Writing Prompts: The British Rail Revolution

Photo by Geof Sheppard

In the 1950s and 60s, it was becoming rapidly clear that Britain’s railways were in need of improvement. The public’s faith in British Rail (the body that oversaw the railways from 1963 to 2001) was waning, in the wake of dire performance. Unpopular decisions (such as all the cuts made by the Beeching Axe) meant British Rail needed to do something to turn the tide. That ‘something’ was the Intercity 125.

Somewhat confusingly, whilst the service would become known as the 125, the locomotive was referred to as the Class 43. Since I am something of a train nerd, Class 43 is what I’ll roll with. They are after all, quite literally the engines that powered the 125 services.

In many ways, the Class 43s are a bold triumph of British engineering. The trains were built between 1975 and 1982, yet many of them remain in service today. The oldest units are older than this greymuzzle, but I would wager they are in better shape! These trains would operate over much of the rail network, including the primary corridors between England and Scotland (the East Coast Mainline and West Coast Mainline), as well as the Great Western Mainline (carrying passengers from London to Wales, and the South West), and the Midland Mainline. Services using Class 43s would also run across Scotland.

Their speed (the Class 43 still holds the record for the fastest diesel locomotive in the world), design, and versatility ensured the Class 43’s place as a British icon. As a cub, I would sometimes travel upon these beautiful trains on trips to London, and occasionally elsewhere. With family in Bristol, sometimes we’d take the trip out of Paddington on a Class 43. To me, a train with a buffet car was quite the novelty!

Nowadays, the Class 43 is being phased out of active service. The new Class 800s, 801s and 802s (among other trains in the 800 series) have already displaced Class 43s on the East and West Coast Mainlines. Their days are sadly numbered. However, they will not be forgotten. They revitalised the British public’s interest in rail travel. They have proven their worth, time and time again. Can I also say, they look good!

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