One of Britain’s most famous railway vehicles, the Class 43 HST power cars and accompanying InterCity 125 sped across the length and breadth of the country for years carrying passengers between the UK’s major cities and along the key routes of the East Coast Mainline, Great Western Mainline, Midland Mainline and others. In recent years the 45-year-old, full length HST sets have been retired from service, replaced by modern units. However, some power cars, and shortened sets, have found a new home on inter-city services north of the border.
As the retirement plan of HSTs operating for Great Western Railway (GWR) progressed, a total of 54 power cars and 120 carriages began to make their way up to Scotland, with the first sets being delivered in 2017 for Crew Training. Services began in October 2018, initially operated by un-refurbished slam-door sets, allowing for a wider cascade of rolling stock to occur in Scotland whilst later HST deliveries were made via Wabtec in Doncaster for refurbishment.
The refurbishments allowed the 45-year-old trains to meet modern accessibility requirements with a complete internal refresh, slam-doors replaced with sliding plug doors, toilet retention tanks added, upgraded Passenger Information Systems (announcements & displays) and improved areas for passengers with reduced mobility. There are still significant drawbacks to using this sets, with narrow carriage end doors and no step free access, however compared to the un-refurbished sets the upgrades provided vastly different HSTs.
ScotRail have introduced the refurbished HSTs on services between Scotland’s seven cities and as such branded them as Inter7City services. By the time of our visit to Scotland in November, the sets had been in operation on routes between Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness for over three years and have begun to bed down well. Baring the tragic incident at Stonehaven and a derailment at Dalwhinnie, neither of which were down to the trains, the Inter7City’s have become increasing reliable and are generally seen as an improvement to class 158s and class 170s on the routes.
Following our visit to the wonderful city of Perth (the sixth Scottish city I’ve visited, just Dundee left. Read about our visit here), I was pleased to see an Inter7City set roll into platform 7 for our journey back to Inverness. With a crowd towards the front of the platform we headed to the back of the train and found ourselves a table seat in the rear of the four coaches, just in front of power car 43169 (43146 was leading the service north).
As would be expected, the seating onboard is a mix of bays of four with tables and pairs of ‘airline’ style seating with two seats either side of the aisle. As mentioned above the traditional ‘slam-doors’ have been replaces and the new plug doors do a much better job of keeping the cold air and noise out of the coaches. Free wi-fi is provided throughout the train and seemed to generally be reliable and all seats have access to power sockets, although these are generally shared with a neighbour.
First class is located in one of the four coaches and is in the traditional 1-2 formation with all the seats having more space and access to individual power sockets. Upon introduction there was catering on Inter7City services with complementary refreshments for first class, however this has not yet been reintroduced post-Covid and despite an initial ‘re-introductory’ offer for first-class upgrades these have now been removed and the full first-class fare is payable for the added space.
Whilst new trains such as Greater Anglia’s Stadler units have shown what is do-able from an accessibility point of view, and realistically ScotRail (and the decision makers) should have opted for new rather than refurbished rolling stock, the Inter7City HSTs have been refurbished well and are an improvement on a crowed class 170. What is amazing is the fact that HST’s were only ever introduced by British Rail as a stop-gap .