Know Your Sprinters: The Class 150 Series of DMUs

An easy to digest guide to Sprinter units

On our railways, the Sprinter family of diesel multiple units have formed the mainstay of provincial services for nearly 30 years. Today, they are still common with Greater Manchester and South Wales happy hunting grounds for the DMUs. With longer distance routes covered by more modern units (i.e Siemens’ Desiros), Sprinter units of various degrees are seen on local services.

It is worth noting that some Sprinter units are more equal than others, hence this helpful note:

  • Class 150/0, 150/1: standard Sprinter DMUs, sealed ends, bodied by BREL York;
  • Class 150/2: standard Sprinter DMUs, interconnecting doors, bodied by BREL York;
  • Class 151: standard Sprinter DMUs, sealed ends, lightweight construction bodied by Metro Cammell;
  • Class 153: Super Sprinter single car DMU, interconnecting doors, bodied by British Leyland;
  • Class 155: Super Sprinter DMU, interconnecting doors, bodied by British Leyland;
  • Class 156: Super Sprinter DMU, interconnecting doors, bodied by Metro Cammell;
  • Class 158: Express Sprinter DMU, interconnecting doors, bodied by BREL Derby;
  • Class 159: Express Sprinter DMU, interconnecting doors, bodied by BREL Derby (modified Class 158 for Network Southeast);

Class 150

Class 150 Sprinter, 150274, Poulton-le-Fylde
Class 150/2 seen at Poulton-le-Fylde railway station.

The most ubiquitous of the Sprinter classes are the Class 150s. Built to replace the first generation DMUs, they entered service between 1984 and 1987. They are the only members of the Sprinter family to have doors one-third and two-third the way of each carriage and are available in 2 or 3 car forms.

The first version of the Class 150s are within the 150/0 subclass. 150001 and 150002 were prototypes with one having a Cummins engine and the second having a Voith engine. The latter proved unreliable, so the first production ones within the 150/1 subclass onward had the former.

In 1985, the 150/1 Sprinters entered service on routes out of Birmingham and Greater Manchester. They were augmented by the Class 150/2 version which have interconnecting end doors.

A common complaint about the Class 150s is poor window to seat alignment. This problem is most marked on the Class 150/1s.

  • Maximum Speed: 75 mph;
  • Engine: Cummins NT855R5 (285hp);
  • Number built: 137;
  • Bodywork: BREL York.

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Class 153

A Class 153, seen waiting to be whisked off to Leeds at Manchester Victoria railway station.

BR was looking for a modern answer to the Class 121 Pressed Steel single car units. Due to expense they converted most of their Class 155s instead of the Class 156 into single car units. Split into single cars, the Class 156s would have been Class 152s. Instead, the split Class 155s would be converted in 1991 as Class 153s.

On lightly used lines, a solitary Class 153 has often sufficed instead of a two-car DMU. In urban areas, they are used to provide extra capacity on popular routes.

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

Class 155

Smoky Class 155/153, Manchester Victoria
Seen in front of the Class 153: a Class 155 leaving Manchester Victoria.

Since the late 1970s, British Rail had had experimented with the Leyland National’s bodywork on the LEV1 project. This would later spawn the Class 140 series of Pacer units, a rebodied Mark 1 coach and another variant of the Super Sprinter.

The Class 155s, alongside the Class 156s would be seen on long distance local services. Slightly sagging bodywork was one problem owing to the lightness of its construction. A further problem was the reliability of its doors which saw the units relegated to local services. The lack of table seats would have made for a less comfortable long journey, as would the smaller windows and cramped legroom.

Only seven two-car Class 155s remain in use, all operated by Northern Rail on the Manchester Victoria – Leeds/Bradford Interchange services. They entered service in Metro West Yorkshire PTE colours, before being repainted into Northern’s purple and dark blue swirls.

  • Maximum Speed: 75 mph;
  • Engine: Cummins NT855R5 (285hp);
  • Number built: 42;
  • Bodywork: British Leyland, Workington.

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Class 156

Class 156 Super Sprinter, 156463, Altrincham Interchange
Seen on the 0817 Manchester Piccadilly to Chester service via Altrincham is 156463.

The Metro Cammell bodied Super Sprinter was British Rail’s most successful and enduring design for medium distance Provincial Sector services. Entering service in 1987, they would provide a more adequate replacement for loco-hauled services than the Class 150s.

The Class 156s have better insulation and an improved seating layout over the Class 150s and Class 155s. Even so they are not without their drawbacks as loading and unloading at peak hours can be slow. Since introduction in 1987, they would replace some Trans-Pennine express diesel hauled trains, before being replaced by Class 158s in 1991.

With single leaf doors, they were designed for limited stop services with doors at each end of the carriage. Today it is not uncommon for them to be seen on local stopping services as well as their original purpose.

  • Maximum Speed: 75 mph;
  • Engine: Cummins NT855R5 (286hp);
  • Number built: 114;
  • Bodywork: Metro Cammell, Washwood Heath, Birmingham.

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Class 158

Class 158, platform 2, Preston railway station
158843 seen on a York bound service at Preston.

Whereas the Class 156 was an improvement on the Class 150s, BREL Derby’s Class 158 was a genuine improvement on the Class 156s. Soon, InterCity style comfort (well almost) would be seen on regional express services (which prior to sectorisation in 1983 would have fallen under Inter-City). This would include the Manchester Piccadilly to Cardiff Central and Trans-Pennine Express services.

They were the first members of the Sprinter family to utilise air conditioning and they had a pay telephone. Some were modified to include First Class accommodation. From 1989 – 1992, 182 sets were built. Much criticism was made about the tight legroom dimensions, but there was a fair balance of airline style seats and table seats. From 1991, they became a regular feature of Regional Railways’ Transpennine Express routes, resulting in higher passenger numbers.

They see regular service on East Midlands Trains’, Northern Rail’s, Scotrail’s and Arriva Trains Wales’ routes. First Transpennine Express’ were replaced by Siemens’ Class 185 Desiro units.

  • Maximum Speed: 90 mph;
  • Engines: Cummins NTA855R1 (350hp)/Perkins 2006-TWH (350hp)/Cummins NTA855R3 (400hp);
  • Number built: 182;
  • Bodywork: BREL Derby.

Class 159

The Class 159 DMUs came about as a solution to two problems. One, the Exeter to Waterloo service needing new trains. Two, a recession and one which left Regional Railways with a surfeit of Class 158s. Another British Rail Sector would step in: Network Southeast.

In 1992 – 93, Dorset and Devon got its new trains. This was a cheaper option than building a series of mini-High Speed Trains or electrification. Therefore, the 3 car units, now numbered Class 159 would be the solution. 22 were converted for Network Southeast, but a further eight were converted to Class 159/1s after being converted from Class 158/0s (previously seeing service for First/Keolis Transpennine Express).

Today, they are operated by South West Trains and remain in use between Waterloo and Exeter. They were refurbished in 2008.

  • Maximum Speed: 90 mph;
  • Engines: (Class 159/0) Cummins NTA855R3 (400hp)/Cummins NTA855R1 (350hp);
  • Number built: 22 (Class 159/0)/8 (Class 159/1);
  • Bodywork: BREL Derby.

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Class 151: The One That Went Away

Not all members of the Sprinter family enjoyed a lengthy sojourn. Built as a prototype and bodied by Metro Cammell in 1985, the Class 151 looked like a cross between a Class 150 and a Class 142 Pacer unit. Its doors were in a similar position to the former DMU. Seating was in a 2+3 high density layout, similar to the bus seats seen on the Pacer units (and a similar moquette style).

Gearbox problems which led to jerky shifts and violent shocks made the two prototype units problematic. This was solved in the Class 154 (now part of the Class 150 family) but interest in the prototypes disappeared. The two 3-car units were tested on the Derby to Matlock service and withdrawn from service in 1989.

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Before I go…

Feel free to comment away on the Sprinter units. We would particularly welcome comments on the Sprinter family from an operational point of view as well as from a passenger’s angle.

S.V., 09 August 2013.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Sidorczuk says:

    Once again, Stuart has come up with an excellent offering to the railway followers of this well produced website..


    1. Hi Paul,

      Many thanks for your praise, much appreciated. 🙂




  2. Ady says:

    Agree with you Paul, Stuart manages to remind me of my childhood most of the time which is wonderful. Although as a child I HATED the 158s and was over the moon when they were off loaded to South West Trains.

    Wasn’t too keen on the 150 class either as they seemed to be the preserve of the Huddersfield – Stalybridge – Victoria – Liverpool/Southport corridors, and as you said, with their poor seating alignments, the trips out were extremely dull on there. The only plus point was the 3×3 facing seats which were perfect if you could snap them up all to yourself.

    155s I could remember as the red and white WYPTE livery and extraordinarily riveted exterior, waiting to leave from Victoria to Leeds, I never remember these units ever working elsewhere around Manchester.

    156s were my favorite though and usually ended up in my experience having to run to Blackpool – Manchester Airport or Buxton. There was something pleasant about carpeted walls and big black plunger buttons to open the toilet doors.


    1. Hi Ady,

      I have rather fonder memories of the Class 158s because their arrival coincided with a pivotal point in my teenage years. On having the joy of boarding one in August 1995 (from Stalybridge to Scarborough), it was my first proper train journey (by which I mean any single journey greater than an hour and in excess of 50 miles) for several years.

      From then on, my love of all things rail related was rekindled. Not least the fact I was following the privatisation process with great interest back then. In more recent times, my other most memorable rail journey aboard a Class 158 was from Doncaster to Bridlington, after seeing a good friend of mine deliver a lecture on autism spectrum conditions.

      I too aren’t overly keen on the Class 150s though find them a better substitute to the Class 142 Pacer units. On the stopping service from Manchester Victoria to Huddersfield, I find the Class 150s most suited to that run (wide doors for fast loading/unloading). During peak hours, not quite as good if passengers use the centre seat of a triple seat within the unit’s 3+2 layout for luggage.

      As to whether you’ve seen Class 155s outside of Manchester Victoria, Arriva Trains Northern (later Transpennine Express along this route) used to run an 18 minutes past the hour journey from Leeds to Manchester Piccadilly from 2001-02 to 2004 using a 2 car Class 155. This was laughably Stalybridge’s Transpennine Express service which operated from Leeds to Manchester Piccadilly, with eastbound journeys from Manchester Airport to Bridlington (at 15 minutes to the hour from Stalybridge). Sometimes Class 150/1s would be used. (This led to the then Stalybridge and Hyde MP James Purnell petitioning for the reinstatement of the previous timetable which was successful).

      On a medium distance service, I cannot fault the Class 156s but the only criticism I have is the slowness of the doors. From past experience, I’ve often found the seating most comfortable of the Sprinter family (though the BR inherited seats on the Class 150/2s run a close second). Particularly so on the Northern ones inherited from Northern Spirit. I’ve always found the tables good for doing written work and/or resting the bag on. I too remember seeing them on the Manchester Airport – Blackpool North service and for a short time, some were refurbished by North West Regional Railways. After internal refurbishment and a slight modification to the Regional Railways livery in 1996 (a green below cantrail stripe), they were marketed as North West Express routes.

      Bye for now,



  3. Paul Sidorczuk says:

    Will a series on the Class “14x” Pacer series follow on from this most informative article ?


    1. Hi Paul,

      Seems like a good idea. An article on the Pacers themselves (Class 140 – 144) could be a suitable companion to an earlier article I have written on Greater Manchester’s Love-Hate Relationship with the ‘nodding donkeys’.

      Bus enthusiasts may concur with the fact our much maligned Pacers use 40+ year old bodywork techniques! Therefore, our story begins with the development of the Leyland National some 45 years ago.

      Bye for now,



      1. Paul Sidorczuk says:


        I do hope that you do find time to compile a Pacer series article, with your usual excellent pictorial additions, to complement this one on the Sprinter series.


  4. John Wood says:

    If anyone is interested in doing something more on Class 155 and Class 153, I would be happy to help.
    I was Rail Service Executive at Leyland and Project and Works manager for the Class 153



  5. John Wood says:

    Not just in this blog but others relating to Leyland trains. Please note that the correct company title is Leyland Bus. The name ‘British Leyland’ was for the previous nationalised company (making cars, trucks and buses) before Leyland Bus was separated off and privatised.


    1. John Wood says:

      Another irritation to me is the suggestion that Hunslet Barclay had some involvement in the Class 153. They definitely did not. All the conversion work was done by Leyland Bus at their Workington rail vehicle workshop.


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