When Great Western Railway trumpeted a fastest ever rail journey from Cardiff to London of one hour 33 minutes 44 seconds in October 2019 by one of its new InterCity Express (IET) trains it was being somewhat economical with the truth about the fastest rail journey between the two capitals.
While the GWR IET might have been able to claim the honour of fastest journey to London from Cardiff, its achievement on 23 October 2019 was comprehensively eclipsed by the real rail speed record over that route, which was set by an HST exactly 35 years ago today, on Thursday, 18 July 1985.
On that day a special run by an HST and christened The Capital Clipper made the real record-breaking journey from London Paddington to Cardiff Central in a time of one hour 20 minutes and 45 seconds, a full 13 minutes faster than the time set last October by one of the new GWR “flying cucumbers”!
As a journalist at the time on The Observer I had kindly been invited to join this special train by the Welsh Development Agency but, being unable to make it, I secured an invitation instead for my enthusiast father Trefor, who had an unforgettable day out and was interviewed by numerous broadcasters during the trip.
Besides his 15-minutes of broadcasting fame, my father was also given this certificate to commemorate the record-breaking run (sadly his surname was misspelled) which confirms an average speed for the 146¼-mile trip of 108mph and confirms that it beat the previous record by an impressive 20 minutes 15 seconds.
In its October 2019 announcement following the Cardiff-Paddington IET run, GWR declared that this had beaten the previous record of one hour 37 minutes 37 seconds. That had been set by an HST on 2 August 1988 and, GWR pointed out, came before the introduction of safer driving practices and speed restrictions in 2008.
But there was no acknowledgment from GWR in its announcement that the real speed record for a journey between Cardiff and London remained the one set on The Capital Clipper’s westbound journey back in 1985 by one of the much-loved HST sets, which had made their last scheduled runs on GWR metals only a few months earlier, in May 2019.
Top photo shows 43188 “Y Cymro/The Welshman” at Reading on the final day of scheduled GWR HST operation (18 May 2019) heading the 18.03 Paddington to Plymouth.
Photo below, also from 18 May 2019, shows 43162 “Exeter Panel Signal Box 21st Anniversary 2009” and 43172 “Harry Patch the last survivor of the trenches” departing Kemble with the 18.15 Paddington-Cheltenham Spa, the last HST on the Golden Valley Line.