At a glance:
Builder: British Rail Engineering Ltd. (Litchurch Lane Works, Derby)
Build date: 1978
Original company: Northern Ireland Railways
Withdrawal date: 2017
Final company: Northern Ireland Railways
Arrived at DCDR: 2018
Current status: Stored
Current owner: DCDR

Together, power car (PC) 90 and driving trailer (DT) 752 make up one of the two 80 Class sets at DCDR. They were both built by BREL at their Litchurch Lane works in Derby, with 90 being built in 1978 and 752 in 1969 as a normal British Rail Mark II carriage. It would later be converted into an 80 Class driving trailer in 1981.

90 was part of the second batch of 80 Class railcars built for NIR, coasting off the success of the first batch in 1975. 752, meanwhile, was one of several BR carriages converted to replace original 80 Class vehicles destroyed by bombs and fire.

Arrival of the 80 Class allowed NIR to start withdrawing the ageing fleet of diesel railcars which they had inherited from the UTA and its predecessors, some of which had been in service from the 1950s. At a time when large-scale rail closures were still fresh in the minds of many in Northern Ireland, the arrival of the 80s represented a long-overdue investment of confidence in the railway system. Comfortable, reliable and simple, many today credit the 80 Class with saving NIR altogether.

90 houses the mighty English Electric 560hp 4SRKT engine (which gives the railcar its distinctive ‘thump’), as well as a guard’s van, wheelchair accommodation and seating for 42 passengers. 749 meanwhile seats 75 and has a small driving cab offset to the left of the carriage to maintain a gangway connection for passengers should it be coupled to another set.

Unlike NIR’s railcars today, the 80s didn’t run in fixed sets and over their lives worked in all combinations. Driving trailers weren’t reserved for any particular power car and so, though 90 and 752 are happily married at Downpatrick today, in their working lives they could be seen with any vehicle as part of two, three, four or five-car sets.

From 1986 to 1988, 90 was withdrawn following a shunting accident at NIR’s Central Service Depot (today the site of Titanic Quarter halt). Just two years later, it would be involved in the Slaght Accident, which led to the unfortunate deaths of three after it collided with a Rover on a level crossing.

In 1996, the pair were renumbered as 8090 and 8752 to avoid conflict on Translink’s computer systems with bus fleet numbers, but the new numbers were never really used outside NIR officialdom. However, with 90 now at Downpatrick we wonder if the renumbering wasn’t such a bad idea, as it would prevent confusion with our identically-numbered GSWR 0-6-0T steam locomotive!

Both of the pair had separate run-ins with DCDR long before they arrived here for preservation – 90 in 1991 when it shunted our then-recently acquired 70 Class carriage No. 728 at Coleraine; and 752 in 2008 when a DCDR team on a parts reclaim mission at Adelaide recommended to NIR that it should be refurbished instead of 742 as they had originally planned. Appropriate then that it ultimately ended up at Downpatrick, meaning we’ve technically saved it twice!

They were both sent to Barton-under-Needwood in England for refurbishment in 2008 along with what remained of the class after most of it was replaced by NIR’s new 3000 Class railcars. They arrived back in Northern Ireland in 2009 and became part of the last 80 Class, working both the farewell railtour and final passenger service in September 2011.

Though there were no longer any 80s in passenger service, four vehicles continued to operate as the sandite train every Autumn. 90 was part of the sandite train in 2012 but withdrawn due to a generator failure, and again from 2015 to 2017 after its replacement on the set, unit 94, suffered an engine failure in 2014. Due to this hiatus, 90 never received the same yellow maintenence livery as 69 and 752, both of which were on the set permanently for five years. The sandite train was finally replaced in 2017 by a modern multi-purpose vehicle, and so 90 and 752 were withdrawn after their last mainline run in November 2017.

This meant it was finally time for an 80 Class to make its way to Downpatrick. This was a process that had actually started in 2006, when the first wave of withdrawals took place, but was deferred as it was decided that it would be better to wait for the withdrawal of the sets that were going to be staying on following refurbishment.

90 and 752 had long been earmarked for preservation, and this finally kicked off in April 2018 when they were moved by road to Downpatrick in May. 90 was first started in preservation in July of that year, and though the pair will eventually be returned to passenger traffic, for now they are in storage until time, manpower and funding permit their restoration.