NIR Railbus RB3

At a glance:

Builder:British Rail Engineering Ltd.
Build date:1981
Original company:British Rail (Western Region)
Withdrawal date:1992
Final company:Northern Ireland Railways
Arrived at DCDR:2001
Current status:Stored
Current owner:DCDR

RB3 was built by British Rail Engineering Ltd. (BREL) in 1981 at their Litchurch Lane works in Derby. Bus manufacturer Leyland was also involved in construction because, as the term ‘railbus’ might imply, RB3 is essentially two Leyland Nationals spliced together and placed on top of a railway underframe. It was originally numbered RDB977020, though it is not hard to see why this number didn’t catch on!

Capable of seating 56, RB3 was one of five experimental BREL railbuses built for use across the UK and further abroad. They were exhibited as far afield as the USA and Denmark, though our own RB3 only got as far as an exhibition in Dublin (carrying a distinctive tricolour livery) before returning to England for passenger use in the Bristol area.

However this did not last long and in 1982 RB3 returned to Ireland having been purchased by Northern Ireland Railways as a replacement for a firebombed 70 Class railcar. It was during the Railbus’s official launch that a dignitary referred to it erroneously as RB3 instead of R3, and the name has stuck ever since. In NIR service RB3 was used mainly on the Coleraine to Portrush branch, but it couldn’t cope with the busy daytime traffic (holidaymakers in the Summer months and university students in Winter) and so it was reserved for evening trains as much as possible.

As a prototype vehicle, it soon became apparent that RB3 was riddled with problems. It was bouncy, electrically faulty and had hopelessly low capacity. As it only has one door on either side, at opposite ends of the vehicle, accessibility was nonexistent should a passenger in a wheelchair need to alight onto a platform on the opposite side of the train to the one they boarded on. However it did find moderate success as an inspection vehicle, a capacity in which it travelled the entire NIR network.

RB3 was withdrawn in 1992, and though it remained on NIR’s books it was moved to the new railway museum at Cultra in September 1993. In 2001 NIR and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum agreed at our request to move it to Downpatrick, where we hoped to run it on low-demand mid-week services. Unfortunately the mechanical and electrical issues which had plagued the Railbus for all of its working life put an end to that idea, as it was just too unfeasible to make the necessary repairs.

The vehicle was last used in passenger service in October 2012, when it put in an appearance at the ITG Gala being hauled along the South Line by our tamper. After this it was on display in the Carriage Gallery until April 2018, when it was moved outside to make space for a newly-arrived wooden-bodied carriage. Today it is visible from the station platform in the locomotive yard.