The InterCity 125 is the brand name under which British Rail operated services with their fleet of High Speed Trains within Great Britain. The InterCity 125 train is made up of two broadly conventional locomotives at either end of a fixed formation of carriages, and is capable of travelling at 125mph in regular service. British Rail initially used the fleet on the Great Western Main Line, the East Coast Main Line, on the Cross Country Route and latterly, the Midland Main Line, serving destinations such as London, Bristol, Edinburgh and as far south as Penzance and as far north as Aberdeen and Inverness. The InterCity 125 holds the world record for the fastest diesel-powered train, when it was recorded at an absolute maximum speed of during 1987.
Before 2001, Cross-Country HSTs usually consisted of seven coaches, with one fewer first-class carriage in the formation. In the early 2000s, Virgin Cross-Country shortened some HSTs to five-car formations, to give better acceleration and shorten journey times. In recent years, Great North Eastern Railway (GNER) added a standard-class carriage to create nine-car sets.
The concept of the HST dates from the late 1960s. British Rail's research division in Derby decided to pursue a parallel approach to future express trains. To complement the advanced technology tilting train project APT-E, it was decided in 1970 to build two lightweight capable Bo-Bo locomotives to push-pull a rake of the new 23-metre long Mark 3 coaches. They were intended as a stop-gap until the APT was proven. These specialised locomotives had conventional buffers at the driving end only, and an auxiliary cab at the other end to allow shunting.
Experience with the high-speed Class 55 Deltic locomotives had shown that a low axle-weight was essential to avoid damage to the track at sustained high speed, and that high-speed diesel engines were the only way to provide a good enough power/weight ratio. To power the HST at up to 125 mph, each locomotive had a new diesel engine, the 12-cylinder Paxman Valenta, running at 1,500 rpm and developing 2,250 bhp. The 70-tonne total weight of the locomotive gave it a 17.5-tonne axle loading.
The prototype train of seven coaches and two locomotives was completed in August 1972. By the autumn, it was running trials on the main line and in May 1973 the prototype, now designated Class 252, set a world speed record of . The concept was proved during trial running between 1973 and 1976, and British Rail decided to build 27 production HSTs to transform Inter City services between London Paddington, Bristol, and South Wales.
The first production power car (numbered 43002) was delivered in late 1975, with a significantly different appearance from the prototype. The streamlined front end lacked conventional buffers and the drawgear was hidden under a cowling. The single cab window was much larger than the prototype’s, and there was no driving position at the inner end.
Deliveries continued through 1976, and in October a partial service of HSTs running at 125 mph began on the Western Region. A radical update of the standard BR livery was complemented by the 'Inter-City 125' branding, which also appeared on timetables and promotional literature. By the start of the summer timetable in May 1977, the full complement of 27 Class 253 sets (253001 – 253027) was in service on the Western Region, completely replacing locomotive-hauled trains on the Bristol and South Wales routes. Usage of the trains rapidly increased due to the speed and frequency of the service, an effect previously only seen when electric trains had replaced slower diesel or steam services. The displacement by HSTs of the British Rail Class 50 locomotives to slower services effectively finished off the last 'Western' diesel hydraulics Class 52 by early 1977.
The production of Class 254 (eight-car trains) continued through 1977 for East Coast Main Line services. Initially, British Rail planned to fit uprated 2,500 bhp Valentas to these longer HSTs, but this plan was shelved as the intensive running on the Western Region began to result in a high level of engine failures, often due to inadequate cooling; for a while, the WR power cars were derated to 2000 bhp. The Class 254s began to work important ECML expresses such as the Flying Scotsman from the summer timetable in May 1978. Within a year they had displaced the Deltics to lesser workings and reduced the journey time to Edinburgh by up to an hour.
Production of HSTs continued until 1982, allowing them to take over services from London to the West Country, many Cross-Country express trains, and finally the Midland Main Line. In total, 95 HST sets and 197 Class 43 powercars were built between 1976 and 1982. More Mark 3 trailer cars were built in the 1980s for the Western Region Class 253s, making them eight-car rakes in common with those used on East Coast and Midlane Main Line services. During the 1990s, only the Cross-Country sets remained as seven-car rakes, with just one First Class carriage.
Put in context, on introduction, the HST allowed a 25% increase on actual maximum speeds, and in some cases more than this due to the acceleration characteristics of the HST. Even when used on non-high speed routes, speed increases were possible due to the slightly lower axle weight of the HST power cars (HST Differential speeds). This was a massive draw to the fare-paying public, and indeed today, there has been no train which, literally overnight, slashed journey times by a quarter or more - in fact today's 'faster' trains cannot - albeit due to network restrictions - better the HST for end to end times on the routes the HST operates.
At the same time, they announced that they would refresh all the coaches. Most have been refurbished into a high density layout of mostly airline seats (only 2 tables per carriage) for services in the M4 corridor/Thames Valley to Bristol, Hereford, Oxford, Exeter and Cardiff. This was to provide more seats for commuters and to replace the Adelante fleet. The remainder kept 4 tables, for the routes beyond this to Swansea and the West country. The refurbished carriages have new seating (leather in First Class), at-seat power points and a redesigned buffet bar.
In January 2007, the first of GNER's 13 refurbished HSTs was unveiled. The coaches have been rebuilt to the same "Mallard" standard as its InterCity 225 electric sets with similar designs of seating, lighting, carpets and buffet cars. The power cars themselves have also been upgraded with MTU engines. The first of the HST Mallards were in service by Spring 2007.
In 2006, First Great Western decided to replace its modern but unreliable Adelante units with 1970s-vintage HSTs. It purchased 14 off-lease ex Virgin power cars and has put them in service. The remaining Adelantes will be withdrawn at the end of this year (2008).
CrossCountry has decided to reintroduce 5 HSTs to supplement the Voyagers. The Voyagers are too unpopular, and there are not enough seats or luggage space.
To complete the picture - all Mark 3 rolling stock and HST power cars which were taken out of use due to "replacement," have now been acquired by operators and returned into service by other and new operators.
In 2007, HSTs are used by First Great Western (84 power cars), East Midlands Trains (63 power cars) and National Express East Coast (23 power cars) as of December 2007. From 1997 to 2003, HSTs were used by Virgin Trains until they were replaced by Voyager and Super Voyager DMUs. In 2004 Midland Mainline reduced its HST fleet in favour of Meridian DMUs. Network Rail uses an adapted HST for its New Measurement Train.
The First Great Western HSTs have 472 passenger seats and storage for six bicycles.
The design was used as the basis for the locomotive of Australian XPT, which uses different coaching stock and has a top speed of .
In 2006 it was announced that Grand Central, a new open-access operator on the ECML, would use HST sets on its new service between London and Sunderland.
The first replacement of HSTs occurred from 1988 on the East Coast Main Line, with their partial replacement by the InterCity 225 when the line to Edinburgh was electrified. Some were retained for services to Aberdeen, Inverness, Skipton, Bradford and Hull.
In more recent times, HSTs have been replaced (or augmented) by DMUs such as Class 180 Adelante, Class 220 Voyager, Class 221 Super Voyager and Class 222 Meridians. These new DMUs have better acceleration than the HST due to a higher power/weight ratio, typically 30% more. However it is widely accepted that such vehicles cannot approach the high level of comfort and noise reduction afforded by the Mk 3 coaches of the HST. The sound and effect of an underfloor diesel engine is now widely recognised as being unsuitable for Inter-City trains.
In 2005, the concept of HST2 was mooted by the Government and the rail industry as a like-for-like replacement for the HST fleet. It is uncertain whether this concept will be developed and existing HST operators such as GNER (now National Express East Coast) and First Great Western decided in 2006 to refurbish their HST fleets. Brush Traction are fitting modern quiet and fuel-efficient MTU4000 diesel generator sets and installing new cooling systems. It is anticipated that this will give the HST at least another 10 years in front-line service.
The original Inter-City 125 livery was blue and grey, with a yellow front (for visibility) continuing down the side of the power cars. This led to the nickname 'flying banana'. The power cars had "Inter-City 125" written in large lettering using the Rail Alphabet typeface together with a British Rail logo.
The second livery had mostly grey power cars with a white band along the middle, yellow underneath the white band, with the InterCity colours (cream, red, white, brown) for the parcel compartment of the power cars and the coaches.
There was brownish-grey, dark grey (almost black) around the windows with a red and white stripe below the windows, and retaining the yellow bands on the power cars. A later variant of this livery saw the yellow side-bands replaced with light grey and did not feature the British Rail name or logo: it carried a new INTERCITY logo, with the name in serif type and an image of a flying swallow.
After the privatisation of British Rail, individual train operating companies painted the HSTs in their own colour schemes, with some lasting longer than others.
The current schemes are
In 2005, Cotswold Rail bought a surplus HST set for spot hire and charters, being repainted into their silver livery with one power car was in Hornby advertising livery. Both power cars were purchased by First Great Western in 2006, and now have their dynamic lines livery.
There are several Mark 3 carriages in the Royal Train. These vehicles came from the prototype class 252 vehicles, identifiable by different window frames. The Royal Train is painted in a deep maroon livery.
Nowadays all HST power cars are numbered individually. When they entered service, these numbers were carried, with a regional prefix EG 'E (Eastern Region) followed by the individual number 43xxx. The trains themselves were classified as 'Multiple Units' and numbered as such: 253xxx (Western Region units) 254xxx (Eastern Region and Scottish Region Units).
In the early 1980s, 'unit' numbering was abandoned, primarily because, if an HST formation had a power car changed for maintenance, and a replacement added, the train then carried two separate 'unit' identities. Most multiple units are either in service, or under service/repair (out of service) so numbering is not an issue (although in certain cases renumbering and mixed formations happen). With the HST, a 'pseudo' unit, the coaches tend to remain in formation, but the power cars can be and are swapped. Thus, it was deemed more practical by British Rail to abolish 'unit' numbering for HST sets, and use only the power car numbers. When this happened, the regional prefixes were removed from numbers.
The main reason this amendment to numbering occurred was the popularity of the HST. Initially it was envisaged that xx number of sets would be required, and xx number would be maintained (allowing 'unit' numbering to work). However, with inevitable demands on resources caused by exceptional demand from the public, virtually every HST was in use with limited spare capacity, and concomitant issues with truly 'multiple multiple units'.
It should also be noted that in the early days after introduction, the HST fleet encountered problems - such as overheating, braking issues on coaches (not safety related but the air conditioning drew smells from braking in which meant a change to the compounds used was needed) and this placed extra demands on services and availability. Many HST services were not advertised as being so — BR preferring to 'delight passengers when an HST turns up' rather than disappoint them when it didn't..
Compared the model trains of later years, as model companies put greater emphasis on detail, the models were largely construed as 'toys' rather that accurate models, notable by the incorrect lengths of the Mark 3 coaches and the lack of small details. Initially, Hornby had to compete with Lima, who released their version of the IC125 in 1982, of which the Mark 3 coaches were much closer to the lengths of the real-life coaches. Hornby eventually followed suite in the late-1990s, when their Mark 3 coaches were relengthened, although the power cars to this day remain the same. They have been re-released in BR blue-grey and most recently in InterCity 'Swallow' livery.
More unusual toy versions of the IC125 were produced in the past. BRIO released a wooden version in the 1980s for their Wooden Railway system, but being intended only for small children, it merely served as a basic representation of an HST than an accurate model.
Peterkin released a battery-operated toy version of an IC125 for their 'Technic 9' series, supplied as a train set with an oval of track and a station platform.
Hornby have announced in their 2008 new releases sets of new HST power cars. So far, these have been announced in Intercity, Intercity 'Executive', Grand Central, GNER and Virgin Trains liveries. It is hoped that these models will be available by Christmas 2008, and that high quality Mk.3 coaches will be available to run with them. They have also announced re-introduction of the old Lima power cars, in Virgin livery, in their budget 'Railroad' range.
In N scale, HST sets have been produced for many years by Graham Farish. These sets consist of the two power cars (one powered and one dummy), and a centre coach, and have been produced in a wide range of liveries.
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