Farewell HST

Saturday 18th May 2019

IMG_6884.jpgToday’s a poignant day on the Great Western. The much loved HST trains are running their last journeys across the network to and from London as new Hitachi IET Class 800 and 802 trains now reign supreme.

Whereas last week’s LNER Azuma launch was met with much excitement for the future, somehow GWR’s similar trains haven’t made the same impact since they first appeared in late 2017.

IMG_6974.jpgAs I write this blogpost on board the very last HST which left Penzance for Paddington at 0650 this morning, many overheard comments are “it’s all very sad”, “end of an era”, “going to really miss them” and “have you signed the online petition to bring back the buffet; the Azuma has got one”.

IMG_6925.jpgIt’s been forty years down here on the West Country line to Penzance so for a whole generation of Millennials HSTs are all they’ve known so nostalgic regrets are understandable. All the more so as the ambiance of the new Hitachi trains is more Championship than Premier League in First Class.

IMG_6875.jpgTo bid my fond farewells I treated myself to the very last ever HST Pullman lunchtime dining experience on yesterday’s 1303 Paddington to Plymouth.

IMG_6877.jpgAlthough this splendid tradition is continuing on the IET it just won’t be the same as sitting in a sumptuous leather seat in what feels like an exclusive top class restaurant with just 17 covers and five attentive staff.

IMG_6878.jpgIt took well over an hour for my veggie main course to appear but it didn’t matter at all as there was lots to see out of the window as the journey continued westwards and with such a small kitchen it would be impossible to serve an awkward diner like me avoiding alcohol, skipping the first course and out of sync with the flow of other diners. And it was certainly worth the wait.

IMG_E6911.jpgThe Acorn Squash was absolutely delicious and came with complimentary bottled spring water and bread rolls; and of course it’s all served silver service style with decent crockery, cutlery and napkins.

IMG_6912.jpgI was so impressed I had to seek out the chef to pass on my thanks and in so doing was aghast to see the limited facilities from which she produced around two dozen amazing three course meals over the previous two hours. A quite remarkable achievement.

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From Plymouth, after an hour’s break, I continued down to Penzance on a nine coach IET Class 802.

IMG_6930.jpgThis journey, the 1403 from Paddington, had originally been scheduled for an HST but was swapped for the new replacement and provided an interesting contrast. It was my first journey through Cornwall on an IET and in fact my first journey on a GWR nine coach version having previously only enjoyed trips on the five coach trains (and doubled up as ten coach) to Bristol and South Wales.IMG_6944.jpg

The internal layout unsurprisingly is very similar to the Azumas and the same comments apply to luggage storage and seats as I made in yesterday’s blog.

IMG_6945.jpgI did get a peek inside the ‘end of carriage’ large lockable luggage and cycle stores which I’m sure are going to be kept very busy.

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IMG_6950.jpgAside from Menheniot the 1725 journey from Plymouth is an all stations stopper right through Cornwall and it was interesting to hear the auto announcements programmed to emphasise which doors will or will not open bespoke to each coach at short platform stations (something the HSTs weren’t able to do) supplemented by the Train Manager’s announcements.

Another noteworthy improvement is the train no longer being delayed while the Train Manager or station staff have to walk up and down the platform manually shutting all the carriage doors which together with the much improved acceleration away from stations meant we were well able to keep to time as we journeyed through Cornwall; something I’d not often experienced before.

IMG_6953.jpgIndeed, we arrived in Penzance a minute early.

IMG_6954.jpgAnd so to my last HST journey from Penzance all the way through to Paddington at 0650 this morning. Lots of cameras; lots of waving; smiles and sighs and many memories shared.

IMG_6972.jpgI’ll miss the clunk clicking as an HST pulls away from stations; the sound of those doors being slammed shut; the door windows which can be opened and shut; the draught howling back into the carriage because someone’s pointing a camera out of the open window; the late running in Cornwall (we arrived in Plymouth around ten minutes down) …. the happy ambiance of it all.

IMG_6969.jpgIt’s a shame progress means we seem to be losing an air of quality as new trains come on stream but the good news is it’s largely being driven by the need to increase seating capacity because trains are becoming more and more popular. More seats per carriage is an inevitable consequence on long distance journeys as well as commuter trains.

I was never a fan of the high backed seats First Great Western crammed into an unfriendly layout in Standard Class in their HSTs a few years ago (which continue in the shortened 4 coach ‘Castle’ sets in the West Country and round to Cardiff pictured below) and much prefer the new IETs albeit with their less comfortable seats.

IMG_6929.jpgBut the days of luxury in First Class sadly now seem to be passing into a bygone era as twenty percent more seats are added per carriage. But I’m sure people said the same when steam was replaced with diesel and in the years to come we’ll get to love the IETs and Azumas for their modern approach to train travel.

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IMG_6948.jpgBack on the last HST journey this morning from Penzance we lost a bit more time due to slow running through Starcross arriving Exeter St Davids 15 minutes late. Through Tiverton Parkway and Taunton we got extremely busy and there were the usual issues over passengers with seat reservations assuming an IET layout and naturally couldn’t find their expected seats (no First Class coach E on an HST).

More positively we were twelve minutes late into Westbury at 1112 instead of 1100 which would have meant passengers just missing the connection for the Southampton train due to leave at 1111. A shout out to GWR’s Swindon Control who held the Southampton train for a few minutes until our arrival allowing passengers to make the connection – something you perceive rarely happens these days.

IMG_7039.jpgWe continued to be around twelve minutes down towards London, picking up a large contingent of passengers at Reading (standing room only from there) and where we passed an equally large number of photographers recording this historic last day of HSTs which have been synonymous for so many years with that town. (I well remember taking my first HST ride when at Reading University in 1974/5).

It’s now 1227 and we’ve just arrived into Paddington after a splendid five hour and 37 minute journey which I’ll also well remember … perhaps not for as long as 45 years this time, that would be pushing life expectancy too far, but hopefully for many years to come.

Farewell HST and thanks.

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Roger French

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Long live the HST

Monday 18th March 2019

During my initial trip on a brand new Class 800 train when they began running between Paddington and Bristol/Cardiff at the end of 2017 my first thought was to lament the end of the luxurious comfortable seats GWR had introduced in first class in HST trains the new IEP units were replacing.

IMG_2056.jpgI needn’t have worried. Fast forward nineteen months and here I am writing this very blog sitting in one of those self same seats in amazing luxurious comfort on one of the first-to-be-refurbished HSTs forming ScotRail’s ambitious ‘Inter7City’ project.

IMG_2033.jpgLike everything rolling stock wise on the railways this project is running hopelessly late due to ambitious timescales by the company doing the refurbs and no doubt more work being found to be done once the units are stripped back.

I’d been trying to track down the sole unit so far in passenger service, 43169, since its introduction last October but been thwarted on previous trips north of the border by initial spasmodic appearances in service between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and my living nearly 500 miles away!

IMG_2035.jpgHearing a second refurbished unit had finally arrived for service with ScotRail seemed like a good opportunity to head up to Edinburgh and bag a ride. ScotRail have helpfully tweeted the train diagram for the refurbed train which includes an intensive day’s running between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and I settled on catching the 1230 from Edinburgh and the return journey leaving Aberdeen at 1600 this afternoon.

When Thameslink began running intensified services through the ‘core’ a wag observed it’s possible a delay down on the Brighton line could have repercussions through the tightly pathed East Coast line with knock on effects as far as Aberdeen or Inverness. I had a slight taste of that phenomenon this morning when a Horsham to Peterborough train in front of my 0800 Kings Cross to Edinburgh came to a stop north of Huntingdon for twenty minutes which, to cut a long story short, meant a 16 minute late arrival into Edinburgh at 1236 and missing my admittedly tight connection for Aberdeen.

IMG_1946.jpgStill, at least it gave me an opportunity to make a direct comparison between a two and a half hour journey up to Aberdeen on a Class 170 and a return journey south on the refurbished HST.

IMG_2007.jpgThe first thing to note is you just wouldn’t believe the HST is over twice the age of the 170 which first appeared at the turn of this century rather than the mid to late 1970s birth of the HST. It just goes to show brand new is not necessarily always better (especially when it comes to trains).

The HST is in a different league power wise to the turbo charged 170s. I’m no expert in engineering matters but as a passenger I know when I’m on a classy train suited to ‘inter city’ work and when I’m on a train which never quite seems man enough for the job.

The comparison between the quality ambiance offered by travelling first class in the HST compared to the 170 is stark. Aside from the already mentioned seats in the HST you have your own carriage with 32 seats well spaced out and all nicely lined up with windows together with a refreshment buffet area and luggage rack. This adjoins a small galley kitchen where hot soups and drinks are prepared and sandwiches kept as well as a stylish counter for those travelling standard class to make their purchases.

IMG_2044.jpgIMG_2067.jpgWhereas in a Class 170 you’re cooped up in one of nine seats at either end of the train immediately behind the driver’s cab with the associated traction buzzing noises. It doesn’t shout luxury. It must be an optical illusion but a Class170 just seems narrower than an HST too! The seats certainly are.

IMG_2010.jpgOn the way up to Aberdeen it took the trolley man almost an hour to reach me in the front first class compartment and offered complimentary tea/coffee and a biscuit/cake. On the HST one of two refreshment hosts was passing through the first class carriage almost immediately on leaving Aberdeen offering hot soup with a roll as well as tea/coffee and sandwiches in addition to encouraging a visit to the help yourself buffet area for a wide selection of biscuits, cold drinks and fruit pots. If I’d travelled at breakfast I’d have been offered a hot filled roll, porridge or other delights.

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IMG_2048.jpgI took the opportunity to also sample standard class seats which have been retrimmed into a smart ScotRail moquette and although are still to the high back design used in GWR days are comfortable by modern day seat standards with adequate leg room. More so than the Class 170.

IMG_2073.jpgIMG_2072.jpgI didn’t count but there must also be many more standard class seats with three whole carriages worth compared to the three coaches in a Class 170 set which also includes the two first class sections at either end. There also seemed to be many more tables in an HST – I counted ten in one coach with slightly fewer in the carriage with the accessible toilet.

A cyclist on board mentioned there is only a rack for two cycles and when they’re both in situ it’s a bit tricky to access one to remove it. He didn’t reckon there are any spaces in the power car.

IMG_2070.jpgObviously the refurbishment has included sliding doors and finally doing away with opening windows to lean through to open the door by the outside handle – which is a bit of a shame but inevitable in today’s safety conscious world.

IMG_2071.jpgTaking an HST south from Aberdeen, as I’m doing now, is nothing new. LNER (and it’s predecessors) have been running them on this line for decades, but what is revolutionary and hugely welcome is ScotRail have obviously given a lot of thought into how to make train travel really feel good with great attention to detail in this refurbishment notwithstanding these trains are forty odd years old.

IMG_2053.jpgThe eventual plan is to run refurbished HSTs between Aberdeen, as well as Inverness, to and from Edinburgh and Glasgow taking in Dundee, Perth and Stirling along the way (hence the 7 cities). Based on today’s experience I’m confident it will be a huge success in attracting more passengers and creating a great impression of train travel.

Sadly it looks like it’s going to be quite a while before all the refurbishments are completed, but it will definitely be well worth the wait.

Roger French