201 – Chasewater Railway Museum Bits & Pieces From Chasewater News – Spring 1997– Part 2

201 – Chasewater Railway Museum Bits & Pieces

From Chasewater News – Spring 1997– Part 2

Railcars on the Chase – Part 2

DMUs in Preservation – Steve Organ

DMU carriages had come into preservation at Chasewater rather by accident.  The need to carry our visitors over the line was driven by the need to collect revenue for our more general preservation aims, and the opportunity to buy the first ‘Gloucester’ trailer driver car, and later the ‘Wickham’ two car set, were seen by the then management committee as providing Capital stock; low maintenance, light, high capacity carriages which could take the place of the fragile vintage carriages which were deteriorating badly and in need of a more thorough restoration than had previously been given.

In 1986, the present, newly formed Trust, surveyed and assessed the capital stock, and found lots of blue asbestos in the roof and side skins.  It was also clear that the bodies of these vehicles were deteriorating badly, thus raising the spectre of exposing the deadly material.  A clear and serious legal, Health and Safety, and financial liability loomed.  That was the day I bought my first bottle of Gaviscon!

A ‘lowest cost’ solution to the potential problem was sought.  Estimated of around £15,000 were given for the removal of the asbestos, and after the removal, we would have been faced with the huge task of completely rebuilding the interiors which would have been destroyed during stripping.  Time for reflection, then.

Only a few volunteers were at work at Chasewater at this time.  The Society had been forced, because of track defects, to stop running trains in 1982, at the same time that a huge debt had been accrued whilst a STEPS scheme had worked on the Railway, and the morale of the group was very poor.  The present Company had only recently been formed to amalgamate the old Society and Company into a single Charitable Trust, and whilst volunteer numbers were on the increase, carriage rebuilds were financially and physically beyond our reach.  Other preservationists had expressed interest in our DMU cars as worthy of preservation in their own right; we saw this as a possible means of disposing of our liabilities, and so we started to consider our future requirements for stock.

The new Trust had started afresh, renewing the aspirations of the earlier Society to operate considerably further with public trains than had previously been achieved.  This was to give a better chance for the locos to work, to give a longer ride to the people who paid for our projects, and to have a ‘real’ railway – with more than one station!  We also decided that we wanted to operate every Sunday from Easter to October, and that meant that we would need to provide a back up for the steam locos in case of failure or maintenance needs, so as to provide a reliable service.  Standardisation of components would clearly be an advantage, but traditional-looking stock would enhance the appearance of the Railway.  These were some of the factors which influenced our assessments of stock requirements, and gradually a consensus of opinion was achieved.

In the 1954 modernisation plan, BR had chosen to replace many traditional multi-compartment suburban and long distance steam hauled rolling stock with two types of self-propelled diesel trains; local and suburban services would have 64’ long cars with doors to every seating bay, and would therefore look from the outside much the same as carriages which had run since the 188s, albeit much longer (and therefore cheaper to maintain) than their ancestors.  Longer distance (cross country) trains would have only two or three doors to a car side, and be built variously on 57’ or 63’ 5” underframes.

In the mid 1980s, British Rail were disposing of DMU stock which had been refurbished in the mid-seventies.  The attraction of good condition, complete and relatively easy to maintain rolling stock was obvious.  For some reason, the idea of buying Mk 1 carriages was greeted by a majority of our group with derision – low capacity, poor external view compared to DMU cars, and the fact that ‘everybody’s got them; were the main objections.

Chasewater had first received the Gloucester car in 1973, it having worked in East Anglia for only 16 years since new in 1957 – the lines on which it had operated having mostly been axed.  The Wickham two car unit arrived next – one of six units built as a sample batch for assessment for the modernisation plan, but withdrawn early as non-standard, The BR Board not having proceeded to put the design into mass production.  A feature of the cross country cars was the BR Mk1 carriage style ventilating lights above each window.  Whilst essential for air circulation, these proved to be a pain in the neck to renew when vandalised.

The units available for ex BR sale in 1987 were mostly built with lots of blue asbestos, and required stripping or inspection (at a similar cost and with lots of internal damage) paid for by the purchaser prior to release from BR.  Our plans were channelled partly by this factor into looking at the cars BR planned to keep longest – the class 117 suburban and the class 108 longer distance units, most of which had been built without blue asbestos.  The 117 units were the most traditional looking, and would be available in the greatest quantity – meaning they would be quite likely to fetch only their scrap value when sold.

So what to pursue? By 1988, Mk 1s were fetching £4000, whereas rumour had it that £1200 would buy a DMU car.

Policy was finally agreed at Chasewater.  Class 117 cars were the favourite option.  We would attempt to buy two centre cars – one with lavatories and one without, so that we could operate through carriage trains without a cab at either end once loco run round facilities were established at either end of our projected running line.  A driving car would be needed to maintain the present push-pull operation, since Major Olver had spoken so favourably about the full observation available for the person in charge of a propelled train from a proper cab.  Finally, a ‘power twin’ – two car unit, one car with guard’s van and one without – would be sought to operate as required, i.e. mid-week for school parties, to cover for steam loco maintenance, (once a month) and to provide cover for failures.  The push-pull car would become a mobile spares bank for the power twin set, and one car could, when spares eventually ran out, be cannibalised to provide spares for the other four cars.

Tyseley depot became familiar with the Chasewater group over the following years.  The first car purchased was Trailer Composite (TC) No. 59444 built in 1954 at Derby, one of ten built as lot No. 30448.  The car had been stored spare at Tyseley for six months after major overhaul, not having gone onto a set because the 4 and 3 car sets were being reduced to 3 and 2 car formations by the time of its return from Doncaster.  This was being done to allow sets to accelerate better in view of the fact that deliveries of sprinter sets were running late and the older sets often had to substitute for the unbuilt sprinters, in accelerated schedules.  The ‘power twin’ two car suburban sets, with a combined 600 HP to move their 72 tons were widely referred to as ‘Mark 1 Sprinters’.  My last ride on such a set was in winter 1996, on the Clapham Junction to Willesden run, with its severe gradients and sharp curves – and a stunt pilot in the cockpit!  I was astonished at the performance of the set, and at the confidence of the driver – approaching Willesden up a very steep hill, on a sharp bend, two diamonds and other switches at the top, on the curve, with 50 mph on the clock and a temporary ‘10’ marker board alongside.  ‘Silly stunt’ I commented to a gricer alongside me.  That was the day I bought my first bottle of Grecian 2000.  Back to 59444.  What a superb buy!  Just one problem – the Trust still had no money, and there sitting at Tyseley was exactly what we needed for our first acquisition, complete with new batteries, new floor, new seat coverings, heaters still in warranty…..  and so Les Emery, at the time a Director, purchased the vehicle and brought it to Chasewater, had it painted Carmine and Cream, and ran it with the Wickham Trailer car.  Les sought partners, and the coach is now in shared ownership, still in superb fettle.

With 59444 in service, further 117 sales thought imminent, and siding space at a premium, we let it be known that  the Wickham set and the Gloucester were up for grabs.  British Nuclear Fuels near Preston were in the market for a carriage at the time.  Eric Bond, a PR Officer there, was leading a preservation group on the internal works system, and saw a role for the Gloucester as a mobile classroom, as part of a PR educational package.  The BNFL group hoped to carry out asbestos stripping on an in-house basis, made a donation to Chasewater, and took the Gloucester away – although not without incident.  But that’s another story!!!

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