This is among the hundreds photos I chose for final consideration for my book on European Railway Travel. It is not an outtake. Instead this is among my selections for the section on railways of Great Britain.
In the text I discuss the great London terminals, and I use this photo to illustrate Kings Cross. I like it because it features a vintage HST in nice light with a dynamic view of the classic train shed beyond.
The HST (High Speed Train) was introduced by the then nationalised British Railways (BR) in the mid-1970s as the Intercity 125.
As a 125 mph train capable of operating on many existing lines with minimal changes to infrastructure and signaling this represented a significant improvement over older trains that allowed BR to speed schedules and more effectively compete with other modes.
More than 40 years later, many of the old HSTs are still on the move.
Exposed on 3 May 2016 using my Lumix LX7. This image was adapted from the camera RAW image for maximum dynamic range.
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).
During my wanders around London in April 2013, I visited a variety of London’s stations. For me, London’s stations are far more interesting than the trains. Where the trains tend to be fleets of modern multiple-units, the stations range from Victorian gems to austere examples of Lego-block architecture.
My favorite station is St Pancras. This is a classic railway cathedral. A few years ago it was transformed in to a modern multimodal center. Today, it serves as an international station as well as both a long distance and commuter railway station. It features a shopping mall and luxury hotel. Most impressive is the original architecture, including the pioneer example of a balloon-style arched train-shed, which has been successful integrated into a modern facility.
Kings Cross is adjacent to St Pancras. This has also been recently transformed, and blends historic and contemporary architecture. Interestingly, Kings Cross may be most famous for its mention in the Harry Potter stories. Today, there’s both a Harry Potter shop and a light-hearted platform 9 ¾ for visitors.
On this trip, I passed through London Bridge station and was shocked to see that the old train shed has been demolished! All I saw was a few vestiges of the old iron columns. Fifteen years ago, I made some memorable images inside the shed, and now that it’s gone, I’ll need to dredge these photos from the archives. Another change at London Bridge was nearby construction of a monumental skyscraper, colloquially known as ‘The Shard’.
Clapham Junction is famous as Britain’s busiest station. Still images cannot convey the power of place. Watching trains at Clapham Junction is akin to watching the tide flow in. At rush hours an unceasing parade of trains passes Clapham Junction, with trains flowing in waves. Most impressive is standing at the north end of the station when as many as six trains approach simultaneously.