1111 to 205205 - The story of a Thumper unit

The Beginning

In 1955 the British Railways Modernisation Plan did not envisage electrification of the cross country routes in Hampshire and East Dorset at any time in the near future. However, there was a need for modernisation of these services as they were operated in the main by pre-grouping steam locomotives and coaching stock, which were rapidly becoming life expired, and often tied to irregular and inconvenient timetables.

To that end, on 16 November 1955 the Southern Region (SR) ordered eighteen 2-car DEMUs (Diesel-Electric Multiple Units) to be numbered 1101 – 1118 and these were constructed during 1957 to Lot numbers 30332 (Driving Motor Brake) and 30333 (Driving Trailer) at Eastleigh Works. These units were key to modernising the following routes, which were also to be provided with a regular, hourly based service:

So, on 16 September 1957 units started the conversion of the Portsmouth – Southampton Central – Salisbury that year as the new timetable was phased in.


Unit 1111

The Driving Motor Brake (S60110) had an 8’ 2½” long Guard’s van (also housing the Guard’s seat and emergency equipment) immediately behind the engine compartment. Behind this was a passenger saloon seating 52 second-class in five bays: there was no connection to the Guard’s area. In the Driving Trailer Composite (S60810) accommodation comprised one second-class compartment seating 12 behind the cab followed by two first-class compartments (seating 7 and 6 passengers respectively). Unlike the second-class compartment, these were connected to a lavatory via a side corridor. The rest of the coach was fitted out with a five bay, open saloon with central access to a separate lavatory. Livery was all over multiple unit green (carriage and unit numberings in gold lettering) with the British Railways “rampant lion” device on the sides of the motor coach. 1111 was allocated to the newly opened Eastleigh (EH) diesel depot.

The new services proved to be very popular with frequent overcrowding, so in 1959 centre trailers were built for these first eighteen units to Lot 30542. The accommodation in S60660 (1111’s centre trailer) consisted of two five bay saloons with a total seating capacity of 104. Like the rest of the unit, second-class open seating was in the 3 + 2 configuration with a door to every bay. At the same time the 500hp 4SRKT engine was swapped for one of 600hp and the units fitted with express gear ratio on the traction motors. This did not work very well on the steeply graded Alton – Winchester line (especially in the Autumn leaf fall season) and 1111 was promptly reduced to a 2H again on 13th November 1959 and restricted to use solely on the above route (which has many similarities to the Epping Ongar line, also opening in 1865, and in having fierce gradients including the formidable 3½ miles of Medstead bank at 1 in 60). Eventually, suburban gear ratio was restored, as was trailer S60660, in February 1961. The permanent solution to the Alton – Winchester service was to allocate 2H units 1121 and 1122 to that route, Eastleigh drivers often referring to a turn on it as “going over the Alps”.

205101 at Hastings
1111, numbered as 205101 - a three car unit in blue and grey livery, has terminated at Hastings with a service from Ashford - 9 July 1987

The Remaining Eastleigh Years

As the sixties wore on there were changes. Principally these resulted from the Beeching closures, especially Andover Junction to Romsey on 7 September 1964 and Totton – Fawley in February 1966. This resulted in 1111 seeing service further afield, being used on Portsmouth - Bristol, Swanage branch and Reading – Salisbury services and even getting to Exeter occasionally.

During a classified overhaul in 1963 DTC S60810 had its 12 seat second-class compartment stripped of seats to provide further luggage space: AWS warning equipment was also fitted in the cabs at this time. 1111 also had the honour of being the first DEMU to gain small yellow warning panels and a black triangle applied to the cab front of S60110 in May 1965: prior to that it had sported an orange “V” on each cab end from 1960. Repaint into rail blue with full yellow ends came in 1969. Closure of the Swanage branch on 1 January 1972 and Alton – Winchester line on 5 February 1973 caused a surplus of units at Eastleigh and 1111 was reallocated to St Leonards (SE) for a year or so where it worked Oxted line services, but by 1974 (due to further re-allocations elsewhere) it had migrated back to its old stamping ground.


Refurbishment and Pastures New

Rumours began to circulate in 1978 that the SR Thumper fleet was about to be refurbished. Initially, it was thought that Swindon works would be involved as they were refurbishing DMU stock there at the time. However, 1111 was taken into Eastleigh works in May 1978 where it remained until September 1979. During this time the whole unit was completely gutted and all blue asbestos removed. The original plan was to fit 2 + 2 seating using “bucket” type seats (similar to Mark 2 Brake Second Open coaches E9385 & 9410 on Epping Ongar Railway), but in the end 3 + 2 seating was retained. The coaches were completely opened out, the first-class and luggage compartments in DTC S60810 becoming a three-bay second-class saloon (toilets were retained) so it became a Driving Trailer Second. TS S60660 had the central partition removed to afford a single ten-bay saloon and the MBS was altered to give a four-bay saloon with a coupé Guard’s van and separate, enlarged luggage area (not connected). Through gangways were fitted between the coaches and the tungsten lighting was replaced with fluorescent strips into a new false ceiling (except in the Guard’s area); all wood panelling was replaced by plastic laminate and the baulk head ends were painted bright yellow: a PA address system was also fitted. The unit now had a total seating capacity of 213 second-class.

The driving cabs were altered too. A new control console was fitted (in the style of the class 423 4-VEP electric units) which included a 4-notch master controller (all other DEMU stock retained a 7-notch one) with the unit rewired such that it could readily be modified to work fully in multiple with SR post-1951 EMU stock – though this never subsequently happened. The unit emerged painted in blue & grey livery, the first to do so, and was reclassified 3H(M), cl 205/1. Although many other units had heavy overhauls with removal of asbestos and fitting of fluorescent lighting and PA, none was ever treated to the extent of 1111 and it became unique amongst its 3H sisters and remains so to this day.

As 1111 now had only second-class accommodation, it was reallocated to St Leonard’s (SE) and plied its trade on the Ashford to Hastings route, only very occasionally straying from there. In late 1986 it was renumbered 205101, matching the renumberings of much Southern stock around that time. On electrification of the East Grinstead line in October 1987 SE depot closed and 1111 moved to Selhurst (SU). After a classified overhaul in December 1992, gaining a headlight at both ends, it was reduced to 2 cars with the removal of TS 60660 and emerged in Network SouthEast (NSE) livery in January 1993 (the S prefix for coach numbers were dispensed with at this time).


Departmental Diversion

So, what became of TS 60660? This vehicle went to Departmental use and became a Sandite trailer and as such was renumbered 977980 (replacing 977697 ex 60523 Hastings TS) in unit 1067 with Hasting motor coaches from unit 1011. The vehicle was chosen due to gangway compatibility between this and the Hastings coaches: the three-car unit was outshopped in NSE colours in early 1994. The life expired motor coaches were replaced in 1995 by 3H DMBS vehicles 60145 & 60149 (from withdrawn 205027 & 205031) and the unit numbered 930301: it was outshopped in Railtrack orange livery at this time. This unit could also be formed with a former Class 405 (4-SUB) de-icing trailer. When the SUB vehicle was in the formation, 977980 often ran as a Sandite vehicle with the green motor coaches of preserved Hastings unit 1001 instead. Stored by April 2003 at Selhurst, 930301 was moved to Hastings Diesels at St. Leonards and used for the next few winter seasons. Withdrawn and replaced by new, Network Rail Multi-Purpose Vehicles by 2009, it was stored out of use at SE and at the time of writing is still there.

Sandite train
A rare shot of ex trailer 60660 (now Sandite vehicle 977980) at East Croydon running with motor coaches of 1001 having being involved in rail treatment duties on the Uckfield line 3 November 2000. The difference in body width is plain to see

(Sandite is a mixture sand and a special adhesive. After cleaning the railhead with high pressure water, it is treated with this material to improve wheel adhesion, mostly during the leaf-fall season).


The Autumn Years

By the mid to late 1990’s, the Class 205/207 fleet was getting old, 205101 was often out of traffic for lengthy periods at Eastleigh works due to problems with the non-standard re-wiring: two favourite faults were only wanting to run in notch 1 and refusal to work in multiple with some of her sisters!

However, an overhaul in June 1995 resulted in the addition of a “new” centre trailer from 4-CEP electric unit 1542, this coach (71634) was previously a loco hauled Tourist Second Open, E4059: Lot 30149 built at Ashford/Swindon in 1957 (similar to the Epping Ongar Railway's own mark one coach S4925), but converted for use in EMU stock during the CEP refurbishment program in the early 1980’s. At last the unit had gained some 2 + 2 seating and at this time it was renumbered 205205, as carried today.

The reason 205205 was used and not 205201 (the logical number) was that four of the remaining five class 207 units were given similar CEP vehicle augmentation and numbered 207201 – 207204 and these augmented units were to be kept in one sequence, irrespective of whether class 205 or 207. A final livery change to yellow/white Connex came in late 1998.

1111 running as 205205
Running as 205205 with 4-CEP trailer 71634 and in NSE livery, the unit calls at Rye on an Ashford - Hastings service 25 May 1998

By the turn of the millennium day to day availability of serviceable units was becoming a real problem and this resulted in 205205 appearing quite regularly on the Oxted line at this time as well as its usual Marshlink haunts. More electrical problems with trailer 71634 caused its removal in latter part of 2000 and 205205 reverted to a 2-car unit on a permanent basis (the trailer tended to be removed during the winter months when demand was low anyway). Late in its career (April 2003) it was fitted with Train Warning Protection System equipment, but this resulted in generator “flashover” problems and indeed after a further failure with this very fault on 23rd July 2004, whilst working the Oxted line with 205009, 205205 was withdrawn from service and moved to Selhurst depot for storage pending a decision on its future.

205205 in Connex Livery
In its final guise as a two-car unit in Connex livery, 205205 is seen running into East Croydon forming a peak hour service to Uckfield on 6 June 2002


After withdrawal, most remaining Thumpers were earmarked for preservation on Heritage lines. 205205 was originally to go to the Bodmin and Wenford Railway. After initial storage at Selhurst, 205205 moved to Tonbridge yard on 24 November 2004 and thence to St Leonards (now the home of Hastings Diesels Ltd) for rectification work. It was sent back to Tonbridge (with 33202 haulage) on 2 March 2005 and despatched to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway via Darlington on 21 March arriving at Grosmont the next day. Its stay at this railway was not a happy one, as it suffered exhaust fan clutch failure and was out of use for best part of four years. The unit arrived at Epping Ongar Railway on 12 November 2009 and the rest, as they say, is history.

205205 at North Weald 205205 in Epping Forest
205205 at work on the Epping Ongar Railway (Photos: K Pickersgill)

This article originally appeared in Mixed Traffic, the journal of the Epping Ongar Railway Volunteer Society.

Article by Mark Shipton; Photos: Mark Shipton unless stated.