An historic diesel railcar known as IRIS has arrived at the Llangollen Railway to play a starring role in next weekend’s Railcar Gala on the Dee Valley line.


And the Llangollen Railway is looking for a real Iris to come to the railway to meet up with their name sake.


Llangollen Railway’s Commercial Manager, Mrs Jules Roberts, said, “We should be pleased to arrange for anyone named Iris to take a free ride on board our visiting star attraction during this Railcar event. If your name is Iris come along to the Llangollen booking office in time for the 11.25am departure on Saturday, 17 May.”


The unique single-car Iris is one of only two single cars built in 1954 at Derby to an original lightweight design and is currently the oldest operational first-generation unit in the UK. In passenger service until 1961, the rail car survived as Test Coach IRIS for the Railway Technical Centre at Derby, where it took part in various experimental trials.  It was recently extensively restored at the Midland Railway Centre, Butterley to reconvert it to passenger use and is currently based at the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, Wirksworth, Derbyshire.


It will join the Llangollen Railway’s fleet of four resident railcar units, including the award-winning Wickham railcar – itself also unique – and the steam “auto-train” for the weekend special event.


The Gala will start at 9.30 am on Saturday May 17th and finish at 6.00pm on Sunday. With 16 departures on the Saturday and 15 on the Sunday, the services will provide one of the most intensive timetables ever to be operated by the Railway with a near half hourly service throughout the day. Different units will also be worked in multiple with each other meaning that there will be many combinations of trains throughout the weekend.


Llangollen Railcar Group Chairman, Evan Green-Hughes said, "We are delighted to be able to welcome Iris to Llangollen for our gala weekend. She is the oldest diesel railcar in service on a heritage railway and was the first in which passengers can actually look over the driver's shoulder and see the line ahead, a popular feature. She was one of the first of over 4,000 railcars which revolutionised travel on the UK's railways over 50 years ago. It is fitting that she should be operating at Llangollen alongside a steam engine as this is how she would have been seen for the first 14 years of her life."


George Jones, spokesman for Llangollen Railway, said, “This event will show how the line between Ruabon and Barmouth might have been operated from the mid 1960s had the stations been rationalised and diesel units introduced in order to reduce costs. Sadly, The Beeching Axe fell on the through route before this initiative could be tried and in British Railways’ days the diesel units only ran with excursion traffic through to the Cambrian coast.

The Gala will provide an interesting comparison between the branch line auto-coach train of the steam era and the railcars of the modernisation era. We expect it to attract rail fans from a wide area to sample riding in the railcars, and experience the extensive operating pattern, as a reminder of how things used to be prior to privatisation of the railways.”


The photos below show the railcar as delivered to Llangollen now restored to the British Railway’s 1950s green livery and trainee driver Elizabeth Harland, acting as guard, about to give the green flag for the ‘right away’.


Railcars, which later became known as Diesel Multiple Units, were introduced progressively from 1954 and are credited with saving many lines from closure due to their low running costs and appeal to the travelling public.


One of their best-remembered features was the ability to watch the line ahead through the large picture windows fitted to the rear of the driver’s cab. Withdrawal of such trains began in 1964, with the majority being taken out of service between 1984 and 1995.


Llangollen has vehicles built by four different manufacturers, of five different types and of three different construction methods and is regarded as one of the leading sites for railcar preservation in the country.


A Railcar and four ladies called Iris

Pictures - George Jones


Link to Llangollen Railcars Website