This Monday saw the first day of revenue-earning passenger service for ScotRail's “new” High Speed Train (HST) fleet (also known as the InterCity 125 (IC125) or class 43). As my university timetable allowed it, I decided to travel on the 2nd service of the day that it operated, the 13:30 from Edinburgh Waverley to Aberdeen (as far as Leuchars) to see how it worked on the main lines of Scotland. When fully introduced, they will operated services from Edinburgh/Glasgow to Dundee, Perth, Aberdeen and Inverness and operate in either 4 or 5 coach sets. This is a big improvement on the current 3 coach units which currently operate the bulk of these services.
The press run, which had taken place earlier in the week, had failed slightly as the train had broken down on the return journey for 46 minutes. However, I blame this on the pressure of the media. People old enough will remember the legendary Advanced Passenger Train (APT), a huge project which failed spectacularly and caused a lot of embarrassment for British Rail. The press run for that didn't go well either.
The Arrival of the HST
When I arrived at Waverley, I could already see a smattering of enthusiasts on the platform waiting for the HST to arrive. We didn't have to wait long. (Well, I didn't. I have no idea how long the others had been waiting for.) 5 minutes later, the fully refurbished train rolled into the platform and came to a halt. The enthusiasts then spent 10 minutes scampering around the platform trying to get as many angles of the train as possible. If anyone else has had the pleasure of doing train spotters spotting, it is quite a marvellous experience. I always imagine it with my internal David Attenborough voice, especially when I am partaking in rail enthusiast-y activities like confusing “normal” passengers by taking a picture of a train whilst wearing the most enormous grin.
The outside of the refurbished HST looks absolutely marvellous. The livery is simple and smart with a bit of proper artistic work on each powercar (the part of the train that actually provides the propulsion that allows it to move). The original slam doors have been replaced by automatic plug doors, and each vestibule has at least one of a bike rack, a luggage rack or a wheelchair space.
As the train had come from the depot, there was a period of about 15 minutes between arrival the doors actually being released to allow passengers on board. Therefore, as the platform began to fill up with actual travellers (not just enthusiasts), queues started to build up around each door. This is perfectly normal. What is also annoyingly frequent in this kind of situation is someone, who I can only describe as an entitled tit, coming up to a door, pressing the “open door” button and then being shocked when it doesn't work, despite there being about a dozen people standing around said door. Maybe one person may be a moron, but when every door has a collection of a few passengers around it, it's a safe bet that it isn't because all 50 of them are thick.
Soon enough, the doors were actually released, and I got a good look at the interior.
At 13:30, the train departed, on time. It was fairly busy. Opposite me sat a lady who was reading her Kindle. Her glasses were positioned at the best possible position for the over-glasses-I-am-very-dissapointed-in-you teacher stare. A man opposite me was attempting to take a picture out of the window, and failing spectacularly. As we entered the Princes Street Tunnels, an announcement came over the tannoy. I was unable to understand it because it so quiet I could barely hear.
At Haymarket, a large crowd of people was waiting for the train. All seats were filled and a few people had to stand. “*Gasp* There's WiFi on here” exclaimed a female to a male. They had sat next to me and proceeded to talk for the duration of the journey.
The reason for the high level of patronage was due to engineering works in the Stirling area, meaning that people travelling from Glasgow to Aberdeen had had to divert via Haymarket meaning that almost two trainloads were piling onto the single train. Thank goodness that the HST increases capacity by a good deal. We departed Haymarket 2 minutes late. As we departed, I caught a glimpse of another ScotRail HST on a driver training service.
We crossed the Forth Bridge before skirting our way around the Fife Coast. The railway here is very beautiful, but the sun and window glare meant that taking any decent quality pictures was impossible. As we progressed further north, we continued to lose time. The timetables on the southern section of the Edinburgh to Aberdeen line are very tight due to the mixture of express and stopping services. We were stuck behind a slightly delayed stopping service. As our delay ticked up to 5 minutes, I started to worry slightly. I had only given myself 8 minutes at Leuchars between trains as I needed to get back to Edinburgh in order to attend a lecture. Luckily, we didn't loose any more time and rolled into Leuchars 5 minutes late.
I stood on the platform and observed the train crew running up and down the length of the train for some reason. After a 4 minute wait, the service departed, leaving me and quite a few other people on the platform. One of these people was the comedian Phill Jupitus, who asked a member of staff if “that train was new”. In fact, my video of the train departing has his voice in it, something which I am very proud of. He even took a picture of the train before leaving the station. I didn't speak to him, because I find it impossible to strike up that kind of conversation with anyone who I don't personally know. I had the same problem when I saw one of the actors from Horrible Histories at my local station in London a few years ago.
The Return Journey
The return service was slightly late arriving at Leuchars. I managed to grab a quick picture of it before boarding.
The train continued to sit in Leuchars for a further 6 minutes, before departing. It then immediately broke for the signal at the end of the platform. 30 seconds later, we were off again. Slowly. A 6 minute delay turned into 13 minutes at the next station. We sped up at that point, only to get stuck behind a stopping service 5 minutes afterwards. As the delay racked up, the guard apologised over the tannoy. The slow progress had been due to a track section failure between Leuchars and Cupar. Eventually, the train pulled into Edinburgh Waverley, a mere 21 minutes late. I hurried through the barriers, out of the station and up the hill towards the university. I just made my lecture.
My Actual Opinions on the ScotRail HST
When these trains are fully in service, it will be excellent. The HST will provide a big capacity increase and will help reduce journey times. They are also a lot more comfortable than the current trains which they will replace. Despite numerous delays in their introduction (the original timeline was for them to be fully introduced by the May 2018 timetable change, that now infamous document which messed up the lives of many people in the south and north of the country for months), the fact that they have begun service is only good news. Yes, there is only one in operation and, yes, very few will be ready by the December timetable change and, yes, it will probably be another 9-12 months before they are fully introduced. But, one has to start somewhere. And, they have started now and started well. Even the normal passengers who, in my experience, notice absolutely sod all about the train that they actually travel in, noticed that there was a difference and they liked it. Although, I cannot say how much this was due to the large quantity of “tell us how much you like our new trains” flyers which were liberally distributed across every table. Whilst I didn't travel or go in First Class, the noises from people who have actually been in it are very complimentary. Certainly a huge upgrade from the tiny segment of carriage that is currently offered on the current rolling stock.
All in all, I look forward to the full introduction of the HSTs on ScotRail routes. Long live the HST!