Sprinter (train)

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This article is about the family of diesel multiple unit trains in widespread service in Great Britain. For the diesel multiple units built by Goninan for use by V/Line in Victoria, Australia, see V/Line Sprinter. For the rail service in Southern California, see Sprinter (North County Transit District). For Dutch EMU, see NS Sprinter Lighttrain.
Sprinter (train)
Class 155 303.jpg
In service 1984-present
Family name Sprinter
Number built 556 trainsets
Operator(s) Northern Rail
Great Western Railway
Abellio Greater Anglia
Arriva Trains Wales
British Rail
South West Trains
East Midlands Trains
London Midland
Abellio ScotRail
State Railway of Thailand
Maximum speed 75mph (Class 150, 153, 155, 156)
90mph (Class 158, 159)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge (UK trains)
1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge (Thailand trains)

The Sprinter is a family of diesel multiple unit trains in use on the British railway system. They were built in the 1980s and early 1990s by BREL, Metro Cammell and Leyland. Most have a Cummins engine with Voith hydraulic transmission, although 47 class 158 units have a Perkins engine instead. Sprinters can be seen operating in almost every part of Great Britain, from rural branch lines to commuter expresses into major cities.

Originally British Rail coined the 'Sprinter' name for the units, mainly to promote the superior acceleration capabilities of the units compared with the First-Generation DMUs they replaced. Ads such as 'The Sprinters are coming' were locally advertised in newspapers when these trains were scheduled to be introduced. Great play was also made of, in many cases, reduced journey times and on many lines timetables were changed to take advantage.


Two companies, BREL and Metro-Cammell, built 2 x three coach prototypes for the first batch of Sprinters, the Class 150/0 and Class 151.

 Class  Image  Type   Top speed   Number   Built   Notes 
 mph   km/h 
Class 150/0 150001 pancras.jpg Diesel multiple unit 75 121 2 1984 One of these BREL prototypes was very similar to the production Class 150 units, with a Cummins engine and Voith gearbox. The other was fitted with a Rolls-Royce engine and Self Changing Gears (SCG) transmission. The latter unit would suffer various problems with both of these components, but would later become the only Class 154 and was used as a Class 158 testbed.[1]
Class 151 151001 Matlock.jpg Diesel multiple unit 75 121 2 1985 Built by Metro-Cammell, these featured the same Cummins engine as the Class 150. They had aluminium body shells and American Twin Disc hot-shift gearboxes. They suffered from a jerky, violent gearshift, which was never fully rectified. BREL's Class 150 design won the contract from British Rail, and the Class 151 never entered production.[2]
Class 154 (modified class 150) 154001 Manton.jpg Diesel multiple unit 90 145 1 1985 A class of a single unit, this unit had been converted from a Class 150 prototype, fitted with a different engine and gearbox to the production Class 150s. It became a Class 158 testbed; its problematic gearbox was replaced with an improved American Twin-Disc hot shift transmission with different control software, which finally resulted in smooth gear-changes, and air conditioning was also fitted. Converted back to a standard Class 150.[3]

Production units[edit]

 Class   Number in service   Cars per trainset 
Class 150 137 2 or 3
Class 153 70 1
Class 155 7 2
Class 156 114 2
Class 158 170 2 or 3
Class 159 30 3

The production units were all built as two coach units, with the exception of 17 Class 158s and the 22 Class 159 units, which were built with an additional centre car. The Class 153 railcars were converted from the two coach Class 155s.

Class 150, 153, 155, and 156 units have no air-conditioning and a top speed of 75 mph (121 km/h); Classes 158 and 159 have air conditioning and a top speed of 90 mph (145 km/h). All units except the first two batches of Class 150s have outer-end gangways, allowing passengers to walk between trains working in multiple.

All trains in the Sprinter family have BSI couplers which allow them to work in multiple with any other trains in the Sprinter family and also Class 142, Class 143, Class 144 and Class 170 units. However, they cannot work in multiple with Class 165 or Class 166 units due to incompatible wiring arrangements.

Class 150 Sprinter[edit]

Class 150/2
Class 150/2

These were designed as commuter units and are fitted with 5 abreast seating and doors fitted at 1 and 2 thirds down the length of each car, unique amongst the Sprinter family. Early units had no end gangway, therefore in multiple-working with other Sprinter units passengers can not move between units. The 150/2s do feature end gangways, as well as two-by-two airline seating.


Currently operated by

  • Great Western Railway
  • Northern


Currently operated by

  • London Midland
  • Great Western Railway
  • Northern


Currently operated by

  • Arriva Trains Wales
  • Great Western Railway
  • Northern

Class 950[edit]

In addition to the standard Class 150 units, a single two car DMU was constructed using the same bodyshell for use as a track assessment unit on stretches of line where heavier stock cannot be safely used. This unit was initially classified as Class 180, but was reclassified in the departmental series as Class 950 upon the entry into service of the Class 180 Adelante units.

Class 153[edit]

Class 153

These single-car units were originally built as two-car Class 155 units by Leyland from 1987–88, but were converted by Hunslet-Barclay at Kilmarnock from 1991-92. The class was built for lightly used lines, replacing first generation single coach units. The conversion involved building a new cab at the original inner ends of the vehicles. The layout of the original non-cab ends was subtly different from the original cab end, so the ends are noticeably different, and the vehicle not symmetrical. The new cab is significantly smaller than the original Leyland cab and pushes back into the door area.

Currently operated by

  • Arriva Trains Wales
  • East Midlands Trains
  • Great Western Railway
  • London Midland
  • Northern
  • Greater Anglia

Class 155 Super Sprinter[edit]

Class 155

These DMUs were built by British Leyland at Workington (using a body construction technology derived from the Leyland National bus) between 1987 and 1988. Of the original 42 units built, only 7 remain, most were converted into Class 153. They have a top speed of 75 mph (121 km/h).

Currently operated by

  • Northern

Class 156 Super Sprinter[edit]

Class 156

The Class 156 units were built from 1987-89 by Metro-Cammell (now owned by Alstom) at their Washwood Heath Works in Birmingham. The vehicles, like the Class 155s, have a single leaf sliding door at either end of each coach - this feature reflected the anticipated longer journeys (with fewer stops) that the Class 156 was supposed to operate. They have a top speed of 75 mph (121 km/h). They feature medium density (2+2) seating.

Currently operated by

Class 158 Express Sprinter[edit]

Class 158 Express Sprinter in South West Trains Livery at Bristol Temple Meads, with a service to London Waterloo

The Class 158 "Express Sprinter" units were built from 1989-92 by BREL at Derby Works to replace elderly 'heritage' DMUs and locomotive-hauled passenger trains. Compared with previous members of the Sprinter family, specifically the venerable Class 156 Super Sprinter, the Express Sprinter is a large step up. Fully air-conditioned (except the driver's cabs) with provision for a trolley refreshment service and an increased top speed of 90 mph (145 km/h), the Class 158 is much better suited to longer journeys with fewer stops and provides a much quieter and more comfortable environment than its contemporaries. They feature medium density (2+2) seating in standard class and low density (2+1) seating in first class.

They are mostly fitted with Cummins engines, with the remaining 47 fitted with Perkins Engines.

Currently operated by:

  • Abellio ScotRail
  • Arriva Trains Wales
  • East Midlands Trains
  • Great Western Railway
  • Northern
  • South West Trains

and exported versions for State Railway of Thailand (differences include inward opening slam doors rather than plug doors and 4 carriages rather than 2 or 3 in the UK)

Class 159 South Western Turbo[edit]

These 90 mph trains were originally built as 3 car class 158s, but converted before entry into service. Twenty-two 3-car units were built for Network SouthEast's West of England and from London Waterloo to Salisbury, Yeovil and Exeter. They were used to replace Class 50 and Class 47 locomotive-hauled passenger trains. Units tend to operate in six or nine coach formations between Waterloo and Salisbury and in three or six coach formations between Salisbury and Exeter. They operated as single units west of Exeter - South West Trains used to operate from London Waterloo to Paignton, Plymouth and Penzance, but all services west of Exeter were withdrawn at the end of 2009.

Some surplus three coach Class 158 units, which were transferred to the West of England route in 2007, have been refurbished to Class 159 standards, and have been renumbered as Class 159/1

Currently operated by

  • South West Trains


In addition to the production types, there were two types of Sprinter proposed that were in the event not proceeded with.

Class 152[edit]

In the early 1990s, as a cost saving measure on underused rural routes, British Rail proposed converting the 2-car Class 156 into single car units, which were named as Class 152. Although the single car Sprinter did go ahead, it was eventually decided to convert the Class 155, which became the Class 153.

Class 157[edit]

In the 1990s, Strathclyde Passenger Transport was looking to update the fleet that was used to operate commuter and suburban services in and around Glasgow, with a new Sprinter type intended to be procured, which became Class 157. However, due to British Rail's financial limits at the time leading up to privatisation, these units were not ordered, with Class 170s eventually being procured.

Sprinter Variations[edit]

Class Image Operator Introduced Number Carriages End Gangways Notes
150 150142 at Ormskirk.JPG Arriva Trains Wales,
Great Western Railway,
London Midland,
1984–1987 137 2 or 3 150/0 and 150/1 no, 150/2 yes
151 151001 Matlock.jpg British Rail - Regional Railways 1985 2 3 no Both where scraped in 2004
152 Never Built Never Built Never Built 1 yes Planned conversion of class 156 into single car units.
153 153310 at Lincoln railway station, England - DSCF1310.JPG 1987-1988 originally built as class 155
1991-1992 converted to single car units
70 1 yes Single car conversion of class 155s.
154 154001 Manton.jpg British Rail - Regional Railways 1985 1 2 No Conversion of one of the 150/0, converted back to 150/0.
155 155347 C Leeds.JPG Northern 1987-1988 42 originally, 7 unconverted 2 Yes 35 units converted to 70 class 153 units.
156 156408 Peterborough.JPG East Midlands Trains,
Abellio Scotrail,
Greater Anglia,
1987-1989 114 2 Yes
157 Never Built Never Built Never Built Never Built no
158 Bristol Temple Meads - GWR 158956 arriving from Bristol Parkway.JPG Arriva Trains Wales,
East Midlands Trains,
Great Western Railway,
Abellio ScotRail,
South West Trains
1989-1992 170 2 or 3 yes
159 159015 and Partners at Wimbledon.JPG South West Trains 1989-1993 30 3 yes
950 Network Rail Class 950, 950001, Upton railway station (geograph 3818330).jpg Network Rail 1985-1986 1 2 No One of Network Rail's measurement trains.
Thai Sprinter 2503class158.jpg State of Thailand Railway 1990-1991 12 3 yes Built to Thailand's metre gauge.


On many lines, the new units were warmly welcomed. It is important to remember that while the first generation DMUs had given many years of service, in very many cases, they suffered from lack of and/or poor maintenance, with sometimes filthy and worn interiors, and leaking exhaust systems.[citation needed] Ignoring arguments over comfort and style, the mere fact that the trains were clean and new was enough to make them welcome countrywide.

The downside of the new units was the more restricted view through the windows. The Mk 3 bodyshell has a much higher window sill level than the first generation DMUs and moreover the alignment of the windows with the seating positions is poor, a problem common to much Mk 3 derived stock. The view is especially poor for passengers seated nearest to the doors, whose view is obscured by the pockets into which the doors slide when opened, or at the ends of the vehicle. Also unlike the first generation DMUs, the rear of the driver's cab was not glazed, so passengers in the front seats no longer had a view of the track ahead, which was regretted both by railfans and children.


As many sprinters are now 20 years old, TOCs are beginning to replace them. For example, London Midland have decided to replace their ageing Class 150 fleet with Class 172 Turbostars from 2010.[4] This is good news for the passenger as most Sprinters lack air conditioning [5] and have a top speed of only 75 mph. They can be noisy inside, as opening windows are needed for ventilation and there are no pressure doors at the end of each carriage, next to the external doors.[6] It is likely these trains will be 'cascaded' to other TOCs to replace Pacers, which do not meet an accessibility requirement and will be withdrawn by 2019 unless they receive an extensive refurbishment, and it will be withdrawn by 2030 as it is also too old.

Class 158 Sprinter Express trains have been augmented or replaced by Turbostar and Coradia units, allowing these to be cascaded down to lesser services and replace older and less comfortable Sprinters, which in turn replace Pacer trains. They still operate the 5 hour journey from Norwich to Liverpool replacing the Turbostar units, which have been cascaded to London Midland under the new franchise that began in November 2007, and the 4 hour Birmingham International to Holyhead, replacing Class 175 Coradia units so that they can be used on longer distance routes between Holyhead, Llandudno, Manchester & Cardiff.


  1. ^ Class 150 Sprinter Prototype
  2. ^ Class 151 Sprinter Prototype
  3. ^ Class 154 experimental DMU
  4. ^ "Govia picked to run West Midlands franchise". Railnews. 21 June 2007. 
  5. ^ The Train Drivers' Union 22 October 2007
  6. ^ The origins of the 156 sprinter

External links[edit]