Go back to your stations and prepare for backache, piles and migraines ahead…

Greater Manchester, besides having more Pacer units than anywhere else on the planet plays host to some rather grim trains. Most of which are fellow Northerners built in Lillyhall, Workington from bus bodies. Till recently, a lot of our rolling stock were cast-offs from the South of England. By 2012, we will getting some more Southern cast-offs, though seven of these are returning to their spiritual home. They are the seven Pacer units returning to the North of England from First Great Western, four of which The Infamous Oldham Four, referring to the spare units used on the Oldham-Rochdale Loop line.

For the purpose of our new feature, The Infamous Five Alive, we are focusing on the railway carriage interiors which have brought shame onto our railways.

1. The Merseytravel PTE specification Class 142 Pacer unit:

Class 142 Pacer interior (Merseytravel PTE specification)

Reasons for the Prosecution:

  • Hard seat cushions: piles of misery for Manchester Piccadilly to Sheffield passengers;
  • Badly angled back rests: park benches offer better back support;
  • Poor legroom: even Little Jimmy Krankie would struggle on the shortest of journeys. Fandabidozi? Not!

Reasons for the Defence:

  • The Stanhope carriages were worse: at least the Pacers have seats and proper cover. The Stanhopes had no seating, a rudimentary roof and a hole in the floor for drainage on rainy days!;
  • Low backrest heights make for better window views: refer to Class 150/1s for poor window view peeves;
  • Excellent indoor indicator: as seen on most modern trains, Merseytravel PTE had the good grace to add an indoor indicator so commuters would know if their train was going to Southport or Sheffield.

Conclusion: the Merseytravel PTE interior is a concrete example of that hackneyed phrase ‘You can’t polish a turd’. Instead, they polished fifteen of them. Most of these have been banished to Newton Heath depot where Mancunian commuters are offered the fringe benefits of piles and backache. Ouch!

2. The Class 150/1 (Creative Commons image by Ingy the Wingy)

Class 150 Sprinter, Moses Gate station

Reasons for the Prosecution:

  • Poor seat to window edge alignment: for the first rule of train design, make sure seats line up with window edges. There’s that rule breached straight away;
  • Restricted views: double fail, especially where backwards facing seats opposite forward facing seats give passengers a great view of a window pillar (-20 points for Craven Cottage/Goodison Park/Wetherby Road Restricted View Syndrome);
  • No tables: though not a factor applicable to the Pacer units, Class 150s were seen on medium-long haul routes. For example, Holyhead – Hull in the late 1980s, where tables were sorely missed;
  • Oppressive vestibule layout: great for standees on short haul trips, though rather dated in 2011. Lovingly addressed on the 150/2s;
  • Lack of waste bins: some units lack bins thus meaning a trip to the bog for the careful disposal of one’s paper cup. The rest use the whole DMU as a dustbin.

Reasons for the Defence:

  • Recent refurbs include tables: hooray! Arriva Wales’ Class 150s have tables, some of which are now seen on the Manchester – South Wales routes;
  • Wide doors: excellent for alighting on busy routes;
  • Commodious toilet: could also be seen as a disadvantage; smaller cubicles could have added another two to six seats per unit, but excellent from an accessibility view.

Conclusion: though more comfortable than the Pacer units, the Class 150/1s are largely letdown by poor seat to window edge alignment.

3. The Leyland bodied Mark 1 coach (Image © 2003 Canterbury Chris):

National Express Mark 1?

Reasons for the Prosecution:

  • Airline seats: the original Mark 1s had comfortably bouncy seats, most with tables. These eschewed tables in favour of airline seats apart from 16 astride tables at each end and a similar number at the middle;
  • Partitioning halfway through the carriage: this is a nod to the earlier Mark 1s where a vestibule at the middle accommodated an entrance halfway down the carriage. Serves no purpose;
  • Dowdier looking than the Mark 1s with original bodywork, let alone its forerunners: could you imagine seeing a rake of ten Leyland bodied Mark 1s on an Inter-City route? The small windows would make for a deeply unattractive way to travel from Manchester Piccadilly to Brighton.

Reasons for the Defence:

  • They were never made in great volumes: just two were re-bodied: one carriage was tested and brought into revenue earning service between Manchester Piccadilly and Brighton during 1983 and 1984;
  • A rare outbreak of common sense saw the re-bodying project cancelled as the press thought British Rail was bringing back third class travel (though this could have applied to the Pacers a year after).

Conclusion: for anyone curious about the re-bodied Mark 1 coaches, the Class 153 and Class 155 units offer a taster of ‘what could have been’.

4. First Great Western Mark 3 carriages (Creative Commons image by Alex Drennan)


Reasons for the Prosecution:

  • Overcrowded seating layout: why change a winning team? The standard comfortable BR interior was mercilessly ripped out in favour of one akin to the Leyland bodied Mark 1 carriage (-50 points for cramming over comfort);
  • Airline seats galore: see also Leyland Mark 1 and Class 155 for inspiration. Ambience downgrades very essence of Inter-City travel (-50 for that).

Reasons for the Defence:

  • The seats look good: though flatter to deceive;
  • At least the armrests are retractable: which is more than could be said of the BR designed seats;
  • Thankfully, none of these have refurbished examples have reached Manchester. Yet.

Conclusion: I love the Mark 3 carriages anyway and consider them to be BR’s Finest Hour in carriage building, in terms of construction and ambience, surpassing modern day trains. First Great Western’s refurbishment is an insult to the British Rail engineers who did their utmost to improve passenger comfort levels. Shame on you.

5. Class 141 Pacer unit (Creative Commons image by BJ Morley)

Class 141 Second Generation DMU

Reasons for the Prosecution:

  • It’s like the inside of a Leyland National: and the first of a bastard offspring of bus derived DMUs which would take over the North of England;
  • Bus seats: the first of many examples (as above) – thank the Lord for recent refurbishments eschewing bus seats (except the first one within this rundown).

Reasons for the Defence:

  • Lovely orange and brown moquette: almost the sort of scheme Greater Manchester Transport could have plumped for on their buses but didn’t.

Conclusion: Workington spawned a monster as subsequent examples were built to better suit the permanent way, allowing for 3+2 seating. There’s every chance that the original interior would never pass the 2019 cut-off point for disability discrimination laws referring to accessibility on public transport.

Why Stop Here?

If you can think of any more rail based interior design horrors, come on board. We would especially like to hear from you regarding tales of legroom larceny, window frame mismatches and other horrors. If you wish, feel free to defend any of the Infamous Five Alive in whatever form.

S.V., 22 August 2011.

6 thoughts on “Train Interiors from Hell: The Infamous Five Alive

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the last one still in service in Iran? poor buggers if that’s the case. The 150’s seemed to have had a mixed refurbishment, although purple and lilac, there is a variation of seats on different stock… some of which are comfier than others… but you are spot on with the window alignment.

    The FGW stock interiors are indeed crammed, a shame they’re not similar to the ‘adelantes’ they used to have, much roomier.

    A stock interior i’m not too pleased with is the NXEA class 315, the tacky pink and silver paint, coupled with the p*ss poor seats that fall through when a fly hops on, should contend with the pacers for crappest interiors. NXEA refurbished they’re former airport and Tottenham route 317’s recently to a much better standard, making it more confusing as too why the 315’s were so badly remade in the first place.


    1. Hi William,

      Go to the top of the class for your rudimentary knowledge of Iranian railway operations! Most of them were sent to Iran in 2000 (surely, shipping our most uncomfortable DMUs to foreign lands is no way of improving international relations, let alone Westminster’s with Wakefield?). Two Class 141s are in revenue earning service on the Weardale Railway, tastefully painted in the BR blood and custard express livery. A further unit is based on the Colne Valley Railway with one in BR blue and grey livery.

      Regarding the Sprinter units, the Class 150/1s have the less comfortable Chapman seats inherited from First North Western’s earlier refurbishment. The Class 150/2s retain the more comfortable Ashbourne seats from the British Rail era. They also lack the window to seat alignment issues. Prior to Northern’s refurbishment, some Ashbourne seats with the original BR moquette had harder cushions. These were present on former Arriva Trains Northern/Northern Spirit examples. More comfortable examples of Ashbourne seating were seen on GMPTE and Merseytravel PTE liveried units.

      I totally agree with you on the later FGW refurbishments. My one and only journey on the Adelante was a short one from Hereford to Colwall, and they were comfortable. Likewise the Mark 3s in their original BR seating layout.

      The pink and silver paint seems to make journeys aboard the Class 315 puke-inducing, particularly over pointwork in peak hours. Not least the fact they’ve retained half height seats, formerly seen on Merseyrail’s Class 508s.

      The Class 315s have their roots in BR’s 1970s PEP commuter train designs and were the last of that kind. The Class 317s are a halfway house between the Class 150/2 Sprinters and the Class 210 DEMU, the trains which GMPTE wanted instead of the Pacer units they were fobbed off with.

      Bye for now,



  2. I actually did a report on the 210’s, as a project that logically should of gone ahead, since it had a lower fuel consumption rate, although it’s demise was due to the requirement of platform extensions, particularly with a 4 coach train, and increased maintenance costs in comparison to te 14x’s. I’m unaware of it’s interior though, but I was aware that half of a whole carriage was occupied for a generator, so the interior would be intriguing on that carriage lol.

    Another stock up for cramming categories is certain London underground stock, with some stock nearing 45 years of age you can imagine that lol even worst with a trolley case,


    1. Hi William,

      I would say that the Class 210s weren’t given a fair hearing. If they were built for use in Greater Manchester, how much money would we have saved in electrification costs? How much time would we have saved with diversions where diesel locomotives hauling EMUs would be rendered superfluous? The Class 210 could have formed the basis of a potential HST Mark 2, albeit with the same Mark 3 derived carriages and potential for a streamlined cab. The fringe benefits would have not only solved Greater Manchester’s problems, but also the need for new rolling stock on the Ashford – Hastings route, replacing the ‘Thumpers’.

      The interior of the Class 210s were similar to the Class 317s or the Class 150/2s. If you watch the video for Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy‘ (1984), you will find a few interior and exterior shots of the said DEMU.

      I would say the longitudinal seats and standing bays also add to the crowded ambience on LUL rolling stock. I suppose this is reflective of the nature of most journeys being short distance (see also the Flexity Swift M5000 trams for similar reasons). If you look at the London Overground Class 378s, all seats are longitudinal with a mix of vertical grab rails and hand grips.

      Whether the journey’s five minutes or five hours long, I would much prefer a view of the route ahead over someone’s newspaper or armpits.

      Bye for now,



    1. Hi Nathan,

      Good call on the Pendolinos. My grouse is the dreadful seat/window alignment, which makes the ones on the Class 150/1 DMUs seem brilliant. And the windows on the Sprinter units (Class 153/155 DMUs excepted with the Leyland National style hopper windows) are longer and deeper than the Pendolinos.

      I too am not keen on the windows, but the seats – though hard – are better than the ones on the Voyager units. That I can testify having travelled from Manchester Piccadilly to Paignton on one in 2002!

      Bye for now,



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