It’s been more than 40 years since British Railway’s HST (High Speed Train) made its commercial debut.
These comfortable diesel powered 125mph push-push train-sets have worked intercity services on a variety of routes ever since.
Today they are one of the few types of 1970s-era equipment surviving in regular traffic in the United Kingdom.
I detailed the history and development of the HST in my book Railway Masterpieces (Krause Publications, 2002). Here’s an except from my text:
“[British Rail marketed the HST] as the Intercity 125, a name obviously playing on the HST’s high-speed ability. The most successful aspect of the HST development and where BR really scored a coup was how they used the trains. Where the old school might had ordered just a few trains to offer just a handful of premier high speed services, BR introduced a full service of high speed trains on the lines west of Paddington. The Intercity 125 was not just fast, new, clean and more comfortable than older trains, but operated frequently as well and did not cost any more to ride. When the full HST schedule was in service, there were some 48 daily Intercity 125s. This was exactly the sort of convenience needed to lure people away from their cars, and the strategy worked.”
Rebuilt HST sets continue to serve several private operators in Britain.
Earlier this month, I traveled on HSTs with my father, and made several opportunities to photograph the trains in some of their most recent paint liveries.
Back in July 2000, I changed trains here. That brief visit left me with a vague impression of a bouncy rail car in a bay platform. Back then, I was on my way to Brontë Country for a weekend on the Keighley & Worth Valley.
Fourteen Years seems like a long time. On this more recent visit, I had time to more thoroughly experience Leeds and its railway terminal. While not a Victorian throwback like London’s great terminals at Paddington or Liverpool Street, Leeds is a busy place with constant parade of trains.
There’s good variety too. In addition to a multitude of diesel and electric multiple units, there’s a fair few HSTs and Class 90 electrics on long distance trains. In the evenings, a the occasional freight rolls through.
In addition from platform views, I found some stunning vistas from the nearby Double Tree Hotel that overlooks the Manchester-end of the station.
Curiously, the bouncy railcars are still aplenty in Leeds, albeit painted differently than I remember from last time around.
Fast train delayed because of a suspected points failure.
On Monday, April 22, 2013, a well-known industry communications manager and I paused at an overhead bridge beyond London’s Kings Cross to watch the departure of the 1400 (2pm) East Coast train to Aberdeen. This is called the Northern Lights and features a 1970s-vintage HST, thus making it among the more interesting trains serving Kings Cross.
What ought to have taken just a few moments, dragged on and on. We could see the HST on the platform, but at 2 o’clock it failed to depart on time. I knew something was up when a man, who appeared to be the driver, left the cab of the train. (Just for clarification: in British terminology the person who runs—or ‘drives’—the train is known as a ‘driver’ rather than an engineer.)
Two minutes turned into five, and the HST still hadn’t left. Then two railway employees appeared by a slip-switch beyond the end of the platform. They began disassembling the cowling that covered the switch machine motor. The incident was shaping up to what they call a ‘points failure’. (In Britain, track switches are called ‘points.’)
Before it was all straightened out, there were four men dressed in orange safety clothing on the ground managing the uncooperative points. Finally, just after 1412 (2:10pm), the HST marched out of Kings Cross in parallel with another East Coast train, this one hauled by a common class 90 electric (and was probably destined for Newark Northgate).