflected the expected longer journeys with fewer stops that the Class 156 was supposed to operate. As with the Class 150, all the doors are operable by passengers when released by the guard using one of two passenger door control panels; they are energised using a carriage key to turn a rotary switch situated on the cab bulkhead. Units operated by Abellio ScotRail have additionally been fitted with door-control panels near the centre sets of doors for the convenience of the guard.

The first 100 units were all ordered by the Provincial Sector of British Rail, and carried the sector's livery of blue and beige with light blue stripe. Twenty units, numbers 156401-419/422 based at Tyseley depot, were later repainted into Regional Railways Express livery after the rebranding of Provincial.

The last fourteen units, numbers 156501-514, were ordered by Strathclyde PTE, and carried an orange and black livery. This was later replaced by a carmine and cream livery, reminiscent of the 1950s livery carried by Mk.1 coaching stock.[citation needed]


British Rail[edit]

A Class 156 in Provincial Sprinter livery at Crewe.

In the early 1990s, British Rail was looking to save costs on rural routes, and decided that operating two-car trains was too expensive. The company planned to convert a number of Class 156 units into single-car vehicles as Class 152. In the event, the decision was taken to do this with the Class 155 units instead.[5]

Operations outside the United Kingdom[edit]

In summer 1989, in connection with celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Dutch railways, British Rail was invited to send an example of its latest rolling stock to be exhibited at Utrecht for two weeks. Class 156 unit number 156502 from Glasgow was selected; it was unusual as it carried the Strathclyde Passenger Executive (SPE) orange and black livery. On 16 June 1989, the unit was driven under its own power by a Derby train crew from the Railway Technical Centre to the Netherlands. As the Channel Tunnel was still under construction, the train was carried on the SNCF train ferry from Dover Western Docks to Dunkirk, from where the unit was driven through France and Belgium to the Dutch border at Essen and on to Utrecht with help from SNCF, SNCB and NS train crews. The unit was exhibited along with various items of rolling stock from across Europe for around two weeks, after which it returned to the UK.


After the privatisation of British Rail, the Class 156 fleet was split between several franchises, which are described below.


First ScotRail Class 156 No. 156457 at Oban

Their initial introduction was controversial as they replaced locomotive-hauled stock (particularly Class 37 hauled) on longer routes. Various issues such as limited toilet facilities were cited as criticisms,[citation needed] but they proved to have much lower operating costs.

At privatisation the Scottish fleet passed to the National Express-owned ScotRail franchise, which used them until 2004 when the franchise was won by FirstGroup. Abellio ScotRail, as the franchise currently trades, operates the largest fleet of Class 156 units. They operate both on short-distance commuter routes and on services of up to five and a half hours, such as Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig.[6]

They currently operate on many core routes including:

Units nos. 156500-514, operated by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and currently painted in ScotRail's "Saltire" livery, are used on Glasgow local services (in reality any of the 48 Abellio ScotRail units can be used regardless of livery):

Additionally, these units in particular are often seen working through to Newcastle on three services per day from Glasgow Central as these services are jointly operated by Abellio ScotRail and Northern Rail.[citation needed]

Generally, local and long-distance workings are interchangeable; however, only Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB)-fitted units can operate the West Highland Line.

Class 156s also operate trains from Glasgow Queen Street to Stirling, Dunblane, Cumbernauld and Falkirk, as well as Edinburgh Waverley to West Calder, Perth, Kirkcaldy and the Fife Circle.

In September 2008 the Scottish Government's agency Transport Scotland announced that all ScotRail trains (including those of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport) would be repainted in a new livery of blue with white Saltire markings on the carriage ends. 156433 was the first 156 to be repainted in this livery and departed RailCare Springburn on 11 February 2009.[7] All SPT units are now in Saltire livery. 156492 and 499 have also been repainted Saltire livery following accident damage in October 2012. There also is a number of trains in First ScotRail livery, also known as "Barbie"-liveried trains. These trains have had First logo removed when the franchise was transferred to Abellio, but the rest of the design is left unchanged for the time being.[8] 156478 is currently receiving damage repairs after being flooded in torrential rain fall.[citation needed]

In October 2015 the Scottish Government's agency Transport Scotland announced that the first Class 156 ScotRail train to be fitted with effluent tanks, or Control Emission Toilet equipment, was about to return to service. Conversion of the rest of the fleet should be completed by December 2017.[9]

East Anglia[edit]

In early 2005, one started to receive several former Central Trains Class 156 units, which were exchanged for Class 150 units. The newer Class 156 units are more suitable for several of the longer-distance routes, and provide extra passenger accommodation, and complement Class 153 units.

The units are used on the following local services:

as well as the longer distance services between Ipswich to Cambridge/Peterborough.

Abellio Greater Anglia currently has a fleet of nine 156s.

On 21 October 1993, 156405 became the first Sprinter to pass 1 million miles, whilst working the 10:10 Great Yarmouth to Norwich service.[10]

On 17 August 2010, 156417 was involved in a collision with a slurry tanker at a user-operated level crossing. 21 people were injured, one of them seriously.[11]

Northern England[edit]

Class 156 No. 156451 at Lancaster on 1 April 2005. This unit carries the first version of Northern Rail livery.

Following privatisation, both First North Western and Arriva Trains Northern operated Class 156s on their respective routes. The majority of these workings were inherited by Northern Rail along with their 156s at the change of franchise. The vehicles inherited from the different companies have different interiors.[citation needed]

Northern unit 156484 at Castleton East Junction.

Six former Arriva Trains Northern Class 156 units were transferred from Yorkshire to the North West by Merseyrail, to replace some overcrowded Class 142 Pacer units in the Merseyside area, after more than 20 extra Class 158s were introduced in Yorkshire. The franchise's units, split between depots at Heaton (Newcastle), Newton Heath (Manchester) and Allerton (Liverpool), operate as 'common user' on a day-to-day basis, and are liable to appear working well away from their supposed home depot's routes (the opposite of what used to happen under British Rail, when units rarely strayed from their home depot's locality).[citation needed] Within the Northern region, Class 156s are concentrated in the North-West and also the North-East, but are uncommon now in Yorkshire / Humberside, where Class 158s and others are used instead. Fourteen Class 156 units are being fitted with GPS as a trial for Northern Rail, being tested on the remote Middlesbrough-Whitby branch.[citation needed]

Northern Rail has so far introduced three new liveries. The first, carried by 156451, is mainly mauve, but with white bands. The second livery, as carried by 156425/460/464 is the inverse of the first livery. The final livery, first applied to 156461, is similar to the second livery, but with the white replaced by blue.


A Central Trains Class 156 DMU at Coventry in 2000. It is still in the old BR livery, but has a Central Trains name tag.
Recently reliveried East Midlands Trains Class 156 No. 156414 at Peterborough

In 1997, newly privatised Central Trains inherited twenty units from Regional Railways[12] for use mainly on medium-distance services such as:

  • Birmingham to Nottingham via Derby or Leicester
  • Birmingham to Hereford
  • Birmingham to Shrewsbury and the Cambrian Line
  • Nottingham to Skegness or Lincoln.

In an attempt at fleet standardisation, preparations were made during 2003 to exchange the entire Class 156 fleet for an equal number of ScotRail Class 158s,[13] and unit 156402 was partially repainted in ScotRail colours in readiness. The transfer was ultimately cancelled, and reliverying of the bulk of the fleet into Central Trains' own green-and-yellow livery took place between 2003 and 2005.[14]

A total of nine units were later transferred to One during early 2005, in exchange for Class 150 units.

At the end of the Central Trains franchise, the remaining eleven units were transferred to East Midlands Trains, who went on to repaint the fleet during 2008[15] and then carry out a £5m refurbishment programme from autumn 2010 onwards.[16] The refurbishment, carried out at Neville Hill depot in Leeds, includes interior refurbishment work, improvements to driving cabs and installation of CCTV.[17] These trains are now used on slower medium-distance services such as Nottingham/Derby to Matlock, Nottingham to Skegness, Leicester to Lincoln and Nottingham to Worksop. From May 2011, four additional units currently in use by Northern Rail will be added to East Midlands Trains' fleet.[17]


38 of the 114 Class 156 sets belong to leasing company Porterbrook, which announced in mid-2011 that they will be substantially refurbished at the time of their C6 overhauls. Seating layouts will be revised to provide priority seating and wheelchair spaces, and new universal toilets are to be installed, as also a passenger information system. Interior doors between vestibule and passenger saloon will be removed, and external door sounders fitted. The trains in question are as follows; 11 leased to East Midlands Trains, 9 to Abellio Greater Anglia and 18 to Northern Rail.[18]

Fleet details[edit]

Class Operator No. Built Year Built Cars per Set Unit nos. Notes
Class 156 East Midlands Trains 15 1987-1989 2 156401, 156403-156406, 156408, 156410-156411, 156413-156415, 156470, 156473, 156497-156498
Abellio ScotRail 48 156430-156437, 156439, 156442, 156445-156447, 156449-156450, 156453, 156456-156458, 156462
156465, 156467, 156474, 156476-156477, 156485, 156492-156496, 156499, 156500-156514
Abellio Greater Anglia 9 156402, 156407, 156409, 156412, 156416-156419, 156422
Northern Rail 42 156420-156421, 156423-156429, 156438, 156440-156441, 156443-156444, 156448, 156451-156452, 156454-156455
156459-156461, 156463-156464, 156466, 156468-156469, 156471-156472, 156475, 156479-156484, 156486-156491

Named units[edit]

Some units have received names:[19]


  • Hornby produces a version of the 156 in OO although it does not have bidirectional lights
  • Oovee Game Studios produced a Class 156 for the computer game Railworks 2
  • Dapol make a N model with bidirectional lights


  1. ^ "The Northern Interim Franchise Agreement" (PDF). Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  2. ^ "Mechanical And Electrical Coupling Index". Rail Safety and Standards Board. Retrieved 10 December 2010. 
  3. ^ dysgraphyk (n.d.). "Class Origins". 156 Super-Sprinter website. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  4. ^ a b The Railway Data File. Leicester: Blitz. 1999. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-85605-499-7. 
  5. ^ All Time Guide to Traction Classification - Part 3: Diesel Multiple Units. The Railway Centre.
  6. ^ "Class 156". (enthusiast website). 20 February 2012. 
  7. ^ "livery". Transport Scotland. 
  8. ^ "Class 156 Relivery 09-10". (enthusiast website). 20 January 2011. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. 
  9. ^ "New train refurbishment to rid Scotland’s railways of effluent". Transport Scotland. 15 October 2015. 
  10. ^ dysgraphyk (n.d.). "The British Rail Years". 156 Super-Sprinter website. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 
  11. ^ Gabbatt, Adam; Meikle, James (18 August 2010). "Suffolk rail crossing crash leaves man with life-threatening injuries". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 18 August 2010. 
  12. ^ Knight, Steven, ed. (1997). A comprehensive guide to Britain's new railway. Peterborough: EMAP Apex. OCLC 154179551. 
  13. ^ dysgraphyk (n.d.). "White 156 402". 156 Super-Sprinter website. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  14. ^ dysgraphyk (n.d.). "Central Trains Livery". 156 Super-Sprinter website. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  15. ^ "East Midlands Trains launches first re-branded Class 156 train" (Press release). East Midlands Trains. 4 April 2008. 
  16. ^ "Rail passengers welcome first trains to undergo part of £5m makeover". Lincolnshire Echo (Lincoln). 29 September 2010. 
  17. ^ a b Miles, Tony (December 2010). "EMT refurbished Class 156 launched". Modern Railways (London). p. 88. 
  18. ^ Clinnick, Richard (10 August 2011). "Sprinters have a future after overhaul contract awarded". Rail (Peterborough). p. 24. 
  19. ^ "DMU FORMATIONS". AbRail. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 

External links[edit]