The Railcar Association Vehicle Designation Scheme


The Railcar Association vehicle designation scheme is an attempt to quantify the historical importance of the wider preserved DMU fleet in the UK. The scheme was set up in 2012 following concerns voiced at the Annual Convention that the UK’s preserved vehicles continued to be rationalised and that historically important examples may become at risk of being lost for future preservationists.


The scheme was suggested after it was observed that in the two years leading up the 2012 Convention, a great deal more vehicles than was usual had either been moved to new homes following changes in ownership and railway “clearouts” or been scrapped altogether. Several vehicles at the time were “in the balance” when it came to their futures (being in the hands of scrap dealers for example) and some others were for sale with no apparent interest mainly due to three factors:
-The decreased economic status of the private individuals of which DMU preservation has always relied on due to the national economic downturn.
-The current high price of scrap given vehicles in poor condition high value due to their steel content.
-The decreased tolerance of heritage railways to store rolling stock in poor condition and awaiting restoration.

The matter was discussed and it was agreed that there were in many cases too many non running DMU vehicles with no “story to tell” preserved as a result of several “gluts” of preservation when major fleets were withdrawn such as in the early 1990’;s and then again in the early 2000’s. It was felt the cutting back of these more common Classes (mainly the Class 101, 108 & 117 fleets) was not a problem and could indeed even be healthy for the movement. An example of this process working for the good was the recent scrapping of three Class 117 vehicles. All were common vehicles in preservation and provided spare parts for many other operational vehicles.

Where the situation was more concerning however was the same process (disposing of vehicles in poor condition) applying to much rarer classes with much smaller numbers preserved. The two recent examples cited was the scrapping of two of the three complete Class 116 sets in preservation after an arson attack (leaving only a single unique example) and the disposal of a Class 100 trailer car, leaving only two other examples. Whilst no unique vehicles had yet been lost, it was a warning sign that unique vehicles in poor condition could be at risk in the future.

It was agreed that whilst The Railcar Association itself could do little to actually save these vehicles going for scrap (money has and always will be the resource which dictates the future of vehicles) awareness could be raised, as there were vehicles (particularly suburban types) which may be rare of which the casual observer (or even DMU preservationist) would never recognise as such. It was decided to first identify the rarity/importance of vehicles and then to contact the owners of the most historic examples, encouraging them to make the situation known via the Association early on if the vehicle is ever to be sold or indeed disposed of. This would give the best chance for any interested DMU enthusiasts to “step in” rather than a vehicle quietly going for scrap as had happened in the past.


So The Railcar Association Designation was created. The system works on a scoring system from 1-5, with one being the rarest/most historically important, and five being the least important. Vehicles of designation one or two are monitored by the Association and are regarded as essential in maintaining adequate representation of all the surviving DMU classes for the future. Vehicles designated three to five are essentially expendable, although it is desirable to retain those designated three to provide insurance against fire or severe vandalism which may destroy a vehicle.

The score is calculated through several factors including:
-How many identical examples of the vehicle exist.
-Can the vehicle ever represent a true representation of the DMU it was originally part of? (for example some classes were only ever three or four car sets)
-The condition of the vehicle.

Vehicles of an experimental nature (prototype Railbuses being a relatively common example) have their own designation to prevent them being disproportionately represented as whilst they are unique, they are not representative of wider fleets.

Designation Legend

Below is a table detailing the attributes used to assign a vehicle its designation. A vehicle can change designation, for example a common vehicle which falls into a serious state of disrepair can go from four to five. Equally, if other vehicles in a class designated three get scrapped, the survivor would become a two or even one.


A unique vehicle which is essential to representing an example of a historically accurate set for its class.


A vehicle which cannot represent a complete example of a historically accurate set for its class due to loss of other vehicles but is nevertheless unique.

A vehicle of which one identical vehicle also survives where the other vehicle is in poor/incomplete/converted condition.


A vehicle of which there are one or two identical examples also in existence.


A vehicle in reasonable condition of which there are three or more identical examples also in existence.


A vehicle in poor or incomplete condition of which there are three or more identical examples also in existence. Although there are exceptions, poor condition is generally defined as a vehicle which has not seen service in preservation for many years (or at all) and therefore is likely to be in a poor state of repair.


A vehicle which was experimental in its nature and therefore possibly unique but not representative of wider fleets.