British Rail Class 156

The British Rail Class 156 Super Sprinter is a diesel multiple unit train. A total of 114 sets were built between 1987 and 1989 for British Rail by Metro-Cammell's Washwood Heath works. They were built to replace elderly first-generation DMUs and locomotive-hauled passenger trains.

British Rail Class 156 Super Sprinter
156489 in NR white.jpg
Northern 156489 at Dewsbury in 2018
156402 Interior.jpg
Interior of Greater Anglia refurbished Class 156
In service16 May 1988 – present
Order no.
  • 31028 (DMSL)
  • 31029 (DMS)[1]
Built atWashwood Heath
Family nameSprinter
Entered service1988
Number built114 sets (228 carriages)
Number in service114 sets
  • 2 carriages per set
  • DMSL+DMS[3]
Fleet numbers
  • 156401-156514 (set)
  • 52401-52514 (DMSL)
  • 57401-57514 (DMS)[3]
  • As built:
  • 163S (set)
  • 79S (DMSL)
  • 84S (DMS)[3][4]
  • TOC modified:
  • 140-152S (set)
  • 68-74S (DMSL)
  • 72-78S (DMS)[3][5]
Car body constructionSteel[4]
Car length23.03 m (75 ft 6 34 in)[4]
Width2.73 m (8 ft 11 12 in)[4]
Height3.81 m (12 ft 6 in)[4]
Floor height1.14 m (3 ft 9 in)[4]
DoorsSingle leaf sliding[3]
Articulated sections2
Wheelbase16 m (52 ft 5 78 in) (bogie centres)[4]
Maximum speed75 mph (121 km/h)[4]
  • 35.5 t (34.9 long tons; 39.1 short tons) (DMS)
  • 36.1 t (35.5 long tons; 39.8 short tons) (DMSL)[3]
Prime mover(s)one per car, Cummins NT855R5[4]
Engine type14-litre turbo-Diesel
Cylinder count6
Power output285 hp (213 kW)[3] per engine
Train heatingHot air from single heat exchanger[4]
Braking system(s)Air/EP[3]
Safety system(s)
Coupling systemBSI[7]
Multiple workingClasses 14x, 15x, 17x[3]
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge


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 Class 150 to ease union acceptance.[8]

In late 1985, British Rail placed an order with Metro-Cammell for 114 two-carriage units.[9][10][11]

Construction of the welded bodyshells was subcontracted out with Procor Engineering, Wakefield completing 118, WH Davis 60 and Standard Wagon 50. Aston Martin Tickford were awarded the interior fitout contract.[12] 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.[13] 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.[12][13] 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.[citation needed]


British RailEdit

156438 in Regional Railways livery in May 1989.

On 10 November 1987, 156401 conducted its first test run from Washwood Heath to Banbury. Between January and July 1988, 156401-156429 were delivered to Crown Point TMD entering service on 16 May 1988 on new services from East Anglia to North West England as well as existing services from Norwich and Cambridge to Birmingham. They also operated boat trains from Harwich to Blackpool and later Liverpool.[12]

The remaining 85 were delivered to Heaton, Neville Hill, Haymarket and Inverness. With the Class 155 units withdrawn due to faulty door mechanisms, 25 were transferred to Cardiff from December 1988, with the last remaining until November 1989. In this guise they operated services as far south as Portsmouth. In May 1991, six were transferred from Crown Point to Derby Etches Park.[12]

On 15 June 1989, 156502 was sent to the Netherlands as part of the Dutch Railways 150th celebrations. It returned on 10 July.[12] On 21 October 1993, 156405 became the first Sprinter to accrue 1 million miles, whilst working the 10:10 Great Yarmouth to Norwich service.[14]

156508 in Strathclyde livery at Carlisle Citadel in 1994

The first 100 were painted in Provincial sector's livery of blue and beige with light blue stripe. Twenty units, (156401-419/422) based at Tyseley depot, were later repainted into Regional Railways Express livery after the rebranding of Provincial. The last fourteen units were operated by Strathclyde PTE, and carried an orange and black livery. Following the delivery of the Class 158s in the early 1990s, the 156s began to be cascaded to less important services.[12]

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, named as Class 152. In the event, the decision was taken to do this with the Class 155 instead, forming the Class 153 fleet.[15]


As part of the privatisation of British Rail, the Class 156 fleet was sold with Angel Trains taking ownership of 76 and Porterbrook 38.[16][17] These were leased to several train operating companies.


First ScotRail 156457 at Oban in June 2005

At privatisation the Scottish fleet passed to the National Express owned ScotRail franchise, which used them until 2004 when the franchise was taken over by First ScotRail. All passed to Abellio ScotRail with the franchise in 2015. 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.[18]

Units 156500-514, were operated by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and originally wore its orange and black livery. This was replaced with a carmine and cream livery in 1997, that was also applied to another 14.[19][20] All have since been repainted into ScotRail's standard Saltire livery.[21]

Despite their past liveries, the former SPT units were not confined to any specific route and thus worked in tandem with the rest of the 156 fleet on other routes.

Generally units work interchangeably on local and long-distance workings, however only the fifteen RETB fitted units can operate on the West Highland Line.[22]

In September 2008 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. The first 156 was repainted in this livery by RailCare Springburn in February 2009.[23]

In December 2014, 156478 was written off by Angel Trains and sold to Brodie Leasing after being damaged by floodwaters on the Glasgow South Western Line. Brodie Leasing repaired the unit and it returned to service with Abellio ScotRail in October 2016.[24]

In 2016, a programme to fit the units with disabled toilets and effluent tanks began. Conversion of the fleet should be completed by December 2017.[25][26]

In late 2018, five units transferred to Arriva Rail North after the Class 385s began to enter service.[27]

East AngliaEdit

Having originally been based in the East Anglia region but later transferred away, in early 2005 they returned when One received nine from Central Trains in exchange for a similar number of Class 150s.[28]

The units are used on the following local services:

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

All nine passed to Abellio Greater Anglia when it took over the Greater Anglia franchise in February 2012. Despite being overhauled by Railcare, Wolverton in 2012/13, including work to make them comply with disability legislation, all were replaced by Class 755s with the last day of service being 29 January 2020.[29][30] These then moved to East Midlands Railway,[31] where they were renumbered into the /9 series.

Northern EnglandEdit

Northern Spirit liveried 156473 at Buxton in September 2007

Following privatisation, both Arriva Trains Northern and First North Western operated Class 156s and implemented their own refurbishment programmes. The two fleets were united when Northern Rail took over both franchises in 2004. Within the Northern region, Class 156s are concentrated in the North-West and also the North-East, but are uncommon now in Yorkshire and Humberside, where Class 158s and other unit types are used instead.[citation needed]

In 2011, fourteen Class 156s were fitted with GPS as a trial for Northern Rail, being tested on the Esk Valley line.[32] In 2011 four were transferred to East Midlands Trains.[33]

In January 2015, Northern Rail began to hire 156s to First TransPennine Express to operate Manchester Airport to Blackpool North services.[34] Northern Rail's fleet of 42 Class 156s passed to Arriva Rail North when the then-new franchise started on 1 April 2016. The 156s began to operate Manchester Airport to Barrow in Furness and Oxenholme to Windermere services from this date after they along with the Manchester Airport to Blackpool North services were transferred to the franchise.[35]

An additional five Class 156 units transferred to Northern from Abellio ScotRail in late 2018.[27] On 1 March 2020 the Northern units were transferred to new operator Northern Trains.


East Midlands Trains 156406 at Derby in February 2012

In 1997, Central Trains inherited twenty units from Regional Railways[36] for use mainly on medium-distance services such as:

In an attempt at fleet standardisation, preparations were made during 2003 to exchange all 20 Class 156s for an equal number of ScotRail Class 158s,[37] with 156402 partially repainted in ScotRail colours in readiness when overhauled at Wabtec, Doncaster.[38] The transfer did not proceed after the Scottish Government refused to sanction the move, and the rest of the fleet were reliveried into Central Trains' livery between 2003 and 2005.[39]

Nine units were transferred to One during early 2005, in exchange for a similar number of Class 150s.[28]

At the end of the Central Trains franchise, the remaining eleven units were transferred to East Midlands Trains, who repainted the fleet during 2008[40] and then carried out a refurbishment program from autumn 2010 onwards.[41] The refurbishment, carried out at Neville Hill depot, included interior refurbishment work, improvements to driving cabs and installation of CCTV.[42][43] 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. In May 2011, four additional units were transferred from Northern Rail to allow Nottingham to Liverpool services to be strengthened.[43]

Beginning in late 2019, the nine class 156s transferred to Greater Anglia in 2005, passed to East Midlands Railway.[44] Because they had a different public address and passenger information system to EMR's existing Class 156 fleet, they were renumbered as 156/9s.[45][46]

Fleet detailsEdit

156 Operator No. Built Year


Cars Unit nos.
Abellio ScotRail 43 1987-1989 2 156430–437, 156439, 156442, 156445–446, 156450, 156453, 156456–458, 156462, 156467, 156474, 156476–478, 156492–495, 156499–514
East Midlands Railway 24 156401, 156403–406, 156408, 156410–411, 156413–415, 156470, 156473, 156497–498, 156902, 156907, 156909, 156912, 156916–919, 156922
Northern Trains 47 156420–421, 156423–429, 156438, 156440–441, 156443–444, 156447–449, 156451–452, 156454–455, 156459–461, 156463–466, 156468–469, 156471–472, 156475, 156479–491, 156496

Named unitsEdit

Some units have received names:[47]

Accidents and incidentsEdit


The class 156 was modelled by Lima in OO gauge, with sixteen different variants available.[53] The Lima model was relaunched in 2006 by Hornby Railways.[54]

In 2017, Realtrack Models released their model of the class 156[55] in Regional Railways Provincial, First ScotRail and East Midlands Trains liveries.


  1. ^ a b c Fox 1987, p. 45
  2. ^ Fox & Hughes 1994, p. 33
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Class 156". The Railway Centre. Archived from the original on 9 March 2005.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Vehicle Diagram Book No. 220 for Diesel Multiple Unit Trains (Railcars) (PDF). Barrowmore MRG. Derby: British Railways Board. 1982. DP244, DP245.
  5. ^ "The Northern Interim Franchise Agreement" (PDF). Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  6. ^ Fox & Hughes 1994, pp. 33–35
  7. ^ "Mechanical And Electrical Coupling Index". Rail Safety and Standards Board. Archived from the original on 21 December 2013. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  8. ^ dysgraphyk (n.d.). "Class Origins". 156 Super-Sprinter website. Retrieved 11 March 2010.
  9. ^ ”Bus builders share massive BR car orders" Railway Gazette International December 1985 page 899
  10. ^ ”Super Sprinters take to the rails" Railway Gazette International July 1987 page 471
  11. ^ Mackin, Rich (2017). Class 156 DMUs. Stroud: Amberley. p. v. ISBN 978-1-4456-7141-3.
  12. ^ a b c d e f "The Class 156 Super Sprinter story" Today's Railways UK issue 87 March 2009 pages 44-56
  13. ^ a b The Railway Data File. Leicester: Blitz. 1999. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-85605-499-7.
  14. ^ dysgraphyk (n.d.). "The British Rail Years". 156 Super-Sprinter website. Retrieved 11 September 2010.
  15. ^ "The all-time guide to the UK Traction Classification System Part 3: Diesel Multiple Units" (PDF). The Railway Centre. 2 May 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 June 2014. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  16. ^ Class 156 Angel Trains
  17. ^ Class 156 Porterbrook
  18. ^ "Class 156". (enthusiast website). 20 February 2012.
  19. ^ "Strathclyde adopts new livery for fleet" Rail Magazine issue 298 12 February 1997 page 13
  20. ^ "SPT confirms carmine & cream as new livery" The Railway Magazine issue 1172 April 1997 page 62
  21. ^ SPT Liveried Class 156s Scot-rail (enthusiast site)
  22. ^ Class 156 Scot-rail (enthusiast site)
  23. ^ All Scotand's trains to get Saltaire livery The Scotsman 31 July 2008
  24. ^ Flood-damaged DMU returns to service Railway Gazette International 19 October 2016
  25. ^ "New train refurbishment to rid Scotland's railways of effluent". Transport Scotland. 15 October 2015.
  26. ^ No dumping: first of ScotRail trains refurbished with non-discharging trains will rejoin the fleet this week Evening Times 16 October 2015
  27. ^ a b "Northern announces dates for rundown of Pacer fleet" Rail Express issue 244 September 2016 page 11
  28. ^ a b "Central starts rebranding its ex Anglia 150s" Rail Magazine issue 517 6 July 2005 page 27
  29. ^ Newly refurbished Class 156 train re-enters service Abellio Greater Anglia 3 December 2012
  30. ^ Stadler and Bombardier to supply trains for Abellio East Anglia franchise Railway Gazette International 10 August 2016
  31. ^ Hitachi rumoured to have won EMR bi-mode deal Rail issue 884 31 July 2019 page 28
  32. ^ Train tracking trials Whitby Gazette 17 March 2011
  33. ^ "Northern 156s readied for EMT" Rail Magazine issue 680 5 October 2011 page 27
  34. ^ Train announcement First TransPennine Express 8 January 2015
  35. ^ Stakeholder Briefing Document and Consultation Response Department for Transport 27 February 2015
  36. ^ Knight, Steven, ed. (1997). A comprehensive guide to Britain's new railway. Peterborough: EMAP Apex. OCLC 154179551.
  37. ^ dysgraphyk (n.d.). "White 156 402". 156 Super-Sprinter website. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  38. ^ ”CT Class 156 emerges unbranded" Rail issue 466 23 July 2003 page 70
  39. ^ dysgraphyk. "Central Trains Livery". 156 Super-Sprinter website. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  40. ^ "East Midlands Trains launches first re-branded Class 156 train" (Press release). East Midlands Trains. 4 April 2008.
  41. ^ "Rail passengers welcome first trains to undergo part of £5m makeover". Lincolnshire Echo. Lincoln. 29 September 2010.
  42. ^ ”EMT starts 153 and 156 refurbishment" Today’s Railways UK issue 105 September 2010 page 64
  43. ^ a b Miles, Tony (December 2010). "EMT refurbished Class 156 launched". Modern Railways. London. p. 88.
  44. ^ East Midlands Railway unveils new look Today's Railways UK issue 212 August 2019 page 13
  45. ^ EMR's new Class 156s renumbered Rail issue 896 15 January 2020 page 21
  46. ^ Enter the Class 156/9 Rail Express issue 285 February 2020 page 90
  47. ^ "DMU Formations". AbRail. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
  48. ^ "Class investigation into landslips affecting Network Rail infrastructure between June 2012 and February 2013" (PDF). Rail Accidents Investigation Branch. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  49. ^ Gabbatt, Adam; Meikle, James (18 August 2010). "Suffolk rail crossing crash leaves man with life-threatening injuries". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  50. ^ DVV Media International Ltd. "Flood-damaged DMU returns to service". Railway Gazette. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  51. ^ Foote, Charles. "Landslip derails train leaving passengers stranded". STV News. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  52. ^ Crack, Cumbria (7 January 2019). "Disruption to rail services between Newcastle and Carlisle after train hits car". Cumbria Crack.
  53. ^ "Lima Model Railway Locomotive Reviews - Class 156 Super Sprinter DMU". New Railway Models. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  54. ^ "Hornby BR Class 156". Hornby Railways Collector Guide. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  55. ^ "VIDEO: Realtrack Models Class 156 for OO gauge". Hornby Magazine. Retrieved 5 June 2020.


  • Fox, Peter (1987). Multiple Unit Pocket Book. British Railways Pocket Book No.2 (Summer/Autumn 1987 ed.). Platform 5 Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0906579740. OCLC 613347580.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Fox, Peter; Hughes, Barry (1994). DMUs & Channel Tunnel Stock. British Railways Pocket Book No.3 (7th ed.). Platform 5. ISBN 9781872524597.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit