P.R.V. - Railcars & Railbuses

FOREWORD By Basil Hancock 

Apart from the early (1930's) Great Western Railways (GWR) Railcars (see below), and one London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) Railcar (see here) and, from 1948, railcars for the Great Northern Railway of Ireland (GNR[I]) and, from 1951, Irish Railways (CIE), there were three train types built (in the 1950's) by the ACV Group (see note[1] below) for British Railways.  

Click here for a list of known Park Royal Rail Production from 1948 (PDF file).
Click here for the ACV BR Contracts list (PDF file).

1 - There were eleven ACV cars, which were four-wheelers built in 1952 (three), 1955 (five), & 1957 (three). Whilst not known as PRV Railbuses these were bodied by PRV and are pictured here.  All eleven cars could, and did, operate together in one, two or three car sets (see further details here).

2 - Then in 1957 BR ordered 20 two-car bogie diesel multiple units i.e. 40 cars (later to became known as Class 103) that were subcontracted by PRV to be built by Crossley at its works at Errwood Park.  But there is some controversy as, upon the announcement by ACV of the closure of Crossley, the work is said to have reverted to Park Royal; though it isn't clear that Park Royal had the capacity at the time and it might have been that the responsibility and management of the project went back to Park Royal and not the actual build. Note: the ACV BR Contracts list appears to confirm these units were built by Crossley.

3 - Also in 1957 the British Transport Commission ordered 22 four-wheel railbuses for BR awarding the contracts to five different manufacturers four British & one German) for delivery the following year.  Park Royal were one of the firms chosen and built five of the vehicles (Body Nos. B41054-58) - (Fleet Nos. 79970-79974) on AEC frames using B.U.T engines (badge engineered AEC) between June & November 1958 and delivered during 1958-1959.  The PRV railbuses were initially used in the Bedford area, London-Midland region and in Scottish region, but later all congregated in Scotland. PRV (these are pictured here).

Whilst the early Railcars were used for medium inter-city commuting, the later Railbuses were intended for use on local services where the use of traditional trains was, at the time, considered uneconomic.  They were four-wheeled self contained Diesel-engine powered carriages that could seat fifty, or thereabouts, passengers.  Whilst the introduction of railbuses was therefore hailed as a great step forward in rail travel, the "career" of these units was far from illustrious and the mixture of negative passenger attitudes, generally poor performance and poor financial price-performance, ensured their sad decline.  Within ten years all twenty-two had been withdrawn.

Great Western Railways (GWR) Railcars (1930's)

As early as 1932/3 Park Royal was involved in the production of diesel-electric powered Railcars using Armstrong-Whitworth running units. This is not so surprising given that Park Royal Coachworks, as it was then, had in 1930, been borne out of the liquidated assets of the Hall Lewis company that had previously been steeped in railway wagon repair on the same site at Park Royal. Thus, no doubt, much of the specialised facilities for railway wagon servicing remained in-situ and could be brought back into service quite easily.

GWR (Great Western Railways) placed an order for four Railcars to be powered by AEC diesel engines and Park Royal, already being involved with AEC in the production of cabs & bus bodies, were a seemingly natural choice for the design & production of the bodywork.

A new PRV railcar ready for delivery.

Here the second of the batch of four (Body No. B3548) fitted with an 8.85 litre engine and some 63 feet in length is seen leaving the factory for delivery in 1934.  These streamlined units soon acquired the nickname "the Flying Bananas"; a name that stuck even though later units by other bodybuilders had more angular styling.  The last of the batch (No. 4) is preserved at the National Railway Museum at York (Please click here for an excellent article by John Daniel).

In 1933, British Pathé News shot a film of one of these vehicles upon completion of its production at Park Royal Coachworks (PRC).
Entitled 'Britain's First Streamlined Rail Car 1933' - click this link to visit the page.
And the stills can be found here.
And some of the stills have been enlarged and can be found here at the end of this page; link courtesy of Louis Saba).
(I'm grateful to Louis Saba who provided the enlarged images of the railcars in the above link.  Louis says that he worked in the PRV Body Shop as a bodybuilder in 1975 and whilst he never worked on these railcars above, as they were way before his time, he did go on to working on rail cars at Bombardier etc.)

General Railcar images

Andy Knott kindly sent this photograph of a Park Royal Railbus on the Hitchin to Bedford service circa 1960.  This rare picture has prompted me to include a page on this unusual period of PRV developments.  The atmospheric photo was taken by Colin Thurstance, brother of Andy's friend, the late Eric Thurstance, who lived near the line and provided the image to Andy.  The line has since been closed and the area is now occupied by an housing estate.  

The PRV units in particular were prone to mechanical failures and poor winter performance so their time-tabled journeys were often replaced by traditional steam trains.  None of these PRV units are preserved.  79971 (from this BR order) survived for a while as a "Crew Room/Lamp Store" at the Edinburgh Millerhill yard, but although there was talk of it being preserved, due to it being contaminated with blue asbestos, it was destroyed by being disposed of (buried) in a landfill site. 

Are there any more pictures of these rare vehicles out there?  Do you recall them in their heyday?  Do you have any anecdotes about them?  Please let me know.

My plea has been kindly answered: 

Taken in 1962 on a Kodak box camera, Vic Smith has sent in his image of an ACV Railcar in storage at sidings to the west of Friargate Station, Derby. 

Mike Morant kindly supplied these images of a prototype ACV unit taken, when new, at Solihull station sometime in the '50s.  Can anyone add any further information?

Basil Hancock has also sent me a host of images that I'm pleased to display on this site.  

Click here for Basil's images of ACV & PRV Railbuses

The Railcar assembly shop is pictured here in the Export Brochure.

Three Railcars are pictured here in the Export Brochure.

Richard Thornton is renovating the Class 103 'Park Royal' M56160 Railcar (Click the Link for details). 

The Railcar Association has an extremely detailed and fascinating history of all the UK railbuses and also information on the PRV built Class 103 Railcoaches.  The site is well worth visiting.

The Railcar Association

Also the Helston Diesel Group (part of the Helston Railway Preservation Society) has some rare preserved Class 103s.   The Helston Railway Preservation Society's aim is to restore to running order, and reopen as a heritage railway, as much of the old Helston Branch Line as possible. The websites offer an interesting and valuable insight into the bygone heydays of branch line travel. (Helston is in Cornwall and is the most southerly town on the UK mainland.)

The Helston Railway Preservation Society

Note[1]: ACV was the "umbrella" company that owned PRV along with AEC, Maudslay & Crossley (see the History page).