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Celebrating the 125

Image of Ian FowlerIAN FOWLER tells us about his experiences with this iconic train.


Intercity 125.

As this is the 125th edition of RIGHT LINES, it seemed both apt and appropriate to look at the other "125" that deserves celebrating – arguably the best diesel train in the world, the BR High Speed Train or Class 43, HST, Class 253 or even Flying Banana.

As there are already many historical and technical accounts of this fantastic piece of engineering that far surpass anything I could come up with, I'm going to look at how the HST features at certain points in my life and has been a constant through my 41 years on earth.

My first sighting of an HST was in the late 80s. Living in a third rail wilderness and raised on a diet of CIGs and VEPs, it really was a remarkable sight to behold, with a power car at each end and luxurious Mark 3 coaches in-between. The much-heralded top speed of 125mph was probably more of a marketing thing than a capability thing – these trains could clearly go MUCH faster, but there was something special about boarding such a handsome train that was promoted as a premium experience. In fact, I remember in the early days that trains formed of HSTs were announced as the "Intercity 125 service to...", something that the Germans still do with their ICE trains, yet we seem to have forgotten about. It's telling that most people will boast of being on a Dreamliner or A380, yet the only train they'll pick out is a Eurostar!

Intercity 125.

Anyway, I digress. One of the first times I travelled on an HST was when my parents decided we should see relatives in Scotland for our annual holiday. Although initially a bit sad that the buckets and spades would be confined to barracks for another year, this was tempered by the fact that we were going to travel all the way from London to Inverness in an HST. The 'Highland Chieftain', as it was known then, left Kings Cross at 1200 and arrived in Inverness just before 2100 from memory. This was in the Blue/Grey era and the things I remember most was the non-stop run from London to York, catching a few seconds of the Commonwealth Games as we passed Edinburgh and an on-board commentary between Perth and Inverness highlighting things you could see from the lineside. Good times and a good call to go this way rather than the alternative 'Clansman' service from Euston.

As I reached double digits, my dad used to take me to a variety of locations that could be done in a day from home. Reading was always my favourite, and I can still taste the fumes from HSTs as they passed through the station as I sat, legs dangling from the end of the bay platform that overlooked Platform 5. Intercity Executive livery was the new order of the day and although an improvement on the blue/grey, the transition was messy and although the livery was nice, in my opinion hadn't quite been nailed.

Intercity 125.

A few years on we enter my favourite period - that of Intercity Swallow, which in my opinion was one of the finest liveries ever dreamt up as it really suited the sleek lines of the HST. I was in my teens by now so was more independent, but treasure the times I spent on the sea wall in Devon watching a seemingly endless procession of holiday trains in this attractive scheme.

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In my late teens, railways took a bit of a back burner in my life although I maintained a passing interest in what was going on. One of my friends ended up at university in Leicester so although I wasn't an active railway enthusiast at this point, I do remember enjoying the trips from St Pancras to Leicester on a Midland Mainline tangerine and teal liveried HST! The early privatisation liveries are a bit of a blur to me as I was still finding my way in the world as a young man, but I do remember quite liking the Midland Mainline and GNER schemes, being nonplussed by Virgin and outright disliking the early First Group schemes.

As I got older, married, became a parent and more comfortable in my own skin, I needed to have a sit down with my wife. I told her that I'd been living a lie for a number of years and that in spite of trying to repress my feelings, they were still there. She said, "don't worry, I've always known", which was of great comfort as I fully 'outed' myself as a RAILWAY ENTHUSIAST.

The children were getting much more portable, so we went out and about, often stopping to see what was around.

Pro-tip: A trip round Ikea in Southampton = a trip round Southampton Maritime Freightliner depot.

The youngsters tolerated dad's eccentricities but never found a passion for railways, nor were they forced into having one, although they do kind of get it in their own way.

Intercity 125.

HSTs were still everywhere and with privatisation having settled down a bit, the main liveries were First Great Western (with dynamic lines), East Midland Trains and Arriva Cross Country while the troublesome ECML franchise flitted through a number of colour schemes and variations.

The announcement of the Hitachi IEP rang a few alarm bells where I was concerned as there was no way 198 x 40 -year old power cars were going to all be redeployed. Worst of all, the elusive 43 075 had yet to be 'copped' and time was running out!

Entering my 40th year, power cars and trailers were rapidly being taken off lease and time was running out to travel on them, so I made the most of them while they were around which included a Plymouth-Westbury run. The new GWR green livery looked great on them, and short sets were conjured up as Castle Sets for the West and Scotrail sets for the very far north. So, although there has been a cull, it's not quite extinction yet.

In April of this year I visited friends in Grantham - one of whom is one of my best friends in the industry and also a railway enthusiast. In a classic case of 'when you least expect it'. 43075 was at the buffers at Kings Cross, on hire to whoever's turn it is to run the ECML at the moment, thus meaning completion. It was nice to be able to share such momentous news with a fellow enthusiast rather than bemused family.

As we all get older, you begin to appreciate the past a lot more. It was ironic that having taken my dad to a hospital appointment, we snatched an hour or two together watching trains at Harrow & Wealdstone, like we did at Reading some 30 years before. And what should come through but an HST, this time the Network Rail New Measurement Train – with one of the power cars being one we saw all those years before.

It seemed only right to be able to raise a glass to the HST together.

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