Goodbye to Intercity 125 and hello to Hitachi 124 on rail service to London  

The new Hitachi 124 will replace the Intercity 125 on our rail service to London

The new Hitachi 124 will replace the Intercity 125 on our rail service to London - Credit: Paul Jolly

After well over 40 loyal years of service, the iconic shovel-faced diesel Intercity 125 has all but vanished from the mainline GWR service to London Paddington.

There will be a shortened version with about four coaches still operative but only as a local service from Exeter to Penzance.

The new trains are the Hitachi hybrid which have elevating electric conductors (pantographs) for Paddington to Bristol and then run on diesel generators beyond to the South West. 

On the more direct line via Westbury, the electrification has only reached Newbury.

This huge infrastructure programme is ongoing and will take years to complete. There are a pair of gantries every 50 meters or so along the track so about 70 galvanised structures per mile. 

The 125 name refers to the speed although actually this was, and still is, only currently achieved on the 30-minute sector east of Reading.

The remainder of the lines are deemed unsuitable due to track and signalling limitations.

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Typically, only just about 100mph is achieved west of Reading and certainly much less beyond Dawlish.

Even the new Hitachi struggles to reach 50mph going up Stoneycombe Hill outside Newton Abbot.

Thereafter to Penzance, the hills and bends prevent much over 60mph if at all.

Perhaps things would have been different had the Advanced Passenger Tilting Train (APT) been a success.

Reliability aside, it had a nasty habit of making passengers very ill from the visible rise and fall of the horizon as seen out of the windows as it encountered bends.

In France, the 180mph TGV was developed simply by drawing straight lines between major cities, then building a new, dedicated high-speed track along that route. Objecteurs? Mais Non!

They did have the advantage of large amounts of open space but nonetheless much less consultation went into the process than for our HS2 proposals.

Additionally, the trains themselves were specifically designed for stability at high speed.

For example, the bogies straddle and join all carriages rather than one at each end of the carriage, thus linking the snake together.

This then limits the independent bounce of each carriage. It does mean that the whole unit remains as one. For servicing, the entire set of carriages are lifted off the bogies in one go.

The only way Plymouth and Cornwall will realistically get a faster railway is by constructing a new line in open country between Exeter and Bodmin and beyond, 'a la' TGV. 

HS4 to the West Country? Don’t hold your breath.

Back to today’s new Hitachi. Exeter to Paddington about two hours and 14 minutes, quicker by about 15 minutes.

Not as you might think, by way of a faster train, but because of the automatic door closure system at stations.

The guard simply presses one button instead of having to walk the length of the train closing each of the slam doors left open by departing passengers. Simple.

Having travelled back from Paddington last week, I clocked the Hitachi train at a maximum of 124mph near Slough against a frequent speed of nearer 130mph on the old 125s.

I am sure these speeds are not the limit of the new train, however I do feel a nostalgic fondness for the old girl in that the new and frightfully expensive replacement hasn’t got the legs on her just yet!

Top Tip. When buying a long-distance ticket online, always try splitting the journey into segments to see if you can save money. I was able to reduce the cost from £217 to £117 for two of us from Totnes to Liverpool. The actual scheduled trains you travel on are the same but you have three tickets in that example. It takes a bit of time and needs care booking but can be worth the trouble.