By roger geach, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10793779
It is time to return to Scotland. I have said goodbye to my kids (who are making their own different ways back) and my in-laws. I feel sad saying goodbye to such great people, but at the same time I look forward to peace, quiet and the familiar. Whilst I may find London overwhelming, taken at a measured pace the opportunities are seemingly endless but then so seems the cost. The travel alone is not cheap.
We are on a Virgin train heading north on the East Coast Mainline. It is one of the original High Speed Trains or 125s (a reference to its maximum speed in miles per hour). A lot of the 125s were replaced by the 225 (max speed in kilometres now) maybe two decades ago but because the line north of Edinburgh (or is it Perth??) is not electrified, the 125 which are diesel driven continue to be used for the Inverness trains. Now okay, I honestly don’t know this particular train’s history, it may have been one of the last ones to be introduced before the 225s took over but I love the fact that these trains are still going, they transformed rail travel for me (and presumably millions of others).
I think my teenage friend Richard introduced me to train travel, but maybe it was my parents. Richard and I were probably about 14 when we went from Portsmouth to London on day trips by ourselves. The line was called Network South-East in those days. It was a time when more open carriages were being introduced but occasionally we would come across a carriage with 6-8 seat compartments. There were multiple doors along the carriage and in order to open the door, one had to push down the window and turn the handle from the outside. This also meant that we could stick our heads out of the door windows when the train was travelling and experience the thrill and sensuality of fluid resistance though to be honest, I tended only to stick my hand out a bit. The windows were often open because people smoked in those days.
The HSTs were a radical departure for British Rail (if we ignore the disastrous Advanced Passenger Train programme – coffee on your lap sir?). They adopted the now standard format of carriage: remotely controlled doors only at the ends (or was the remote control a later addition?); large non-opening picture windows with air conditioning; large spacious seats (which never quite fitted me); and the much sought after four seats around a table (though I prefer the paired seats where you don’t have untangle legs). This was “The Age of the Train”, with dark blue and yellow liveries, the return of stream lining, and trains that didn’t need to turn around to go in the opposite direction (not new but the alphabet sequence of carriages meant it was obvious the train didn’t turn round). These trains were smooth, fast, and quiet; a dramatic contrast to the North Line.
My first experience of the 125 was travelling from London to Loughborough to visit the university there, when I was 17 years old. I loved the train travel but didn’t like the university. The east coast mainline has been a continuous part of my adult life. I went to York University in the end, then Edinburgh and now further north and by far my favourite mode of travel between the north and London is the train. Apart from my time in Edinburgh where the 225 was my preferred model (the seats were more comfy), the 125 has been with me all the way. They are not perfect, air conditioning failure being a particular lowlight plus there is the limited space for bikes, but all other space issues seem to stem from people wanting to take their entire wardrobe and kitchen sink on holiday.
For over thirty years the 125 trains have provided and continue to provide smooth, reliable, fast (no arriving early and queuing at security), and stress free travel. What a wonderful example of excellent engineering. Long may they continue.
We have stopped in York. Time to reminisce about other things.
I am now at home enjoying the solitude of my writing room. I wanted to add that I was very surprised to see that one needs to pull down the window and open the door from the outside on 125s too. The locking however is remotely controlled.
It seems that the 125s are known as Class 43 engines and the 225s are Class 91 engines. Both are due to be replaced by the Hitachi Super Express Class 800 engines. However the Class 43s may be needed until 2019 and beyond. The 125 power cars were built from 1975 until 1982.