Class 201/202/203

''Hastings'' 6S; 6L; 6B


By the early 1950s, steam locomotives and vintage, but unique, restrictive loading gauge rolling stock were struggling to handle the ever increasing commuter traffic along the London to Hastings main line via Tunbridge Wells Central. Both locomotive and carriage were Maunsell products, the former having been introduced in 1930 as Class V ‘’Schools’’. Service improvements on the Hastings route were some of the earliest implemented on the South Eastern Division as a result of the British Transport Commission’s 1955 ‘’Modernisation Plan’’, preceding even the Kent Coast Electrification. By 1957, construction was already underway at Eastleigh on what was originally planned as a new generation of all-steel locomotive-hauled stock - as will later be explained, the order was changed to DEMU format. The first examples of the then new DEMU fleet 8-feet ½-inch in width were delivered for storage at Blackheath carriage sidings in the Spring of 1957. An early Hastings diesel timetable was run alongside the steam schedule from May of that year, and subsequent deliveries of the then new stock saw a full diesel service to and from Charing Cross come into existence on 9th June 1958.

In total, twenty-three six-car units were procured during the Hastings line dieselisation, these themselves being divided into no less than three alternate variants. First of note is the 6S derivative (latterly Class 201), consisting of unit Nos. 1001 to 1007. Each vehicle was built upon a short 57-foot underframe, for reasons of which are somewhat interesting. The concept of locomotive haulage along the Hastings route was initially the preferred option, and the construction of the 6S DEMU fleet began life as the building of contemporary hauled stock to replace the Maunsell products. Twelve 58-foot long, narrow-width carriages were envisaged to fit into terminal platforms 5 and 6 of Charing Cross, in addition to a diesel locomotive. However, it became increasingly evident that the Modernisation Plan had under estimated numerous costs, and as a result, it was decided to speed up the deployment of new stock on the Hastings route by switching from locomotive haulage to a DEMU concept (which in turn would reduce the immediate investment required). Of the twelve carriage formations, these were split into two units of six vehicles, each set of which saw both end carriages receive a 500 HP English Electric power plant and a driving cab. The DEMU theme was continued with the subsequent two batches: the second, 6L (Class 202 under TOPS and unit Nos. 1011 to 1019), followed in the same vein as the first variant, but with locomotive haulage now ruled out, the vehicle lengths could be increased to incorporate 63 foot 6 inch underframes, whilst still fitting into Charing Cross’ platforms. The third and final derivative, the 6B (Class 203 under TOPS, encompassing unit Nos. 1031 to 1037), was fundamentally a 6L, but with a buffet car inserted in the place of a trailer standard open. The DEMU option was seen, at the time, as a hastily conceived short-term option, and the ‘’Hastings’’ units, as they became known colloquially, were estimated to have a life expectancy of just ten years before replacement – on a par with some of the BR Standard steam locomotive builds.

The arrival of the DEMUs on the Hastings services accelerated the growth of commuter traffic on the route, and passenger numbers increased by 40%. Since the inception of the full diesel timetable, there had been a Hastings DEMU-formed peak hour service between Bexhill West and Charing Cross, and Cannon Street. The closure of the Bexhill West branch on 15th June 1964 was partly to blame for a number of ‘’Hastings’’ units becoming surplus to requirements. Units Nos. 1002, 1003, and 1004, all of the 6S variant, were taken out of service in 1964, and subsequently saw their respective vehicles dispersed. This allowed a ‘’new’’ DEMU fleet to be formed, consisting of six three-car units classed as ‘’3R’’. To become Class 206 under TOPS, the six-strong fleet, numbered 1201 to 1206, were affectionately known as ‘’Tadpoles’’, and took over from steam traction on Tonbridge to Reading services. Each unit consisted of two ex-Class 201 vehicles (a Driving Motor Brake Second for power, and a Trailer Second Open), and one driving trailer from an ex-Tyneside 2 EPB, the latter of which demonstrated a standard body width (thus, contrasting with the narrow ‘’Hastings’’ vehicles, was the ‘’head’’ of a tadpole). It was also in 1964 that buffet vehicle No. S60755 of unit No. 1036 was withdrawn; thereafter, it saw a period in storage of five years, emerging after this time as an inspection saloon for the General Manager of the Southern Region. Finally, a five-car formation emerged as a result of the Hither Green crash of 1967, the latter of which involved ‘’Hastings’’ units Nos. 1007 and 1017 forming a twelve-vehicle formation.

The next bout of modernisation to occur on the Hastings route was in the mid-1980s, but this was not before the existing DEMU stock witnessed rationalisation. In 1980, all 6B (Class 203) units were short-formed as five-vehicle units, the buffets having been deemed obsolete and subsequently removed. Thus, the ‘’B’’ (‘’Buffet’’) classification was naturally dropped, and the standard ‘’L’’ (‘’Long’’) suffix was assumed. The Class 203 fleet were now of the ‘’5L’’ designation, the prefix reflecting the remaining number of vehicles.


In October 1983, electrification between Tonbridge and Bopeep Junction was authorised at a cost of £24,000,000 (£70,660,000 at 2013 prices). In addition to third rail installation and introduction of standard-width electric stock, works included the upgrade of signalling and track layout alterations. Of the latter, the sections of line through the tunnels were either singled, with the track moved towards the centre (e.g. Mountfield Tunnel), or else concrete slab track was installed to ensure that the track could not move and reduce clearances to an unacceptable level (e.g. Wells and Grove Hill Tunnels). It was also at this time that the decision was taken to close the branch from Eridge via Tunbridge Wells West.


The last day of the diesel timetable on the Hastings line was 11th May 1986; thereafter, 4-CEP units became the primary main line stock on the route. Whilst the charm of the ‘’Hastings’’ DEMUs may have gone, the line did retain some identity – the 4 CEP units which traversed the route were some of the first to receive the well-known ‘’Jaffa Cake’’ livery, in addition to being christened the ‘’1066 Electrics’’. In the meantime, the 3R ‘’Tadpole’’ units, each of which were formed of two ex-‘’Hastings’’ vehicles, had been withdrawn, the last (No. 1205) being decommissioned in 1982.


Special thanks to David Morgan for additional notes and amendments to this section


13th January 1977


Frozen commuters look on as Class 203 “6B” No. 1037 kicks up the snow on the Up Fast Line at Tonbridge, as it leads a Hastings to Cannon Street rush hour fast service. © David Morgan


2nd April 1977


Following maintenance at St Leonards Depot the motor coaches of Class 203 “6B” unit No.1037 operated a test trip to Swanley and back, seen here approaching Bat & Ball on the return run. © David Morgan




The Guard looks towards the 1318-yard-long Bopeep Tunnel, as a very clean No. 1014 departs St Leonards Warrior Square for London Charing Cross. This view shows that over half of the driving vehicle was taken up by the engine and Guard's compartments. © Wayne Walsh



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