Operator: East Midlands Railway
Date: Friday 7th May 2021
Lying between Euston, Midland and Pancras Roads, St. Pancras station once sat unloved with just a handful of services along the Midland Mainline (MML) using its impressive train shed. Seen as redundant by British Rail in the 1960s, the station was famously saved by a campaign by the late Sir John Betjeman whose statue now observes the magnificent roof inside the redeveloped station.
With an approach from the north across the Regent’s Canal, the track level within William Henry Barlow’s famous train shed is more than 6m above ground level and the station’s under croft was initially used for freight, mainly barrels of beer from the midland’s town of Burton, with the arches and girders being designed with the base unit of the length of a barrel of beer. Barlow’s train shed roof was at the time of its construction the largest single span roof in the world and is still an icon of engineering.
The reason for my visit to St. Pancras was to travel on some other engineering icons, East Midlands Railway’s (EMR) remaining High Speed Trains (HSTs). The HSTs were originally introduced on services along the MML in the early 1980s and have been stalwarts of the line’s inter-city services for almost 40 years. However, with limited accessibility and newer, more efficient, units available, just two HST sets remain in operation on the MML.
At the time of my journey these two remaining sets had just 8 days of service left, with them due to be retired at the timetable change on 16th May, when the introduction of electric class 360s on Corby services, and the subsequent cascade of class 222s made them surplus to requirements. Through some careful planning, I was hoping to take a journey on both sets by travelling on the 1D43 1434 St Pancras to Nottingham and 1B69 1745 return.
Having arrived at St Pancras about 35 minutes early, I was disappointed to find the first-class lounge still closed due to Covid, and so I hung around the departure boards awaiting the HSTs arrival. The gate line staff at St. Pancras were kindly allowing people onto the platforms ahead of the service being announced to allow for photos of the HST’s arrival into St. Pancras. As the leading locomotive appeared in the distance, I could see that it would be the railway’s current A-list celebrities forming the service north.
43102 and 43274 have both recently received special liveries for their last few weeks of service, with the former now sporting it’s original Intercity ‘Swallow’ livery, whilst the latter is unique in being the only HST to have ever worn EMR’s purple colour scheme. 43102 was, between 2008 and 2021, renumbered to 43302 due to it receiving a new engine, however, was reverted back to its original designation when EMR re-liveried it. 43102, is of great historical value as the world record holder for a diesel locomotive, having achieved a speed of 148.5mph in November 1987.
Having taken the opportunity to grab some photos, I made my way back to the rear of the train to settle into first-class. EMR is now operating former LNER HST sets as they are slightly more accessible than their previous versions, and so there is a possibility I had travelled in this carriage during one of my LNER trips. After departure from St Pancras a ticket check took place, soon followed by the recently reintroduced catering service.
EMR and its predecessors have never been the best when it comes to first-class catering, however it was good to see that something had been reintroduced. Along with the usual offering of Tea, Coffee and bottles of water, EMR have produced ‘snack bags’ containing a limited offering of light snacks. Sitting at the back of first-class I was initially only provided with one of the remaining ‘breakfast bags’ (despite it being nearly 3pm) which included a small carton of Orange juice, a muesli bar and a small pack of Biscoff biscuits.
During the second round of drink service, the onboard staff had found some more ‘afternoon bags’ and so offered me and a few other one of these as well. With a packet of crisps, honeycomb tiffin bar and another packet of biscuits, this bag wasn’t really any more substantial, however the gesture from the staff was appreciated.
Since the introduction of the class 222s, HSTs have generally been scheduled to operate the ‘fast’ Nottingham services due to their slower acceleration in comparison to the Meridians and our service today was no different, with only three stops scheduled at Market Harborough, Leicester and East Midlands Parkway enroute to Nottingham.
With just a few days left of HST services, and the fact this was the ‘celebrity’ set, our service north was pretty busy with plenty of enthusiasts taking the opportunity to enjoy a final ride on the classic trains. Unfortunately, a few individuals decided to ignore the rules and wear their masks around their chins and generally be a nuisance, however the staff handled it extremely well.
Whilst the first-class experience with EMR was unfortunately uninspiring (although at least Covid can be blamed this time), I thoroughly enjoyed my ride up to Nottingham on the HST and remembering the enjoyment of travelling on them on the East Coast Mainline for my commute. Whilst these classic sets will be missed, there are still HSTs operating with CrossCountry, GWR and ScotRail, although all of these have been modified for accessibility requirements.
Overall Rating 16/25 (read about my rating system here!)