Twenty-two 3-car units were built for Network SouthEast's West of England route from London Waterloo to Salisbury, Yeovil and Exeter. They were used to replace Class 50 and Class 47 locomotive-hauled passenger trains. Unlike Regional Railways units Class 159s were fitted with four step braking and initially could not work in multiple with any other class.
These original 22 units were in fact built as Class 158 units, but were rebuilt by Babcock Rail in Rosyth before entering traffic. The rebuild consisted of the fitment of first class accommodation, installing retention toilets and other modifications. The rebuild was required as Regional Railways had over-ordered Class 158s, just as Network SouthEast was looking for a similar number of new diesel units. It was not possible for Network SouthEast and BREL to agree terms on the variation order to NSE specification, hence the rebuilding at Rosyth.
The 1992-build units are numbered 159001-022, with individual cars numbered 52873-894 and 57873-894 for driving motor vehicles, and 58718-739 for intermediate motor vehicles. The entire class is maintained at a purpose built depot at Salisbury.
In 2007, eight further Class 159 units were created through the rebuilding of surplus Class 158 units displaced from Transpennine Express.
Units tend to operate in six or nine coach formations between Waterloo and Salisbury, in three or six coach formations between Salisbury and Exeter, and as single units west of Exeter. At weekends, some services west of Exeter operate in six coach formations.
Since then, the Class 159 fleet has been supplemented by nine Class 170 "Turbostar" units, eight of which have since been relocated to First TransPennine Express, and one to Southern, and eleven Class 158s.
Now days the Class 159s operate from London Waterloo to Salisbury/Exeter and the units' sphere of operation has increased to include trains beyond Exeter to Paignton, Plymouth, and Penzance at weekends. Very rarely the 159s go to [[Bristol Temple Meads railway station|Bristol Temple Meads], this service in normally in the hands of South West Trains' Class 158s.
East Midlands Trains Class 158's will be refurbished to class 159 standards at Deltarail works, Derby starting in August 2008.
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