Concrete and China Clay

John Heaton FCILT samples loco-hauled trains in the north and the new short-formation HSTs in the west of England to provide a potpourri for this month’s Practice & Performance.

The introduction of Great Western Railway’s 2+4 HST formations reminded train timers belonging to the appropriate age group of the April 1965 No. 1 hit Concrete and Clay recorded by a group called Unit 4 plus 2.

GWR is not yet quite so profligate as to provide 4+2 formations, but who knows what the future might hold? A 2+3 has been provided on at least one occasion so perhaps moves in that direction are “blowin’ in the wind”.

Few would have predicted any such developments when the HSTs were introduced more than 40 years ago.

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HST No. 43016 leads a Laira to Exeter St David’s driving training run, and waits for a departure time at Dawlish on March 20. DAVID HUNT

Those who are accustomed to using West Country oxymoronic long-distance locals such as the 06.00 Penzance-Cardiff Central, often formed of a cascaded Class 150/1 deemed no longer fit to tootle across North London tertiary lines, will have been surprised and delighted in equal measures last April to find their motive power replaced by a refurbished 2+4 HST set with automatic doors, air-conditioning and retention toilets – even though the 06.00 is now ‘change Exeter St David’s for Cardiff’.


A word of warning to West Country readers – consider dieting, because 2+4 set toilet door/fixture clearance is not to Brunelian proportions. In fact the operation was also devoid of an ‘accessible’ toilet waiting for the right combination of vehicles to be received from a stuttering and possibly over-burdened production line.

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We might as well get the jibes out of the way all at once. The dot matrix on-board information screens were also still urging passengers to consult the Christmas 2016 engineering alterations, although the warning also effectively said the railway would be messed up at Cardiff and Paddington, which could probably be applied with impunity to any Christmas.

These sets represent a real improvement on those they replace, in both comfort and speed –
a rare combination these days. Agreed, there are probably more airline seats and fewer tables than is ideal, and I think charger points are provided at only the two tables per coach, although the sockets have perhaps simply evaded my attempts to identify them elsewhere.

Read more and view more images in the September issue of The RM – on sale now!

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