History of the NIR 80 Class
By Martin Baumann
When NIR were considering an order for more railcars in 1972 the natural choice was to combine what they had been successfully using already- the English Electric 4SRKT engine plus BREL MK2 coaches (the latter acquired in 1970 and 1972 for loco hauled Dublin trains). The initial order was for nine power cars, nine driving trailers and four centre trailers. All were built at BREL Derby with finishing and commissioning at Belfast York Road. Several trailers were delivered by mid 1974 and in fact the first time passengers travelled in an 80 class vehicle was on July 3rd 1974 when 102 hauled 731+762+763 from York Road to Larne Town for the official opening of the Larne deviation and new Town station. For reasons now lost to history the first power car to be delivered and to enter service was numbered 89 although the allocated series was 81 to 89. Set 89-763-733 entered service on October 5th 1974.
Initially three car sets all had the power car at the Portadown end and two car at the Belfast end so that a walkthrough 5 piece set could easily be made up. First employed on Great Victoria Street to Portadown services they also started working on the Bangor line when the Belfast Central line was reopened in April 1976. A month later 81 was seriously damaged in a fatal bombing near Moira and was out of service for two years. A completely new bodyshell was built for 81 at Derby while the second batch of cars were being constructed. It was not until the second order of 80 class vehicles were delivered that they were regularly seen on the Londonderry and Portrush lines. The second order was for 13 power cars 12 driving trailers (it being intended to have a spare power car) and 9 intermediate trailers. The intermediates entered service first being put into existing two car sets. As NIR would run out of numbers for the additional power cars they chose to number the first three 67, 68 , 69. By July 1978 all of the additional cars had entered service enabling the last MED and most MPD railcars to be withdrawn but 87 and 737 had begun a 21 month absence to be rebuilt in Derby after being blown up in Londonderry in April. Several cars were destroyed in incidents in 1978 and 1979 and increasing traffic required more three car sets. First BR coaches 5516 and 5521 were purchased and rebuilt as 752 and 774. In 1984 BR 5498 followed as 753 and NIR started on the conversion of loco hauled coaches 823 to 828 to 80 class trailers 775 to 780. In the event 823 and 825 remained as loco hauled coaches (later as 935 and 932) and numbers 775 and 777 remained vacant until 1999. Power car 88 had by this time been withdrawn after the Hilden accident. The 80 class now operated the majority of passenger trains on NIR and special workings for sporting events and other occasions took them to almost everywhere on Irish Rail. The only Irish Rail terminal that was never visited by an 80 class is Sligo though they did get as far as Longford on the Sligo line. [Irish Rail leased three 3 car sets 1987-1990, mainly used for the Bray-Greystones and Cork-Cobh services plus some Maynooth trains and borrowed sets from NIR on busy weekends for many years]
While generally operating as three, five or six car sets up to twelve could be seen on very busy special trains (this would require two or more conductors) For a Michael Jackson concernt in Cork on 30.07.1988 a 13 piece special 83-778-751-754-776-99+82-766-732+773+739-765-95 operated from Bangor to Cork and returned as 0030 Cork to Bangor on the 31st.
When the NIR hauled mk2 coaches were delivered they had the same three pipe airbrakes that the 80 class had and 80s could be seen hauling loco hauled coaches to Portrush or Dublin when no Hunslet loco was available. When GMs 111 and 112 were delivered most of the hauled coaches were converted to standard two pipe air and could no longer be hauled by the DEMUs
The 80s were taken for granted for many years as they reliably got on with their work. There were a few withdrawals to continuing terrorism but the majority of the fleet kept on going. Some cars lay out of service for a long time , 97 for two and half years with a seized engine for example, but were eventually repaired and returned to service. After an attack on a six car set in 1997 82 and 93 were sent to Scotland to be rebuilt and four by then surplus loco hauled coaches became intermediates 775 and 777 and driving trailers 755 and 756 in 1999 to replace the trailers destroyed at Lurgan.
The majority of 80s were withdrawn in the period 2004-2006 with the arrival of the 23 CAF 3000 sets but increasing traffic, in part caused by the CAFs, meant additional rolling stock was required and the short term solution was to pick the twelve best 80 class cars and refurbish them as 4 car sets with central door locking. In the event there were never more than two sets in service at once and refurbishment of 733 and 738 was not completed. The refurbished sets were somewhat sporadically used on the Larne line from 2009 to 2011 and a set reached Londonderry once. Final passenger train was not, as claimed by the organizer, a farewell tour on September 25th 2011 but on the following day. 94-752-749-90 had been used for this and the next morning worked 0625 Belfast Central-Whitehead and 0730 return.
In 2006 NIR started operating a sandite train from September to December and 97 was reinstated modified to spray sandite . It would work as a pair with another power car. 97 had a major engine failure on 19.10.2009 and since then the Sandite Train has been formed PC-DT-97-PC so that there is adequate braking, 97 being dead and only spraying . 97 was painted overall yellow in 2012 and 69 94 and 752 have been done in the last few weeks. The 2013 sandite train will be assembled shortly. Funds are available to purchase at least a power car and driving trailer from translink and take them to the Downpatrick Railway. It was thought this would happen in 2012 but although it was expected 455 or 458 would be converted to a sandite train this did not happen with the 80 being retained. It is so far unknown if this will be the last year of 80 class sandite. Translink eventually want to acquire a Network Rail type MPV which would take over the sandite working but funding is not readily available.
At present only 99 at the East Lancashire Railway is in any way preserved but it has been used for parts and is in poor condition.
While I certainly hope an 80 class will eventually run at Downpatrick pottering along at 15-20 in notch three will certainly not be the same as bouncing along indifferent jointed track at 70 at the cab end of the driving trailer or listening to the roar of the 4SRKT in Castlerock tunnel or leaving Botanic southbound. Living around three miles from the line I would often be woken by the first train of the day, an 80 of course. For me the 80 Class WAS Northern Ireland Railways and without even the 450s from the enthusiast point of view Northern Ireland has just another plastic train operator not worth visiting from the enthusiast point of view.