This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.

Back to Latest Red Wheel Site

N.E.R. Petrol Electric 'Autocar' - Hartlepool

The North Eastern Railway ran the world's first Petrol Electric 'Autocar' - the pioneer of modern passenger trains- at Hartlepool in 1904 

Co Durham
Red Wheel Site:
Transport Mode(s):

Lynn St


TS24 7ED
Visitor Centre:

About N.E.R. Petrol Electric 'Autocar' - Hartlepool

In 1904 the North Eastern Railway introduced its Petrol Electric Autocar running between Hartlepool (now closed) and West Hartlepool (the present Hartlepool Station).  It was the first use of an internal combustion driving an electric motor (thus avoiding use of gearbox).Two of the Autocars were built and operated on a number of lines in the North Eastern Railway area.  When withdrawn, one found a new life as a summer house near Pickering from where it was rescued.  It has now been completely restored with a modern diesel engine and bogie from a redundant electric train by The NER 1903 Electric Autocar Trust.  The importance of these vehicles as the link between steam and modern diesel electric multiple units is huge and the reason why the restoration was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Modern photos courtesy Mike Heath and Stephen Middleton

Historic photos courtesy Ken Hoole Study Centre


In 1903 the North Eastern Railway designed and built a pair of “Autocars” which laid the foundation for most of the trains running today. At that time, steam powered the world’s railways, and although railcars were being developed, they too were steam powered.


This was the world’s first use of an internal combustion engine in a passenger carrying rail vehicle. At the time the petrol engine was in its infancy and reliable diesel engines were not developed until the mid 1930s. The two Autocars, numbers 3170 and 3171, were also fitted with electric track brakes, another first in railway use. In short, it is hard to overstate the importance of these pioneering vehicles in transport history, as they were fifty years ahead of their time. Similar rail transport did not really take off until the 1950s.

Initially the Autocars saw service between West Hartlepool and Hartlepool stations (in direct competition with electric tramcars) and Scarborough to Filey (as a replacement of a steam service). Later, the Autocars were transferred to the Selby – Cawood branchline to work the passenger services there. In 1923, no.3170 was fitted with a larger engine and new generator giving it sufficient power to pull a conventional carriage, thus increasing passenger capacity. It worked in the Harrogate area for a while before rejoining its twin on the Cawood branch. No.3171 was withdrawn in 1930 and no.3170 in 1931.


Copyright © 2019 The Transport Trust. All rights reserved. The Transport Trust is a registered UK charity No. 280943 Registered address: First Floor, 26 Station Approach,Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey, KT10 0SR. Registered in England No. 1509733.