A ride on an HST

On Saturday, I embarked on a journey that had me travelling on an NXEC HST without going anywhere next to near the stomping ground of the beleaguered NXEC. The train itself was bound from Manchester to Newquay and had been hired by CrossCountry in anticipation of the summer holidaying hoards, not that it was very full when I was on it. Admittedly, it was early in the morning when I set off from Macclesfield to Wolverhampton en route to Machynlleth in Wales.

HST’s are many people’s idea of a perfect but my mind started to compare it with newer trains. For one thing, the delay in setting off from any station was more than a little noticeable. Having to slam all of the doors shut will have a bearing on this but I am wondering if other things are in play. So many of our trains have underfloor engines that it is a little eerie sitting in an unpowered trailer carriage awaiting the off. Many prize the quietness and smoothness but those engines do seem to add a certain extra immediacy that allays any impatience. Another thing is that there needs to be an added heave to get things moving, even if there is a power car at either end. So, does distributing the power to each train carriage make it easier to set off? Virgin were in the habit that it does and I can see what they mean.

One other though bubbled up as I disembarked at Wolverhampton: operating the doors. More specifically, I wonder how many people get confounded by the need to push down the window and reach out to use the handle to open the door when push button operation is so commonplace. What places this into sharp relief is the surprise expressed by a Swedish acquaintance upon travelling on an old West Coast Mk III set; it seems that the outside door handle approach with which so many have been familiar in former times are foreign to residents in other countries, Sweden for example. It might be the same with many British train travellers too. Recalling the fumbling that passengers did when Voyagers and Pendolinos were introduced, I do ask myself if the same foolish operates in the reverse direction.

While I am sure that some HST’s will make it into preservation, the onset of the Super Express more than likely will end their reign on the British railways. After all, they were only ever intended as a stopgap measure, albeit one that has lasted into its fourth decade so far. So, if you are into your railway experiences, it might be worth catching a HST while you can. Along with NXEC, CrossCountry, East Midlands and First Great Western all have their own. Saying that, with the financial constraints facing us, I wouldn’t bet against them continuing in regular service into their fifth decade. Well, they must have lasted this long for a reason…

2 thoughts on “A ride on an HST

  1. Being exiled from Manchester to Reading (for work reasons), we waited years and years for the new Virgin Super Voyager trains. Then we got them and realised they were much smoother and better all around, yes, but all the room had vanished and it was more like getting onto a plane. A few years ago I was heading up to the Lake District from Manchester first thing in the morning and took the opportunity to grab a Pendolino to Windermere – they almost need ceiling handles to hoist oneself in place!
    The previous Virgin service on the West Coast Line was generally considered poor and this was put down to the rolling stock. I do wonder how much of this was mindset, wishing to point the blame at BR, or just plain media. I did often have delays on that line and usually in an HST powered train, but it was usually because of some train in front.
    In Reading HSTs are commonplace on the route into Paddington and along to Swansea. I’ve had spates of travelling regularly on this line as far as Newport and the good old HSTs seem to be fine as far as I can see. When we had the Paddington disaster the actual main reason for such carnage was a Thames Turbo shooting through a signal; its design meant that the impact with the HST shunted its fuel directly into the HST and this caused the fireball. The ‘Thames Turbos’ – I can hear one leaving Reading West as I type this as home – continue to run unaltered.
    Many thanks for the blog, btw, I’ve been reading it for some time now and thought it time to drop a comment!

  2. Thanks for dropping by. I think that there was a wider rumour about Virgin letting plane designers amuck when planning their new trains. Hopefully, that lesson has been learnt but you do get to wondering, especially when you see Network Rail’s proposals for HS2. They have to be the West Coast Mainline that we should have got.

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