WHAT MAY HAVE BEEN
Human endeavour is rarely a smooth and completely planned affair, with railways being no exception. External forces have always had influence over decisions made and one of the interesting elements to historical research can be looking back through records and comparing what plans were originally discussed to what subsequently happened in reality. This page aims to show some of these proposals involving Class 104's, many of which didn't make it beyond the board room table, whilst others were trialed and subsequently dropped.
100 More Class 104's
As far back as December 1954, BR's "Lightweight Trains Committee" were discussing the deployment of the large new railcar orders which would go on to become the bulk of the First Generation DMU fleet including the Class 104's. The specifics were to be narrowed down over the following year following successive meetings and developments. In December 1954 it was only known that 858 motor and 550 trailer cars were to be ordered, with no references as to how many would be outsourced to outside contractors. In March 1955 it had been decided that 393 Class 104 vehicles would be built by BRCW (considerably more than what transpired in the end). The original order was for 36 2-car sets, 56 3-cars, 21 4-cars, 5 6-cars and 39 spares.
By April 1955 the sets were being allocated to different dieselisation "schemes" which influenced orders as well as utilisation once built. These schemes were altered frequently and quickly over the next year with vehicles from different manufacturers being added and removed. The 56 3-car sets and 16 of the 2-cars were allocated across two London Midland schemes (which explains why the Midland 3-car sets were built under two different lot numbers), 5 2-cars to Scotland and the remainder to the North Eastern region. This was to change several times through the remainder of 1955. A more detailed breakdown of these changes to the 104's and their allocation to the dieselisation schemes is available on railcar.co.uk.
By August 1956 some 91 vehicles had been cancelled from the Class 104 order: these were to be built at Derby and be Class 108's instead, bringing the new BRCW total down to 302, the actual number of vehicles eventually built. The vehicles cancelled were more than half of the 2-car sets, plus the "spare vehicles". Both the London Midland and Scottish Regions dropped five 2-car sets (meaning no 104's for Scotland) with the remaining vehicles being removed from the North Eastern allocation. Additionally, the five proposed Eastern 6-car sets were reduced to 4-cars and added to the 21 sets already ordered, which explains why the final five 4-car sets were built under a different lot number.
Satisfying the needs of the shifting dieselisation schemes was a major factor in the constant changes throughout 1955 & 1956. One of the other main reasons attributable was the excessive provision of large numbers of spare vehicles. Whilst relatively normal in later years to possibly have a spare vehicle included on an order, early tables detailing DMU utilisation show a massive 39 BRCW vehicles designated spare. One could speculate that this may have been "steam era" thought process within the committee, it is easy to forget now that in the mid 1950's the norm was to have many more locomotives than services run to allow for low reliability, longer maintenance (boiler washouts etc), increased servicing time and longer overhaul times. The new diesel traction would see all of these barriers reduced in height, with smaller fleets operating more intensive services. The provision of spare vehicles was clearly greatly reduced at later meetings, perhaps as the impressive results of the first Derby Lightweights became ever clearer?
Scottish Airport Shuttles
The Class 104's, whilst enjoying a period north of the border in their later years, have always been considered creatures of the Midland and North Eastern Regions when they were first introduced. It is therefore fascinating to see the April 1955 proposal showing five (yet to be built) 2-car sets allocated to the Scottish Region. As shown above, these vehicles were later cancelled, but it it interesting to consider what might have been.
In the proposal the five sets are listed as being intended for "Prestwick Airport" services. Glasgow Prestwick Airport, located in Ayrshire and close to Ayr itself, was closely served by the Ayrshire Coast line, 38 miles from Glasgow. It is not clear if these five sets would have operated shuttles on their own, perhaps the short distance from Ayr or more likely further afield from Glasgow. Or would they strengthen other services on the Glasgow-Ayr route, which may have been problematic after the Scottish Region invested in inter city DMU's with incompatible and unique "white circle" coupling codes?
Also of interest was a remark on the document suggesting the five BRCW
sets may have had to have been postponed due to proposals to introduce buffet cars. This is further confusing as it is hard to imagine a Class 104 buffet car at all, being low density sets not being designed for this sort of facilities. In the end, Ayrshire services were operated by further builds of the more suitable "white circle" Inter-City units, later to become Class 126, with some buffet cars provided. The low density work elsewhere in Scotland would be satisfied by classes Gloucester 100, Metro Cammell 101, Cravens 105 & Derby 107's, it being the 1980's before Class 104's made their mark this far north.
Eastern Region 6-car Sets
In the same document that proposes 2-car sets for Scottish Airport trains, is an allocation of five BRCW 6-car sets for the North Eastern Region. This raises more questions than it answers. It is known that the North Eastern suburban services were often formed in multiples of two with 4, 6 & 8 car trains being commonplace. In reality these trains were provided for with a mixture of 2 and 4 car DMU's coupled in the required formations, the shorter sets no doubt being useful in off-peak periods. The presence of 6-car sets is therefore interesting but less flexible, being unsuited to the peak vs off-peak service patterns. The only First Generation DMU's to be built as 6-cars were the Swindon Class 124 "Transpennine" sets, which were very different in purpose being fixed formation, long distance, high quality trains.
Given that First Generation units cannot have more trailing cars than powercars, any set longer than 4 cars requires intermediate powercars, three powered being the minimum required in a 6-car set. The BRCW proposal lists that each six car set would have had three Driving Motor Composite vehicles, plus three centre trailers, one of which also contained the guards van. Perhaps the sets were designed to be an "ordinary" Eastern Region 4-car set, formed DMCL-TSL-TBSL-DMCL, with a "stub set" formed DMCL-TSL to be tacked onto them at peak periods and left behind somewhere during quieter times, much in the way that BR's single unit "bubble cars" left their single ended trailers behind. Or maybe the proposal was just a rough guide, which was later scrutinised in further detail and deemed to be not practical? We may never know.
What appears to be the case however, is that when BRCW's Class 104 order was reduced by almost 100 vehicles, the five proposed 6-car sets seem to have been added onto the North Eastern's existing order for 21 4-car sets, making 26 in total. The additional DMCL and TSL vehicles were forgotten and the shortended five sets built under a separate lot number to the "original" 4-car sets.