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By Robert Gwynne on

Bringing the prototype HST back to life

Curator Bob Gwynne provides an update on the overhaul of a style icon that brought modernism to 1970s railways.

January 2012, and the prototype High Speed Train power car is getting closer and closer to roaring back into life thanks to the hard work of the 125 Group, the benevolent staff of East Midlands Trains at their Neville Hill depot, and the fact that the restoration is taking place under cover.


With the Paxman diesel engine now installed and ready to go, the job now is to complete a massive rewiring programme, as well as other essential jobs that mean the locomotive can go for testing.


In this picture above, Tony Shaw from the 125 Group rewires the electrical cubicle, the ‘brains’ of the machine. New wiring was deemed essential, in the same way as a steam loco restoration always needs new boiler tubes. Just as with steam there are parts from other machines helping bring the HST back to life, in this case from a Class 56, including the short circuiter (designed to save the traction motors if there is an earth fault).

As ever with restorations, ‘simple’ jobs have proved anything but – even cleaning, repairing and repainting the battery boxes took two days.

Other jobs successfully tackled include getting the Cardan shaft lengthened to fit the production engine that’s in it now.


There have also been some ‘homework’ projects – often a part of the railway preservation world, but seldom like this. Above, Gary Heelas from the group shows a circuit board, one of a number he put together at home to keep the restoration moving along.


The ongoing work has also given those helping a rare glimpse into the industrial design of forty years ago, showing that it wasn’t all about ‘surface styling’. Above, the locomotives rectifiers are in an unusual arrangement that is almost certainly unique in British locomotives.

The outside ‘look’ of the final HSTs (aka ‘Flying Bananas’) was of course courtesy of leading industrial designer Kenneth Grange (also responsible for designs like the Kenwood food mixer and the Adshel bus shelter). Grange’s ‘look’ and the good engineering it covers has ensured that the HST remains a style icon, and will remain on the rails for some time to come thanks to the recent programme of refurbishing these units and replacing the engines.

Just how much anyone who uses an InterCity train owes to this most important design is easy to forget. But as Grange himself once said, in an interview on the BBC:

There wasn’t a sign of modernism in Paddington station (when the HST’s were introduced in 1976). So I think the workforce – let alone the passengers – was mightily affected. This was a real symbol of hope for the future – I believe that most fervently.
Porters, guards, everybody were themselves buying little badges of this train.

Thanks to the 125 Group we will shortly be able to hear again the sound of a Paxman in full cry, something we now know to have been the herald of a bright future for Britain’s railways.

Meanwhile, if you want to pore over a sectioned Paxman out in the open for the first time, visit the Anson Engine Museum at Poynton, where the sectioned engine removed from the HST Prototype is now on loan.

Sectioned Valenta seen in daylight for the first time

Above, the sectioned Paxman Valenta engine at Neville Hill depot prior to being moved to Poynton.

3 comments on “Bringing the prototype HST back to life

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