One of the things I’ve always been rather proud of is my ability to wring every last penny out of whatever budget I have for a project or event. When the entire budget for running Rail North for one year was less than most Marketing teams spend on single campaigns, it’s a good skill to have.

Image: design for a Top Trumps playing card.
Design for a Top Trumps playing card featuring a much-loved Pacer unit.

But one of the things I always wanted to do was create something special for the APPG Annual Receptions. Unfortunately we were limited to just a 12-page A4 booklet in 2015, 16 pages, Square 210 format in 2016. If I’d the money, I wanted to create a giveaway pack of promotional Top Trumps cards.

Top Trumps was the game every kid my age played when they were kids my age. I don’t recall the girls playing it much, but we boys had the cars, tanks, aircraft – whatever we could get our hands on. And all for the princely sum of 50 New Pence.

Promotional packs of cards aren’t new, of course. The most well-known in recent times would be the Most Wanted Iraqi set from Gulf War II: Like Father, Like Son. But since this was a rail-related event, the content had to be rail related. And a rough calculation made me wonder about the different classes of passenger rolling stock used in the north of England. Could this reach the requisite 32 I needed to make up a sensible pack? Remember, I’m only counting units with British Rail ‘TOPS’ class numbers, in regular passenger service (or coming soon).

Rolling, rolling, rolling (stock)

Northern has eight diesel types: classes 142, 144 (2-carriage), 144 (3-carriage), 150, 153, 155, 156 and 158. We’ll ignore for the moment that the two class 144 variants are basically the same and that a class 153 is two halves of former class 155 units. For our purposes they are all different – you’ll see.

Northern also has electric classes 319, 321, 322, 323 and 333, and will be introducing class 195 (diesel) and 331 (electric) sets over the next few years, plus some hand-me-down class 170 diesel units. So that’s half the pack right there!

TransPennine Express uses just classes 185 (diesel) and 350 (electric) but will be introducing classes 397 (electric) and 802 (bi-mode) plus some loco-hauled diesel stock (class 68 and Mark 5A coaches). That takes us to 21.

Virgin Trains East Coast has class 43s and 91s. When the 43s go they will be replaced by class 800 (bi-mode) and 801 (electric) sets. East Midlands has the 43s, 153s, 156s, 158s and class 222 for longer-distance services. CrossCountry uses classes 43, 180, 220 and 221. Virgin West Coast has mostly the class 390 electric sets, plus some class 221s. That takes us to… 30.

Merseyrail has classes 507 and 508, et voilà! Thirty-two cards!

And then it goes slightly wrong

Merseyrail will also be getting some new stock, in 2019. No class number yet, so we could ignore it…

… but we also need to include the class 399 tram-train sets. And the class 175 units used by Arriva Trains Wales on services to Manchester. So that’s at least 34 cards.

The thought occurs that if we stretched this to other train operators we could hit the magic 52. An exercise left for the reader – as you can see from the picture, at some point we’d need a photo for each class, plus all those facts to make the game worth playing…