British Rail Class 159

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British Rail Class 159
South Western Turbo
Exeter St Davids - SWT 159016+159009 arriving from New Yard.JPG
A pair of Class 159 No 159016 and No 159009 at Exeter St Davids
159005 MSO Interior.jpg
The refurbished interior of a Class 159
In service 1993 – present [1]
Manufacturer BREL Derby
Family name Sprinter
Constructed 1989–1992 (Class 158/0, later Class 159/1)
1992–1993 (Class 159/0)[2]
Refurbishment 2000–2001 (Class 159/0)
2007–2008 (Class 159/0 and Class 159/1)
Number built 22 trainsets (159/0)
8 trainsets (159/1)
Number in service 30 trainsets
Formation 3 cars per trainset[3]
Fleet numbers 159001 – 159022, 159101 – 159108[3]
Capacity Standard: 172[4]
First: 24[4]
Operator(s) South West Trains
Line(s) served West of England Main Line
Car body construction Welded aluminium
Car length 23.21 m (76 ft 2 in)[4]
Width 2.82 m (9 ft 3 in)[4]
Height 3.81 m (12 ft 6 in)[4]
Maximum speed 90 mph (145 km/h)[2]
Weight 37.8 t (37 long tons; 42 short tons)[2]
Prime mover(s) Diesel, one per car
Cummins 400 hp (298 kW) (Class 159/0)[2]
Cummins 350 hp (261 kW) (Class 159/1)
Transmission Voith Hydraulic T211r[2][4]
2 axles driven per car
Safety system(s) AWS, TPWS[4]
Coupling system BSI[5]
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

The Class 159 is a class of British diesel multiple-unit trains of the Sprinter family, built in 1989–1992 by BREL at the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works as Class 158. Before entering traffic, the original 22 units were modified at Rosyth Dockyard to Class 159 to operate express services from London Waterloo to Exeter and replace locomotive-hauled passenger trains.

The units were originally branded by Network SouthEast as South Western Turbo.[1][6][7][8]

History and design[edit]

A Class 159 in the 2000 version of SWT Mainline livery

In the late 1980s, the locomotive-hauled stock on Network SouthEast's West of England route from London Waterloo to Salisbury, Yeovil Junction and Exeter St Davids was in urgent need of replacement. The British Rail Class 50 locomotives were not suited to the stop-start nature of the route, and frequently broke down.[9] Because of the long sections of single track west of Salisbury following the Beeching Axe, a single breakdown could cause chaos. Various options were considered including electrification, shortened HSTs, construction of new locomotives and stock (a passenger version of the proposed Class 48), or the proposed Class 171 (an intercity version of the Class 165 – not to be confused with the later Turbostars). A study found the best options were electrification or new DMUs.[10]

With the UK economy in decline in the early 1990s, it was found that Regional Railways had over-ordered Class 158s at the same time as Network SouthEast was looking for a similar number of new diesel trains. NSE agreed to take on the surplus Class 158s.[10]

The original 22 units were built as Class 158 units, but were rebuilt by Babcock Rail in Rosyth Dockyard before entering traffic. This entailed fitting first-class accommodation and retention toilets, and various other modifications. The rebuild was required because it was not possible for Network SouthEast and the newly privatised BREL to agree terms on the variation order to NSE specification.[11]

The first unit (159004) was handed over to NSE on 6 January 1993.[1]

The 1992–1993-build units are numbered 159001-022, with individual cars numbered 52873-894 and 57873-894 for driving motor vehicles, and 58718-739 for intermediate motor vehicles. The entire class is maintained at a purpose-built depot at Salisbury.[3][2]

In 2007, eight further Class 159 units were created through the rebuilding of surplus Class 158 units displaced from TransPennine Express.[12]

All units use P4-4A and T4-4A bogies.

The units feature BSI couplers. This enables them to work in multiple with Class 158 and Class 170 units, as well as units of the same class.

Accidents and incidents[edit]


A refurbished Class 159/0 No. 159012 at Plymouth. This service to Plymouth no longer runs, all trains from London to Plymouth now being operated from London Paddington by Great Western Railway. Services from London Waterloo to Plymouth by South West Trains ceased in December 2009.

The units were dedicated to the West of England sector of Network South East, operating services between London Waterloo and Exeter; they also worked services between Salisbury and Southampton and on the Reading to Basingstoke line, replacing elderly DEMUs. They then transferred to the South West Trains shadow franchise in readiness for privatisation.

Upon the privatisation of British Rail, the West of England route passed in 1996 to the South West Trains franchise, which was won by the Stagecoach Group.[14] Starting in 2000, units were progressively refurbished and repainted from Network SouthEast's blue, red and white livery into South West Trains' express livery. Other post-privatisation modifications included clearer LED destination displays, upgraded air-conditioning, and more openable windows.

Nowadays, the Class 159s operate mainly from London Waterloo to Salisbury/Exeter in three- or six-coach formations, and between Salisbury and Exeter in three- or six-coach formations. Until the December 2009 timetable change,[15] some trains continued beyond Exeter to Paignton, Plymouth and Penzance; these usually operated as three-coach units, though at weekends there were some six-coach formations. The service to Bristol Temple Meads is now also in the hands of Class 159s.

Since 2006, the original Class 159 fleet of 22 has been supplemented by eight three-coach 158s (renumbered into the 159/1 series) and 11 two-coach Class 158s. The decision to standardise on 158s and 159s allowed the nine Class 170 'Turbostar' units to be transferred to other operators.[12] Eight went to First TransPennine Express, with the remaining unit going to Southern for integration into Class 171 Turbostars.

Refurbishments and conversions[edit]

The interior of refurbished First Class, showing the new seats, ceiling mounted LED Passenger Information Displays and improved saloon lighting
The interior of Standard Class, showing the ceiling mounted LED Passenger Information Displays and improved saloon lighting

Class 159/0 refurbishment[edit]


South West Trains began a refurbishment programme for its 22 Class 159/0s in 2000. The seats were re-trimmed and interiors repainted. The units were repainted into SWT livery.[citation needed]


The units received another refurbishment in 2008 at Wabtec Doncaster. CCTV and PIS (Passenger Information Systems) were installed,[16] new seating was installed in first class and at the same time the units received a modified version of the SWT express livery (with orange doors as opposed to the red doors on Class 444 units) for compliance with disabled access regulations.


A third refresh is underway at Brush Traction sees new seat trims, internal repaint and a new version of SWT's express livery.

Class 158 conversions[edit]

The first Class 159/1 to be refurbished was 159102 and is seen at Salisbury on the launch day in December 2006
The interior of refurbished Standard Class aboard a South West Trains Class 159/1

Eight of TransPennine's surplus three-coach Class 158 units have been refurbished to Class 159 standards at Wabtec Doncaster[12] and renumbered as Class 159/1.[3] The first updated units were delivered to South West Trains in November 2006, and by May 2007 all of the new subclass were in service.[12]

The refurbishment included making the first-class accommodation area larger and completely refitting it, brighter interior lighting with new diffusers and the plating-over of the disused toilet in the MSO vehicle. The Class 159/1s have been fitted with retention toilets. Additional alterations include the installation of a Passenger information system (PIS) and CCTV as is fitted on the 159/0s.[17]

Fleet details[edit]

Six of South West Trains Class 159 units have been named after cities, towns and an attraction along the West of England route.[3]

Class Operator No. Built Year Built Cars per Set Unit nos. Notes
Class 159/0 South West Trains 22 1992–1993 3 159001–159022
Class 159/1 8 2006–07 (converted) 159101–159108 Converted from Class 158/0

Livery of NSE Class 159 Livery of South West Trains Class 159

Routes Served[edit]

These trains serve the following routes:


A model of the Class 159 is made by Bachmann.[7]


  1. ^ a b c "Enter the South Western Turbos". Rail (192). Peterborough. 20 January 1993. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Brochure from Porterbrook (the stock owners)" (PDF). Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Class 159 Fleetlist showing unit formations. Retrieved 3 September 2007.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Marsden, Colin J. "Technical Data: Class 159". Retrieved 24 April 2010. 
  5. ^ "Historical System Data for Mechanical and Electrical Coupling of Rail Vehicles" (PDF). Rail Safety and Standards Board. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  6. ^ "Public Transport Committee Report to discuss BR service – 1991–1992". Hampshire County Council. Archived from the original on 19 March 2007. Retrieved 20 September 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Duff, Colin. "Review of Class 159 model". Southern E-Group. Retrieved 21 September 2009. 
  8. ^ South Western Turbo Destination Codes.
  9. ^ "Class 50". Southern E-Group. Retrieved 12 December 2009. 
  10. ^ a b "Class 159 page at SEMG". Southern Email Group. Retrieved 21 September 2009. 
  11. ^ Southern E-Group article (retrieved 3 September 2007)
  12. ^ a b c d Duff, Colin. "South West Trains News". Southern Electric Group. Retrieved 13 December 2009. 
  13. ^ "Report 10/2010 Collision at Exeter St Davids station 4 January 2010" (PDF). Rail Accidents Investigation Branch. Retrieved 13 February 2010. 
  14. ^ "Greener Smarter Travel: Company History". Stagecoach Group. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  15. ^ "Hansard Written Answers: Railways: Torbay". 6 May 2009. 
  16. ^ Railway Centre post about the fitment of CCTV and PIS. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
  17. ^ "Class 159 information page". South West Trains. Archived from the original on 18 June 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2007.