Runaway Carriages: The Beginners’ Guide to Class 153s

Leyland’s successor to the Class 140 – 144 railbuses

“On My Own, Once Again…”: the Class 153, waiting to be whisked off to Leeds by a helpful Class 156 Super Sprinter

Being as Leyland’s National buses didn’t quite sell in the great numbers they wished for, their Workington plant also became the birthplace of the Pacer units. Besides them, there was also the Curious Incident of the Mark I Pacer Carriage (more in a future post within East of the M60). Another one of their projects was the Class 155 DMU, which later spawned the Class 153.

The Class 155

No history of the Class 153 is complete without reference to its two-car brethren. Launched in 1987, they were the medium to long distance replacement for British Rail’s first generation DMUs and loco hauled trains. Whereas the Class 150 Sprinters were hailed as replacement traction for latter journeys, there were some shortcomings which made them an inferior substitute for the Mark 1s and Mark 2s. Firstly, there were no tables. The 3+2 seating layout and airline style seating made for a cramped ambience. On the Class 150/0 and 150/1 sub classes, seats were poorly aligned with the window frames.

With the Class 150s finding their feet on local routes, British Rail’s medium to long distance Provincial Sector services were catered for by Class 155s and Class 156s by 1987. By 1988-9, Express services were catered for by more plush Class 158s.

Today, only seven two-car Class 155s remain in use. All seven units are operated by Northern Rail, frequently appearing on the Manchester Victoria – Leeds/Bradford Interchange services. They entered service in the maroon and cream of Metro West Yorkshire PTE, before being repainted into Northern’s purple and dark blue swirls.

The Class 153

Converted in 1991 from Class 155 units, the ‘runaway carriages’ became a natural successor to the Class 121 ‘bubble car’ DMUs by Pressed Steel. Today, they form the mainstay of most lightly used or short distance routes throughout the UK. In urban areas, they are often used to augment two car units where extra capacity is needed.

The original Class 155 units, whence they came from, were built with the same lightweight Leyland National bodies seen on the Pacer units. In 1991, they were converted by Hunslet Barclay.


For all you Top Trumps fans here:

  • Maximum Speed: 75 mph;
  • Seats: 72 or 75;
  • Engine: Cummins NT855R5 285hp;
  • Number built: 70 (from 35 two-car Class 155s);
  • Bodywork: British Leyland, Workington/Hunslet Barclay (conversion).

The Class 153 journey experience:

I have often found the Class 153s and their older brethren a better alternative to the Pacer units on short-medium distance services. Most of my journeys aboard the 153s have been as the third carriage added to a two-car 150/156 unit. In terms of ride quality, they lack the bounce of the Nodding Donkeys and glide along the rails just as well as the Class 156s.

Most of the seating is of the airline style with retractable tables, apart from 32 table seats at the front, rear and middle of the carriage. The best places to sit down in by far are the table seats in front of the centre partition, closely followed by the front and rear table seats. On recently refurbished units, choose your airline seat wisely; some have the DVT-tastic legroom which makes for a journey experience akin to a Merseyfailer. As with the Pacer units, the Leyland National windows make for a generally good view.


  • Smoother than a Pacer unit in terms of ride quality;
  • Table seats and full height ones at that;
  • Bright interiors, Chapman seats on Northern Rail units good for medium distance journeys.


  • Narrow doors and cramped vestibules make for slow loading and unloading (especially for buggies and wheelchairs);
  • Not enough table seats;
  • Narrow drivers’ cab at one end.

The Class 153’s role in Greater Manchester

Based in Newton Heath depot, Manchester’s Class 153s are seen reinforcing two car units in peak hours. This has been their main function since 1991 – 92. On some occasions, they have been seen on short distance local services and the (infamous) Ghost Train from Stockport to Stalybridge. Prior to the Metrolink works, some off-peak services on the Oldham – Rochdale Loop Line saw Class 153s in use.

Its sister vehicles, the Class 155s are operated from Neville Hill depot, Leeds.

Love them or loathe them?

Feel free to comment away on the runaway carriages. Whether you’ve endured the overcrowding from a Class 153 or found it an uneventful yet desirable journey, post away.

S.V., 11 March 2011.

8 thoughts on “Runaway Carriages: The Beginners’ Guide to Class 153s

Add yours

  1. Apologies l must be more specific. The contract for conversion to 153 was placed with Hunslet but they placed a sub contract with Leyland Bus to do the work That was carried out in Unit 4 near the docks at Workington.


  2. I love the sound of these units!! The relocation of the exhaust in the modified narrow cab end has somehow made the sound a little different to other Cummins NT8 powered Sprinters – this being a beefier deeper exhaust sound. There is no mistaking a 153 growl!! Having said that the exhaust does make the NT855 sound strangely similar to the LTA10-R on Pacer units in my opinion. It’s funny isn’t it how piping can affect the type of sound made by an engine the same/similar to those on other Sprinter classes.

    It has been ages since I last travelled on one (living in Beverley – East Yorks), but I remember the journey to be absolutely fine. It’s a shame PRM requirements, body sag, and corrosion issues mean that they don’t have that much hope of an meaningful life ahead – if one at all. Money in the end talks and it depends what is viable financially for the leasing companies.


    1. Hi Mark,

      I also like the Class 153s and Class 155s. Like yourself it has been a while since I travelled on one. Every time I travel on Northern I usually cop for a Pacer or a Class 150 Sprinter. The best seat on the 153s/155s for me is halfway through the carriage (one of the table seats).

      You might enjoy this shot I photographed in 2011:
      Smoky Class 155/153, Manchester Victoria

      Bye for now,



  3. Thanks Stuart, that is one great and claggy shot of what must be a sick unit!! It was probably trying to honour the memory of 1st gen DMUs with all that smoke – though Pacers as undoubtedly you will know can clag just as much!!

    I personally don’t mind where I sit in one if any seats are available – depending on how tightly crammed they are of course.

    Great article by the way, and I will try to make time to read more!!



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