Meet the young couple who saved two Pacers from scrap - and want to live in one

Sam and Mim Slatcher may seem unlikely saviours of two British Rail relics that are older than they are.

But the creative couple in their twenties have rescued two 1980s-era Pacer trains from the scrap yard after Northern retired them from service, and have ambitious plans to give them a new lease of life.

Musician and songwriter Sam and his wife Mim, from Durham, have donated one of the Class 142 diesel units to the Wensleydale Railway as a gift, while the other is being temporarily cared for by the heritage line ahead of a long-term project to transform it into a home, a holiday let and a community arts space.

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Sam and Mim have even set up an Instagram page - @tinytrainhouse - to bring their new purchase into the social media age and document the story of its conversion into an off-grid, eco-friendly house.

Sam and Mim Slatcher with one of their new Pacers at the Wensleydale Railway (pic: George Stephens)

They also hope it will be able to take part in the 2025 bicentenary celebrations of the world's first passenger line, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, as a static display train.

The Class 142s are part of the first generation of Pacers to have entered service in the 1980s, and were working on lines across Yorkshire until their withdrawal at the end of 2019.

Sam is a lifelong admirer of the Pacers and was seduced by the idea of preserving a train he has loved since childhood, while Mim admits she is inspired by the challenges of the DIY project.

They are hunting for a piece of land to buy before transporting the Pacer by road, and are hoping to find a location beside one of the railway lines it once ran on.

Sam and Mim's Pacers have the original bus-style seating intact

The Pacers are older than Sam and Mim, who were born in the 1990s when the units were already a decade into their operational life.

"It's always been a pipe dream for us to live in a railway carriage one day, and over Christmas a lot of stock was coming off the network. It dawned on us how much of an opportunity it was, and we started looking into it." said Sam.

"Sam was watching videos of Pacers being scrapped with the same reaction as I would have to seeing an animal being harmed!" added Mim.

They approached Angel Trains, who had leased 102 of the Pacers to Northern and had already offered them for sale to community groups, heritage railways and the emergency services.

"They were quite interested, and liked the idea that our Pacer would take part in the bicentenary celebrations. We went to the yard and saw a couple we wanted to buy, but then found this whole row of them destined for scrap," said Sam.

Although the Slatchers will not disclose how much they paid for the Pacers, they did agree on a discounted price for two cheaper units that required extensive repairs, and their families helped them raise the funds needed to buy them.

Angel Trains arranged for them to be delivered to the Wensleydale Railway by rail and they arrived there in February. When they were tested on the 22 miles of track between Northallerton and Redmire, it was the first time a Pacer had ever run on a heritage line.

Sam is a supporter of the Wensleydale Railway and has performed at the line's music festivals before.

"It's the closest railway to our home in Durham that is aligned to the Pacers' era. We actually got married at the Tanfield Railway, but that is more 1850s and would maybe have been a bit of a rocky ride for the Pacers. Wensleydale have lots of other diesels.

"They were really interested as one of their diesels needed repairs and they thought the Pacer would be a solution in the summer."

The two units will be given an overhaul by expert volunteers and engineers at the Wensleydale Railway, with one to be painted in its original British Rail livery and retained to be used for school parties during educational visits. The Slatchers' own Pacer will be returned to them next year when it has been repaired and they have secured a permanent site for it.

"It sounds like a crazy idea, but we will eventually invite the whole community along to share their memories of Pacers. They are part of the living memory of the north. Some of my earliest memories are of crossing the Pennines on Pacers. They contributed so much to ensuring access to rural railways and in 2025 they will be 40 years old", added Sam.

The couple have discussed painting their Pacer in one of its past liveries, possibly in a blue colour scheme that was used for prototype models.

"There is a bit of tension between us when it comes to styles - Sam wants it to look very much like a train with a beautifully maintained cab, whereas I am thinking about where to put the kitchen and bedrooms", said Mim.

"Each car will sleep four people, there will be two double bedrooms and a communal space. It's going to be heated by logs and have solar panels, and we want to site it beside a line that fits with its history.

"We're definitely getting rid of the Northern livery though!"

In February, the Wensleydale Railway operated the Pacers on its regular timetable for a special real ale-themed test weekend, which Sam and Mim attended, before the units went into storage for their restoration work. The line has since closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and has appealed for supporters to donate to enable them to meet ongoing operational costs.

"Turning it into a house might upset some of the 'Pacer purists', but we have compromised by giving one to Wensleydale and we are very much celebrating railways," added Sam.

The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway has also recently received some of the Pacers' sister Class 44 units, which will become part of its heritage fleet.

What is happening to the Pacer fleet?

The Pacers were introduced as a temporary stopgap solution to stock shortages but ended up serving Northern routes for 40 years before their phased withdrawal began at the end of 2019.

They are being decommissioned and scrapped at the CF Booth metalworks in Rotherham, one of the few firms in the UK capable of dismantling old rolling stock. The parts and metal could end up being shipped overseas.

Northern leased 102 Pacers from Angel Trains, and the first one was removed from service last August, with three more following in the autumn. Their retirement has been delayed due to ongoing problems with electrification of the network and the manufacture of new rolling stock. They are sent to a storage depot in Worksop before being taken for decommissioning.

Northern have promised they will disappear from Yorkshire routes in 2020 despite the 'temporary retention'.

The trains - known for their rattling motion, cold, dated interiors and noisy engines - were created by attaching bus bodies to rail bogies, and the passenger experience is frequently likened to being on board a bus.

The National Railway Museum have accepted a donated Pacer - the first of the Class 142s to be produced - to add to the national collection. It is currently at their Locomotion site in Shildon, County Durham, where it will eventually run on a short test track, giving rides to visitors.

The Chasewater Railway heritage line in Staffordshire has also bought two Class 142 units for preservation.

Charities and community groups were also invited to bid for Pacers, and among the competition winners were men's mental health charity Platform 1, who are based at Huddersfield Station and will convert the train into a kitchen to teach cooking classes.

Airedale NHS Trust were awarded a Pacer to use as a patient space and Fagley Primary School in Bradford will turn theirs into a science lab.

On February 5, trainspotters were surprised to see Pacers running on the York to Scarborough line - a route not operated by Northern and one which Pacers hadn't been used on for around 20 years. It transpired that the retired stock was being used for driver training by Northern, who are due to begin operating new services on the line in May.

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