Railfest 2012: readying the prototype HST

This is one of a series of blog posts we’ll be bringing you in the run-up to our huge 9-day Railfest 2012 festival in June 2012. More blog posts about Railfest 2012


Sometimes the idea of working in a museum that covers the whole of railway history (ie from at least 1604 to now) seems a tall order. The machine that dominated the railways for over 150 years – the steam locomotive – ends up appearing to dominate the narrative. Hence titles like ‘the York Steam Museum’ or ‘Steamfest’ appear in the press or forums no matter what we try to do.

Thankfully though, as we work closely with volunteer groups and other interested parties, we can balance things up. Hence the recent success of the group restoring Deltic Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, the group working on the APT at Shildon – and now the 125 Group with Project Miller, the restoration of the Prototype HST.

No doubt some of those waiting at Colton Junction in March for new build A1 Tornado to go past were surprised when the surviving powercar from the prototype HST went past the other way, towed by a class 31. Project Miller had gone through a whole host of hoops before then to make the journey possible. But now the restoration is underway and with hard work, much help and determination, this most iconic diesel train will run again.

The group have secured the help of East Midland Trains, who run Neville Hill depot near Leeds – the place where the prototype lived when still out and about for testing nearly 40 years ago (has it really been that long?). At Neville Hill, the team can work on the unit unmolested.

In June 1973, the train took the world speed record for diesel at 143mph. The crew on that occasion included a driver who had started with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway before the war, and whose experience ranged from firing 8Fs in Persia (now Iran) to working Deltics up the East Coast Main Line. That record was broken 14 years later by production HST 43159 – and Railfest 2012 will feature the two locomotives side by side for the first time.

The 125 was of course forced through in 22 months. BR hoped for the miracle of the Advanced Passenger Train to help see off road competition. The architect of the project was Terry Miller, BR Chief Engineer at the time, and a Doncaster apprentice who had started in the Gresley era. It is therefore surely appropriate that the two power cars will find themselves alongside the post-war steam speed record holder – Sir Nigel Gresley. For if you ever wanted a steam-powered HST, surely it would be a train with an A4 like Sir Nigel Gresley at both ends?

Sir Nigel himself would also surely have not been surprised that a powerful train with a steamlined front and rear, complete with good smooth running bogies and a comfortable interior, would do well on Britain’s railways. He had produced a similar train for the East Coast Main Line in the 1930s.

Let’s hope the rejuvenated HST (P) will excite enthusiasts in the same way that a tuned-up A4 does, and help lay the ghost that somehow the National Railway Museum is only interested in steam.

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About Bob Gwynne

I am Associate Curator of Rail Vehicles and author of books on Flying Scotsman and Railway Preservation in Britain.
This entry was posted in Rail vehicle collections, Railfest 2012 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Railfest 2012: readying the prototype HST

  1. technogran says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing them all, including the HST’s! I love every type of train no matter what.

  2. andrew innes says:

    I know it may be a little short notice but wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask east midlands trains if you could repaint 43159 into its original Intercity125 livery and also repaint a mk3 coach with 1 end in prototype HST colour scheme and the other end into production colour so when its all hooked up together it will look like the prototype being morphed into production HST.
    It would make a great photo that would never happen again. And a great show piece for the event.

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