Friends of the National Railway Museum
South of England Group


Intercity Slickers


Four InterCity 125 high speed trains - the world's fastest diesels - celebrate their 10th birthday at Paddington station in 1986. Ten years previously, on 4 October 1976, the supertrain era began in Britain when InterCity 125 services were inaugurated on the Paddington to Bristol and South Wales route. The new trains. were a very palpable hit with the public, whose imaginations were caught by the sleek blue and yellow flyers in a way not known since the days of the pre-war steam streamliners.

And the public certainly had something to rave about. Each InterCity 125 is a fixed formation diesel with 7, 8 or 9 of the new Mark Ill carriages sandwiched between two 2250hp power cars - one at either end of the train to allow for the fastest possible turnround after each journey. Inside is the new InterCity style. Air-conditioning, double-glazing and wall-to-wall carpeting is now standard throughout the train. A restaurant or buffet serving hot meals or snacks is included in every IC125 - fast food never came faster than on an HST!

The IC125's cruising speed of 125mph - hit and held for mile after mile - makes them the fastest diesels operating on any railway in the world. They began their record-breaking career early when the prototype train demonstrated its potential with an outstanding series of runs during June 1973. On the 6th it hit 131mph to snatch Mallard's 35-year-old British rail speed record. Then, five days later, it was powered up to 141mph to beat the world speed record for diesel traction set by the Germans in 1939. Finally, on 12 June, it edged the record even higher to 143.2mph.

The record-breaking has continued unabated since then. On 27 September 1985 the press run of the new "Tees-Tyne Pullman" averaged 115.4mph start-to-stop over the 268.1/2 miles from Newcastle to Kings Cross. On 9 November the following year a production IC125 pushed their world record higher still with a rail-rattling 144.7mph during tests on the Darlington - York racetrack. Indicative of the complete break with the steam era is that this train later went up Stoke bank - scene of Mallard's world speed record - at 129.5mph compared with the steamer's 126mph gravity-assisted descent. Then on I November another IC125 test train hit 148.0mph over a measured mile on the same route. And that's where the record stands - for the present!

InterCity 125s are seemingly in a state of perpetual motion, for to get the best use out of its assets - its locomotives and coaches - InterCity's trains are exploited to the full, putting in endurance feats unequalled by any other railway worldwide. Many IC125s regularly notch up more than 1000 miles a day; all achieve between 220,000 and a quarter of a million miles every year.

Over the past few years the InterCity 125 network has spread to encompass all major non-electrified routes; the East Coast Main Line and Paddington - Penzance in 1978; the St. Pancras - Sheffield route and many services on the great railway heart-line between Scotland and the North East to the West Country via the Midlands in 1982. Today IC125s can be seen across the system from Inverness to Penzance, Fishguard to Cleethorpes. Intercity 125s have probably done more than any other train to accelerate the present rail revival where passenger miles travelled are equal to the early 1960s - the pre-Beeching era when the network was much larger.

In 1987 InterCity l25s dashing down "Brunel's Billiard Table" - as the great, straight route to the West is known - are responsible for BR's third place in the world league of fastest trains. But, good as the route is, it is still one which was designed and built in the 1830s. Both France and Japan - who took first and second places - operate their supertrains over expensive new purpose-built high speed lines uncluttered by local trains or freights.