1Z76 entering Oxford
1Z76 arriving at Oxford having travelled from Paddington
Guests being ushered aboard
Guests being ushered aboard
ready for a prompt start
The record is announced
1Z77 has arrived at Paddington and the new record is announced
Some guests pose by the lead car
Photo opportunity with Matthew Golton
Deputy Managing Director of GWR
The record is announced
There is much to talk about as the
train prepares to go back to work
Photographs © 2019 courtesy of W.Mankelow & C.Taylor

Record breaking train, Oxford to Paddington


12th June 2019

As part of their contribution to the 175th anniversary, GWR arranged for a special commemorative train, Intercity Express train 5 car set 802005, to run non-stop from Oxford to Paddington carrying invited guests, who included Isambard Kingdom Brunel's great-great-great grandson and his son, together with representatives from GWR and Network Rail. It was intended to re-create the very first train which ran in the opposite direction exactly 175 years previously to mark the opening of the Didcot to Oxford branch.

The train ran empty from Paddington as 1Z76 leaving at 10:13 arriving at Oxford's platform 3 a few minutes early at 11:07. Following a reception hosted by GWR in the Thatcher Business Education Centre, which is part of the Saïd Business School opposite the station, the guests were escorted to the train ready for the run to Paddington. For the return leg of its journey the train was designated 1Z77, scheduled to leave Oxford at 11:27 and timed for arrival at Paddington at 12:09.

Back in the 1980s, before rail franchises which led to multiple operators sharing the line and traffic was much less congested, a record was set for a similar run when a train carrying the Queen on a state visit took a little over 40 minutes. It was announced that the 175 special would attempt to break that record! Bad weather and a broken rail earlier in the week threatened the whole operation, but with the rail mended and a break in the weather at just the right time it meant the record attempt was on. It cannot be over emphasised what it took to ensure a clear path all the way to London. A huge amount of goodwill and enthusiasm was involved by all concerned, with Network Rail having to juggle trains (as you can read below) and mitigate the effects which rippled way beyond the Thames Valley.

A Cross Country train from Manchester to Bournemouth was brought in to Oxford on the Down platform 4 as 1Z77 was already occupying the Up road. This Bournemouth train, 1O10, had started its journey 2 minutes late and by Coventry this had stretched to 5 minutes which it hadn't managed to reduce and it reached Oxford a full 7 minutes late. A four minute dwell in Oxford was reduced to a brisk 2 minutes so it set off in front of 1Z77 still 5 minutes behind schedule. The hope was that it would reach Reading before the non-stop special caught it up.
Two trains were held in Didcot station to allow 1Z77 to join the main line ahead of them via the avoiding line through Didcot East Junction. One was the Bristol Temple Meads to Paddington express, 1A13. Arriving at Didcot bang on time it was then held for 6 minutes. A very brisk stop at Reading saw it actually leave there on time. The second train, 2P40, was an EMU stopping service from Didcot to Paddington. This train was released a full 5 minutes late. It made up time and arrived at Reading 2 minutes late. Again, a shortened dwell saw it leave Reading on time.
Meanwhile, despite a quick burst between Goring and Reading which reduced the deficit to a fraction under 2 minutes, the Cross Country train was being caught and it managed to come to a halt at Reading's platform 3 a shade under 2 minutes before 1Z77 blasted through platform 10.

Leaving a few seconds early, 1Z77 made an enthusiastic start from Oxford and maintained the line speed limits under diesel power all the way through Didcot and to Moreton Cutting. Around there, drivers must take extra care as there is a stretch of overhead wiring which is specially strengthened to allow the raising of the train pantograph.
Cholsey station was passed within seconds of the booked time, but now under electric power and with a higher speed limit, the train started to accelerate. By Goring the train was one minute ahead and by Tilehurst almost 2 minutes. A slight speed check to go over the high level junction at Reading saw the train accelerate again to pass through Reading station at a recorded 100 miles an hour. Before Twyford the margin had risen to 4 minutes as 1Z77 settled at a steady 125mph and slowly stretched the margin to 5 minutes. Speed was maintained until the last moment when due regard had to be paid to the speed restrictions approaching Paddington. One last possible hitch didn't arise as the path into the station was clear and the train came to a brisk halt alongside platform 5. The driver announced that a new record had indeed been set at 37 minutes and 35 seconds - a truly fantastic result.

The Oxford Mail posted this report on their website that same evening.

Some technical background

The record breaking run was made by 5 car Intercity Express train number 802005.

Constructed mainly from aluminium, each car is about 26 metres (85ft 4in) in length and 2.7 metres (8ft 10in) wide. Total weight for each 5 car set is 243 tonnes, which gives an axle loading of 15 tonnes.

Maximum speed is 125 mph (200 km/h) or up to 140 mph (225 km/h) using ETCS in cab signalling.

The traction system is a 120 kW (160 hp) electric motor per axle powered from the overhead cable or by diesel generator units. Each of these generator units is powered by a V12 diesel engine. The class 802 electro-diesel or Bi-Mode has three of these units per five car set, one situated under each of cars 2,3 and 4.

Acknowledgements

The 175th group wishes to acknowledge the tremendous efforts made by all those involved in making the record run possible, thank GWR and Network Rail for their generous sponsorship and kind invitations to join them on the run, and of course salute the modest driver, Michael Adams, whose skill and experience was crucial.