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"The InterCity Story" by Chris Green: Glasgow meeting of 1 November 2016

Chris Green at the meeting.d

Chris Green at the meeting.

© John Yellowlees 2016

There was a record turnout for the meeting of 1 November 2016 addressed by Mr. Chris Green on "The InterCity Story". The Scottish Region Chairman, Ken Thomson opened the meeting by welcoming those present and introduced the speaker.

Chris Green read history at Oriel College, Oxford and joined British Railways in 1965 as a trainee manager in the West Midlands and in 1973 became an area manager in Hull. In 1984 he was appointed manager at ScotRail and in 1986 moved to London and South East as BR Sector Director.

In 1992 he became the Managing Director of the InterCity Sector with a brief to deliver a profitable business. In 1995 he took a different career path becoming the Chief Executive of English Heritage, but retained railway links as he also became a board member of Eurotunnel and in 1999 moved back into the rail industry being appointed Chief Executive of Virgin Rail Group. He was also a non-executive director of Network Rail between 2005 and 2010.

Mr. Green began his illustrated presentation by referring to the book "The InterCity Story" written with Mike Vincent and telling the audience how it came to be written. The story of InterCity as a brand has its roots in the period 1960 to 1981 and "The Inter-City" was the name given to a single train running between Wolverhampton and Paddington. Chris Green said that when Dr. Beeching discovered the name of the train he had it removed and subsequently it was applied to a network of routes and services, especially the west coast mainline electric services.

This period saw the quest for speed as Dr. Beeching took the view that there should be fast passenger services under the "InterCity" brand and fast freight services branded as "Freightliner". Chris looked at the motive power available at the time ranging from the Class 251 and 261 "Blue Pullman" trains that operated between Birmingham and Paddington and South Wales and Euston and although advanced for their time had a ride quality that left much to be desired to the Class 47 diesel locomotive became the workhorse of the railways and was capable of up to 100 mph.

On the East Coast Main Line, the solution was the Class 55 "Deltics", a twin engine design and 22 of these locomotives were built and although powerful were limited to 8 coaches for speed. Meanwhile on the West Coast Main Line, the highly successful electrification project was underway and services commenced on 18 April 1966 with high powered electric locomotives capable of hauling 12 coaches providing hourly and half hourly services with reduced journey times.

In 1976 the diesel powered High speed Train (HST) was introduced capable of cruising at 125 mph. Initially operating on the Great Western Railway and then replacing the "Deltics" on the East Coast Main Line. Latterly these units were introduced on the Midland Main Line and in 2017 will be coming in 4 or 5-carriage formation to the Scottish network.

By the 1980's the tilting Advanced Passenger Train (APT) was the fastest electric train and its development had started with a gas turbine powered train that was not successful due to its speed invariability. It was this that led to the design of the HST in 18 months. In 1982 the electric APT finally arrived and there were plans to order 60 of these but there were technical issues that delayed development, not helped by a derailment and the government stopped the project.

However the concept was developed further in Sweden as the XJ2000 although the tilt was not successful. Further development was carried out in Italy by Fiat who introduced an electric tilting mechanism and this led to Richard Branson's Virgin Trains bringing it back to the UK as the Pendolino.

Looking at the InterCity Sector, Mr. Green referred to the 1982 Serpell Report that was fought by Sir Robert Reid and resulted in the setting up of the sectors. Strong brands were introduced and "British Rail" was not used on publicity. InterCity was set up as a brand with its own distinct identity and the remit was to set up a business consisting of a national network of express services and crucially needed no subsidy.

The brand covered five routes being the East and West Coast Main Lines, Great Western, Midland & Cross Country and Anglia & Gatwick. Publicity used common branding and the first national map of intercity services was produced. Marketing was used to promote travel and there were price promotions to encourage travel. The major advertising companies were used to develop advertising campaigns and television advertising and the HST was used as part of the brand.

Catering was provided on trains and emphasised quality meals and every train had a buffet. Collectively the buffets made money, but the full catering offering tended to lose money, however it brought in first class passengers leading to increased fare revenue. Using the slogan "Delighting the Customer: fastest and most civilised way to travel between two cities" InterCity adopted the philosophy that happy staff meant happy customers, an approach taken by many leading high street stores.

The East Coast Main Line electrification was the biggest investment of the InterCity era and the business case put forward did not take passenger growth into account but relied on cost savings. The project was delivered on time and on budget and saw the introduction of 31 InterCity 225 trains. Meanwhile the West Coast Main Line entered a period of stagnation. The APT was withdrawn in 1984 and the Class 47 locomotives were life expired. British Rail wanted to introduce Class 250 trains, capable of 250 km/h with non-tilting carriages and envisaged these being subsequently introduced on the East Coast Main Line too. Full size mock ups were built, but the government decided against the proposals.

Privatisation was thought to be the way forward and initially it was thought that the railways would be privatised as a whole, but the government was not happy with the previous privatisation of British Telecom, British Petroleum and British Gas and wanted more smaller players in the business, to it was broken down into "bite sized" chunks and this resulted in InterCity being split into seven separate businesses consisting of Gatwick Express, Anglia, East Coast, West Coast, Great Western, Midland and Cross Country. The result was the loss of the single brand of "InterCity".

The same trains were painted in different liveries reflecting their different operators and initially companies did not communicate with each other. The Gatwick Express franchise went to National Express in 1996 and in 2000 Class 460 trains were introduced replacing the fleet of Class 73 locomotives. In 2008 the franchise was merged with the Southern Central franchise and Govia were successful with their bid. In 2008-2009 Class 442 trains were transferred to the service, but have now been replaced by Class 387 trains.

Meanwhile the Anglia franchise was awarded to First in 1996 and in 2004 it passed to National Express as Greater Anglia. Class 86 locomotives provided the motive power until being replaced by Class 90s and in 2016 the franchise passed to Abellio who was the successful bidder and it has been announced that new trains will be acquired.

East Coast was arguably the most mature part of British Rail and the first franchise holder, GNER built on InterCity standards with a major emphasis on the brand. The fleet was renewed with refurbished Mk 4 coaches and HST coaches. National Express operated the franchise between 2007 and 2009 but owing to financial difficulties the franchise was re-nationalised and operated by Directly Operated Railways until in March 2015 Virgin Trains East Coast took over the franchise. The previous franchise holders suffered from open access competition with Hull Trains and Grand Central extracting passengers and income from the business resulting in the financial difficulties. New Hitachi "Azuma" trains (Class 800) are due to be introduced in 2018. These are bi-mode trains, capable of operating from the overhead or on diesel engines. Customer satisfaction surveys on East Coast have shown a consistently high level of customer satisfaction.

On West Coast, Virgin introduced its branding including its trademark red uniforms for staff and at seat catering instead of dining cars or buffets. The upgrade of the West Coast main line between 1999 and 2004 led to major disruption and at one point some 250 coaches were laid on to transport passengers between Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes. During this period Railtrack was not at its best. Pendolino trains were introduced with a full timetable of tilting trains in September 2004. The 2009 re-franchising saw the introduction of the high frequency timetable and passenger numbers have doubled.

Looking at the other components of the national network, Mr Green briefly outlined developments. On Great Western, where there are strong InterCity links, the franchise has been held by First Group since 1996, first as Great Western Trains and latterly as First Great Western. In 2006 First were successful in acquiring the Greater Western franchise. The Great Western main line has undergone a significant modernisation with redeveloped stations, electrification and new signalling equipment installed.

Midland Mainline was originally operated by National Express who introduced new Meridian trains and in 2007 Stagecoach Group took over. Cross Country had a relatively old fleet and was branded by Virgin Trains who were the first operators and subsequently the entire fleet was renewed. In 2007 Arriva won the franchise, now extended to 2019 and HST's were introduced.

Mr. Green concluded his presentation by summarising the developments, noting that there had been major improvements in safety, there has been major investment with better stations and the business is expanding with a doubling of passenger numbers in the period 1993 - 2012. Service frequencies have doubled although train speeds have been relatively static. The InterCity network is expanding and looking at the Scottish dimension, there are improvements between Edinburgh and Glasgow with the electrification and new Hitachi AT200 electric multiple units will be introduced. Additionally 27 refurbished HST sets are being transferred to ScotRail.

Following the presentation there was a lively debate and many questions were ably answered by Mr. Green. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Scottish Region Chairman, Ken Thomson presented Mr. Green with one of the Scottish Region's engraved glasses as a memento of the evening.

Further Reading:
For those interested in reading the "InterCity Story", published by the Oxford Publishing Company, copies are available from booksellers.

Report by John Fender. Chris Green photograph by John Yellowlees.

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