The LEV1 (Leyland Experimental Vehicle 1) railbus first appeared in the United Kingdom in 1978. It was a joint venture of the British Rail Research Centre in Derby, England with the bus and truck manufacturer British Leyland. The object was to provide a lightweight, low cost rail vehicle suitable for use in lightly trafficked areas.
The initial phase of testing with LEV1 was completed in 1980 and it was sent with a new vehicle, LEV2, to the United States in the hope of securing orders for the American market. Both LEV1 and LEV2 were essentially conventional 2 axle rail vehicles fitted with engine, transmission and superstructure making extensive use of standard parts from the bus industry. The use of the bus body panels can be clearly seen from comparison of the above pictures, which show LEV2 at Spruce in its role as the Cheat Mountain Salamander and a Leyland National 2 bus of Colchester Borough Transport, which would have been built at around the same time as LEV2.
For a few months in 1980 and 1981, LEV1 and LEV2 operated an experimental commuter service between Concord NH and Lowell MA, connecting at Lowell with Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority services to Boston. For various reasons, the experimental service was not a success. Typical of the problems was a grade crossing accident caused because the lightweight vehicles did not reliably operate the track circuits that triggered the crossing signals. In 1981 LEV1 was returned to the United Kingdom. Because of its pioneering nature, it became part of the National Railway Museum collection. Restored to operating condition in 2010, since 2012 it has been on loan to the Wensleydale Railway.
Meanwhile, LEV2 remained in the United States. It led a rather chequered career, including a brief spell of service with Amtrak, before reaching the Steamtown National Historic Site in 1986. It worked their providing short trips for a number of years, but by the mid-1990s was in need of major overhaul; it was deemed uneconomical to repair and was sold for scrap. Rescued from the cutter's torch by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, it was restored to operating condition and formed the basis for the new Cheat Valley Salamander service.
The success of the Cheat Valley Salamander was such that the operators sought a larger, more reliable and perhaps more appropriate vehicle; thus, a railcar was ordered from the Edwards Railcar Company of Montgomery, AL. Although newly built, its design and construction reflect that of similar cars built by Edwards in the early part of the 20th century for a number of small American railways. Railcar M-3 replaced LEV2 on the Cheat Valley Salamander service in 2000; LEV2 was sold to the Connecticut Trolley Museum, where it remains, awaiting restoration.
Following reopening of part of the line in 2013 after a 2 year closure to passenger trains for an environmental project, locomotive hauled trains were able to reach Spruce and there was no longer a requirement for a railcar in regular service. It is believed, however, that it remains in use when demand is low and is also available for private charter.
LEV1 and LEV2 were not the end of lightweight rail vehicle development in Britain. Further prototypes were built including the two car Class 140; this was developed into the Class 141, and later into the Classes 142, 143 and 144 which remain in service on the national network today.
These two car units are generally called Pacers. Contrary to popular belief, this has never been an official designation. Rather, it is a nickname that arose because the first units to enter revenue earning service carried the green and white colours then in use by the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority. The colours reminded users of a stripy mint confectionery known as Pacers, which were popular at the time. The picture shows a Class 141 in these colours approaching Neville Hill, Leeds in 1988. The colours are not dissimilar from those used on LEV2.
Aynone interested in the preservation and continued operation of the LEVs (and other railbuses and railcar prototypes) may wish to follow the activities of The Railbus Trust on Facebook or Yahoo!
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Photos of LEV2 and Edwards Railcar at Spruce both © 2000 Richard Sparks
Photo of Leyland National bus © 1996 Bob Belcher
Photo of Class 141 Pacer © 1988 Alan Chambers
West Virginia flag image from Wikipedia
Pocahontas County emblem from the Pocahontas County website
Special thanks to the Mountain State Railroad & Logging Historical Association
for providing much of the information and several of the photos used in this article
Thanks also to SPV for their excellent Railroad Atlases