let's hope for good weather.
Up the Revolution! (Part 2)
My own first meeting with the production HSTs occurred during a visit to Crewe Works on 25th March 1976, where I found 4 or 5 Power Cars completed and awaiting painting. I made a note “Black is now blue (?)”, presumably a reference to first-built W43002 having appeared at the Crewe Works Open Day the previous September with the upper area around the cab to the diagonal cut-off behind (and including) the main radiator grilles painted black; this was not approved by the BRB and design panel and the black was quickly repainted blue – whilst it is believed that this was the only PC to very briefly carry the yellow/black scheme, if memory serves (and it may not after so many years!) the first five sets, 253001-5, had PCs on which the silver outline ”Inter-City 125” branding was infilled black instead of blue. Although numbered W43xxx in the coaching stock series, the power cars took on the locomotive TOPS Class 43 vacated by the NBL Warship diesel-hydraulics withdrawn in October 1971, a rare – possibly unique – re-use of a TOPS classification (and of course both Class 43s ran in Cornwall, though separated by most of the 1970s). Whether this was intentional or a happy coincidence is unclear, but both the HST Power Car and its Warship predecessor were rated at 2,200hp so the former’s position on the ‘TOPS table’ was spot-on.
The Western Region, which had instigated infrastructure and signalling upgrades in readiness for the new trains and 125mph running, received its first production train, 253001, in April 1976. My first sighting of these on WR territory was 253001/5 at the new Bristol St Philips Marsh depot on 31st July 1976. By then several sets had been delivered and a few had entered passenger service between London and Bristol, although limited to 100mph. My first photograph of an HST, appropriately 253001, approaching the top of Dauntsey bank near Lyneham on 11th August was nearly scuppered when a Class 50 suddenly burst onto the scene! Six days later I managed to capture the same set with Class 52 D1009 Western Invader on a freight at Swindon - although this Class 253/52 overlap lasted around 9 months there do not seem to be many photos of both together. 125mph operation commenced on 4th October 1976, an important date as this was the world’s first diesel-powered 125mph passenger service. From that date there were 11 trains each way Paddington - Swansea and 5 each way Paddington – Bristol passed for high-speed running. Those first 12 months inevitably threw up a number of technical issues, but these were overcome and the full 125mph timetable was introduced from October 1977 utilising sets 253001-27. My first HST experience occurred on 27th August 1976 from Swindon to Reading (so about 6 weeks before 125mph running commenced) and according to my notebook the set was powered by W43012 of set 253006 and W43014 of set 253007 – I noted other such combinations around that time so mixed Power Cars were not unusual at the beginning – however as the trains settled down and reliability improved the HST sets tended to stay correctly formed. Set 253018 near Great Somerford in my photo dated 26th February 1977 would pass Western Class 52s D1010 + D1048 ‘light engine’ followed by D1013 + D1023 hauling the (very) final diesel-hydraulic ‘Western Tribute’ farewell special coming the other way before it reached Paddington – that was the real reason I was there that day! Interestingly consulting my notebooks reveals that my first 125mph experience occurred 3 weeks later on 19th March 1977 with another diesel-hydraulic connection when 253001 whisked me from Swindon to Reading to catch a train on to Taunton and the WSR for Hymek D7017’s first passenger working in preservation – a notable day for two reasons then!
Following delivery of the one-coach-longer Class 254 HSTs to the ER for the East Coast Main Line, new train deliveries switched back to the WR for upgrading the West of England services. In May 1977 agreement was reached for the construction of sets 253028-40. Although the scope for significantly accelerated services in the Far West was limited, the Berks & Hants route received track and signalling upgrades to allow up to 110mph running in places. HST sets first began operating over the route in October 1979 with a full HST timetable commencing in May 1980. Not surprisingly the ‘Cornish Riviera’ was the prime candidate for the high-speed treatment and from October 1979 the up train completed the Plymouth to Paddington leg in just 3 hours 13 minutes. Now with a full HST main line network the WR merged the first and second HST batches into a single pool so any set could turn up anywhere. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to identify which production HST was the first to appear at Penzance or the date, as I was some distance away from Cornwall from June 1977 until June 1982 (at which time I found three HSTs at Penzance station, so it’s fair to say they’d become well-established during my absence) – since the last such appearance will be upon us soon and will no doubt be thoroughly recorded it would be good to know when the HST era started in Cornwall too!
I mentioned in Part 1 that, following its return to Derby, the prototype HST was disbanded – to expand on this, the two Power Cars and three of the ten trailer vehicles went into Departmental service (one PC was eventually preserved and the other unfortunately scrapped), two trailers were rebuilt for Royal Train duties and five became normal HST vehicles, their flush-fitted windows setting them apart from the production vehicles with raised aluminium frames – I recall spotting a couple at Bristol in 1984. However two of those three Departmental coaches – now numbered 975814 & 975984 – are in the formation of Network Rail’s New Measurement Train, so nearly half a century after the prototype’s visit to Penzance two of its vehicles are still regularly appearing on Cornish rails – and it seems that the NMT will continue to be a regular visitor for the foreseeable future.
I wish to acknowledge ‘Modern Locomotives Illustrated’ No 208 – ‘The HST Part 1: The BR Days’ edited by Colin J Marsden as my primary source of information for both parts of my article.
Best regards, Neil Phillips.
N.B. The first part of Neils article appeared in this News Column on the 18th March.
I was pleased to read Neil Phillips’ informative article on the prototype HST set and I am very much looking forward to the next instalment on the introduction of the production HST sets to the WR.
Having spent over 30 years researching the early years of HST operation I thought the following might complement Neil’s piece by answering some of the questions he raised.
When Neil saw the set on 25th May 1974 the power cars would still have been numbered 41001/2. A couple of weeks later the set entered works (power cars to Crewe, trailers to Derby Litchurch Lane), for overhaul and modification work. It was on release, in late November 1974 that the set was reclassified as a diesel electric multiple unit and the renumbering of the train’s constituent vehicles into the coaching stock series took place.
Neil’s observation of the W43000/1 running back to back at Swindon on 20th March 1976 was obviously quite rare. The HST Performance Report 79 produced by BR WR’s CMEE department reveals that the power cars travelled alone to Swindon Works on that date so that they could be measured for weight distribution. The attached front page from the report reveals the results. (See below)
The seeming absence of the protype set on the WR during much of 1976 can be explained by the fact that the set was stood down from its passenger operation in April. The power cars however, after a brief spell at Derby Works, returned to the WR in late May 1976 to provide power for an RTC (Railway Technical Centre) test train monitoring the performance of the P8 tyre profile on the wheelsets fitted to production HST and loco-hauled Mk III coaching stock. The formation of this train consisted of W43001, ADB975290 (RTC Test Car 6), W13438 (MkIIa FK), M12140 (MkIIIa TSO), W42014/10/11/20 (HST MkIII TS), W43000 and it traversed the mainline between Old Oak Common and Swindon frequently during June, July and August 1976.
The WR had planned to operate 12 HST diagrams when it introduced its interim Inter-City 125 service on the London-Bristol/South Wales routes from 4th October 1976. Unfortunately, the delivery rate of new vehicles during the summer of 1976 fell well below that expected. It became apparent to the WR that without sufficient reserve to cover standby, maintenance and ongoing driver training requirements, there would only be enough sets available to cover 8 diagrams from October 1976. To bolster the HST fleet it was decided to bring the prototype set back into passenger use.
Even though it had worked in passenger service as recently as April 1976, it was by the autumn of 1976, considered non-standard. Train crews had to undergo refresher training and for that the set without any catering vehicles was based at Cardiff Canton from mid-late September 1976. The official diagrams issued to operate from 4th October, show the set having its own specific diagram, along with the turn numbers of the train crew rostered to work it.
On 4th October 1976, 252 001 was formed W43001, 41000/1, 40500, 42000, 40000, 42001/2, 43000. It had the honour of working the first scheduled 125mph service down from Paddington when it worked the 08.00 to Swansea. This service, along with the 16.00 Paddington-Swansea and 12.00 and 20.00 return services was its regular diagram on Monday-Fridays. On Saturdays it was diagrammed to work 08.45 Paddington-Bristol Temple Meads and 11.30 return which was followed by the 15.00 Paddington-Swansea and 19.00 return services. On Sundays it was required to do 2 return trips from Paddington-Bristol Temple Meads.
The set was active throughout October 1976 but Neil’s observation of it on Sunday 31st was probably one of its last days in passenger service. The previous day it had failed prior to departure at Paddington. It was noted in use again on 1st November 1976, but despite having extensive records of HST operation, I have no observation of it working beyond that date. It is also interesting to note that production sets started to work 252 001’s diagram from around this time.
It would seem that once sufficient sets were available to cover the full October 1976 HST commitment the WR decided to permanently stand down the prototype set. Despite having performed a vital role in the initial weeks of the new HST timetable, being non-standard it probably presented its own set of problems to the operators. For instance, the fact that not all train crew were passed to drive it, limited its flexibility, particularly when failures or late running required set swaps at Paddington.
252 001 spent the remainder of 1976 and the early part of 1977 stabled in the carriage shed adjacent to Old Oak Common HST depot. In early February 1977 the trailers were placed into storage at Worcester depot, while the power cars were sent to Derby Works for overhaul. 43000/1 spent the remainder of their working lives involved in tests and trials under the auspices of the RTC. Both power cars were heavily used in the APT testing programme.
I hope the above is of interest. I wondered if I could end with a request. As part of my research into early HST operation I have an ongoing project to document the day to day formation and working of the WR HST fleet during 1976/77/78. With the help of many individuals who have shared their observations with me I have built up quite extensive records but there are still some gaps and many anomalies and conflicts to resolve. Could I ask any CRS members or visitors to the website who have retained records of their HST sightings from the period to consider sharing them with me. Ideally, I prefer full formations but observations of power car pairing or sets solely identified by Class 253 set number are extremely useful. Additional information such as working or location would be of welcome if available. Please contact me at email@example.com if you can assist or need more information. Any help would be much appreciated.
Many Thanks, Kevin (Daniel)
When opened ,after the construction of the new station lifts/bridge, the whole seawall will again be accessible.
All the Best, Andrew Triggs.
Colin Pidgeon and Peter Todd
Peter Todd's photos and comments - A quick visit to the Stratton footbridge on the eastern side of Swindon Station. The idea being to catch the preserved Hastings DEMU 1001 as it made its way from Hastings to Bristol Temple Meads.
Whilst admiring the local scenery, a 387 EMU passed eastbound by, ever so quietly, so a shot of the rear carriages of 387 142.
Hastings 1001 arriving on time at 1110 hours with the Avon Ambassador. The second image being a departing shot.
Ken's comment - both gentlemen have given their permssino for me to pass on their photos - thank you, gentlemen, for sharing.
Kind regards, Ken.
 Approaching the station, it gave a short toot.
 Going away shot. In the distance one can see an IET approaching the station with a train for Bristol which, a good friend of mine - Colin Pidgeon - said, MIGHT have got in the way if I had stayed on platform 4.
Due to pass Swindon at 1729. Actual passing time was 1731 - thus 2 minutes LATE.
Kind regards, Ken Mumford.
Driver Alan Peters