Well most people hated zings, trams call em even HST or IC 125's, but they pretty much single handedly reversed the ailing reputation of B's intercity division. A reputation not deserved really at all in my opinion..
Generally in the 1970s there was a malaise of all the rubbish Britain had becom,m was just a huge e reluctance reluctance to invest in a time of what can now be truly alled hyper inflation.
Goal Posts Wider than the whole Pitch
The main issue was that the big railway, InterCity, was expected to compete with the average speed of 70mph on motorways. As I ranted before about efficieny of high speed and ultra high speed trains, that is of course a fantasy. Cross birmingham or into London centre you are starting on a false premise and being made to compete with a goal post far wider than the true width of the whole pitch.
Intercity from the days of the Deltics and 'Roaring' AC locos was a very competitive service in the 1960s, while the perception of the motorway competition in the 70s lead to unrealistic diagrams (timetables for joe public). There was not enough slack for slight delays or any HSE caperrs, let alone a class 50 witha warning light on at carlisle
In the late 70s you got to London on the WCML in just under 5 hours from Glasgow, which is lightening fast for the time. At the time, the shuttle flight from Abbotinch to Heathrow was a little over an hour with boarding and arrival taking at least another hour, while the tube or taxi into Westminister or the like was around an hour too. So you were up at two thirds of the time for often ten times the price.
The "Up" Royal Scot left 0910 and at one point it was non stop to Preston.
Enter the Tory Mysterons in the NW
But there was a mysterious lot of additional stops added to many of the services on the WCML in the early 80s. Penrith of all far flung and inconsequential places was popped on the express diagrams. Congestion was blamed and the need to serve the N.W. at all of carlisle, penrith/oxenholme/kendel and the "city" of Lancaster. However what lay behind it was the privatisation of British airways and the need for BA to look like a shingin example of privatisation and get people off the train.
AIrlines were are one time in history like the channel tunnel: they were too captial intenstive for private investment alone and they were too important and perceptually salient to be left to the vagiaries of the stock markets. However in principle airlines are very different from railways: there is no infrastructure on the ground which is significant enought to touch literally so many locations, people and transit nodes as to really need public ownership. Airports and planes take up little space. Airlines used to run a premium transport service and have no real social responsibility for transport like the railway has had through history.
Into the era of Thatcher, who was pretty much anti rail but tolerated it so as to keep some of the hoi palloi off the M1 and M4 on her way to Chequors or her Boston home.The railways always has been and always will be run as a highly beaurocratic or rather HSE and operative administration heavy business. Outside war time, the railway has always been run with the aim of breaking even on operations while it's captial invest,ment and failure history makes the internet bubble seem like brownie picnic.
The Irony was that the 1970s and 80s mass expansion and interconnectivity of motorways, and the advancement of them as ring roads, in the aftermath of the mistakes in planning of the embryonic 1960s network, lead to the grid lock of M6 Birmingham and the m25 amongst many other snail speed areas on the network. It took a while for planners to realise that they had built a magnetic monster for traffic which sucked more people into their cars in search of the house-price to income trade of. Coupled to the zero convenient public transport industrial-estate of the late 70s and 80s, then grid lock beame inevitable.
So the railway was shoe horned in the early 70s to competing with the new magnet for motorists, on which an averag speed of 70mph over six hours was not achievable outside travel commencing at 11pm! Then in the 1980s it was tethered back to allow for greater growth in shuttle passengers.
Now back to the ZIng. This was the one saving grace against the adversity of all this: the zing was chosen to run on the by then extablished high speed routes with continuous welded rail and usually 100 miles or more between stops. The zing lays its routes clearly to the blue pullman, a kind of BR being allowed to act like a proper private company and offer a super premium service. By the late 70s actually the main glasgow route was far less relevant : the once second city of empire had lost a great proportion of its production and trade in the 1970s. It still retained then a population of a second city of empire, only exceeded by Birmingham or combining Liverpool and Manchester. However, letting 'wegies eat humble pie of slower services to London while Scottish Enterprise propped up the shuttle profits with executives on a basis of a higher passenger volume at a poorer leverl of speed and comfort.
The WCML has its issues of curves and gradients. BRB had then their dose white heat of technology up their sleeves: the zing was nothing very special actually- the diesel powerunits were already capable of suprpassing 4000 hp in two units, or a twin PU locomotive by the mid to late 60s. BR type 4s at 2000-2600 hp did 85-95 mph steady, Deltic did 100-110 mph at 3300hp, the 125 would do 110-132 mph at 4500 hp. The rolling stock from prewar could do over 100mph. But BRB wanted solutions to avoiding the huge capital investment in making hte WCML as straight as the ECML and Great Western Main Line. It had two aces up its sleeve, 25kv overheadup the WCML and tilting trains.
Tilting trains were so near yet so far from being acheived in the 1970s.
Tilting trains were so near yet so far from being acheived in the 1970s. THe APT_E was apparently so encouraging as a gas turbine prototype that BR ordered not one complete prototype set of rolling stock but 6. In principle they were preparing a faite accomplis because six sets would allow for covering Glasgow-London and London Manchester for the peak expresses as operational trains and the APT itself never did look very protorype to me: looked internally and externally rather better finished that mark IIIs with a stubby 87 on the front!
The APT class 370 really did work, but was let down by low technology ( dowel / cotter pins for the low speed friction breaks being consistently poorly machined by a supplier and the hydraulic oil actually installed being too standard to cope with on the one hand cold weather on the other the high temperature of the dynamic breaking system.
Death and Two Phoenixes of the East and West
The sets were still runining for some reason into the mid 80s but were killed off by Thatcher. Once again being able to actaully do London glasgow in less than 3 hours woudl be too much competition for British Airways and for the motorway allure. The main success though was firstly the mark Iv sets with class 91s running at 140mph on the ECML and then much later, the pendolinos which now have finally improved the WCML times over those of the late 1970s.