Mk1 SK blood & custard  
Photo by Vern Moorhouse © copyright   Trainsim UK

British Rail



The Mark One Coach

The ubiquitous Mark One coach will be instantly recognisable to those familiar with the British railway scene over the last 50 years. A train of MARK One’s is as much a symbol of the 1960’s and early 1970’s as the HST became during the 1980’s and 1990’s. On nationalisation in 1948, British Railways inherited a mixed bag of rolling stock from the “Big Four” private companies. Much of this was life expired – little new stock had been constructed during World War II and the existing fleet had been run into the ground. A new design of standard coach was therefore conceived and the first production Mark One (as they came to be known) appeared in 1951. The subsequent build period lasted into the early 1960’s. In addition to a wide range of passenger seating coaches a number of suburban, catering, sleeping and non-passenger (parcels) coaches were also constructed. The design also formed the basis for much of the multiple unit stock built during the same period.

Following the introduction of more modern Mark 2 and later Mark 3 stock in the 1970’s the Mark Ones were still to be found across the UK, particularly on cross country services, relief trains and other secondary services. However during the 1980’s the winds of change (ultimately ending in privatisation of the infrastructure and train operating companies) started to sweep through the British railway network. The Inter City service managers increasingly profit motivated focused on a core network of services operated by fixed formation. They did not want the high costs of maintaining resources for occasional relief or seasonal extra trains. Pricing policy or subtle timetable changes were used to try and regulate supply and demand. In many cases it was simply just accepted at the busiest times passengers would have to put up without a seat – even on a 3 or 4-hour journey. The (then) Provincial service managers were even more anxious to cut costs. In a climate of decreasing subsidies they saw the reduction and ultimately elimination of loco hauled workings as essential. A massive build programme of second generation DMU’s was undertaken (Sprinters and the unloved Pacers), even though in many cases this led to trains of 5 or 6 loco hauled coaches being replaced by a cramped multiple unit – not just for short journeys either.

This was the beginning of the end for the Mark One coach, though they held out until the early 1990’s on some of the London commuter runs (notably the London Euston to Northampton “Cobblers” and Western Region Paddington to Oxford and Thames Valley services). Eventually these services too succumbed to modernisation and replacement by fixed formation multiple units.

To be fair by the late eighties and early nineties many of the Mark One coaches were becoming life expired as were the locomotives which hauled them. The use of asbestos materials during construction – acceptable in the 1950’s – posed a serious hazard in the more safety conscious modern age. At today’s prices the cost of replacement like for like would have been prohibitively expensive. Old fossils such as myself may regret the passing of traditional hauled trains but there is no doubt the cost effectiveness and ease of utilisation of the new trains has grown the business on many routes and perhaps even saved some from closure.

However the Mark One can still be found in service. Several private charter companies still have rakes available for main line use – often refurbished to a high standard. Most of the standard gauge preserved lines in the UK use the Mark One as their basic passenger vehicle. Indeed a visit to such a railway can now be just as rewarding for the chance to travel in heritage rolling stock as for the classic steam or diesel loco hauling it.

The basic Mark One design called for all steel construction with a separate body mounted on a welded underframe. Standard length was 64’ 6” over the body (66’ 6” over gangway connections. Non passenger carrying coaches had a standard length of 57’ 6”. Vacuum brakes and steam heating were fitted as standard though later batches were fitted with air brakes and electric train heating. Indeed many coaches ended up with either dual braking or heating systems and in some cases both. Internal fittings and panels in the first batches of coaches were primarily of finished wood (more on that in the individual sections). It was only relatively late on during construction that plastic laminates were available at a quality and price to permit widespread use. Due to the limitations of the belt driven dynamos and coach batteries, tungsten lighting was the standard – it was only much later that coaches were built with fluorescent lighting from new.

Three basic bogie types were used under the Mark One coaches. The original B1 (a.k.a. BR1) bogie was the original design. Fitted with leaf springs as the primary suspension they made a distinctive clanking and groaning when starting off and at speed produced a lovely hollow resonating sound. Coaches fitted with B1 bogies were restricted to a maximum speed of 90MPH. The stylish Commonwealth bogie was introduced from the late 1950’s and not only looked good but gave a superb ride. In the author’s opinion, they were probably the best bogie design to sit under a UK passenger vehicle. Max speed 100MPH. From 1963 the B4 bogie was introduced and while only fitted as new to a small number of new vehicles was used to re-bogie older vehicles as the B1 bogies wore out. Lacking the elegance of the Commonwealth bogie, the B4 nevertheless gave a superior ride to the B1 (though not very tolerant of poor quality track) and was passed for 100MPH operation.

As intimated above there were many different types of Mark One coach built. For use in Trainz, Auran are currently concentrating on the types listed at the top of this page, but there is a very good possibility of exploring some of the other Mk1 arrangements in the future.

As regards livery, the original 'BR' paint scheme was ‘blood and custard’ until about 1956. This was replaced by a striped maroon livery until late 1967 when the famous blue and grey corporate image livery came about. From the mid eighties onwards as BR was sectorised in readiness for privatisation various other liveries were applied.

Written by Vern Moorhouse


Mk1 Coach Gallery - Photo Rail
Mk1 Coach Gallery - UK Rail Photo Site

Many thanks to Vern Moorhouse - Trainsim UK.

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