The Railcar Association was established in 1998 as a support group for the many groups and heritage railway personnel involved in the preservation of BR era diesel railcars in the UK. Inter-group communication and the sharing of useful contacts, information and restoration methods were the original aims which were quickly met through the set-up of an online newsletter and crucially an e-mail self-help group known as ‘1st gen’. Continual support and communication quickly became available at all times using these online tools, bolstered annually by a physical meeting at a different heritage railway each year, known as the ‘Convention’. A key principle of the Association was for all activities and information to be shared at zero (or little) cost and to be 100% volunteer. After almost 25 years this has remained true. Membership also remains free. Early successes for the Association included the bulk negotiation of spare parts and indeed whole vehicles into preservation by offering a collaborative approach to leasing companies disposing of equipment, who preferred a single point of contact rather than dealing with many disparate small groups. Later, the Association was the first (and currently the only) organisation to create and implement a national standard for heritage railway maintenance for a common type of vehicle. The Model Maintenance Scheme was successfully tailored to preserved railcar operation of all kinds and is fully endorsed by the ORR. Their most recent expansion has been a second MMS to cover the newly preserved ‘Pacer’ units.
Formed to provide an umbrella organisation to bring together all the owners, operators and volunteers involved with the purchase, operation and continued restoration and maintenance of ex British Railways diesel railcars, the Associations’ principal activity is to share information and guidance on the safe and continued operation and restoration of BR era railcars on preserved heritage railways.
The Association has been credited with being one of the only organisations to successfully introduce national standards for the operation of a type of rail vehicle in preservation and the Railcar Association was encouraged to join the HRA by the Office of Rail and Road to both strengthen our position and to open-up greater opportunities to share methodology.
Our methodology, success and resources could be of benefit to many of the HRA's corporate members who operate diesel railcars. Elements of the Associations’ systems could potentially be adapted and used for other items of rolling stock such as diesel locomotives or carriages.