In the beginning was the DMU.....
At the beginning of the 1980s British Rail (BR) had a large fleet of ageing "Heritage" DMUs, built to many different designs in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some of the more reliable types were retained and refurbished. However, BR decided to replace many of the non-standard or unreliable types with new second generation units, built to modern standards. Two different types were pursued, low-cost "Pacers" built using bus parts and used on short-distance services and "Sprinters" built for longer-distance services.
Twenty-three Class 144 units were built in total, the first thirteen of the class, No's. 144001-013 being 2-car units and the remaining ten, No's. 144014-023 being 3-car units although, all were originally built as 2-car units with the centre vehicle being added to ten sets in 1988. The units have a maximum operational speed of 75 mph and are externally similar to the earlier Class 143 Pacers with a Walter Alexander body.
Since privatisation, the fleet has been operated by several franchises. The first operator was Northern Spirit, which was later taken over by Arriva Trains Northern who refurbished the fleet between 2002 and 2004 with units emerging in a new silver and red Metro livery complete with refurbished interior. In December 2004, the fleet was transferred to the then-new Northern rail franchise. Northern Rail replaced the silver and red Metro livery with Northern Purple and Blue.
The units more recently transferred to Arriva Rail North in April 2016 and then Northern Trains on 1 March 2020.
The end (oh no its not!)
Under the Disability Discrimination Act drawn up in the mid-1990s, all public transport will need to be accessible by 2019. Pacers are unable to meet this requirement so will have to be withdrawn by the end of 2019.
The Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Interoperable Rail System) Regulations 2008 required that all public passenger trains be accessible (PRM Compliant) by 1 January 2020. No Class 144 (except the single prototype Class 144e) met this requirement. Porterbrook proposed an extensive refurbishment of the Class 144 units in an attempt to meet this requirement, although this would reduce the number of seats.
All were due to be withdrawn by December 2019 with Northern ordering Class 195 and Class 331 units to replace them as well as taking on spare stock from other operators. However, due to the late delivery of the new trains, the 144s continued to operate in the South Yorkshire area until mid 2020 with a dispensation to allow some of the class to be used until 31 August but only on specified routes.
Normally, that would be the end of the story but, not in the case of the Class 144.
Eight units (to date) have entered operational (or to become operational) preservation at various Heritage Railways including our very own 144003. A further 3 (at least) have been repurposed for non-rail uses including a classroom, a science lab and one to a hospital for mixed use in a children's unit.
Love them or hate them, the Class 144 is going to be around for a long time yet. Here's to such British things as fish & chips and "Nodding" Donkey Rides for a good while longer!!