British Rail Class 158

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British Rail Class 158 Express Sprinter
Crewe - Keolis-Amey 158830 Chester service.JPG
Transport for Wales 158830 at Crewe in 2020
Train Interior (14099118197).jpg
Refurbished Arriva Trains Wales interior in 2014
In service17 September 1990 – present
ManufacturerBritish Rail Engineering Limited[1]
Built atDerby Litchurch Lane Works[1]
Family nameSprinter
Number built182 sets (8 converted to 159s)
Number in service174 sets
Formation2 or 3 cars per set
CapacityNorthern Trains:
138, 142 (158/0 & 158/9) or 207 (158/0) seats per unit[2]
South Western Railway:
125 seats per unit[3]
Transport for Wales:
138 seats per unit[4]
Car body constructionWelded aluminium[1]
Car length23.21 m (76 ft 2 in) (GWR)[5]
22.57 m (74 ft 58 in) (Angel)[6]
Width2.7 m (8 ft 10 in)[1]
Maximum speed90 mph (145 km/h)[1]
Weight37.8 t (41.7 short tons; 37.2 long tons) or
38.5 t (42.4 short tons; 37.9 long tons) per car[1]
Traction systemDMU[1]
Prime mover(s)one per car
Cummins NTA855R1
(158701 - 158814 and 158901 - 158910)
Perkins 2006-TWH (158815 - 158862)
Cummins NTA855R3
(158863 - 158872)
numbers as built[1]
Engine typeDiesel
Power outputCummins: 350 hp (260 kW)
Perkins 350 hp (260 kW)
Cummins: 400 hp (300 kW)[1]
TransmissionVoith T211rz or T211rzz hydraulic
Gmeinder GM 190 final drive
2 axles driven per car[1]
Acceleration0.8 m/s2 (1.8 mph/s)[7]
Braking system(s)Pneumatic, Disc[1]
Safety system(s)AWS, TPWS, ETCS[8]
Coupling systemBSI[9]
Multiple workingClasses 14x, 15x and Class 170[9]
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge

The British Rail Class 158 Express Sprinter is a diesel multiple-unit passenger train (or DMU), built for British Rail between 1989 and 1992 by British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) at its Derby Litchurch Lane Works. They were built to replace many locomotive-hauled trains, and allowed cascading of existing Sprinter units to replace elderly 'heritage' DMUs.[10] The Class 158's sister class, the Class 159 DMUs, are almost identical to the Class 158s; being converted from Class 158 to Class 159 in two batches to operate express services from London Waterloo to the West of England.[11][12]


The Class 158 is a two- or three-car diesel unit designed for regional express services. The bodyshells are aluminium with doors at each end of the passenger saloon. Each vehicle is fitted with a diesel engine supplied by Cummins or Perkins, powering a Voith hydraulic transmission driving both axles on the inner bogie. The engines were rated at 350 hp (260 kW) or 400 hp (300 kW) depending on the batch. Maximum speed is 90 mph (145 km/h).[1] Most units were built with two coaches, but a batch of units contained an additional centre car for the busy Transpennine Route. Each vehicle is fitted with a BSI autocoupler at both ends; however, only the cab ends have automatic electrical connecters. This allowed three-car sets to be formed by inserting an additional driving car into a set with an adaptor for two different gangway sizes.

Most units were built with standard-class accommodation only, but some Scottish-based sets were fitted with a small first-class section in one vehicle. Other sets were later retrofitted with first-class accommodation. The passenger saloons are air-conditioned, a first for regional trains in the UK. Toilets were fitted to both vehicles; one was wheelchair-accessible (as defined at the time of construction) and one standard. A wheelchair space was provided in the passenger section closest to the accessible toilet. Luggage racks were fitted at each end of the saloon, one of which is capable of being locked for mail and parcels.



A total of 182 units were built.[13] The majority were built as two-car sets. 17 units were built as three-car units; eight of these units have since had the centre car transferred to different units of the class, whilst another eight have been upgraded to be Class 159s.[11] The final ten units were built specifically for West Yorkshire PTE Metro services around Leeds.[13][14]

Passenger facilities and performance[edit]

The interior of a Northern Rail refurbished Class 158 (First Refurbishment)

When introduced, British Rail described the Class 158s as bringing "new standards of comfort and quality to rail travel on Regional Railways' key long-distance cross-country routes".[15]

As built, interiors were described as fully carpeted, with "panoramic" windows and a variety of seats arranged both airline-style and in bays of four around tables. Unlike previous members of the Sprinter family, such as the Class 156 SuperSprinter, the Class 158s featured air conditioning, an on-board payphone, power-operated interior doors, a toilet in each carriage, and provision for a refreshment trolley service. Despite an increased top speed of 90 mph (145 km/h), the units also promised a smoother, quieter ride than its predecessors.[15]

The Class 158s were expected to achieve 13,500 miles (21,700 km) of operation between major services and a range of up to 1,600 miles (2,600 km) from each refuelling.[15]

Technical problems[edit]

Despite the attention given to passenger facilities, the build and engineering technology of the Class 158s has caused some issues.[16] As a lightweight unit and the first members of the Sprinter family to use disc brakes, autumn leaf mulch built up on wheel rims and prevented the units from correctly operating signalling track circuits.[17] Though later solved by installing scrubbing blocks to clean the wheels, temporary solutions were sought in October 1992, with some units split and formed into hybrid units with Class 156 coaches,[18] as the latter had tread brakes which cleaned the wheels as a by-product of their operation.

The class has also suffered from unreliable air-conditioning systems[16] since the outlawing of the CFC gases with which they were originally designed to work.[19] Following privatisation, many operators undertook to re-engineer or entirely replace such equipment.[20] As a result, the systems in use and their effectiveness now vary across the fleet.

The lightweight aluminium body of the Class 158s leads to a good 'route availability' score,[1] meaning that it is able to operate in parts of Britain where heavier units cannot. However, the units were refused permission by Network Rail to operate on the Conwy Valley and Borderlands lines due to station dwell times and issues of platform clearance.[21][22]


British Rail[edit]

British Rail 158819 at Bristol Temple Meads in 1993

ScotRail was the first part of British Rail to introduce the Class 158s to public service in September 1990.[23][24] These were employed on Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Waverley services, as well as services to Aberdeen and Inverness.[citation needed] The Class 158s then went on to be deployed elsewhere in Britain, primarily in the Midlands, Northern England, Wales and the South West.[15]

With the majority of the fleet coming under the control of the Regional Railways division, the Class 158s became a mainstay of secondary express services between provincial towns and cities. Examples included long-distance TransPennine services in the north of England, as well as a range of upgraded regional services under the Alphaline brand in the Midlands, Wales and the South West.

A small batch of units numbered 158747-158751 were used by InterCity to supplement its core fleet on some cross-country services, mainly from the North West to Scotland, but also to Portsmouth. Units regularly appeared on off-peak workings between Birmingham and Manchester, and also on Sunday mornings between Birmingham and Doncaster.[citation needed]

Post privatisation[edit]

After the privatisation of British Rail, the Class 158 fleet was divided among several franchises.


A First ScotRail class 158 at Glasgow Central in 2013

The first privatised incarnation of ScotRail inherited a 46-strong fleet which continued in service.[25] Following the introduction of newly built Class 170 Turbostar units on primary express services in 1999, the Class 158 fleet was reduced in number by six, with those remaining cascaded away to secondary routes such as the Far North Line.[26]

In 2003, plans existed for part of the fleet to be swapped with Class 156 units operated by Central Trains, as the latter were thought better suited to some of the short-distance routes now being operated by ScotRail's 158s.[27] However, this failed to materialise and by the mid-2000s operations of the ScotRail 158s ranged from short hops (such as Glasgow Queen Street to Anniesland) to rural lines and long-distance expresses, supplementing other express units. In 2010 these units started to appear at Glasgow Central station to run on the Glasgow Central to Edinburgh via Shotts line, and on to the Glasgow Central to Whifflet line. Some additional units have since been acquired from other operators to provide extra capacity.[28]

Refurbishment and reliverying has also taken place since privatisation. The original ScotRail franchise applied its own livery to the Class 158s, followed by a further repaint by First ScotRail after it took control of the franchise. The fleet has now gained a permanent blue-and-white livery based on the Scottish Saltire, after Transport Scotland announced in September 2008 that it was specifying a permanent livery for all Scottish trains, which would not be changed in the event of a change of franchisee.[29] Interiors have also seen attention on more than one occasion. The most recent refurbishment of 25 units involved repainting, new seating, extra luggage space and new customer information systems.[30][31][32] Toilet retention tanks were also fitted.

In 2018, the additional 8 units acquired by Scotrail from other TOCs were transferred to Northern in stages - the first two occurring in February 2018 and the remainder in December 2018.

Several of the ScotRail units have had names attached - for example 158702 is named BBC Scotland - 75 Years, 158707 is named Far North Line - 125th Anniversary, 158715 is named Haymarket and 158720 is named Inverness and Nairn Railway - 150 Years.

Transport for Wales[edit]

Unrefurbished Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) 158823 at Barmouth in 2009. Class 158s are required on Cambrian Line services as they are the only Transport for Wales trains fitted with the ERTMS signalling used on the line.
158826 at Tywyn station in Transport for Wales colours.

In the early days of privatisation, the Class 158 Express Sprinter units were in regular use by Wales & West on its long-distance Alphaline services from South Wales to North-West England, North Wales, Cornwall and London Waterloo, as well as on some Central Trains services to Cardiff Central and along the Cambrian Line.[citation needed] Successor companies Wales & Borders (2001) and Arriva Trains Wales (2003) continued to use this type of unit on similar workings, with a total allocation of 40 units also allowing Cambrian Line services to become entirely Class 158-operated.[33] By the end of 2006, a total of 16 units (158815-158817 and 158842-158854) had returned to the leasing company[34] as Arriva gained exclusive use of the entire Class 175 Coradia fleet which had previously been shared with other train operators.

The remaining 24-strong Class 158 Express Sprinter fleet became permanently based at a purpose-built depot in Machynlleth during 2007.[35] Despite initial problems in retro-fitting the necessary 'glass cockpit'-style driver controls,[36] Arriva's Class 158 Express Sprinter units became the first fleet in the UK to be equipped for regular use with the ETCS Level 2 signalling system.[8][37] Commercial operation under ETCS started on 28 March 2011.[38]

Accordingly, the units operate all Cambrian Line services between Mid Wales and Birmingham, as well as supplementing the Class 175 Coradia units on other long-distance routes.[citation needed] In 2009, Arriva also proposed using the fleet to provide a direct service between Aberystwyth and London,[39] although this proposal was later rejected by the Office of Rail Regulation.[40]

A complete refurbishment programme to provide the Class 158s with full 'as new' interiors took place between December 2010[41][42] and October 2012. Funded by the Welsh Assembly Government at a cost of £7.5m, work completed included interior and exterior repainting, along with replacement of seating, wall coverings, carpets, lighting, luggage racks and toilet fittings. A passenger information system has been fitted, while selected seats gained at-seat power sockets for mobile phones and laptops.[43]

Until this refurbishment, the fleet had seen only minor attention to its interior since a refit by Wales & West in the late 1990s (little more than the fabric on the older seats changed and CCTV fitted) as well as having been only partially repainted into Arriva colours externally. The door controls and exterior destination displays did start to be replaced before the major refurbishment.[34]

WiFi was fitted in 2017, and Persons with Reduced Mobility modifications began in June 2018, with toilet retention tanks also being fitted. On 14 October 2018, these units transferred to Transport for Wales. In February 2019, the first unit was seen in Transport for Wales colours. These are set to be replaced by 2023 by Class 197 units.[44]

East Midlands Railway[edit]

A pair of East Midlands Trains Class 158s, led by No. 158854, at Sheffield

The Class 158 Express Sprinter Units were introduced to the East Midlands by Regional Railways Central to replace the Class 156 SuperSprinter on long-distance express services branded as Alphaline, such as Norwich to Liverpool Lime Street via Nottingham. Following privatisation, Central Trains operated these services but quickly procured a large fleet of Class 170 Turbostar units for such services and transferred the Class 158 fleet to secondary routes such as Birmingham New Street to Hereford and Derby to Matlock.[citation needed]

East Midlands Trains (EMT) had a fleet of 25 units inherited from Central Trains, with some units transferred from First Great Western and South West Trains. EMR's Class 158 Express Sprinter units operate long-distance express services (such as Norwich to Liverpool)[45] and secondary non-express workings such as Nottingham to Skegness, Nottingham to Matlock and Leicester to Lincoln Central.

The hourly Norwich to Liverpool service has been criticised for overcrowding,[46] especially between Liverpool and Nottingham. This resulted from the Department for Transport specifying two-coach units in the EMT franchise starting in November 2007. In the light of persistent and excessive overcrowding, with some passengers being left behind on occasions, the DfT eventually admitted that it had made a mistake.[45] Various cascades of other units enabled more Class 158 stock to be released for this route, and from the December 2011 timetable change the busiest services have been lengthened to four-coach trains between Liverpool and Nottingham, with units splitting and joining at Nottingham as necessary, two-coach trains being regarded as adequate between Nottingham and Norwich. Further services on this route were strengthened from December 2012.[45]

In May 2015 158889 transferred to EMT from South West Trains on a two-year loan. This allocation was then made permanent in August 2017 following Stagecoach's loss of the South Western franchise to South Western Railway.

All units passed to East Midlands Railway on 18 August 2019 and run under the “EMR Regional” sub-brand. As part of its full fleet replacement, EMR plans to replace the 158s and other sprinter units with Class 170s from 2020.[47]

Great Western Railway[edit]

Great Western Railway 158956 at Bristol Temple Meads in July 2016

The Wales & West franchise (later Wessex Trains) originally operated twelve Class 158 Express Sprinter units on long-distance services on the Wessex Main Line. These units were extended into three-coach formations with the acquisition of further units. Unlike the purpose-built three-car Class 158s and Class 159 units, the centre car was a Driving Motor with the cab locked out of use and an adapter to connect the different-sized gangways.[citation needed]

In 2006, First Great Western (FGW) inherited the Wessex Trains fleet following the merger of the Great Western and Wessex franchises. FGW then swapped most of their former Wessex Trains Class 158s for former First TransPennine Express examples. This was so that FGW could have all Class 158 units that were owned by Porterbrook.[citation needed] During late 2007 and early 2008, the FGW Class 158 Express Sprinter fleet was refurbished. Improvements included: re-upholstery of seats, and repainting or replacement of interior fittings, alterations to interior lighting and total replacement of toilets. Additionally, the windows have been replaced with safer laminated glass and Halon fire extinguishers replaced with foam ones. At the same time, the units' engines were overhauled and the units repainted in FGW's own lilac and blue colours.[48]

The fleet is now used on long-distance services between Exeter St Davids and Plymouth / Penzance, Cardiff Central and Taunton / Portsmouth Harbour and Great Malvern / Worcester Shrub Hill and Brighton / Weymouth. They are now also used on the Tarka Line on services between Barnstaple and St James' Park replacing the class 143 pacers which were running on the line. Great Western Railway operates a total of 18 units, of which 6 are hybrids (units where one end coach is a driving coach from another unit of the same class tagged on to a 2 car unit), one is a purpose-built 3 car unit and the remaining 11 are two coach sets.

Northern Trains[edit]

A four-car Class 158, Northern Trains service for Carlisle

On 1 March 2020, the units transferred to new operator Northern Trains.

Following privatisation Northern Spirit (later Arriva Trains Northern) was created from Regional Railways North East. Northern Spirit inherited a large fleet of Class 158 units, many of which were used on TransPennine Express services, with others used on West Yorkshire Metro-sponsored services. First North Western (descended from Regional Railways North West) had eight Class 158s, which were based at Newton Heath and used on various mid- to long-distance routes, which were transferred to Leeds Neville Hill depot to join the rest of the 158 fleet at the start of the Northern Rail franchise. A number of 158s are currently sponsored by Merseytravel despite the fact that they do not go near Merseyside. This sponsorship is to ensure that Class 156s were cascaded from West Yorkshire to the busiest Merseyside services.[citation needed]

In 2006, First TransPennine Express started to replace its Class 158s with newer Class 185 Desiro and Class 170 Turbostar units.[49] The Class 158s were subsequently transferred to Northern Rail, Central Trains, South West Trains and First Great Western.

Following a franchise change, all Northern units were passed to Arriva Rail North in April 2016. Northern has recently completed a refurbishment programme on the three-car Class 158 DMUs and is continuing to refurbish its fleet of two-car Class 158 DMUs.[citation needed]

In 2018, Northern acquired an additional 8 Class 158 units from Abellio Scotrail; the first few units transferring in February 2018 with the remainder in December 2018.

South Western Railway[edit]

South Western Railway Class 158 at Southampton Central

Currently South Western Railway operates Class 158s from Exeter St Davids and Salisbury to Waterloo; and on the Salisbury to Romsey via Southampton Central service.[11] South Western Railway also operates Class 159 units.

Virgin CrossCountry[edit]

Five units (158747–158751) were delivered to British Rail's InterCity business unit to operate services from Manchester Airport to Edinburgh via the West Coast Main Line.[50] All five passed to Virgin CrossCountry following privatisation, and were subsequently used on services between Swindon and Birmingham via Stroud until they were displaced by new Class 220 and 221 units.[51][52]


Operating Company Livery
Regional Railways Regional Railways Class 158.png
Northern Trains
Class 158 Arriva Northern 2 Car.png
Arriva Trains Wales Class 158 arriva trains wales diagram.PNG
East Midlands Railway Class 158 East Midlands Railway Diagram.png
East Midlands Trains Class 158 East Midlands Trains Diagram.PNG
South West Trains Class 158 South West Trains Diagram.png
South Western Railway Class 158 swr livery.png
ScotRail ScotRail Class 158.png
Transport for Wales Class 158 in the Transport for Wales livery.png

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On 3 December 2005, unit 158856 was involved in an accident at Elsenham in which two passengers were killed whilst crossing the line. The RAIB criticised the risk assessment at the crossing as inadequate.[53][54]
  • On 1 February 2008, the same unit 158856 collided with debris from an overline footbridge, which had just been accidentally demolished by a tipper lorry, near Barrow-upon-Soar. The lorry driver had forgotten to fully lower the tipper body after delivering materials to a site next to the railway, and drove into the footbridge, knocking its superstructure onto the track. The DMU hit the footbridge debris approximately one minute later. Three people including the driver were taken to hospital.[55]
  • On 22 January 2010, unit 158701 was derailed at Dingwall due to faulty points. One person sustained minor injuries.[56]
  • On 21 July 2013, unit 158774 was parked empty at Norwich when it was run into by 156402. Eight passengers were injured. The cause was driver error.[57]
  • On 1 April 2017, unit 158758 collided with the buffer stops at Preston at a speed of 6 mph (10 km/h). Fifteen people were injured. The cause was driver error.[58]
  • On 31 October 2021, a South Western Railway Class 159 unit, 159102,[59] collided with a Great Western Railway class 158 units, 158762 and 158763, at Salisbury tunnel junction, immediately before Fisherton tunnel.[60][61] A preliminary RAIB report found the cause was poor adhesion conditions which led to the SWR train over-running a signal at danger.[62]

Overseas sales[edit]

State Railway of Thailand[edit]

ASR Class

In 1990–1991, BREL built six 3-car ASR class units based on the Class 158 for State Railway of Thailand.[63][64]

Fleet allocation[edit]

Class Operator No. Cars Unit number
158/0[65] ScotRail 40 2 158701–736, 158738–741
Great Western Railway 11 158745, 158747, 158749–750, 158760, 158762–763, 158765–767, 158769
7 3 158798, 158950–951, 158956–959
East Midlands Railway 26 2 158770, 158773–774, 158777, 158780, 158783, 158785, 158788, 158799, 158806, 158810,
158812–813, 158846–847, 158852, 158854, 158856–858, 158862–866, 158889
Northern Trains 35 2 158782, 158784, 158786–787, 158789–797, 158815–817, 158842–845, 158848–851, 158853,
158855, 158859–861, 158867–872
8 3 158752–759
Transport for Wales 24 2 158818–841
South Western Railway 8
Converted to Class 159 8 3 158800–801, 158803–805, 158807, 158809, 158811
158/9 Northern Trains 10 2 158901–910



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Further reading[edit]

  • Knight, Steve (19 October – 1 November 1989). "Class 158 preview". RAIL. No. 107. EMAP National Publications. p. 9. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.