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British Rail Mark 3
British Rail Mk 3 M12043 at Marylebone A.jpg
British Rail Mk 3 at Marylebone station, London
in original 'InterCity' blue and grey livery
In service 1975- present
Manufacturer BREL
Built at Derby (Litchurch Lane)
Constructed 1975 - 1988
Number built 848 vehicles
Operator Arriva Trains Wales
East Coast
East Midlands Trains
First Great Western
First ScotRail
Grand Central Railway
National Express East Anglia
Network Rail
Virgin Trains
Wrexham & Shropshire
Line(s) served East Coast Main Line
West Coast Main Line
Midland Main Line
Great Western Main Line
Great Eastern Main Line
Cross Country Route
Car body construction Steel
Fully Integral, monocoque
Car length 23 metres
Doors Hinged slam, centrally locked
Maximum speed 125 mph (200 km/h)
Power supply 3-phase 415/240V (Mark 3)
1000V DC (Mark 3A/B)
Bogies BREL BT10
Braking system(s) Disc, pneumatic
Gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)

British Rail's third fundamental design of carriage was designated 'Mark 3' (also described as Mark III), and was developed primarily for the InterCity 125 High Speed Train (HST). The vehicle was also developed as a conventional loco hauled coach for the West Coast Main Line (WCML) northern electrification scheme - this was the first Mark 3 derivative to enter revenue service in 1975, with the definitive HST version appearing a year later. The final batch was built in 1988, although multiple unit designs based on the Mark 3 bodyshell continued to be built into the early 1990s. The Mark 3 and its many derivatives are widely recognised as one of British Rail's greatest engineering achievements[citation needed], with the vast majority of the surviving fleet still in revenue service on the British railway network to the present day.



The Mark 3 looks similar to Mark 2D, 2E and 2F coaches, but is a completely different design. A difference aiding quick recognition is the ridged roof of the Mark 3s compared with a smooth roof on the Mark 2s.

The bodyshell is 75 feet (23 m) long, almost 10 feet (3.0 m) longer than the Mark 2, of full monocoque construction, and has gained a reputation within the railway industry for its exceptional strength and crashworthiness. Another important advance over its predecessor was the adoption of secondary air suspension between the body and the bogies giving the passengers an exceptionally smooth ride. The bogies, classified BT10, were designed specifically for the Mark 3 and have coil spring primary suspension with hydraulic dampers enabling a maximum speed of 125 mph (200 km/h) — the Mark 2 is limited to 100 mph (160 km/h). Disc brakes in place of the Mark 2's clasp brakes completed the engineering package - enabling efficient deceleration from 125 mph and almost silent brake operation.

Ancillaries such as electrical and air conditioning systems were grouped together in discrete modules housed behind an aerodynamic skirting between the bogies; on the Mark 2 these were mounted above and below the passenger seating area. The lighting and air conditioning fittings were for the first time integrated into the ceiling panels. Other new features (first seen on the Mark 2F) were the pneumatically operated automatic gangway doors which were triggered by pressure pads under the floor, and a speed operated central door locking system for the manually operated slam-doors.

The main difference between the HST vehicles and the loco-hauled Mark 3A relate to electrical supply arrangements. HST MK3s take an industrial voltage/frequency 3-phase supply directly from an auxiliary alternator in the power car to supply on board equipment such as air conditioning. The loco hauled vehicles take a standard single phase 1000 V AC or DC train heat supply from the locomotive and convert it through motor alternator units located under the floor. These convert the train supply to 3-phase 415/240 V 50Hz AC to power air conditioning and other ancillaries. This difference makes the two types non-interconnectable in service conditions. The other main difference is the lack of buffers on HST coaches.

The later Mark 3B build provided additional 1st Class loco hauled vehicles for the West Coast Main Line. These are virtually the same as earlier Mark 3As, but have an improved motor alternator unit with compound wound motor and seating derived from the Advanced Passenger Train (APT)

Mark Built Features
Mark 3 1976-82 The basic model, without buffers, for use in High Speed Train sets
Mark 3A 1975-84 The basic model, with buffers, for use in locomotive-hauled rakes
Mark 3B 1985-88 FO/Open First vehicles with interior based on First Class interior of the failed APT train - InterCity 80 seats and improved interior saloon lighting diffusers


A picture of a Virgin Trains' MK 3 carriage at Crewe station in the year 2000. It is in its former Intercity livery.

The Mark 3 design proved to be highly adaptable for use in BR's multiple unit stock of the 1980s, with the following classes having Mark 3 based bodyshells:

The Mark 3 bodyshell was also used as the basis for Northern Ireland Railways' 450 Class DMU.

Since 1977, the Royal Train has used nine specially equipped Mark 3 coaches to transport members of the Royal Family. These were rebuilt from the original HST prototype vehicles.

Grand Central, a new open access operator on the ECML, uses HST sets on its newly inaugurated services between London and Sunderland [1]. The Mark 3 coaches are of the loco-hauled type, and so have undergone modifications to their couplers and electrical systems to make them compatible with Class 43 power cars. They have a limited role on the WCML, with the overnight Caledonian Sleeper services between Scotland and London Euston using Mark 3 sleeping cars.

Following the introduction of Virgin Trains' Pendolino electric multiple units onto the WCML, a huge surplus of Mark 3 vehicles was created, ending up in storage at Long Marston. Some of the former Virgin coaches were refurbished and cascaded onto the Great Eastern Main Line, replacing the Mark 2E/2F vehicles which were working London-Norwich services. They also continue to be used by First Great Western on the Great Western Main Line, and East Coast on the East Coast Main Line franchise. Virgin have retained at least one complete Mark 3 set with a Class 90 locomotive - initially used to cover peak time Euston-Birmingham services whilst the Pendolinos underwent modifications, but it is now covering the loss of 390033 which was written off after the Grayrigg derailment in 2007. In July 2009, Virgin refurbished this set - completely repainted into the Pendolino silver/black livery to bring it in line with the newer fleet, with the interiors receiving power sockets at every seat, the addition of WiFi, and new seat covers and carpets in the same style as the Pendolino and Voyager fleets, but the BR vintage seats and interior fittings will remain. Various references can be found on the Internet where railway enthusiasts have amusingly nicknamed this set the "Pretendolino".

In January 2007, the first of the refurbished Mark 3 sets for the ECML were unveiled by previous franchisee GNER - these have been internally refitted to the same standard as the "Mallard" Mark 4 stock with the same styles of seating and lighting. The new Mark 3 Mallards have been converted by Wabtec in Doncaster, and the final refurbished set entered service in October 2009.

Cargo-D, a newly established rolling stock logistics company has acquired 18 ex-Virgin West Coast Mark 3 coaches and repainted them in their original British Rail blue/grey livery and Inter-City branding - the first time the livery has been seen on the coach since the late 1980s. The stock is used primarily for the company's own "Rail-Blue" charter operation and has been leased to Wrexham & Shropshire (see below).

Wrexham & Shropshire, a new open access operator, has introduced four of its own rakes of refurbished Mark 3 coaches pulled by a Class 67 locomotive for its services between London and Wrexham. CrossCountry have reinstated HSTs on the CrossCountry franchise in response to criticism of the lack of seating capacity on the Voyager DEMUs used by previous incumbent Virgin Trains. In order to satisfy demand for these new HST sets, it is anticipated that more loco-hauled Mark 3 coaches will need to be converted for HST operation.

Mark 3 sleeping car at the Colne Valley Railway

These developments will ensure that the vast majority of the Mark 3 fleet will be back in revenue service, amid earlier fears that a large number of the coaches may end up being exported or scrapped. Arising out of British Rail's over-provision of stock for sleeper services that have long since been withdrawn, two-thirds of the Mark 3 sleeping car fleet were either stored or scrapped.



HST vehicles

Original formation

The original Mk3 coaches delivered as part of HST sets for Western Region (Class 253) contained Trailer First (TF), Trailer Second (TS), and Trailer Buffet Second (TRSB) variants in formation TF-TF-TRSB-TS-TS-TS-TS. Complaints from train guards about engine noise in the guards' compartments (which were located in the HST Power cars) led to an additional variant, the Trailer Guard Second (TGS), which was based on the TS but with the end vestibule and one seating bay replaced by a guard's compartment. This replaced the last TS in all sets from 1980 onwards. Sets delivered for Eastern Region (Class 254) contained 8 coaches with an additional Trailer Kitchen Unclassified (TRUK) in the middle of the Trailer Seconds (sets 1-20) or with a Trailer Buffet Unclassified (TRUB) in place of the Trailer Buffet Second, and an additional TS (Sets 21-32).

Previous formations

Virgin Trains frequently operated HST sets in shortened formations between 2001-2004, the most common being five-car sets. This was to give the trains better acceleration, so as to be similar to the Voyager units.

Current formations

Most operators of HST sets form them in eight-car sets, with East Coast operating nine-car sets, with an additional standard-class vehicle.

Hauled stock

Mark 3A coaches were deployed on WCML expresses out of Euston to bring the three main long-distance routes from London up to the same standard. Initial variants were Second Open (TSO) and Open First(FO). Catering continued to be Mark 1 stock until the introduction of Restaurant Buffet (RUB) vehicles in 1979-80. In 1988 the process was completed with the elimination of Mk 1 parcels vehicles and their replacement with Mk 3 derived Driving Van Trailers, making the WCML push-pull.

Scottish Region push-pull services were initially made up of four TSO and one FO Mark 3A coaches with a Mark 2F DBSO. This was later changed when the FO was converted to a CO by the declassification of half a coach and installation of a partition between the two classes. An SO was removed from the formation. These vehicles were removed from the Scottish regional routes in 1989 when they were replaced with Class 158 multiple unit stock.

Refurbishment Gallery

Multiple units based on the Mark 3

The Mark 3 formed the basis of BR's Second Generation multiple unit fleet, which was progressively phased in from the early 1980s onward.

Electric multiple units include the 25 kV AC EMUs of the Class 317 and Class 318, and the 750 V DC EMUs of the Class 455 and Class 442. Also with a dual voltage EMU which is the Class319. Diesel multiple units include the short-lived diesel electric Class 210, and the diesel mechanical "Sprinters" of the Class 150. The cars for Classes 150, 210, 317, 318 and 455 units are built on 20 m frames, and are outwardly similar. However, those for Class 442 are on 23 m frames, and visually look very similar to the familiar HST mark 3 coach. The main visual difference being the use of swing plug automatic doors rather than the traditional "slam-door" as used on HST stock. The Class 155 and derived Class 153, while being of the "Sprinter family", are in fact based on Leyland bus components, not the Mk 3 carriage. The final batch of "Sprinters" of Class 158 (some rebuilt as Class 159), are of a design intermediate between that of the Mk 3 and the later Mk 4. In addition, a fleet of nine 450 Class DMUs were built at Derby for Northern Ireland Railways using Mark 3 bodyshells and Mark 1 underframes, together with refurbished power units and traction motors, recovered from the former UTA 70 class units.

Mark 3 coaches overseas

The Mark 3 in Ireland

A Mark 3 standard coach pictured at Heuston Station, Dublin, in Intercity livery

The Republic of Ireland's national rail operator, Iarnród Éireann, operated a fleet of Mark 3 carriages built between 1984 and 1989, with bogies to suit the Irish gauge of 1600 mm (5 ft 3 in). The fleet consisted of 124 Mark 3s and nine Mark 3A "Cú na Mara" internationals. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, they formed a large part of the intercity rolling stock on the Irish railway network.

All of these coaches were built with automatic plug doors, which initially caused some concern as additional time and resources were required to perfect them. The design of these doors was later used on the Class 442 "Wessex Electrics". Most of the fleet was air-conditioned, except for a small number of coaches built originally as outer suburban stock which ran in push-pull configuration. A number of coaches were first class, and there were several dining carriages as well as five driving van trailers (DVTs) which included passenger seating. There were also a number of accompanying generator vans for supplying power.

In 2006/7, new carriages built by CAF of Spain (widely referred to as "Mark 4s") were introduced on the important Dublin-Cork route. The displaced Mark 3s were then cascaded to other intercity routes. However, Iarnród Éireann then began taking delivery of Korean-built 22000 Class railcars, which ultimately led to the withdrawals of all the Mark 3s from service. The type's final service was a 13:45 Dublin-Cork relief train on 21 September 2009.


  • Cooper, B K (1981). British Rail Handbook. Shepperton: Ian Allan. ISBN 0 7110 1027 7. 
  • Fox, Peter (1984). Coaching Stock Pocket Book sixth edition. Sheffield: Platform 5. ISBN 0 906579 35 X. 
  • Haresnape, Brian (1979). British Rail 1948-78: A Journey Through Design. 
  • Mallaband, P; Bowles, LJ (1976). The Coaching Stock of British Railways 1976. Oxford: RCTS. ISBN 0 901115 39 4. 
  • Mallaband, P; Bowles, LJ (1980). British Rail Coaching Stock 1980. Oxford: RCTS. ISBN 0 901115 50 9. 

See also

External links


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