A Second Chance To See… Class 101 DMUs
Rail Express|December 2019
Neville Hill visits the Mid-Norfolk Railway to resample a Class 101 DMU, formerly one of Britain’s most numerous and widely used units, and looks back to four notable runs.
Neville Hill

ENTER Dereham station on theMid-Norfolk Railway heritage line and you are transposed into the 1950s, but walk through the booking hall onto the platform and it is more like the 1970s. Three Mk.2 coaches are standing behind Tinsley no-heat favourite No. 47367 (or No. D1886 in ‘old money’).

But that is not what I am here to see. I am greeted by MNR diesel traction inspector Mick Barstow, whom I am going to accompany in the cab of 600hp Class 101 former Bradford Hammerton Street stalwarts Nos. 51434/51503. We have two round trips planned on the 7½ mile run to the southern terminus of the railway’s operation at ‘Wymondham Abbey’ station, which is 1½ miles or so from the railway’s connection to the national system on the Norwich-Ely line.

There is a subtle change occurring in the heritage sector. Interest in diesels is increasing, in line with what the paying public remembers, and they probably experience more nostalgia for a 1956 vintage DMU than a locomotive and ‘standard’ rolling stock.

Coach parties are attracted to the novelty. “This is wonderful – just like I used to travel to work on,” remarks a woman of late middle-age. Making the false assumption that she probably travelled into Leeds, I asked where that was. “Into Charing Cross,” she remarked with a confirmatory nod.

“The familiar purr of the Met-Camm engines reminds you just how smooth and relatively quiet these units were”

GETTING STARTED

The MNR prides itself on its diesel collection, but general manager George Saville sees steam as being important during the peak season. Even on the most intense timetable dates though, one of the railway’s Class 101 twin power-car sets gets a run out – but, on a showery Wednesday at the end of September, a set is given the responsibility of three round trips.

The crew is a family affair, the travelling ticket inspector being Mick Barstow’s grandson William Johnson and the guard a fellow retired railwayman, electrical engineer Nick Clare, who is now ending his first season as a volunteer.

I first met Mick in the cab of a HST running non-stop from King’s Cross to York, when I had the privilege of accompanying him during his time as an East Coast driver manager keeping his hand in at ‘driving turns’. “At that time I never thought I would end up volunteering on a preserved railway,” he reflects, “but I really enjoy my time here.”

The unit has had a thorough preparation and drops onto the end of the platform road in front of No. 47367. The passengers assemble for the 10.30 first departure of the day and settle in to the former First Class seats with the forward view that helped compensate for the loss of the tank engines the diesels replaced. “They’ll not last like a steam engine,” was the regular rejoinder from the 1960 traditionalists. One of the victims displaced by this particular set on the Huddersfield to Penistone line was Fowler side-window cab No. 42410, which lasted 33 years, whereas power car No. 51503 is now entering year 61.

No. 51433 is named Matthew Smith 1974-2002 in memory of its preservation purchaser who succumbed to cancer at such a young age having placed the set in the care of trustees, the Class 50 Preservation Society. Dave Clay and Nigel Smith are the experts who keep these twin power-cars in such good shape – but routine fuel point and light exams are done by the MNR, which owns a similar set, Nos. 51226/51499, complete with ‘go-faster whiskers’ on the vehicle ends.

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