Restored railcar takes to the tracks
Heritage railways in the UK usually mean the glamour, power and thunder of huge steam locomotives, bringing back memories of these fiery machines of yesteryear, racing down the main line. Not often are they about down-to-earth diesel railcars from the time when meat was still on ration in British butchers’ shops. However, that’s exactly what this unique, if somewhat mundane driving coach from a 1958 railcar is all about, and it’s set to return to service this month, 36 years after it last carried passengers. The restoration of M56182 has been a labour of love for father and son team Paul and Chris Moxon from the village of Beeston Regis, who have carried out the painstaking work in their spare time over the past nine years.
The Class 104 driving coach was built in 1958 at the now defunct Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company as part of what was then the publicly owned British Railways’ modernisation plan. The scheme was designed to bring the railway network into a great leap forward, that saw the construction of many diesel units to take over from steam trains dating from the late nineteenth century. The meticulous restoration has seen the vehicle restored to close to its original condition complete with varnished woodwork in the passengers saloons and salvaged seats of the original style including the comfortable first class saloons. Now, it’s set to take passengers back to the future, and a time before Britain was forged in the white heat of technology.
Distinctive go faster … whiskers
Looking more like a cousin of the propeller planes of the forties, rather than a contemporary of the delta-winged space-age Vulcan V-bomber, the charmingly quaint railcar is ready for active service once again. The vehicle’s frames have been overhauled, the wheels refurbished and rusty bodywork cut out and replaced prior to repainting in its original green livery with distinctive painted “whiskers” that were a modern touch at the time, and a hint of the high-speed railway reform represented by this cutting-edge technology of the day.
The wiring and instruments required for the driver’s desk have been repaired and renewed. That means the coach can once again be used as a driving car when coupled to a compatible motorcoach to make a two-car train that can be operated from either end. That was just one of the time saving innovations that made this type of vehicle attractive to British Railways’ management in the 1950s. No more running around with an inefficient and cumbersome steam locomotive.
Dinner service in pristine condition
“We are looking forward to seeing M56182 in action and carrying passengers having spent much of its life out of service and slowly decaying”, said Chris Moxon, the co-owner and restorer. “We have taken great care to return her to original condition. Although the wooden finish and comfortable seats look old-fashioned now, they were the height of modernity in the 1950s.” The railcar, and many others like it, were intended to be the economical saviours of rural lifeline services, like the network of lightly-used lines that once criss-crossed the flat plains between the towns and villages of eastern England. Fittingly, the railcar will be put to work on a vestige of that lost network.
“The coach is returning to service in pristine condition”, said a delighted Graham Hukins, the North Norfolk Railway’s Commercial Manager. “[It’s] aged sixty-five – a figure normally associated with retirement. [It] is a tribute to the dedication of Chris and the team. We are looking forward to having a Class 104 at Sheringham. The type ran Norwich – Cromer – Sheringham services in the late 1970s so it’s very appropriate the M56182 has been saved for use on the NNR.” M56182 will enter service this Saturday, 9 September, when it will run alongside one of the line’s steam locomotives and historic teak-bodied, articulated carriages built in the 1920s. In the evening the newly-restored motorcoach which will make several extra pleasure trips – with an appropriate seaside dining experience available on the last run: a hearty plate of local Fish and Chips.