The Provincial Services sector of British Rail was formed in 1982 and was responsible for a diverse range of routes across the United Kingdom, many of which were heavily subsidised and operated by either elderly first-generation Diesel Multiple Units, or cascaded locomotive hauled coaching stock.
With this in mind, rather than refurbish or overhaul existing stock, it was felt that investment in a new fleet of DMUs was more cost effective, compared to loco-hauled trains.
Consequently, a modern DMU was cheaper to operate, caused less wear to the track and could reduce journey times, leading to a higher frequency service.
Low cost, lightweight railbus ‘Pacer’ DMUs were seen as the solution for the short distance and lightly used routes, while for inter-urban routes, medium-weight ‘Sprinter’ DMU's of a more traditional design would be used.
The Class 156 two-car sets formed part of the second generation of medium-weight DMUs, being designed to feel more like locomotive hauled stock, or an express coach, with end doors and 2+2 seating fitted with arm rests and tables.
To differentiate them from the first generation ‘Sprinters’, the class came to be known as ‘Super Sprinters’, along with their Class 155 stablemates and between 1987-1989, Metro-Cammell of Birmingham built 114 of the two-car Class 156 sets, numbered in the series 156401-156514.
Each set was formed from a Driving Motor Standard (DMS), which contained an area for storing wheelchairs, bicycles and bulky luggage, and a Driving Motor Standard Lavatory (DMSL). Two-car set 156480, comprising DMS No. 57480 and DMSL No. 52480, was built in February 1989 and entered traffic at Neville Hill.
Currently operating with Northern Rail, on 23 June, 2018 at a ceremony at Newcastle Central station, the unit was unveiled in a special RAF100 livery wrap that it will carry for the next three years.