Hard to believe after 40 years, but in less than three weeks’ time long-distance High Speed Trains (HSTs) will make their final journeys on the GWR network, going out in style with a planned four departures from Paddington between 18.03 and 18.30 on Saturday, 18 May 2019.
These Inter-City 125 trains transformed perceptions of rail travel following their introduction across the network in the 1970s, arresting the decline in passenger numbers and paving the way for the seemingly constant growth in travel by rail that is now somehow taken for granted.
Like many hundreds of enthusiasts, I am planning to be on one of those 18 May farewell services, and will hopefully post another blog shortly afterwards, but in the meantime here is a selection of images taken in the last few years featuring HST action at a variety of locations across the GWR network.
My first ever visit to Penzance was on 3 August 2013, when I covered the Royal Duchy’s entire 268-mile rail network in a single day using a “Ride Cornwall” ticket. Here 43086/131 wait to depart with the 11.00 to Paddington.
Alighting from the same train at St Erth (3 August 2013) a view of the signal box and junction with the busy branch line to St. Ives.
The latter day “Atlantic Coast Express” formed of 43143/145 has reached journey’s end at Newquay on 3 August 2013 and awaits its 17.26 departure.
Heading onto the 13-mile section of re-doubled route to Swindon, 43160 “Sir Moir Lockhead OBE” and 43148 depart Kemble on 25 January 2016, the latter in a “Bristol 2015” livery.
HSTs made Summer Saturday appearances on the Bristol-Weymouth route to provide extra capacity. On 18 June 2016 43129/161 depart Yeovil Pen Mill with the 10.53 “Weymouth Wizard” to Weymouth.
A colourful scene at Truro on 20 November 2016 as 43017/155 approach the station with a Penzance-Paddington service.
A distant view of Goonbarrow Junction on the Newquay branch (24 June 2017), from close to Bugle station, where 43189/177 forming the up “Atlantic Coast Express” pass 153305/361/150249 on the 10.53 Plymouth-Newquay .
43093/034 pause at Par on Sunday, 25 June 2017 with the 12.45 departure for Paddington.
43139/177 power away from Moreton-in-Marsh on 21 August 2017 with the 15.14 departure for Paddington.
43165/094 approach Westbury on 17 August 2018 with the 11.59 departure for Paignton.
Of course, 18 May 2019 will not be the end of the HST story. For the time being they live on with three other long-distance operators – LNER, Arriva XC and East Midlands Trains, while shortened 2+4 sets are being introduced across Scotland under Scotrail’s “Inter7City” brand.
On GWR itself, similar shortened sets, known as the Castles, are being gradually introduced on services between Cardiff, Bristol, Plymouth and Penzance. But for those who grew up with them, Paddington will never seem the same without the familiar drub of HST engines at the buffer stops.
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