Hitachi seem to be rather the Doyen of private rail operators and Network Rail after the success of the Chunnel route 140mph dual electric mode high speed trains. Now they are the builders for the replacement to HST, the venerable intercity 125 and its two re-enigned encarnations. But how will the new train measure up to the legacy of the iconic HST which not only saved the image of BR, but made it a force to be reckoned with into the 1980s before the ideologistic and rather bad privatisation?
Firstly it is a dual mode, or electro diesel with a version which will be ECML electric only and retro de-fitting to that status. This says quite a lot about the betting the government are doing now through the renationalised Network Rail scheme for electrification to Bristol and beyond. Dual mode train sets will be ideal as the wires stretch their way westward, we presume., with the Severn Tunnel being the main question mark for further development into Wales. A dual mode train like this will be able to cover the gap as it declines without the need for time consuming diesel locomotive hook ups, or as would be more likely on today's fragmented and under-resourced railway, passengers being kicked off nice new electric trains and hearded onto what ever was available to bridge the gap. So in comparing it to HST IC 125, then it is so much a different beast and offers such an environmental benefit that it should be a worthy successor, But wil it fulfill either of these two goals in taking over the mantle of high speed, west country and east coast trunk and major branch routes from the IC 125, and is it so Carbon friendly?
Despite the bullshit and misleading comparisons made by some PR companies for the motor & road lobby, carbon emissions and in particular particulate emissions per passener mile are much better for modern diesel trains than car journeys. When you take lack of conjestion and predictable journey times into account, diesel trains are more efficient than buses on similar routes like say London Bristol. Electric trains are way and above that until you get into very high speed trains over over 225 kmh / 140 mph when their use of energy gets heftier. Also of course it can be argued that the source of that power has to be carbon neutral and the building of the train should be low environmental impact. Does a dual mode achieve this in a 125 mph package and the answer is not really but ok, yes a bit.
The reason is that for this train there has been made the choice of using a series of up to 5 underslung power units to be suppied by MTU, now in a quirk of English Industrial Revenge for Ruston Paxmans, are owned by Rolls Royce. These ' power packs' are an inefficient means of deliverying enough power to run at 125 mph as we have already seen with the 220s and the 222s. In HST you have two prime mover, power units in locomotives at each end which weigh only about 74 tonnes. You then have two diesel main tanks, two alternators and power comntrol-supply chains, and two cooling systems per train. Now 5 smaller units equate to more than this because each still has to have fueling, electrical systems and cooling, plus traction motors. The engines to be used are v12 just under a thousand horsepower each, which means that the five will be approximately the same total power as the HST twin power car, head and tail arrangement but with more weight and more points of servicing. You start to understand why the option to de-fit these in light of on going electrification is.
Secondly to this is the performance - even if 25kv wires go out to Cardiff, you will still have significant west country routes to Exeter and Plymouth eventually Penzance, which have many sections of 125mph running. If the option for less than 3600 hp per train set is taken, then on these routes the timetables will be slower than IC125. The full five power pack array along the train will probably get up to around that speed, but there are disadvantages in diluting out power at the kind of output in the 500 to 2700 kw range because you lose amps quicker with less powerful indivdual power units than with larger, torqueyer if that is a word, power units.
On the ECML though with the routes to Hull via Lincoln and perhaps Scarborough and Sunderland/ Middelsborough and other excursions east and west of the main line, this type of train may come into its own because the running on sections off the main line are not all that fast and generally it is judged good business to have quite a few stoppingn stations to widen the catchment per train. The same can also be said of the routes north to Aberdeen and Inverness.
However I think the only border these trains will be crossing is that on the severn river, and not even the proud Cornish border at the Tamar. I think that these trains in their electro-diesel guise will stretch with the wires to Bristol and provide short end services to certainly Cardiff and likely Gloucster and maybe Worcster or Hereford. Unless there is a punative 'diesel under the wires' Eco-levvy then zings will probably continue to run the longer distance services all the way to Paddington. The new trains and their private owners are far too good for Northerners and Socialist Scots, so the Tories will be pleased to see them running privately into London terminii, while the North of the UK get well, Glasgow Edinburgh via Falkirk G , maybe even not now, and "Northshire" gets rid of its pacers, presumabkly with old sprinters from somewhere. Finally privatisation will look shiny and good, just turn a blind eye to the subsidies being way over what was paid to BR in the 1980s.
The new . sleek train in my honest opinion has missed two main opportunities. One is that it could have been a tilting train and thus shaved time off twistier routes, or used its horse power and carbon footprint less wastefully by not slowing down and accelerating so much. Secondly it could have had locomotive power cars which would have secured 125 mph and higher speed running while also being even easier to render redundant or move onto other services. Or even repurpose to freight or mixed traffic with twin end cabs if high speed head and tail is no longer needed.
Personally diesel multiple units have always underwhelmed me. Firstly modern design meant that they crammed more passengers into fewer coaches, and then in the 170-182 types, they shoved bikes and wheel chair users into a nasty medley mid train while also providing far too much space to doorways. Secondly of course, they are often irritatingly noisy due to the relatively powerful underfloor engines and their need to be 'trashed' to simply get the train rolling. Compared to the quaint mrk 1 compartment favourites of ours of days gone by (even though we secretly preferred the newer, comfier and often cleaner mark II a and c stock) are just a museum side show now. The gentle click clacking, the subtle tungsten bulb lighting and the partial privacy of the 'compo' were replaced abruptly by the stark strip light open coach of the sprinter on the west highland line and many other routes, together with the irritating burr of those cummin engines making a right meal out of going slower than the loco hauled trains they replaced. DMUs are purely an accountants wet dream, and purely with the bad hindsight of BR having about 20 different diesel locos in passenger service, while the rose tinted foresight of both reliability and passengers liking them. Occupancy is up, but total seating is down. Nearly all timetables I have been on are slower under DMU and seem to be less reliable than under loco hauled. The flexibility of being able to extend services by one coach at a time, or take cheap mothballed stock out for footexs or super long trains for peak times, are gone, as the private railway has tried to keep its availability low in relation to potential demand, and stick with actual demand. In fact it has been ten years since I took a diesel train in the UK, having mostly been on electric routes. The last one was either a 182 into london from Slough, or a 170 to and from Aberdeen to Glasgow, the latter being a cramped journey with little comfort in the new seating. My last trip on the WHL was in 2000 when I decided that the bus to Oban and Ft william was more comfortable and pretty much well as scenic than those god awful 156s. I was on a 222 I think up to Leicster and it was suprisingly niosy and cramped too, although it did have rather good ambient lighting. The romance of rail is long since gone for most all travellers, excluding preserved museum type lines, while the very appeal of rail travel in these metro-tram/bus hybrid crosses wanes on me, especially when four of us travelling costs the same as hire car for the week. The lack of main line intergration to Airports is woeful and just pandered to the vested interests for far too long, and exacerbated the move away from rail on the longer routes, at a time when the ECML in particular should have enjoyed unprecedented growth and lower running costs being over head 25kv. The railway , the big railway, has a major part to play in environmentally friendly travel for us all, and it remains to be seen if HST will have a worthy successor