Rainbow’s End

Rainbow’s end

One of the images in the ‘Sunlight’ series of my greetings-card range is a photographic fluke.

It was taken through the window of a moving train sometime in 1977.  It exists as a 35mm colour slide, and has been gently buffed up by Photoshop.

The occasion was memorable.

In those days, most of my adult-education courses were based around transport history, and it was a good time to be teaching about trains.

Dr Beeching’s reshaping of Britain’s railways had been running for the past ten years, steam had gone, and a brave new world of high-speed intercity passenger services was on the horizon.

My classes in Derbyshire were often populated by retired railwaymen who could tell stories back to the 1930s, and sometimes by current rail employees who knew what was going on in the industry.

I had an invaluable contact in British Rail’s Sheffield office, a gentleman called George who was in charge of group travel and could pull all sorts of levers if I booked a dozen or more adult-ed students on a rail trip.

It was George who gave me access to the former Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras when it was most neglected – Grade I listed and nobody could think what to do with it.

When the spanking new High Speed Train (HST), later branded as Intercity 125, came on stream on the Great Western main line and the Cross Country route from the South West to the North East in 1977, George was able to provide us with tickets to travel on both lines on the same day, beginning on the Midland Main Line at Chesterfield (which was not then served by HSTs, though they came later).

We travelled south to St Pancras, hopped on the Underground to Paddington, sped down the Great Western to Bristol Temple Meads, and then returned all the way to Chesterfield.

It was somewhere on the last leg of the triangular journey, south of Birmingham, that I spotted the rainbow and lined it up with a passing cottage.

The HSTs were a new experience in travel, not only for their maximum speed of 125mph but for the air-conditioning and solid comfort of their Mark 3 carriages.  Many of them are still in service, despite the fact that until recently they still had slam doors and direct discharge of lavatories on to the track.

I’ve written elsewhere about the designer Sir Kenneth Grange’s influence on the shape of the production HST, and about the export of the design to Australia, where it’s known as the XPT.

The HST was supposed to be a hastily-contrived stand-in for the tilting Advanced Passenger Train, which was aborted by British Rail and its technology sold to Fiat Ferrovia, only to return to Britain as the Pendolino in 2010.

Meanwhile, the HST has given many years of yeoman service, and hasn’t yet outlived its usefulness.

The above image is available as a greetings card, price £2.95 for one or £11.95 for a pack of five, or as a notelet to order. For the entire range of Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times greetings cards, please click here.

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