Great Western Railway intends to withdraw its 2+4 ‘Castle Class’ HSTs from service by December 2023.
Modern Railways understands there will be a phased rundown of the fleet over the course of the year. Some diagrams on the Cardiff to Penzance route previously allocated to HSTs switched to Intercity Express Trains at the December 2022 timetable. This will be followed by a reduction to seven HST diagrams in May and three in September, before the sets are retired in December.
GWR has previously highlighted that the Castle Class sets, while providing useful capacity, are expensive to operate and increasingly difficult to maintain. The operator is not delivering its full planned pre-Covid high-speed timetable, with some services (such as the Bristol Superfasts and direct daytime services to Bedwyn from London) not included, meaning there are spare IETs. Alongside redeploying other DMUs, this will cover for the withdrawal of the HSTs.
The move is connected with a change of maintenance arrangements at Laira depot in Plymouth. GWR is set to use the space vacated by the HSTs to bring maintenance of the Hitachi Class 802 fleet in-house at Laira. GWR has two classes of IETs – the ‘800s’ were ordered by the Department for Transport as part of the Intercity Express Programme and are owned by Agility Trains, whereas the Class 802s were ordered by GWR and are owned by Eversholt Rail, although the types are usually diagrammed as a single fleet. Hitachi will continue to maintain the ‘800s’ under the IEP contract.
It is understood that, despite speculation, this move is not set to lead to service reductions in the West Country, with the half-hourly service on the Cornish main line introduced just before the pandemic to be retained.