Wickham car

The “Elliott Track Recording Coach” was commonly referred to as the 'Wickham Railbus' and was built in 1958 by D. Wickham of Ware, Hertfordshire.

It was a self-propelled four-wheel railbus No: DB999507 with one driven axle and had a Meadows 97HP horizontal underfloor engine. It  was used as a track recording car by the Chief Civil Engineer's Department from around 1958, before the BR Research Division was formed and was fitted with an early computer system supplied by Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd (Elliott Automation).

My thanks to Martin Collins for the following information:

 It was used in the early days of the computer development of suspension design to measure track parameters. It towed a sled 50m behind it and through various electrical and optical means measured such things as cant, gauge, curvature all to be fed into a computer program to represent typical track - probably by punched cards processed in the punch room at the RTC. One peculiarity was that it only had brakes on one wheelset - and certainly would not be allowed out on the main line these days!

At one stage its engine blew up and its replacement came from a bus scrap yard in Doncaster spotted by a member of R&DD staff.

Its original livery was canary yellow with chocolate brown above the waist line. It had a silver roof with red buffer beams and a black underframe with a lattice girder frame mounted between the axleboxes, which carried the recording equipment. It was known affectionately to the staff at the R&DD as 'The Yellow Peril'.

It was designed to record at 30 mile/h but could transit at up to 55 mile/h.

Here are some pictures of the vehicle when built, in R&DD service and on a special working.


Here is a new Wickham car. SC99507 was built for service on the Scottish Region in 1958.

Trains Illustrated Aug 1958

Wickham's official photograph of the track recording car c1959

D Wickham


The BR Research Department's Wickham RDB999507 at Hartington on the line between Ashbourne and Buxton on 8th September 1962 with a Leicester Branch SLS Special alongside.

R B Parr

A colour photo from the same location - Courtesey Facebook 'Derbyshire Railways Remembered' group

Robert Farley

The Wickham car at Wellingborough on an unknown date

Mike Morant Collection

Yellow Peril

The 'Yellow Peril' undergoing a calibration tilt test where wedges were placed under the wheels to simulate a 6-inch cant

BR Official


The Wickham railcar at Nuneaton on 24th February 1969 still in its original yellow and brown livery


In the yard A trial 'Wiggly Wire' system laid in the yard at the RTC pictured on March 10th 1965, with RDB999507 the 'Wickham' or Elliott track recording car in the background. The wire was bonded to plastic sheets fixed to the ground.

The Wickham was not used in the ATO testing

Author's collection

The Wickham car became Lab 20 No: RDB999507 pictured leaving the Mickleover depot on 19th March 1981

Richard Billinge

Lab 20 at Old Dalby Several experiments were carried out utilising the Wickham car for structure gauging using a dual-triangulation system with lights and cameras. This optical method was a big improvement over the existing ways of gauging and was later used on the purpose-built Structure Gauging Train.

BR Official

Mickleover test track

The Lab 20 is pictured somewhere on the Mickleover test track on 13th November 1985

Author's collection

Lab 20 Mickleover

The Wickham car Lab 20 No: RDB999507 pictured crossing Heage Road between Etwall and Radbourne on the Mickleover test track whilst running a rail tour in the spring of 1990.

Les Nixon





















The Wickham was sold to the East Lancashire Railway in 1997 and later moved to the Middleton Railway on 11th June 2003. It is currently based at the Lavender Line in Isfield, East Sussex and is now privately owned.


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