Trackside Classic News: The InterCity 125 Retires in Style

British Rail’s InterCity 125, the famous High Speed Train, has finally, after just 41 years, retired from mainline high speed service, with final scheduled journeys on the East Coast Main Line last week. But operator London North Eastern Railway wasn’t going to let the legend fade quietly away.

Since 1978, these remarkable trains have been running from London to Yorkshire, north east England and Scotland, following the mighty Deltics. But now 125mph diesels are history; shortened units remain in Scotland and south west England, but the final long distance services on the slower Midland main line and Cross Country routes will end in 2020.

In May this year, when Great Western’s HSTs surrendered to the onslaught of new Hitachi electric and bi-mode trains, GWR painted power cars in historic liveries and organised a sequence of four special trains from London Paddington to destinations across the GWR network. The bar for LNER’s celebrations of the world’s greatest diesel train was pretty high after that.

But LNER has risen to the challenge, and in my opinion surpassed it. We didn’t just see a power car repainted in historic liveries – we were treated to a whole train of 2 power cars and 7 carriages in the original HST livery of Rail Blue and Grey from 1978, specially repainted for the occasion. The set looked spectacular – this was a quality paint job.

By contrast, this is the standard LNER livery – dramatic I grant you but not a great fit for the styling of the train.

Inside, the modern aircraft style seats remained, but the buffet was decorated with period BR posters.

And not just a final departure from London Kings Cross. LNER took the train on tour, across the whole of its network from Edinburgh to Aberdeen and Inverness; back to Edinburgh, then to Newcastle upon Tyne, York and Leeds, and finally from Leeds through Doncaster to Kings Cross. Passengers were from all over the UK. And at least one Yank – Gideon from Chicago made a special trip just to travel on the HST, and got interviewed on local radio in York as a bonus. Here, the set passes along the coast of Fife, north of Edinburgh with the Forth Bridges in the background.

The tour was promoted as LNER’s HST Farewell, but it was a goodwill builder, not a profit maker – proceeds are going to a charity working to reduce the incidence of suicide. And despite it being December, even the weather cooperated, with dramatic snow in the Scottish Highlands.

Here, we see the last ever HST cross the King Edward Bridge over the Tyne at Newcastle

A last farewell to Darlington, birthplace of the railway.

I think it’s fair to say the drivers enjoyed the distinctive HST horns! Many of those lucky enough to drive the train had dug out their old BR uniforms for the day, in place of LNER’s bright red. This is Wakefield Westgate, where I first saw HSTs 41 years ago.

A lucky encounter with a electric class 91 hauled express

Crowds at Kings Cross for the last rites, including Sir Kenneth Grange, designer of the power car’s distinctive nose and livery.

Here are some proud drivers at Kings Cross – who isn’t envious?

Then, after dark, returning to Edinburgh without passengers for an uncertain future – but giving Doncaster, birthplace of Flying Scotsman, something to remember on a dark and miserable night

And, finally, this is what the fuss was all about. As LNER put, “we’ve had a good trip!”

And very finally – well done LNER. You didn’t have to do any of this, but you did, and you did superbly.