Best of British : BR Class 43 – High Speed Train

Twenty twelve is of course our Jubilee and Olympic year, and here at AROnline we celebrate our own transport legends in the first of this new short series that pay homage to some true gold-winning icons.

Words: Mike Humble

The most iconic train of British Rail? A total success and still reigning supreme after 36 years.

It’s quite staggering when you take stock and think that it has been 16 years since the railway industry was (hastily) privatized. Doesn’t time simply fly. The railway in Britain has always been a topic of much debate with passengers, enthusiasts and politicians ever since ‘Locomotion No: 1’ lurched and clanked its way along the Stockton to Darlington line way back in 1825.

Some say that progress hasn’t changed that much since those early pioneering days – especially on some regional branch lines, but on a personal note, the railway was and still is a shining example of ingenuity, perseverance and Victorian pride. Living and growing up in Darlington with countless friends and relatives in gainful employment with B.R, it seems natural that my passion for rail is almost equal to that of the motor car.

Great Britain has changed the face of travel in so many different areas, in aviation there is the Harrier Jet or Concorde while on the open sea there is the QE2 liner – each one of them gaining the respect and admiration from man and boy alike all around the world. Prior to the huge road & motorway investment programme of the 1950s and ’60s, the only way to travel around Britain was by rail.

Even though the big four groups had been nationalised into British Rail, they still operated to a certain degree as separate entities that regarded other regions as inferior – sounds similar to a certain car maker too. The Beeching years had slimmed down the infrastructure and raw cost base with British Rail adopting a hard nosed attitude towards business – the early signs of the age of the train.

The British Rail board (BRB) had transformed regional lines by means of Diesel or Electric multiple units but long distance travel was still in the command of steam right up to the late 1960s. Various prototype diesel locomotives had been assessed with only a handful being regarded as a success – the class 37, 40, 45, 47 and 55 (Deltic) being notable backbones of the then newly branded Inter City network.

To this day, many still bemoan the loss of steam traction, but to be fair, this had to cease in order for the railways to survive in any form. Steam was labour intensive, expensive and hopelessly inefficient, even the most efficient and fastest locomotives such as the Gresley A4 class for example offered somewhere in the region of only 30% efficiency when in supreme mechanical order.

A previous generation of streamlined locomotive – Sir Nigel Gresley’s A4 class member 4468 ‘Mallard’ broke the world speed record for steam in 1938 at 126.4 mph – a feat never beaten!

The fastest and most powerful diesel locomotive on the BR network prior to the HST was the 3300bhp Class 55 Deltic with a top speed of 100mph, they would go faster with only minor alterations but rolling stock braking and track limitations would not permit this. The class 55 was also an expensive machine to both operate and maintain with its 16-cylinder two-stroke Napier engine prone to terminal failure unless exacting tolerances were adhered to in the traction depots.

During the late 1960s, the BRB (British Rail Board) sanctioned a new technical research division based in Derby to look into the idea of a new breed of high speed train, not just the locomotive, but also carriages. Initially, gas turbine was the desired traction, but a splinter group claimed to be able to design and build a prototype diesel electric train conforming to normal engineering practices.

The go ahead was given for both gas turbine (APT) and diesel (HST) prototypes and within an incredibly short space of time, the finishing touches were being added at both Derby and Crewe to the prototype High Speed Train. Whereby the APT boasted novel features like tilting suspension and a fluid based Hydrokinetic braking system, the HST used bogie mounted air suspension and disc brakes.

The chosen power unit was produced by Paxman of Colchester designated the Valenta 12RP200L rated at 2500bhp per unit, though production versions were de-rated to 2250 driving a crank mounted AC alternator set supplying the traction motors with motive power to a loco at each end.

The prototype HST power car under construction at Crewe receives its 2500bhp Paxman Valenta engine in 1972

The prototype entered trail service in the Summer of 1973 with a rake of brand new air conditioned coaches which became known as the Mk3 design. First deployed on the Kings Cross – Edinburgh East Coast route, the set was then placed in the hands of the Western region operating on the Paddington to Bristol route for crew evaluation.

BR operating staff and managers were so impressed with this new train that the desire to develop both the HST and APT would have most of the effort made towards the diesel electric option. A low axle weight in relation to size allied to full air suspension made sure track damage was minimal during high speed running – electric class 86 and diesel class 55 locos were heavy steel sprung locos notorious for harming the rails.

Experiences gained found the HST to be a reliable train with only a handful of minor teething problems which were mainly resolved before production sets entered service in 1976.

The line speed was 125mph which could be achieved under normal signalling and the ultra efficient braking system exceeded all set out criteria, but high speed running proved to have a high wear aspect on the pads and modifications in service partly addressed the strong smell of hot brake linings coming through the air conditioning which some passengers found alarming. A full passenger HST service commenced in 1976 on the Western region, with full squadron service taking place on the Eastern region the following year.

The age old problem of union action initially caused major concern to BR, drivers demanded higher pay for operating faster trains. BR got around the problem by re positioning the crew seat from behind to alongside the driver and once word got around at just how good these locomotives were, the waiting list to join the Inter City driving pool reached an unheard of length.

The supreme acceleration and braking efficiency meant that the HST could operate at speeds 25% higher than the Deltics pulling Mk2 stock and yet still brake safely within the existing four aspect signalling system. Automatic doors between the carriage vestibules, double glazing and full air conditioning made for a soothing ride for passengers – it was not unheard of for passengers to willingly stand even in first class just to experience rail travel at over two miles a minute once passenger services commenced in 1976.

The prototype HST relaxes at York in 1973 while BREL engineers and staff celebrate another record breaking proving run on the East Coast Main line.

Various proving trails and speed records were broken too, with a HST set recording a speed of 148mph – the drivers simply loved these race horses as they became nicknamed. Once in service they settled down to be generally reliable, but the hot summer of ’83 caused many overheating issues which after much investigation was caused more by poor maintenance practices and unsatisfactory cleaning of the radiator cores than a defect in manufacturing. Some problems similar to our very own Rover K-Series engines with earlier power units became commonplace in the early years which blotted and almost perfect copy book.

A high number of turbocharger failures soon became apparent under the punishing diagrams these trains operated to were found to be caused by the cylinder liners not sealing correctly and allowing coolant and lubricant to mix. This would cause the viscosity of the oil to break down at extreme temperatures (the turbo would operate at temperatures well in excess of over 600 degrees) and cause a premature failure of the thrust bearing inside the delicate turbo. Large quantities of oil would blow through the exhaust systems and in rare circumstances cause a fire on the loco roof. Paxman altered the casting procedure during engine production which virtually cured future problems and occasional head fracture issues were also less commonplace.

Other problems in service revolved around hairline cracks in the axle boxes on the train bogies, but again, once this was identified BR were quick to develop a modified component which put another teething problem to rest. Even to this day, the BR Mk3 coach is still regarded as being the best rolling stock on the network. These passenger coaches were the high watermark in design for BR which have more than shown themselves to be robust, hard wearing and extremely strong – a factor that has been demonstrated after some serious rail disasters such as Ladbrooke Grove and the Ufton Nervert crossing accident. Subsequent later rolling stock have yet to equal the Mk3 for longevity and build quality.

BR and the Inter City brand were sold off in chunks. The first operator to go it alone was a Management buy out from Great Western Trains in 1996.

As privatisation loomed, certain engineering updates were undertaken on the HST power cars and many power cars on the Eastern Region operated in conjunction with the new class 91 electric locos owing to a delay of driving van trailers (DVT) and Mk4 carriages. Initially, the HST power car did the job of providing power for the trains air con and lighting systems, but extended periods of just idling without providing traction power caused accelerated wear and carbon build up in the engine. Engineers had no choice but to rewire the loco to multiplex systems so they would not only provide power for the train, but work traction wise in conjunction with the 6600bhp electric class 91.

During this period, some truly astounding acceleration times were noted thanks to the complete set having almost 9000bhp on tap. Having personally experienced the hybrid HST/91 combo many times, the build up of speed would actually push you back into your seat – bloody marvellous. As the 1990s progressed, some experimentation with re-engineering the power cars saw BR trail the use of both Mirlees and the modern Paxman VP185 engines to replace the obsolete Valenta RP design, the VP185 became to engine of choice but before they could be rolled out into the whole fleet, Government plans for privatisation ended the opportunity for total fleet upgrades.

Crewe Works 1984. The HST required exacting maintenance with some sets operating in excess of 1000 miles a day!

Following the tragic events of 1996, the once respected InterCity brand was dead, replaced with a myriad of new private companies, all with one thing in mind – profit. With the exception of Virgin Trains, no real money would be available for new rolling stock to replace the HST, so asset utilisation became the buzz words.

The HST came into its own more so during this post sell off era, the diagrams and routes under the BR era were punishing enough, but the modern private world of smaller engineering budgets and tighter timetables found the HST being nothing short of thrashed within an inch of its life. Engine failures, broken air con, missing buffet cars & carriages with non working lights were symptomatic of this privatised rail industry.

Keeping the trains running was an epic task undertaken by depots scattered around the network, while we slept in our beds the trains would be fed, watered and repaired all ready for the morning commuter journey. Costing was to the penny too, BR reckoned that to stop a HST from 125 mph cost £120 in wear on the brakes so correct driver training was key to getting the best levels of efficiency.

Drivers would report that each HST set would have its own character and traits just like steam locomotives, no two power cars would feel exactly the same, and in the days before speed limiters and black boxes, some ‘unofficial’ speed records would be noted – the driving crew simply adored them while engineering staff certainly earned their corn!

GNER with its ‘Mallard’ upgrade programme of 2007, brought the HST into the 21st century.

Project Rio, which was the temporary diversion from London to Manchester via Derbyshire (once the route of Midland Pullman) during 2003/2004, saw worn out and life expired HST sets formally operated by Virgin Trains. This was possibly the low point of the career of the HST. I personally used this service many times, and on each occasion there was either a cancellation or breakdown.

Some operators saw an ideal opportunity to improve the HST to a point where they almost seemed like a new train. GNER who treated their class 91 fleet to a ‘Mallard’ upgrade programme of new seats and décor, with WiFi on board, new lighting, tannoy systems, applied the same technique to the HST they operated on non electrified routes.

First Great Western have also provided a similar range of upgrades for their fleet, but reliability still remains a big problem on the Western lines. Sadly no Paxman Valenta powered HSTs remain in passenger service, most of todays operators have chosen a German MTU engine which is quieter, more fuel efficient and much cleaner in operation. The much missed scream of the turbo and howl from the Marston cooling fans have been replaced with a truck like sounding gurgle in this modern sterile world – but one thing is for certain, the HST offered the age of the train back in 1976 and continues to do so – almost 40 years later!

Quite staggering to think that it’s all down to British teamwork and British ingenuity courtesy of our much missed friend: British Rail.


Mike Humble


  1. I must be one of the few people not to mind the passing of the Valenta- as a frequent pedestrian user of a certain level crossing, the banshee wail of an HST set accelerating out of Gloucester station was almost deafening- I much prefer the more muted MTU re-engined versions.

    That said, they are remarkable trains- extremely comfortable with the Mk3 carriages, fairly fast (although not up to electric standards of acceleration), and nowadays reliable. First Great Western tried partially replacing them with the Class 180 Adelantes, but these did not prove successful- reliability issues plus the fact that the engines were beneath the carriages did not impress passengers.

    When I was about 8 years old (1977 or 78) I nearly fell victim to a speeding HST in a then disused halt near Bradford upon Avon, Wiltshire. I’d used the crossing and was sitting in the tiny shelter which had an old slatted bench when without warning an HST shot through, almost certainly speeding. I was literally sucked off my feet by the vortex of the train, and it was only by clinging for dear life to the slats of the bench that I did not get sucked against the side of the train- apparenly what happens is that you get spun between the side of the train and the platform- hence on high-speed routes (which that wasn’t- it was adjacent to an unmanned crossing) they paint a yellow stripe along the platform which passengers are advised to stand behind.

    The Mk3 carriages are used for a variety of DMUs and EMUs- recently used a Class 158 Sprinter, and apart from the idling noise when stationary, I was remarkably impressed by that BR-built and now quite ancient train’s ride and refinement. That said, you can’t beat the old ‘heritage’ DMUs with their lumpy, oversprung seats for character and for a pleasant jaunt down slow picturesque lines.

  2. As a child I loved travelling in DMUs and elderly corridor coach trains hauled by Class 37s and 47s in the depths of West Wales, but 125’s were always so impressive when changing trains at Swansea and hearing them roar out of the station (or better still at Paddington with a line of them to enjoy)… Great article, thanks!

  3. Just to correct you, the “Midland Pullman” which ran from Manchester Central to St. Pancras ran on the old Midland route via Miller’s Dale which closed as a through route in 1968. The “Project Rio” trains ran from Manchester Piccadilly via the Hope Valley route.

  4. @3, Chris sorry to be the bearer of bad news but 180’s are back on the Western region! Whisper it quietly, I caught one running a class 2 stopping service recently….

    Mike cracking stuff! I would give the HST another 10 years, electrification might kill it off, but then Wang a pantograph on top and who knows???

  5. @7 Andrew Elphick,

    I think they are only using them on the Cotswold Line AFAIK.

    @8. Jag75,

    I think Kenneth Grange’s input tends to be a bit overstated- he only styled it- which certainly made a contribution, but he isn’t on the same plane as with IK Brunel and Issigonis.

  6. ALL HAIL VALENTA!!!! Hahaha!! They scared me as a kid but I did have a respect for the ferocious power of that unit. The scream was amazing to hear as they powered up a few notches and powered down a little in the distance to control their speed.

    This was a pretty good article – I’d love it if you could cover APT, Electra (class 91?), and Avocet (a one off that apparently supplied engineering concepts to the Euro Star power cars), and perhaps even Class 321- the backbone of BR during it’s time, I think, much as ElectroStar and TurboStar is today.

    Great stuff!!

  7. Ahh the HST and the characteristic scream of the Napier Turbo.

    There was nothing that could deafen you more than standing on a platform when a driver did a notch 5 departure. You would get the engine starting to rev, followed by the turbo spinning up, then this wall of noise coming towards you.

    Then after the first power car.. Silence save for some track noise and the air suspension relief valves.

    The train would build up speed quickly and you’d get a couple of seconds of scream as the second power car passed.

    The only screaming HSTs are the VP185 engined ones that East Midland Trains use. The scream like a banshee at speed, but are relatively quiet in the stations.

  8. Great trains – use them regularly on East Coast (excellent), Grand Central (need a refurb), Cross Coutry (excellent) and occasionally Great Western (as new traina) and East Midlands (pretty original but tidied).

    Absolute classic with a few years of life left in them.

    As an aside the the East Midlands ones still have the original enigines – they definitely sound different to me.

  9. Interesting that so many appreciate (or otherwise) the noise that these machines made with the original Valentas- kind of ties in with discussions in another current thread about the Interceptor- and the idea of substituting a diesel (not a Valenta thankfully- althouth it would probably fit if a small hole was made in the bonnet!).

    I miss the characteristic noises that older trains used to make (with the exception of the Valenta)- from the wonderful tractor sounds of the Class 37, the incredible valley-filling bass beats of a Class 50(even better when rarely double-headed) and the first generation DMUs- which would set off ambling slowly down the platform, coast for what seemed like half a mile, make a noise like a wet fart, noisily engage another gear, and gaily gambol through the countryside rocking gently from side to side on its bogies. Many was the time I’d had a welcome distraction from my studies when at school by passing trains that I could recognise purely from the sounds they made- the soundtrack to my teenage life.

    Great article Mike. God the HST prototype had a face only it’s mother could love, bless it. Apparently it is being restored with the idea of getting it back on the rails. And given the inch or two of oily smokey crud that tended to build up on the cab roof, it was a good idea to discontinue fitting that fan duct above the windscreen- hope that wasn’t meant for the comfort of the crew!

  10. I hadn’t noticed the noise had gone..


    Got a recording of it I did for Uni somewhere..

  11. @13. I think East Midlands Trains went for the VP185 engine to re-engine their HST power cars, most others went for the MTU option, which is why they sound different. As far as I remember, the last Valenta power cars were the Network Rail operated ones, but I think they were changed a couple of years back.

  12. The best diesel train in the World – probably! The Blue Pullman and Western may have been more stylish, the Deltic may have had an even more exciting sound (twin gunboat engines in a lightweight shell – great idea!) but for speed, comfort and longevity HST does the business. The only thing that really shows its age are the external manual doors – a not insuperable problem as Chiltern have demonstrated with their Mk.3 refurbishment; indeed power doors were fitted to the export Mk.3s built for CIE way back in 1986.

  13. There were also some built to a very similar design for Australia using Paxman Valenta power. There are plans afoot at the NRM in York to bring the prototype power car back to life, and back on to the main line! A 43 on the jacks at Neville Hill, Leeds, Prototype at York.

  14. @18, Andrew Elphick,

    Those were probably used on ‘Thunderbird’ duty to rescue a failed unit. FGW has taken the entirely logical step of using paired spare power cars to couple up to the failed unit- meaning that the set is powered by up to three power cars. The rescue power cars have to operate back-to back with each other so that the emergency drawbars, seen exposed on the leading power car, can join up to the failed loco (or possible the other one). For some reason they can’t be coupled rear-of-power-car to front-of-power-car.

    One wonders why this was never done in years gone by- often the rescue loco would be much lower powered, eg a Class 37, which couldn’t possible keep up with route timings, even if the train hadn’t been delayed due to the breakdown. In theory, one power car ought to be sufficient to power the train on its own but this doesn’t seem to happen in practice.

    @19, francis brett,

    I’ve rarely seen the Deltics used in anger (once south of York, and once with 55 022 Royal Scot’s Grey on a fairwell tour through Cheltenham. With the possible exception of the squeaky sounding Class 20s, all English Electric locos sounded fantastic- Class 50s being my favourite, they used to come through Cheltenham frequently, and would be accellerating out of Cheltenham past my school. I have a soft spot for the Class 31 and 37 too (31s were introduced as Class 30 but the Mirrlees engines were useless and were re-engined with the same unit as the 37, but de-rated). Mirrlees engines are used with the troublesome Class 60, which are a regular site here on the Murco tanker trains, and they sound good. High maintainance though.

  15. I have an excellent hardback book which was brought out when the HST’s hit 25, and it tells of the 91/43 combos hitting insane speeds, with silly acceleration. The book is HST Silver Jubilee by Colin Marsden, published by Ian Allan in 2001. A must for HST fans. I believe when Giles Fearnley was running Grand Central, the original plan was to order trains to a similar, but modernised HST design, with power cars at either end, but sadly this didn’t happen, Giles flogged it to Arriva, and went to play buses again with First

  16. Just done some further digging, and all that is required now to get the prototype powercar running is a full re-wire, it now has an engine and alternator set, and all work so far has been done at EMT’s workshop at Neville Hill, Leeds, so it is quite likely that next year the NRM’s yard at York every now and again will be filled with the sound of a Paxman Valenta, as well as twin Napier Deltic noises from KOYLI! JOY!

  17. Great article and photos Mike. Like you say, it doesnt seem that long since the HST entered service. I recall watching them cross the bridge from Byker into Newcastle in 1976 onwards. They still look modern now and of course GRAND CENTRAL still use them on their Sunderland to Kings X route.

  18. Yep wonderful article.Similar memories of DMU exhaust farts as revs rose plus the ‘Daddy’ of all trains,the Deltic.I remember standing on Leicester station platform when I was about 7 when the monster was about to pull away and sounded it’s horn before thundering away.I think I papped myself.

  19. Only the MK3 coaches have air suspension. To reduce unsprung weight of the power cars the traction motors where mounted on the bogie frames with a flexible drive to the wheelsets. Class 86 Electrics had axle hung motors that placed the motor weight directly onto the axles leading to track damage. Spreading the power across two power cars and 4 bogies/8 wheelsets also helped of course. The article also plays down the problems with coolant leaks that power cars suffered in the early days. The Valentas where essentially marine Diesels designed to benefit from a constant flow of sea water and to run at constant speed. In the HSTs not only where the engines cooled by radiators and fans, but they where also expected to cycle constanly between full revs and idle creating thermal shocks. The coolant jackets around inlet manifolds where particulary prone to cracking. As an emergency measure many power cars where equiped with a 50 gallon drum of coolant in the guards compartment and a hand pump to allow crews to top up coolant levels.

  20. @26, Paul,

    The need for a constant supply of sea water is probably why the HSTs performed better that Virgin Voyagers when running the gauntlet along the Dawlish sea wall in Devon!

  21. The air at Sheffield station used to get very chewy when the Midland Mainline sets pulled away too. Shame all we get here is clapped out 90s, with the odd Dusty Bin and 360 on mainline work

  22. @21 It was found that using the equivalent of one power car was quite easy to get up to 100mph, however to get up to 125mph required another power car. It was the only available tech at that time using diesel.

    Of course, Electra featured the power of two of these cars and you only need one power car and a driving van trailer to get up to 125.

    Incidentally, the Mk4 coaches used with Electra are a spillover from the APT days and can even be retro fitted with tilt mechs. Note the profile shape of the cars – this is to allow them to tilt without reducing the clearance distance between trains/platforms.

  23. — in fact, I believe it was called the Intercity 225 (km/h that is) the train could quite easily hit 140mph but were restricted from doing so due to the limitations of signalling (actually seeing the signals) and stopping distance.

    Same problem affecting Virgin’s Pendolino. They wanted moving block signalling but Railtrack realised- to late- it wasn’t possible because of the complexity of the WCML. In-cab signalling should have been possible (fixed block) but they ran out of money so the trains ended up being limited to 125mph. – They were going to try 135mph up the straight Trent Valley section but don’t know what happened here.

  24. @7 – Bombardier have said that any new HST Classic train that they deliver will be fully modular in it’s power system. ie The power cars will be DEMU’s initially but will be pantograph adaptable for OHLE use when it will be required OR Hybrid (using one or the other dependent on location)- future proofing.

  25. Saint, sir, In-cab signalling is the future, the like of me will be redundant in 15 years. The only stumbling block (see what I did there!) is the money….
    You might have spotted Keith and Mike slipped some “blown” MTU snaps taken back on reading station a few years back.

  26. Sorry Andy, my point was that moving block in-cab signalling and/or automatic train operation (DLR’s is fully automatic) was not possible because of the complexity of the WCML. Fixed block in-cab should have been possible, (as used for TGV and Eurostar/Le Shuttle).

    Full ATO (still fixed block?) is used on the London Underground and Victoria lines but still requires drivers to supervise station stops, passenger safety, non ATO sections of lines and shunting. Nope the driver won’t be made redundant in the near future yet…

  27. Guys, and that ‘Umble bloke especially, damn you! You have awakened my Inner Nerd, and so right now I am trying to get to grips with downloading OpenBVE, a free open-source train sim- of course with the usual problems of having to download loads of other programs to actually get it to work. I need my train fix (mainlining?)…

    Now, where did I leave my anorak, thermos and sandwich box?

  28. Here in Oz, our Inter City 125 clones are still being thrashed up and down the east coast. They are virtually identical, save for stainless steel bodies and no guards van in the power cars. I believe they were re-engined in recent times with Paxman engines. Here, we call them ‘XPT”s . Shame our track is so rubbish they are never allowed over about 80mph or so….

  29. @30. I recall reading an article a few years ago that a single locomotive (twin engined) acting in push-pull was considered, however there was a lack of experience with “high-speed” push-pull working on BR at the time (too much wear and tear on the couplings was the fear). Subsequent experience with Class 33/EMU push-pull sets (and presumably the Edinburgh-Glasgow 47/7 push-pull sets) led to the adoption of loco/DVT combination for the IC225 project and the adoption of push/pull working on the WCML (an individual loco gives more versatility; the plan for the Class 91 was that they would be used on parcels/freight trains overnight, but “sectorisation” killed that idea off).
    I remember reading an article years ago where InterCity Cross Country considered splitting their HST sets and running as a four/five coach consist with the end Mk3 coach adapted to a DVT. I would have thought the split set would have suffered on an acceleration basis, anyway it never came to pass.

  30. @38, Russel G,

    Splitting the HST sets was a terible idea which thankfully never came into being- reliability would have been poor, due to the already over-used power car being sole motive power, and it probably would have been a very expensive way to run a not particularly fast service with a short train. Would have been better to have used 90-100mph DMUs for that sort of thing, and have the advantage of built-in redundancy with the extra engine(s).

  31. A minor error in an otherwise excellent article, the ECML did not receive its first HSTs until May 1978, not 1977. However, while the Deltics were good, these were excellent and helped Brtish Rail through a very difficult period in the late seventies and early eighties when it was hit by two massive strikes and heavy losses.
    It is a tribute to the qualities of the HST that most are still running today and these were Grand Central’s first choice when they started their Sunderland to London service.

  32. Nice one- and not too deafening.

    Considering the racket going on outside the train it is an excellent testament to the quality of the Mk3 carriages and the smoothness of the Class 43s (as we are supposed to call them these days) that getting going from stationary is virtually imperceptable- you get that wonderful ‘oh- we’re moving’ moment when you notice that the station has started to slide backwards.

  33. The problem with the HST is it was almost too good. The British engineers genius for squeezing more life out of what should have been replaced. In other countries they electified and built new high speed lines.

    HST’s performance on lines that were miniumly upgraded for 125 running was remarkable. There is a reason for intercity being used as a brand by other railays, in the late 70’s early 80’s, British rail was running the second fastest railway service in the world.

    Alas it allowed that evil creature, the accountant, that infest this country, to stop any other investment. ATP is a good example, a tilting train that could reach 150mph. It could have been made to work with more patience. You would have thought after the 125 they would have been given the chance.

    Alas we got privatisation, which has been a pathetic joke. These companies haven’t invested a penny of their own money, and have taken millions of public funds. Even Virgin, which you praise, took the taxpayers to the cleaners. While its service only ever reached a 125mph, not 140mph as promised.

    Now we are reduced to one foreign owned train maker, that our idiot politicians won’t even give orders to. While we have abandoned high speed rail and all the orders go to French and German factories.

  34. @45 – The Pendolino train is *limited* to 125mph because of the rail and signalling system on the WCML. The cost overruns caused by poor planning on Railtrack’s part led to a significant increase in costs which caused them to abandon any form of in-cab signalling which would have allowed drivers to see signals beyond 125mph.- This was not the only foul-up Railtrack made. Apart from not having control of maintenance routines (Hatfield anyone), on the WCML, re-jigging of the OHLE lines overran for weeks after one of the Christmas holidays.

    As for APT – I agree, except that you’re slightly mis-informed… APT *was* complete but the angle of tilt was 2deg to much. This effectively cancelled out all feeling of cornering. During the night, that’s not a problem. During the day, your brain cannot associate the tilt with the cornering you see with your eyes and so you will feel queasy. This was the last stumbling block and was fixed by reducing the tilt by 2degrees to allow some association with the tilt and cornering.

    And you talk about taking the taxpayers to the cleaners, you wait until First Group take over the running of WCML…

    As for HST, There’s life left in the old dog yet.. 20 years I believe… until HST-II comes on-board.

  35. @9 – Kenneth Grange didn’t ‘just style it’ – he was instrumental in shaping the aerodynamics to the engine unit, removing the front buffers, changing the rather ungainly front window treatment into the final handsome production version, the cockpit and driver controls, interior design and seating, and finally the new graphic treatment which was instantly recognisable. He was responsible for bringing BR’s rolling stock kicking and screaming into the modern age. Do not underestimate the work Grange did on the 125, and never dismiss Britain’s greatest industrial designer as a mere ‘stylist’. (I’m biased;- I trained as an Industrial Designer, and Grange is one of my heroes…….)

  36. @41 RAAAAARRRRRGH!!! Good stuff!!!!lol, yeh, he did give it a bit of welly didn’t he? The power down sounded good at the end too!!

  37. I think I’m right in saying that these used to (and maybe still do) rag through Donny station (Doncaster) at 125mph. I’m sure I remember seeing the metal speed stick by the track with “125” written on it and we would be told over the tannoy that a train was coming through at 125mph.

    It’s the turbos that make the screaming sound. Probably blade-passing frequency. If you listen, you can hear the deep sound of the V12 below it too. An impressive combination. Less should be said of the clag that would below out of the top when they first started up though !

    • It’s 100mph through Doncaster station on the fast lines. It was raised from 90-95mph in the late 80’s, or ealry 90’s.

  38. Yes they do, but I`m not sure they hammer through at full chat. Retford used to be good for that too… nice curve in the line and the driver would be “tapped” into notch five, so full scream would be heard so loud, your ribs would rattle!

  39. The Sunderland – Kings Cross line runs right by my back yard, so I get to see these magnificent machines several times daily. An absolutely wonderful piece of British design and engineering.

  40. Hi I’m trying to find a photograph of George Rowntree (from Gateshead shed), during a drivers training course on HST 125.
    Thank you in anticipation


  41. The predecessors of the Class 86 Bo Bo electrics were heavy on the rails, described as mobile jack hammers! The class 55 Deltic,,,NOT!!!!, the benefit of a Deltic, lightweight Napier high power engines and 6 axles, a Deltic had enormous route availabilty, even to Scottish outposts such as Kyle of Lochalsh.

    The worst locos, the “Mein Gott” class 40’s heavy and slow, not up to Gresley/Peppercorn pacifics (or the Gresley V2), hence tye Brush class 4 “47”.

    Costs: in the 1950’s Crewe could could build 3 2-10-0 9Fs for the price of a diesel, Swindon could have built 4 28XX 2-8-0 heavy freight locos for each diesel, Steam was low cost, other factors played, why bother with the diesel? Spend the diesel budget money on Electrification instead

  42. #45 The WCML experimented with cant deficiency prior to Pendolino, the track geometry was altered to make passengers “feel” the curves on service trains, result, passengers perceived higher top speed and the timetable had been accelerated for shorter journey times, no such event, journey times the same!!!

  43. Brilliant article! How about one on the class 37, probably the most successful mixed traffic diesel loco in UK history? At 50 plus years old they are STILL in use, such is their versatility.

  44. An obscure reasons why drivers liked the Inter City 125, the windscreen was made of extra tough glass that was difficult to break. Might sound unusual, but watching a Channel 5 documentary about the train this week, in the late seventies, vandals throwing bricks at trains was a common pastime in rougher areas, and a few drivers had been injured by flying glass and bricks. The Inter City 125 remedied this, and also the double glazed carriage windows usually deflected bricks thrown by idiots.

  45. Interesting article. A few points …. the efficiency of a steam locomotive (which are, I believe, nearly always single acting, not compound) is around 6%, if you’re lucky 7%. This compares to a petrol engine – 30% and a Diesel engine – 40%. It is claimed that a state of the art Diesel electric loco can achieve around 36% efficiency.
    The Australian XPT is interesting to us Brits because of it’s association with the IC125.
    It was manufactured by COMENG in Australia and the power cars are different in many areas to class 43 to adapt them to the Aussie conditions. Main areas being lower geared traction motors to cope with the larger gradients (resulting in a lower design speed of 160 km/h (99.4 mph), double the engine cooling, stronger front end collision protection and claimed better weight distribution. The stainless steel skinned power cars are based on a Budd design and I assume are a larger loading gauge and are therefore more spacious with sleeping accomodation. The XPT power cars originally had the Paxman Valenta engines fitted that were not initially reliable but were modified in use I believe in conjunction with Paxman. Around 2000 the power cars Valenta engines were replaced with Paxman VP185, these appeared far superior to the Valenta in terms of oil control and, when new, produced no visible smoke.
    The German MTU engines appear to be superior to the VP185 however.
    In a welcome change to what we in the UK have become accustomed to regarding company takeovers MTU is now part of Rolls-Royce Power Systems AG.
    If interested take a look on YouTube for `XPT by COMENG’ (3 videos) about the manufacture of XPT and search for `NSW Trainlink – XPT – WT27 Departing Penrith’ (note also the strange noise the carriage wheels make) & `XPT leaves Penrith for Dubbo’ as a good example of the great sound the VP185 engines make when installed in the XPT.
    Anorak off !!

  46. Hi Moderator, just spotted a mistake!
    Can you replace for me …….

    The stainless steel skinned power cars are based on a Budd design


    The stainless steel skinned carriages are based on a Budd design

    With best regards,
    Martin Winch

  47. You can still see these trains running on long distance services on Scotrall, although with only five carriages. These are far superior to the Sprinter type trains they replaced and more proof that moving from locomotive hauled trains to DMUs was a backward step 30 years ago.

    • The Sprinters are better used on short to medium routes with frequent stops, where having a traction motor on every axle helps getting them up to speed quickly.

      I can understand the switch to DMUs to simplify turnarounds at terminal stations, but locomotives seem better suited to longer services. I’m surprised there weren’t more push-pull sets made like the Class 47 powered ones uses between Glasgow & Edinburgh.

      • Sprinter don’t have traction motors. They’re diesel hydraulic multiple units, and are only powered on 2 out of 4 axles per coach.

  48. The advantage of the HST over Sprinters and Javelins is that there is only an engine at each end of the train; so if you are seated in the centre of the train, the engine noise is a long way away. More modern trains have an engine under each floor, so each carriage is equally noisy. Equality is not necessarily good for you!

    I will never forget 18th May 2019, the last day of HST services out of Paddington. In the late afternoon, four HSTs were lined up in platforms 1-4, and left in sequence. There were a lot of enthusiasts watching the trains leave. After the last one left, there was a spontaneous round of applause. One of those historic moments – as a fan, you just had to be there.

    The 40th anniversary of the HST at St.Philips Marsh depot in Bristol was another great show. I also remember Project Rio, when HSTs were run up the Midland Main Line and through the Hope Valley to provide fast and good value services from London to Manchester while the West Coast Main Line was being upgraded. I got a £10 upgrade to First Class; I remember reclining in an armchair, enjoying the scenery in the Hope Valley from a window seat, thinking “this is the life”!

    On a less serious note, I used to take HSTs from London to Aberdeen at the start and end of each term when I was at Uni. Somewhere in Scotland, there was some problem with the track layout; the driver had to stop and reverse over a crossover before heading North again. This went on for a couple of years. There was a dual carriageway next to the railway; on one trip, four lads in a Mini were trying to race us. They couldn’t believe their luck when we stopped and reversed!

  49. Sadly missed, I used to use the HST from Newcastle to Sheffield 35 years ago and the acceleration from York to Doncaster was awesome and you could feel it in your seat. Also the train looked so futuristic, considering first generation DMUs and corridor stock trains were still common in 1986. However, these had their own charm as using a medium distance train with compartments reminded you of the steam era, where many of these carriages started their lives.

    • The trains from Marple to Manchester Piccadilly were Class 101 units until 2003.

      On a few rail trips with my Dad in the 1980s we travelled on trains with compartments.

      • Corridor stock had a certain charm, but there were safety concerns with corridor and compartment stock after two murders on these trains in the late eighties. Also the stock was coming to the end of its life and replacement by DMUs was making it redundant.

  50. The Class 91 of the ECMLhas followed the HST, bowing out of service after 30 years, the Hitachi Azuma sets now carrying the ECML flag. The class 91 locos are being assessed for cutting up and the majotirty of the class are in long-term open-air storage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.