Pacers are a much derided breed. From grumbles about ride quality to fears about safety surrounding broken drive shafts, finding people who have something positive to say about them is less than easy.
But this isn’t a view held by everyone. “I think its absolute rubbish,” says Phil Wallis, Membership Secretary of the Pacer Preservation Society (PPS). “Only two 142s have ever been written off due to collision damage. Coincidently both of the units were empty.
“Ok yes they have lost engines and one lost its drive shaft, but how many people have been seriously injured on a Pacer? As far as I know it could be counted on two hands maximum. When the local newspapers are short of things to write. What do they write about? How Pacers are unsafe.”
Built in the mid 1980s Pacers were a cheap answer to the problem of replacing first generation DMUs. With a body from a Leyland National bus and a chassis from a freight wagon they have always been an easy target for those wishing to write negative news about the railways.
They were designed to last for 20 years but have been running for more than 25, with many people seizing on this as a reason to claim they should be immediately replaced with more modern units.
Including the prototype Class 140, there are five classes of Pacer with 142s, 143s and 144s still a common sight on the UK rail network. But the reality is that with the 2019 Disability Discrimination Act deadline covering accessibility to public transport looming they won’t be running forever and it is for this reason that the PPS was set up.
“The PPS came about through myself and a collegue at work,” says Wallis.
“We spoke about it for a couple of months and decided to make a group on Facebook. We started attracting people to the group which now stands at 104.”
The group comprises Chairman Alan Wilson, who Wallis credits with taking the PPS “to the next level”, Vice Chairman Peter Dickinson and himself.
“Without Alan I feel the group would still be on Facebook and we would just be talking about preserving a Pacer.
Wallis himself got involved as a result of a long-standing affection for Pacers developed as a child growing up in Yorkshire.
“My affection for the humble Pacer started as a kid growing up in West Yorkshire. As the majority of the Pacer classes and the 141s were based in Yorkshire.
“I would see them anytime I went into Leeds and would also travel on 144s from Shipley - Bare Lane on family visits. Even though they were only built as a stop gap they are still going strong and doing what they were built to do.”
No decision has yet been made on which unit they would like to preserve, but the society does have its eye on a few candidates.
“142001 springs to mind with it being the first of the class 142s, but then so does 142096 with it being the last. The same can be applied to the Class 143 and 144 units. 142013 and 142067 still have the most original interiors, whilst 142049 visited Expo 86 in Canada and carried the then-PM Margaret Thatcher!”
“One thing is for sure, we would also go for the best conditioned unit of what gets withdrawn, funds permitting. Technically not a unit, the cab front of scrapped 142059 is in the process of being transferred to the PPS following storage under Manchester Victoria. In the long term, it is planned to use this as a cab demonstration item.”
Wallis himself though would like a 142. “I must admit to liking all class of Pacers, 141 and all the prototypes. But my favourite would have to be the 142 because that is the class that started the Pacer phenomenon.
“Since starting on the railways six years ago I have worked nearly all of the Northern 142s and 144s. But the 142 is still the best of the bunch for me.”
Wallis estimates that the group needs to raise at least £30,000 to achieve their aim of preserving a Pacer.
“This is an estimate as again after talking to Evan Green-Hughes (Chairman of the Llangollen Railcar Group) about 141113 which the Llangollen Railcar Group own he stated that they spent around £20,000 to buy 141113 and to get it to where they have got it to. That unit had been out of service for a number of years and needed an engine rebuild.
“Talks have been opened with both Angel Trains and Porterbrook Leasing with regards to potential purchase costs.”
The society is raising money through membership fees and donations.
“Membership stands at £10 a year and for that you get to choose the membership number of your choice and these range from 140001 – 144023 and get 2 PPS magazines a year called ‘The Pacer Chaser’ and also a bulletin.
The Pacer Preservation Society welcomes anyone who wants to get involved in whatever they wish to. However, they are particularly on the lookout for people with experience of working with Pacers such as fitters, drivers and conductors.
Pacers may be much derided. But there is a growing band of rail enthusiasts – this writer among them – who, with the realisation that they won’t be around forever, are beginning to develop more than a little affection for them.