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During the 1970's and early 1980's the British Rail corporate blue scheme ruled supreme. Everything from locomotives and rolling stock to uniforms and station furniture were united under the same “brand”. Whilst the brief of an instantly identifiable image was certainly met, unfortunately the shade of blue used had a tendency to fade to a particularly drab matt finish. This, coupled to the general under investment in the railways at the time, had created an arguably uninspiring scene by the mid 1970's. The public noticed the dirt, whilst enthusiasts bemoaned the lack of variety in the colour schemes bestowed upon their spotting subjects. From a non-railway, optical/artistic point of view, it was without doubt the lack of any lining on locomotives and Diesel Multiple Units, including the Class 104's, in the rail blue livery that was the livery's achilles heel.


Vehicles looked good when freshly repainted, but the drabness of later-life vehicles was exaggerated by the large expanse of one plain colour along the body, with no lines to break it up on the eye such as those used on the previous green livery. This page examines one of the relatively few variations from the corporate image during the period, the white stripe or white liner Class 104 sets.



Even before the end of the building period of BR's DMU's, it was a known fact that the riding quality of the vehicles was sub-standard when travelling at higher speeds. Above 50mph, the majority of vehicles had a tendency of swaying side-to-side rather alarmingly, and mechanically worn bogies and trackwork both made this effect worse. The phenomenon was was not unsafe, but it was uncomfortable. As early as the first years of the 1960's, efforts were being made to move away from the standard DMU bogie, which had its origins in the 1930's or even earlier. The brand new technology, being developed for improving loco hauled coaching stock at the time, was in limited cases utilised. The Swindon Class 123's are a good example of a very late build DMU that were fitted with an improved coach bogie (the B4) that was directly intended to create a better riding vehicle at higher speeds.


Unfortunately the development and introduction of the B4 bogie came approximately five years too late to be effectively incorporated into BR's building spurt of replacement stock in the late 1950's, and only a limited number of later DMU's and coaches were fitted. When it came to its loco

hauled carriages, most were passed to run at 90mph and BR chose to undertake a programme of replacing the original bogies with better examples as finance allowed. However the DMU fleet, most of which ran at the lower speed of 70mph, were generally not considered as much of a problem, so were not included in this programme. This was acceptable for most classes, which being built for often rural or suburban work, would not be spending prolonged periods of time above 50mph unlike intercity services, so the limited resources were rightly directed toward the vehicles that did.


However, the gaps in the policy became the unusual routes and diagrams where low density branch line configured units would operate regularly on mainlines, over fair distances at their top speed of 70mph. By the late 1960's, with most units including the 104's now 10 years old, there was justification for a lower-cost modification to be made to their bogies on a targeted basis to improve the passenger experience.

The run between Manchester (usually Victoria) and Blackpool (usually North) was just such a service, with part of the route being on the West

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Coast Mainline and other sections having relatively high line speeds. By the 1960's Newton Heath allocated Class 104 3-car sets had become a mainstay of this frequent service, with impressive multiple combinations of sets to be found during the summer, on Saturdays in particular. This line, along with the 104's, were selected to receive the ride quality improvements discussed.


The modifications came in the form of retaining the original 104 bogie, with several suspension modifications and additions with the aim of stiffening up the central sprung bolster inside the bogie frame, with particular attention given to limiting its lateral movement at higher speed. Extra brackets were welded to the bogie, one of which can be seen externally in some photographs, below the bogie frame centrally between the wheels (see image). On some of these brackets were mounted hard rubber stops which the bolster would bounce into when side-to-side movement became lively. Other additions included some extra dampers internally, again to limit/stiffen movement, and also a change in dampers on the threaded drop hangers which hold the leaf springs in place. These slightly different steel cases (that cover the leaf spring hanger dampers) are another

external difference that shows up on a good quality photograph.


In the very early days of these suspension modifications, vehicles received the modified bogies with no other changes; and the enthusiast and public would not have spotted any differences, although they may have noticed the improved ride! Images of vehicles during this time (believed to have been c1969) are rare.

The White Stripes

What made the suspension modifications better known than other improvements to similar DMU classes, was the breaking away from the standard BR corporate blue livery scheme with the addition of a large white stripe running horizontally along the bodyside from the cab to the rear corner (although the line stopped on the corners and did not “wrap round” the vehicle end), giving the modified sets a major visual tell-tale. Also added to the vehicle ends was white lettering proclaiming “Manchester-Blackpool” which was a clear statement as to their intended route, and in many cases the doors leading into first class areas regained a “1” symbol, which was the return of a feature of original previous green


livery. (these 1's were also later added to some standard sets, however the White Liner sets appeared to gain them in a more organised fashion).

The white stripe addition visually lifted the plain blue livery considerably, and when casually glancing at White Liner vehicles it is easy to forget that the rest of the livery remained identical to the standard sets, it is therefore more of a “livery variation” than a scheme in its own right.


The exact purpose of the white stripes that the sets became known is are not clear. Relatively minor bogie modifications would not normally have warranted any sort of fanfare and official documentation would appear to have been lost in time. One theory is that an external visual indicator was required for BR staff to tell Blackpool modified sets from others when identifying/allocating units from depots, however arguably a more subtle indicator such as a symbol on the cab end may well have sufficed in this regard. A second theory suggests that BR had a desire to make the ride improvements more widely advertised, with the white lines being a public indication that those vehicles had been treated for the benefit of passengers. This theory is supported by the Manchester-Blackpool trains

standard blue again. Whilst the vehicles did not lose the modifications themselves, in some cases vehicles received bogie swaps, with previously known “white liners” appearing with standard bogies, and the odd standard vehicle gaining a modified bogie. The final vehicle to carry a white stripe in service was M53524 which is thought to have lasted into early 1986.


The white liners do live on, although not entirely obviously. Modified DMBS 50479 and DMCL's 50528/531 were preserved and were saved with their modifications intact, although at 25mph running speeds their riding characteristics are no different to normal. In addition to the three vehicles, one pair of modified bogies also survives for spares.


As far as the white stripes themselves are concerned, 50454/528 at the Llangollen Railway briefly had stripes applied in the early 1990's, but this was a very short term arrangement with the set being repainted very soon afterwards. The group have not discounted recreating a “white liner” set again in the future, so never say never!


almost being a branded route above others, for many years services had been known as “club trains”. Arguments against this theory are that there is no evidence of any posters etc showing any sort of advertising telling the public that smoother trains were being provided for the club trains to the coast. Anyone reading this who has any evidence or memories that may help to more firmly ascertain the reasons for applying such a large embellishment to the vehicles, we would welcome you to get in touch.

Rise & Fall

The first sets were modified in 1969 with more quickly following. In total thirteen Newton Heath allocated 3-car sets were improved, a total of 39 vehicles. The final ten sets of the London Midland Region's 3-car build were all included as a neatly numbered batch (50470-9, 59178-87 & 50522-31) with a further three sets numerically random from the rest of the fleet (including 50443/60/93 amongst others).

Every idea has its day, and after over 10 years the practice of distinguishing the modified sets was dropped. From 1982, vehicles started to lose the white stripes during overhauls and repaints, emerging in

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