On Saturday 18th May Great Western Railway ran a farewell day for the HST. After 43 years in mainline service and having racked up millions of miles in that time the High Speed Train performed it’s last scheduled mainline passenger services on GWR.
Over the last year or two GWR has taken delivery of the Class 80x trains, the IET (or Amuza as LNER call them) which are the new trains to serve Inter City routes. These new trains are bi-mode, diesel and electric allowing them to run GWR’s Inter City timetable under electric power as far as the network conversion has taken place and then retract the pantograph and fire up the diesel engines to continue to journey.
With deliveries complete early in 2019 the May timetable change was set as the ending of the Class 43 providing mainline service into and out of London Paddington. By the last weeks of the Class 43’s use HSTs into and out of London Paddington could be counted on your hands.
My son, who will be four in July 2019, is heavily into trains. By accident we discovered this. He was a late talker but when he saw trains he became very expressive. The HST was the train that triggered most expression in him. Now, most young people like modern things but my son had taken to these old beasts that still powered up and down the line on a daily basis.
I’d take him regularly to the station to go and see trains and it then became obvious that not only was the Class 43 his favourite type of train but he actually had a favourite train as well. 43002, Sir Kenneth Grange, was his favourite train. I have no idea why he came to this opinion but my very young son had formed a favourite out of the very first production power car to be made which GWR had painted back in it’s original BR Inter City 125 livery in 2016 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of these trains.
By now he was verbal and he’d say to me on the way to the station, “maybe see 43002 today Daddy?”. I told him I couldn’t promise him but he knew we’d see a healthy display of HSTs as they continued to be the backbone of the GWR intercity service. Not usually a fan of loud noises it was amazing that his face lit up as the HST roared past powered on by the MTU engine.
Two years ago GWR was the biggest operator of the Class 43 train, and it was the oldest train still serving London Paddington in regular passenger service. However, by now the replacements were arriving and being added to the fleet following testing. This meant that we would see an occasional Class 800 IET running on the main line in between the HSTs. As more and more Class 800s were added to the running fleet slowly but surely the amount of HSTs we’d see at the station started to lower.
With GWR sending a number of trains off lease ScotRail took them on to improve their Inter City service. First, these trains were seen on driver training runs in their debranded FGW livery before gradually being repainted as part of the train conversion from classic HST to modern regulation abiding HST. The trains were fitted with sliding doors, toilet retention tanks and made more accessible while being repainted to fit with ScotRail’s Inter 7 City branding.
More and more HSTs were being replaced on GWR by IETs and by now, depending on what time we went to the station, my son could leave disappointed having not seen a single HST.
In January 2019 my son started nursery. He attends the morning session which finishes at 11.30 and when I collected him and asked him what he wanted to do he told me “go see HSTs Daddy”. We did this and it became a routine. Fortunately the GWR timetable still had HSTs serving Plymouth and Penzane and the early morning Penzanze train was a Class 43 which would pass by Burnham station around midday. We’d leave nursery and head to the station so he could see this train.
By now I was aware that their days were numbered so I began filming every HST we saw on our lunchtime visit so I could make him a video to enjoy once the trains had been retired. We’d see Class 387, Class 165/166 and Class 80x trains from GWR and Class 66 freight trains as well as the Class 345 Elizabeth Line trains running empty and slow on proving routes before Crossrail extends out to the West but it was the HST he wanted to see and the minute it had gone past he’d say “time to go now Daddy”.
As May 18th came closer more and more HSTs were either sent for conversion to “Castle” sets which will continue providing local GWR services in Wales and the West Country or sent off lease back to either Angel Trains or Porterbrook meaning we’d see the same trains more and more regularly.
On May 18th we took a train from Slough to Reading so he could be a part of the last day of the HSTs in Passenger service. I tweeted GWR and asked them about the day and to their credit they provided me with more than the information I asked. What they did tell me was that we could catch the train led by 43002, his favourite train, from Reading to Paddington. The day itself GWR had reallocated the rolling stock to ensure 4 HSTs were running services that they no longer were so all 4 could line up on Platforms 1-4 at London Paddington for the last time.
Before our train we saw Old Oak Common (43093) and The Welshman (43198) arrive and depart for Paddington. Shortly after came Harry Patch (43172) with Exeter Panel Signal Box (43162) and then came Sir Kenneth Grange (43002) the train we were getting. We watched the train arrive then sprinted the two first class carriages back to get ourselves on the train and head into Paddington. For this special occasion GWR had paired 43002, the first production car with 43198, the last production car, named “Driver Stan Martin” in memory of the driver who lost his life in a crash in 2004 when a driver took his own life parking his car on a level crossing and the train, 43019, derailed causing the death of the driver and five passengers. The last train to arrive and depart Reading was Great Western (43185) with 43009.
We arrived at Paddington pulling into platform 4 with platforms 1 and 2 already filled with HSTs. Soon after our arrival the last HST arrived into Platform 3 and for the first time in a long time a corner of Paddington station was filled with the Class 43.
As the trains prepared to depart the drivers started the engines and Paddington was again alive with the rumble of the MTU engine at idle.
Platform 1 emptied first, heading to Plymouth. Shortly after platform 2 followed, destined for Cheltenham Spa. Platform 3 was next, with a stop at Slough on the way to Hereford, this meant me and my son could be on the very last HST to ever stop in Slough. With our train already underway Platform 4 emptied last with the very last passenger HST service heading to Exeter St Davids, specially extended to Taunton.
Such was the demand for this last passenger HST GWR made the HST reservation only and ran an additional train to Exeter St Davids departing just a couple of minutes after the HST. GWR were well aware that the demand to be on this last HST meant that the eight coaches available would fill with people with no actual interest in making the journey except to be on that last HST hence why an additional train, an IET was laid on to cater for the usual Saturday night Exeter passengers.
We left our train at Slough and waited on the Platform to get sight of 43198 and 43002 speeding through the station as the last passenger service HST.
I knew this was a big day for my son as this was the last time he’d see his favourite trains operational and at full speed! It was at this point, seeing the 4 HSTs lined up and hearing Paddington finally sound alive again (as the replacement trains make no noise) that I realised that this was a part of my childhood that I would also being saying goodbye to. I remembered the introduction of the HST, I remembered the jingle “This is the age of the train”. And I remember the TV adverts, some of which featured Jimmy Savile. Back then the knowledge we now have of Savile wasn’t out, he was seen as a hero and therefore, not knowing then what we now know, was an obvious choice to be the face of the British Rail advertising.
The HST revolutionised train travel. Developed by British Rail to act as a stop-gap train while the Advanced Passenger Train was in development the Class 43 outperformed all expectations and is still running strong 43 years later while the APT never made it into service.
On May 18th we took a new Class 80x IET from Slough to Reading. We then boarded a 43 year old Class 43 HST from Reading to Paddington and the difference was immense. The HST, despite being 43 years old is more comfortable, quieter despite being hauled by a diesel engine and it’s a smoother ride.
So a part of my childhood, as well as a huge part of my son’s has gone! The GWR Class 43 was no longer serving the London Paddington line and following the 18th May more HST Power cars and coaches were sent off lease.
But there was one last hurrah for the Class 43, and the most famous of it’s power cars as 43002 would lead the final passenger carrying 2+8 GWR HST service on a charity tour day. Adults paid £140 and children £85 to be a part of this final journey on board the faithful HST.
Can you still catch and HST? Yes is the answer. East Midlands Trains are still running theirs, LNER are still running HSTs on their services as they don’t have their full complement of Class 80x Azumas (as they call them) yet and theirs are still full length so still running at line speed of 125mph. ScotRails HSTs are either four or five carriages in formation, as are the GWR “Castle” sets meaning they won’t be running at 125mph. A lot of the braking force on the HSTs comes from the carriages meaning the decision to reduce them to shorter rakes affects braking performance resulting in a lower top speed.
My son’s love of the HST was evident when, last Christmas season, I took him to Paddington for McDonalds! He loved the journey into London and I’d specifically worked the timings so I knew we’d catch an HST from Slough on the inbound journey. Sadly a fatality occurred further down the line between our arrival and intended departure. This through the timetable into chaos but my son’s love of HSTs meant we had to forgo getting five trains back to Slough as he didn’t want to board an Electrostar nor an IET but to wait for the first HST that stopped in Slough. 48 minutes after we were ready for departure, and five “missed” trains later we were on our way back!
For me, as a child, I remember the excitement of catching one of the Class 43 trains into and then home from Paddington on trips to London. I remember using the Class 43 to get to and from London for my work experience one summer.
I have no doubt I’ll be taking my son to see 43002 when it hits the National Rail Museum.
Farewell old childhood friend.
All images and video are copyright Mark Denholm and may not be used or reproduced in any way without permission