Saying Goodbye to the HST – All Change on the Midland Main Line

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Featured image: HST power car 43102 in the platform at St Pancras station

I write this post as a bit of a sentimental one, having travelled on East Midlands Trains (as it was then – now run by East Midlands Railway) HST services pretty much every weekday for the best part of 5 years, and I’ve always had a soft-spot for this slam-door train. However, their time has now come to an end, as this weekend marks the start of the new ‘EMR Connect’ electric service to Corby, and with it, a timetable reshuffle for the mainline network that sees the HST as surplus to requirements.

Why is this switchover particularly significant? There are two main reasons.

Firstly, the retirement of the HST itself. First built in the 1970s by BREL (British Rail Engineering Ltd), they soon became the primary rolling stock used for InterCity services across the UK. Branded ‘InterCity 125’ with its distinctive Swallow livery, they were seen as the gold standard for long-distance rail services. In recent years, however, they’ve slowly been phased out and replaced with modern long-distance trains, primary Class 800-series units (affectionately branded Azuma by LNER for their East Coast operations) built by Hitachi. East Midlands Railway have got their own order of these, branded Aurora, arriving in the next few years.

The other reason is that this weekend marks the culmination of several years work to recast the Midland Mainline timetable, and with it, the introduction of electric passenger services north of Bedford for the first time. Branded ‘EMR Connect’, ex-Greater Anglia Class 360 Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) will reintroduce an even half-hourly service to Bedford, including at peak times, and double the frequency of express services to London from Luton/Luton Airport Parkway.

This change hasn’t been without controversy – Sunday mornings aside, there’s now no direct services connecting Luton/Bedford/Wellingborough with the North – an additional change is required at Kettering to connect with the Nottingham stopping service that, until this weekend, served those stations directly.

On balance – my view is that the new service is an improvement on the pre-2018 arrangement overall, and significantly better than the interim timetable that’s run on the south MML since then. EMR Connect services are now on an even clockface timetable south of Kettering, with a short same-platform connection at Kettering if going to/from the North. They’re also electric trains which will be refurbished internally in the next couple of years – once this has completed it’ll be in a 2&2 seating configuration, more suitable to the regional service it will be running than the current commuter layout.

It’s also worth pointing out that, whilst it’s sad to see such a workhorse of long distance services be retired, I’m also not averse to progress, and the HSTs have had their time. 1970s-era crashworthiness standards for the cabs meant that in the very unlikely event of a derailment (though sadly there was one last year at Stonehaven in Scotland, so they do very occasionally happen) there isn’t the protective ‘cocoon’ around the drivers that more modern trains are built with. There are also issues around accessibility of the slam-door Mk3 coaches on the EMR services specifically.

As always, I’d be interested in reading any comments – do you have any particular memories of the HSTs? I’ll also post some more photos below taken over the last few weeks, as I made my last few journeys on this iconic train.

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