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Class 124 Swindon Trans-Pennine 6-car DMUs


On January 2, 1961, British Railways, North Eastern Region, in conjunction with the London Midland Region, launched its inter-city diesel multiple-unit passenger service, now branded the "Trans-Pennine," between Hull and Liverpool. At the same time an improved passenger service was introduced between Newcastle and Liverpool operated by Class 40s. All services were greatly accelerated. Important parts of the Trans-Pennine route would have regular interval, half- hourly, or hourly fast trains. Connections were also greatly improved, and the LMR emphasis that there was greater comfort as well as speed and reliability.


The former three steam services were scrapped, replaced by five through express diesel services in each direction every weekday. The new services reduced the 3 1/2 hour steam timings by an average of 45 min, with a corresponding speed-up at intermediate stages. The biggest acceleration, compared with steam timings was 67 min. Improved connections were provided at Leeds.

The new service meant that the Hull businessman, for instance, would be able to leave his office at about 09:00, catch the 09:13 train, lunch with his associates in Manchester, attend a two-hr. meeting, return by the 16:40 from Manchester, have tea on the train, and get back to Hull at 18:58, in reasonably good time for a normal evening meal at home.

Leeds- Manchester-Liverpool

The main impact of the new Trans- Pennine service was on the Leeds - Manchester - Liverpool route, where an hourly interval service was be provided. Express trains left Leeds for Liverpool at 45 min. past the hour from 07:45 until 19:45 (except at 09:45 which was to Manchester only). An additional train left Leeds at 10:18 for Liverpool, and there were also additional trains to Manchester at 08:00 and 09:15. In the reverse direction express trains left Liverpool for Leeds at 07:50, and hourly from 09:00 until 19:00.

Local Services

There was an hourly diesel stopping service between Leeds and Huddersfield which, with the fast service, provided half-hourly services between these points throughout most of the day. Also a two- hourly stopping service operated between Huddersfield and Manchester, and an hourly diesel stopping service between Liverpool and Manchester via Tyldesley will gave improved connections with the new inter-city service.

In addition there were better connections from the North East to Stoke, Crewe, Birmingham, the West of England, and South Wales, via an improved diesel service between Stalybridge and Stockport.

Improved connecting services from York and other places not on the direct Trans-Pennine route were an integral part of the new service. For instance, from York the scheme included an additional train to Leeds leaving York at 09:25 connecting with the 10:18 Trans-Pennine train at Leeds, and arriving in Liverpool at 12:06.

About 15 min. was saved on the average journey time even between Leeds and Manchester, and about 12 min. between Huddersfield and Manchester. Between Leeds and Liverpool the average saving was 27 min.


Initially the sets carried this headboard, and routeboards attached to the rooflines of intermediate vehicles.


During the first week (Jan 2nd-8th '61) over 13,000 people used the new trains from Leeds, Hull and Huddersfield alone. The NER announced that from Hull and Huddersfield the number of passengers on the route had increased by 30% and from Leeds the number had increased by 45%.

Not all were happy with the changes to the timetables on the 2/1/61, particularly to the feeder services for the Trans-Pennines. Mr Charles Grey (MP for Durham) and Mr William Ainsley (MP for Durham NW) protested in the Commons about the alterations which they claimed greatly affected Durham. The Minister of Transport replied that the changes were justified and he did not intend to interfere with the BTC's statutory responsibility for running the country's trains.

In March '61 passenger traffic on the Trans-Pennines had increased 100%.

The house magazine of Leyland, the Leyland Journal interviewed some passengers to find the reason for it's success. One regular passenger claimed the new sets had added a "new dimension" to rail travel. The griddle car was well praised, and a man said it was just not worth travelling by car. Along with services between Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Exchange which had jumped by as much as 125%, the magazine concluded that the bus-type frequency was the biggest attraction.


The new service appeared for the first time in the Summer '61 timetable, where it was seen that they introduced several mile-a-minute runs to the NER. Two of the Trans-Pennines were booked to cover the 20.5 miles from Brough to Selby in 20mins start to stop, and there were two 31min bookings over the 31.0 miles from Hull to Selby. The non-stop timing of 57mins over the 51.7 miles from Leeds to Hull by the 13:51 was 14 mins faster than any previous schedule, even diesel. The quickest from Liverpool to Hull was the 12:00 from Lime Street which took just 2hrs 48mins for the 125 miles (an average of just under 45mph) with stops at Earlestown, Manchester Exchange, Stalybridge, Huddersfield, Leeds and Selby. In the reverse direction the fastest was the 09:13 and the 15:43 from Hull, each taking 2hr 54 min with six intermediate stops.


One of the features was of course the Griddle buffet. These were operated by a staff of two and could provide immediate service of hot or cold snacks at any time, either in the buffet or in the three adjacent compartments. A good variety of dished included hot griddle-cooked Aberdeen-Angus beef in toasted bread roll with butter, price (1961!) 1s 9d, or with fried egg 3s.


The sets proved popular for excursions in the early days, particularly on Sundays when there fewer diagrams to cover. An example was on the 1st Sep. '63 when the NER ran the 'Cumbrian Scenic Tour'. It left Leeds at 09:30 and ran via Bradford Forster Square to Skipton, then via Colne to Blackburn, Preston, Carnforth and Ravenglass. Here passengers enjoyed a trip on the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. The train then continued via Workington, Keswick, Penrith, Carlisle, Settle and back to Leeds, again via Bradford Forster Square.

Pictured is a tour ran which from Leeds to Blaenau Ffestiniog on the 26th May '68, and was chartered by the Ffestiniog Railway Society. Bob Lumb.


In the early '70s the sets frequently worked beyond their normal Hull - Liverpool route on fill-in turns. A set worked to Blackpool as part of a booked duty. In 1973 this diagram involved a 5-car non-buffet set working the 13:48 Hull - Manchester Victoria, and after refuelling at Newton Heath it worked the 17:15 Manchester Victoria - Blackpool South, was stabled there overnight and returned on the 07:07 to Manchester, then formed the 12:57 to York. Apparently the sets were introduced on this line in response to well-publicised public dissatisfaction with Blackpool - Manchester commuter trains.

Another example of a fill-in turn was on the 16:40 Hull - Beverley and 17:15 return, this time with a 6-car buffet set.


When the Nottingham - Glasgow trains were withdrawn from the Settle and Carlise route in 1982 a 'fast' DMU service was introduced from Leeds to Lancaster (for connections to the north) to placate passengers travelling from the West Riding to Carlisle and Scotland. There trains were diagramed for the Class 123/4 hybrids.


The Trans-Pennines were based at Hull Botanic Gardens for most of their lives, except for a short period when brand new when they were allocated to Leeds Neville Hill. Even though Botanic Gardens had just been modernised as a diesel depot, it initially lacked a pit for doing engine drops.

They were effectionately nicknamed by staff as "Pennies".

In the final years, every week, the regional CM&EE requested the depot for engine and gearbox holdings and telexed Derby Locomotive Works with requirements, Derby being the maintaining engine works. Botanic Garden's all time record was a gearbox which reached 400,000 miles service though this was an exception.

The set pictured is at York station in 1979 on the 11:00 am Sundays only Hull to Leeds via York service. The leading power car was E51963 which as can be seen is fitted with an experimental high intensity headlight. Mike Hudson.


It wasn’t at all unusual in earlier years for other power cars to be mixed with the Trans-Pennines. A missing MC would often be substituted by a 104 MCL (or in later years, when they’d gone elsewhere, a 101 MCL – and certain other MBSs used as well). There has also been a complete twin noted on the front of the non-driving MBS, in lieu of the MC, and also a sighting of a solo Cravens MBS backing down to Paragon, that came out as a ‘strengthener’ to a full 5 or 6-car set. David Neal recalls travelling on a hybrid set in the mid to late '70s which had 101 DMBS E50230 at the end of 124 vehicles E51974 (MBS), E59769 (TS), E51973 (MBS) and E51966 (DMC).


No Class 124s were preserved.

Thanks to Ian Fleming for additional information.

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