Today, the Class 43 and its High Speed Train sets are but a humdrum, ho hum piece of railway kit, whisking people across the British countryside at speeds of 125mph, reducing journey times between this nation's many great towns and cities and bringing communities closer together. But, many people seem to forget that if it weren't for this stroke of genius, the railways of Britain today would probably not exist, or at the very least be half as good as they are.
The story begins in the late 1960's, and following massive cuts, rising competition from domestic airlines and road haulage, a fleet if ineffective or unreliable trains, poor maintenance and bad work practice, British Rail is very much on its knees. Although there had been some success stories such as the electrification of the West Coast Mainline, the general layout was very mediocre in terms of travelling by rail. However, inspired largely by the Skinhansen Bullet Trains of Japan, the British Railways Board decided to create a brand new set of high speed trains to help reduce journey times and to try and reclaim some of the market that had been lost to the roads and airlines. Following extensive development and design, the Class 41 Prototype HST was released into traffic in 1972. Powered by Paxman Valenta 12RP200L engines developing 2,250 horsepower, and with newly designed intermediate trailers, the prototype successfully set record after record in terms of speed and agility during its years of testing.
Following this, the production sets, such as the one seen here, were developed, finalizing the styling to allow for greater speeds to be gained, which included a more streamlined nose and removal of the standard coupling gear that was on the prototype. In 1975, the first of 197 power cars entered traffic on the Western Region, working out of London Paddington on the higher speed stretches to Bristol Temple Meads. The trains were an immediate success, garnering critical acclaim wherever they went. Gradually, services were introduced elsewhere, with the Western Region being followed closely by the East Coast Mainline out of London King's Cross, and eventually services from London St Pancras on the Midland Mainline and services on the Cross Country route were added to their diagrams.
However, as this new wave of technology swept in, the HST did see off many popular British Rail diesels, with the withdrawal of the Class 55 'Deltics', the Class 44's, 45's and 46 'Peaks', the Class 52 'Westerns' and the Class 50 'Hoovers' all bearing the brunt of the HST's introduction. But as these slower, older locomotives bid farewell to their mainline careers, the HST continued to power into history, breaking the record as the World's Fastest Diesel Locomotive in 1987 at 148mph, a record that has yet to be beaten.
In all, the effects of the High Speed Train continue to be felt even to this day, as is demonstrated in this view here, showing a London Paddington bound HST set working along the Sea Wall at Teignmouth (home sweet home!
) during the 1970's. Indeed the South West, like many other rural places such as the Scottish Highlands, have seen massive reductions in journey times, with the fastest morning services from Plymouth to London taking just under 3 hours instead of the previous 5 to 6.
Although plans continue to be drawn up to replace these 40 year old machines, there will be nothing surpass the sheer brilliance that is the High Speed Trains.
Original photo by the amazing Colin J. Marsden.