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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):

Station Approach,


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  When withdrawn, one found a new life as a summer house near Pickering from where it was rescued.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.


Press release following the unveiling of the Transport Trust Red Wheel Plaques on 6th February 2019:

"The Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Mrs Sue Snowdon, has unveiled two Transport Red Wheels at Hartlepool Station.

The station is now in the priviledged postion of being the first location to have two of the prestigious Transport Trust Red Wheels.

One Red Wheel commemorates the events of the 16th December 1914 when the Hartlepools came under attack from the Imperial German Navy with one shell hitting the railway station.

The second Red Wheel commemorates the North Eastern Railway’s Autocar, the 1903 precursor to all modern diesel electric trains.

The Transport Trust (TT) and the Friends of Hartlepool Railway Station (supported by Northern) worked together to erect the two Red Wheels.

Two new interpretation panels on the platform at Hartlepool talk about the historical background to the bombardment and the history of the Autocar. The brickwork marking the spot where the shell crashed through the station wall can clearly be seen at the far end of the station.

Transport Trust Vice Chairman, Rob Shorland-Ball said, “the Trust has been honoured to have the Lord Lieutenant Mrs Snowdon unveil these two Red Wheels. They both highlight the signifant role that the Hartlepools have played in both the horror of the First World War and the development of modern railway trains. The Trust is delighted to mark these significant points in transport history and is grateful to the Friends of Hartlepool Railway Station for bringing the bombardment to our attention.”

Mike Anderson from the Friends of Hartlepool Railway Station who initiated the Red Wheels said, “We were pleased to work with the Transport Trust on the Red Wheels. Hosting the Autocar Red Wheel was a double plus for us, and both the Red Wheels and the interpretation panels will help bring both these elements of our history alive for local people and visitors, as the Hartlepools look to the future.”

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.


The following extract is from DAWN RAID, The Bombardment of the Hartlepool’s by John Ward. Published by Printability Publishing, 10/11, Lower Church Street, Hartlepool. TS24 7DJ and is reproduced with the publishers permission.

...Hartlepool holds a number of tape recordings of people’s experiences during the raid. One is by a lady who lived in the collieries and she said:-

‘I was a 13 year old schoolgirl at the time of the bombardment. I attended Henry Smith Grammar School and came into Hartlepool each day from Wellfield station where I lived. That morning the school train was packed with children from the colliery places, Thornley, Wingate, Wheatley Hill, Shotton, Castle Eden, Hesleden and Hart.

The guns were firing before we left Wellfield, but we thought it was a heavy thunderstorm. No instructions had been sent to station masters and my father, who was Station Master at Wellfield, allowed the train to leave. It was the same at Castle Eden, Hesleden and Hart, even though from Hart Station there was a very good view of the three warships firing. The train moved on, children leaning from all the windows, watching what they thought was a naval battle. About midway between Hart Station and Hartlepool the train came to a stop on an embankment where the sea came closer to the railway. The ships were firing on one side and the gasometer blazing on the other. We children did not connect the two, until the guard came running along the train saying that shells were passing over and we were to get down on the floor.

The fact remains that a train load of children were there on the railway embankment, stationary and a sitting target until the firing ceased and the ships departed. Then the train pulled slowly into West Hartlepool station passing the burning gasometer on the way. We usually changed from the train to an Autocar to be taken to what was then Old Hartlepool, but we left the train to be met by two of our schoolmasters who had gone to a cafe on the sea front and had the roof blown off over their heads. They were half dressed and dirty, but at that time we were frightened and glad to see them, they showed us the shell hole through the station wall, and told us there would be no trains running to take us home and no telegraphic communications were possible. It was no use trying to get to school as it was being used as a temporary hospital...


Autocar info board



National Transport Trust, Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey KT10 0SR