HST’s on the Midland Region

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The Midland Region was one of the last networks onto which the HST’s were introduced in May 1983, with services commencing following the completion of the fleet of 197 powercars and 709 coaches. The first regions onto which the HST was introduced were the Western Region in 1976 between London, Bristol, Cardiff, Westbury, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance, and the Eastern Region, London, Peterborough, York, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Scotland in 1978.

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Working through Finedon in 1992 is 43038, wearing an experimental variation of the InterCity Swallow livery (hondawanderer)

The HST sets began operations on the Midland Region between London St Pancras, Nottingham, Leicester, Chesterfield, Derby, Sheffield and Leeds, to replace a fleet of ageing Class 47’s and Class 45/46 ‘Peak’ locomotives that dated back to the 1960’s. Locomotive hauled services remained prominent however throughout the 1980’s, with the last operations by the ‘Peaks’ being carried out in around 1989 to 1990.

The HST’s held sway on this route largely due to the reduced number of diagrams in comparison to the East and West Coast Mainlines, with the line falling largely into neglect during this period. Limits of only 110mph on the Midland Mainline meant that HST’s could not be used to their full time saving potential, but were deemed much more economical than the loco-hauled services they replaced.

Upon privatisation and ownership of the route by Midland Mainline, subsidiary of National Express, in April 1996, the HST fleet stood at 31 powercars based at Neville Hill in Leeds

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Departing Willingborough in Midland Mainline’s very colourful Teal and Tangerine livery is 43056, seen in 2002.

and Derby Etches Park. These trains continued to be operated extensively until about 2002, when after successful tests with the newer Paxman VP185 engine, the powercars were sent to Brush Works in Loughborough to have their original Paxman Valenta engines of the 1970’s replaced. This called for replacement traction in the form of loco-hauled MkII coaches and Top n’ Tail Class 47’s to haul them from St Pancras to Sheffield. This operation ran for six months until Midland Mainline was able to hire spare sets from Virgin Trains and, on one occasion, First Great Western.

In 2003/4, the Project Rio service was formed, operating sets from London St Pancras to Manchester Piccadilly as an alternative to the West Coast Mainline, which was undergoing an extensive overhaul to improve services. The Project Rio service called upon HST powercars and coaching stock brought in from now redundant Virgin Trains sets which had been recently retired by the company in place of Class 220 and 221 Voyager units. Upon completion of Project Rio in 2004, many of these extra sets were either put into storage or sold on to GNER and First Great Western.

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Speeding through Barrow-upon-Soar in 2009, wearing what was often referred to as Midland Mainline’s ‘Dolphin’ livery is 43045.

Some sets continued to be used until the disbanding of the Midland Mainline franchise in 2007 to be replaced by East Midlands Trains, a subsidiary of Stagecoach Group. Since East Midland’s Trains’ formation, the company’s number of power cars has dropped from 31 to 24, with some powercars sold to East Coast, whilst others became part of the Arriva Cross Country franchise. 2009 saw the last Midland HST powercars re-engined with a Paxman VP185, but the addition of Class 222’s from First Hull Trains to the fleet has seen many of these HST sets in short demand. The result is that EMT frequently release sets for railtours and other charter operations, taking HST sets to some regions they’ve never gone before, including the Swanage Railway and the East Lancashire Railway. One set is also on semi-permanent hire to now sister company Virgin Trains East Coast, working from London King’s Cross to Newcastle.