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By John McGoldrick on

The locomotive that doesn’t exist

We've recently acquired a concept model which is of one of the rarer examples of railway traction - a locomotive that was never built.

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It’s probably obvious to most of my colleagues that I am more than a little fond of our amazing railway models collection.  And a less well known area of that collection are the concept models, made to promote the benefits of new designs.

The model of the InterCity 250 is one of the few physical remnants of a scheme that, had British Rail had their way, would have revolutionised high speed rail in the UK almost 10 years before Virgin’s Pendolinos appeared on the scene.  The InterCity 250 model was used in the publicity photo below:

In 1994, British Rail boldly stated their aims for the future of passenger travel:

“The two key words that will really decide InterCity’s future are ‘civilised’ and ‘speed’.”

The proposed high speed train illustrates the extent of InterCity’s ambition, before it was privatised along with the rest of British Rail in 1994.  The locomotive concept was devised by design company Seymour Powell, who incidentally designed the famous Lynx deodorant can along with a host of other instantly recognisable designs.

According to contemporary articles by the Design Journal Magazine, the designer strove to come up with a concept for a train that would “make small boys want to become train drivers once more”.  According to contemporary accounts, no concept drawings were created, which may go some way towards explaining why the only available images of the design are based on the model we have acquired.

By the late 1980s, Britain was casting an envious eye towards France where the TGV (Train Grande Vitesse) was revolutionising long distance travel. There was also a sobering realisation within British Rail that any new high speed trains were going to have to run on existing tracks, which were essentially forged in the 19th century. This combination of factors provided the spark for the ill fated IC250 concept.

Running at speeds of up to 155 miles an hour (250kph), these trains, British Rail hoped, would make UK high speed rail the equal of any in Europe. Passengers would be cosseted in boutique hotel style interiors, far superior to anything they would hope to find on the London to Glasgow air shuttle. The InterCity 250 project would involve track and signalling modernisation and complete re-electrification. British Rail also envisaged the IC250 trains running on the East Coast Main Line where their full potential could be unleashed due to the more forgiving terrain on the line.

British Rail were confident enough in the Intercity 250 plan to declare in 1994 that: “the train of the future: the 160mph IC250 is designed and ready”. But not built. Full interior and exterior designs were mocked up, but the trains never progressed beyond the concept stage, and the recently acquired model is valuable evidence of how the last trains designed for British Rail would have appeared.

So what went wrong? Some railway observers see privatisation as the main obstacle in the path of higher speed InterCity trains. Others argue that the concept was always bound to fail and was used to lure prospective purchasers of the InterCity business.

Whatever the truth, the failure of the IC250 meant that passengers on the West Coast Main Line had to endure ageing and increasingly unreliable trains until the introduction of Virgin’s fleet of Pendolino high speed tilting trains in 2002.

12 comments on “The locomotive that doesn’t exist

  1. The BRB could see that privatisation was inevitable and set up the Intercity Business in an attempt to model a company that would attract investment. Investors want to know “whats in it for them in the long term” and the IC250 was a glimpse of the possible future.

    It is interesting that privatisation through the current franchises has not resulted in the rolling stock leasing companies pushing their ideas of what could be possible if the investment was available and that the IC250 was the last British concept train.

  2. John – this is really interesting. Perhaps there’s something here for further research – a display on the concepts that never made it? Like the DMU for the Scottish branchlines that had a glass roof for sightseers, or even Wardale’s ideas for a new-build steam loco. I’m sure there are many, many fascinating might-have-beens and the stories for their conception or lack of production would make a really unusual expo.

    1. Tim – Thanks for your comments. Just to let you know that the Intercity 250 model is now on display in the Warehouse here at York (located in grid B5), and rather nice it looks too. Your suggestion of looking further into ill-fated railway concepts is intriguing, and we may just pursue that thread. Do you have any more details about the mooted DMU observation car with glass roof. I’d be interested to hear.

  3. I understood that one of the high costs of introducing IC250 was the need to modernise the signalling as drivers would be unable to see/react with visual signalling at that speed. Moving block signalling as now becoming standard (i.e. HS1) would overcome that. Pity TOC’s have such short franchises that they are unable to justify long term expenditure on projects such as IC225 (is DfT listening!)

    1. Doug, Thanks for your comment. The costs of re-signalling was certainly one of the major stumbling blocks in getting the go ahead for the project. I attended a really interesting conference on High Speed Rail recently, and it was made clear that on-board signalling systems are pretty much standard as you suggest.

  4. This would have been a fantastic train for the WCML ashame like the APT it came to nothing.I think it looks better than the new IEP train and it is much better than the Pendolino’s that i have never liked.

  5. If the intercity 250 will be faster then the IEP trains the east coast mainline will have to get more faster new trains because the west coast mainline and east coast mainline see how has got faster intercity trains so the east coast mainline need faster intercity trains if that’s beats the IEP top speed. The East coast mainline will be ok if both mainline have it west coast mainline and east coast mainline running and don’t need to change trains around when the intercity 250 really come out

  6. Than why can’t british rail buy the TGV and make a few changes ?? They buyed the IEP aready so they could have bought the TGV earlier instead.

    1. Loading gauge, in short.
      The engineering of British railways versus European ones means that trains in the UK need to be physically smaller than their counterparts in France, Germany, and so on. The first-generation Eurostar, the Class 373 (or e300) was built to the UK loading gauge for example – so despite being based on the TGV design and technology, was a smaller train than SNCF’s TGVs.
      The one exception is HS1, which is built to the European loading gauge, so can host full-size European trains. Which is why the second-generation Eurostar, the Class 374 (or e320) is a full-sized Deutsche Bahn ICE train.

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