E79960 was built in Germany in 1958 by Waggon und Masshienenbau for British Railways. Five were ordered from Germany for branch lines where passenger numbers were extremely low.
Most of the lines worked by the railbuses were closed as a result of the Beeching cuts, as a result, all the vehicles were withdrawn by the end of the 1960s. E79960 is currently in BR green livery with speed whiskers.
Railbuses are a very lightweight type of Diesel multiple unit Railcar designed for use specifically on little-used railway lines, and as the name suggests share many aspects of their construction with a bus, sometimes having a bus, or modified bus body, and having four wheels on a fixed base, instead of on bogies.
In the late 1950s, British Rail tested a series of small Railbuses, produced by a variety of manufacturers. Twenty-two diesel railbuses were built for BR in a range of differing designs by one German and four British companies. E79960 was one of five built by the German company, Waggon- und Maschinenbau. It was allocated to the Eastern Region of BR at Cambridge. These proved to be very economical, but also somewhat unreliable. The lines they worked on were mainly closed by during the ‘Beeching Cuts’ and, being non-standard, they were all withdrawn in the mid-1960s, before being allocated TOPS classifications.
Throughout mainland Europe, particularly in Germany, four wheeled diesel railbuses were being introduced around 1955. That year it was suggested that railbuses ‘should be trialed on UK branch lines in rural districts.
Railways were threatened by bus services, particularly in areas where the nearest railway station was at an inconvenient or distant location and it seems unlikely that railbuses would revive flagging routes.
In May 1957 that the BTC placed contracts with five firms for the 22 railbuses for experimental use in rural areas. As no rigid design specification set out the firms were able to build to their own designs within the limits of maximum dimensions, performance set down, and so long as the details of seating and fittings, were adhered to.
Although there was no detailed specification, there was an overall set of guidelines. Railbuses were to be powered by a single underfloor engine of between 112 and 150hp, have a maximum speed of about 55mph, and have a seating capacity for between 46 to 54 passengers. They must have air-operated brakes and some would be fitted with couplers for use with trailer vehicles. However not all manufacturers complied to the letter….
Bristol Commercial Vehicles were only to supply two, and BUT (Park Royal Vehicles Ltd.), London; AC Cars Ltd, Thames Ditton; D Wickham & Co. Ltd, Ware; and Waggon und Maschinenbau, Germany were each to build five each. The aim was to introduced the railbuses early in 1958 in the Eastern (5), London Midland (4), Western (4) and Scottish Regions (9).
Railbuses E79960 and E79963 (both owned by NNR plc) were built by Waggon und Maschinenbau, weighed 15 Tons and had a maximum speed of 55 m.p.h.
Many thought that, that the railbuses were ordered too late. They proved to be very economical, but also somewhat unreliable. The first of the twenty two railbuses was withdrawal in 1963. Two were withdrawn in 1964. Nine were withdrawn in 1966, and a five more in 1967. The final five were withdrawn in early 1968. Overall this railbus experiment lasted only 10 years.
On loan from The North Norfolk Railway.