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As the railway headed towards the impending privatisation process, there were some minor tweaks required by the Great Western sub-sector. It had been operating policy that the Great Western and West Coast 'fleets' were interchangeable up to that point: any Great Western power car could, in theory, work a West Coast service. In fact Great Western only had the IWRP fleet with which to furnish power cars for Euston to Holyhead services, as the IWCP pool had been disbanded in 1993. All this wouldn't work under the plans for separate Great Western and West Coast Train Operating Companies, so a dedicated West Coast fleet had to be created. At the beginning of the summer timetable in 1995, the IWCP sub-sector was re-created and a dedicated pool of power cars (and trailers) was allocated to West Coast, namely: 43028/029/041/042/164-166. Obviously the sets had to be based on the West Coast route and so the power cars and trailers were reallocated to Longsight depot in Manchester.
During 1995 further services were added to the short-lived Waterloo Eurostar connection services. Great Western had already been operating a return Waterloo to Cardiff service with sponsorship from European Passenger Services since October 1994. From May 1995, Cross Country were contracted to run Edinburgh / Manchester to Waterloo and return. To allow this to happen, power cars 43006-008/178/184 were reallocated from ICCS at EC to ICCP at LA for these trains: the power cars had come to the end of their 'tour of duty' during the Central Door Lock installation project and the EC-based fleet was the last to be completed. The Cross Country operated trains were very peculiar in that only EPS tickets were valid on them and it was not unusual for Edinburgh bound trains to leave Doncaster with nobody but train crew onboard! At the end of May 1996, Great Western finished their involvement with the Eurostar link services and likewise, Cross Country finished at the beginning of January 1997. After a period of work on ECML peak services these power cars transferred to Great Western as part of a franchise commitment.
Meanwhile, Cross Country were trying to rationalise their main fleet prior to privatisation and at the May 1995 timetable changeover, took all the NL allocated ICCP power cars and reallocated them to ICCP LA or ICCS EC, namely 43086-089 to EC and 43101-103/121/122/155/156/198 to LA. Thus NL was left with IECP and IMLP power cars only, ending their XC allocation. Furthermore, on paper IMLP's books were bolstered during October 1996 by the re-allocation from the Porterbrook off-lease pool (SBXL) of re-built crash victim 43180: the power car was nominally allocated to IMLP to receive a safety case, but in fact worked on any TOC that required a short term spot hire machine.
Great Western Trains became the first TOC to enter the private sector on 4th February 1996. There were no sweeping fleet changes at this time, but obviously the new company wanted to make its mark and so 43183/185 and PM43 were the first to emerge in the new 'Merlin' livery, with emerald green and ivory colour scheme in September 1996.
The joint second HST TOC to enter the private sector was East Coast, which was awarded to Bermuda based Sea Containers who took over on 28th April 1996, the TOC was then rebranded 'Great North Eastern Railway'. GNER made a very bold step with their fleet and started applying the current dark blue livery to power cars and trailers at a considerable rate, whether they were due exams or not. 43117 was the first power car to receive the new livery, very shortly followed by 43118 with the full HST power car fleet re-livery being completed in Spring 1997.
The other TOC also entering the private sector at the same time as GNER was Midland Main Line, which became part of National Express Group plc. The company was quick to put its mark on the HST with the radical teal and tangerine livery, first applied to 43058 and 059 late in 1996.
The last HST TOCs to be franchised were Cross-Country and West Coast, both won by Virgin Trains who heralded their arrival in a blaze of publicity when 43063 'Maiden Voyager' and 43068, painted in the corporate Virgin red livery worked 0850 Edinburgh to Penzance on 6th January 1997. An interesting move took place on the same date, with 43087-090 all moving away from ICCS at EC to ICCP at LA.
The tragic accident at Southall in 1997 meant that Great Western required a replacement machine for 43173, which had been stored at Crewe, as well as 43163, which had to visit Crewe for repairs due to a shift in the engine bedplate. Consequently 43180 was moved from IMLP at NL to IWRP at LA. Once repairs to 43163 had been completed and the power car returned to Great Western metals, 43180 was transferred during March 1998 to join the Virgin Trains fleet, allocated ICCP at LA. MML released a full set of trailers following the completion of their fleet refurbishment and this also joined the Virgin Cross Country fleet. In order to extract the maximum possible use from their HST fleet Virgin reallocated all the EC allocated Cross-Country power cars to LA, but retained the ICCS pool code, whilst the small West Coast fleet of HSTs was reallocated from LO-LA. Virgin pooled the HST power cars for the Cross Country and West Coast services together in order to achieve a massive increase in the mileage they operated from May 1998 as part of a franchise commitment. Half of the IECP power cars had been reallocated from NL to EC in 1994, and in May 1998 GNER moved their remaining NL allocated IECP power cars to EC, this resulted in both TOCs now having their fleets allocated at one depot each. A further re-shuffle then took place later in 1998, which was a pre-emptive move by Great Western: the report into Southall by Professor John Uff was likely to recommend that all 125 mph rolling stock on GW main lines be equipped with operational ATP equipment, 43173 did not have operational equipment at the time of the accident. So ATP fitted 43028/041/042/164/165 in the IWCP fleet were swapped with non-ATP fitted 43006-008/178/184. After the Ladbroke Grove accident of 1999, FGW required a replacement for 43011 and so it was decided that 43104 would replace ATP fitted 43029 in the IWCP pool, but only after 43104 had an extensive re-build at Crewe Works, having been sidelined some years previous.
The next major change around with the HST fleet then came in October 2002, Virgin Cross Country launched 'Operation Princess' which saw a full fleet of Voyager trains displace HSTs from their previous duties, although at this time only 10 power cars left Virgin Trains- the remaining 47 power cars were divided into two pools. The 'Challenger' fleet was created to operate Blackpool and Manchester to Birmingham services, with the plan being to give this fleet a major refurbishment and retain these trains within Virgin Cross Country for a new Paddington to Birmingham via Swindon operation. The power cars, which were technically the power cars in most need of attention, were transferred to Longsight depot but in a peculiar move were allocated to depot code MA, instead of LO which the West Coast power cars had used. The remainder of the power cars were nicknamed 'Pioneer' and these worked the Virgin West Coast services, in addition to four duties on Cross-Country operations. The ten power cars leaving the Virgin fleet in October 2002 were used to boost other fleets and create the Railtrack NMT. 43007/104/166/178/184 all transferred to the IMLP fleet at NL to give a welcome boost to their relatively tightly diagrammed 31 power car fleet. This was the first time MML had used Angel owned machines in privatisation. 43006/008 were sent to Doncaster Works for a GNER style refurbishment and were transferred to the IECP fleet at EC in January 2003, but did not enter service until that summer after a protracted period in works due to their exceptionally poor state! The 'Challenger' fleet consisted of 43063/069-071/078/079/086-089/155/156/159/161/162/180/193-198 whilst the 'Pioneer' fleet consisted of 43065/067/068/080/084/090-094/097-103/121-123/153/164/157/158/160.
FGW made further changes to their fleet at the end of 2002, when all the GEC traction motor fitted power cars (43124-152) were moved to Landore depot. This allows the depot, which has always specialised in electrical problems, to provide special maintenance to these troublesome motors, a policy that has generally worked well.
February 2003 bought about the creation of an entirely new HST sector code and depot: 43013/014/062 were all allocated to the QCAR Network Rail pool based at Derby (DY) for use on the unique High Speed National Measurement Train (NMT). 43013/014 became NR power cars as they were due major exams and could therefore receive all the specialist work whilst being overhauled. 43062 was chosen as it had been 'blacked' by Virgin drivers due to constant vibrations in the cab after a derailment at Coventry. It was fitted with a completely new cab and the vibration problems are now history. The fleet was increased to four with the addition of 43154 in February 2004 (following the discovery of problems with the intended 43101) as a 'standby' machine whilst the other power cars received a series of major upgrades. The fleet was reallocated to EC in October 2004, and was supplemented by 43067 joining the fleet during April 2005 to allow further upgrade work to be carried out on the core NMT trio, and this was replaced by 43196 in early 2006. 43154 was returned off lease in November 2005 following the completion of the second upgrade to 43013/014/062.
Probably one of the most interesting developments of recent years, certainly for the HST enthusiast, was the 'Project Rio' service operating out of St Pancras to Manchester. This led to the transfer of all 'Challenger' power cars plus 'Pioneer' 43091 to NL under new pool code IMRL. Twenty of these twenty-three power cars received a major upgrade as part of the Project, with 43155/194/198 being omitted for cost reasons. The temporary service commenced in May 2003 using the fleet of 23 power cars which were supplemented by a full First Great Western set powered by 43005+009 which had been returned off lease by FGW.
The remainder of the 'Pioneer' machines continued to work with Virgin Cross Country until September 2003 when regular HST operation on Virgin Cross Country ceased, and only a slimmed down fleet was needed to work the West Coast services. 43090/093/099-103/154/157/158 were all surplus, and placed into storage at MOD Bicester. The existence of these spare power cars proved useful as 43102+158 joined the MML fleet in October 2003 in replacement for 43005+009, whilst 43093+157 saw action with MML from February 2004 in an effort to turn around that operator's terrible performance. 43102+194 left the fleet in May 2004 as both were due for heavy repairs that couldn't be justified for the short-term role. Elsewhere on MML 2004 saw a programme completed to convert 14 power cars to VP185 engines to supplement the four already converted during 1994/95, and this led to 43043/045/048-050/052/055/060/061/072/073/076/082 joining 43047/059/074/075 with this engine type.
May 2004 saw the end of HST operation on Virgin West Coast, with the handful of Euston to Holyhead workings becoming loco hauled, which meant that 43065/067/080/084/121 were placed into storage, 43122/123 briefly transferred to MML with just 43092/094/097/098/153 remaining with Virgin for summer holiday trains on Cross Country. GNER added 43067/080 to their fleet in July 2004 as temporary whilst another pair of off-lease ex Virgin power cars (43099/102) were refurbished before being added to the fleet.
'Project Rio' operation ceased in September 2004 and the fleet was disbanded; 43063/071/079/088/091/ 156/161/162/180/195 transferred to First Great Western, 43078+197 moved to GNER in the short term, 43089/157/193 stayed on MML in the short term (although 43069/086/159 saw periods on hire to MML) whilst 069/070/086/087/155/ 159/196/198 were placed into storage. MML's demands on the HST fleet fell dramatically during 2005 when their 9-car Meridian sets entered service so they reverted to just the 36 power cars they had operated since September 2002.
Operation of 43005+009 on MML's 'Project Rio' ceased in February 2004, and the pair returned to FGW, where 43005 swapped places with 43004 which left 43004+009 redundant. They were not inactive for long, as by September they were both at Brush works, Loughborough for experimental fitting of MTU 4000V engines. The sizeable fleet of Porterbrook stored off-lease power cars was reduced by the purchase of 068/084/092-094/097/098/122/123/153/155/198 by First Group, who were expected to deploy these on the ECML if they won the franchise for that route. 43019 was seriously damaged in an accident in November 2004 at Ufton Nurvet and this became the third power car to be withdrawn and scrapped as a result.
The availability of so many off-lease Porterbrook power cars in various conditions allowed Virgin Cross Country to hire 43070/080/087/193/196 for their summer Saturday workings in 2005, after which open access spot hire operator Cotswold Rail took 43070/087/157/193 and this lead to the relivery of 43070 in Cotswold Rail silver and 43087 in a sponsored Hornby advert scheme.
At the end of 2005 the status of the 197 power cars was as follows;
First Great Western; 002-005/009/010/012/015-018/020-037/040-042/063/071/079/088/091, 43124-152/156/161-165/168-172/174-177/179-183/185-192/195.
Midland Mainline; 007/043-061/064/066/072-077/081-083/085/104/166/178/184.
Cotswold Rail; 070/087/157/193.
First Group (all stored); 068/084/092-094/097/098/122/123/153/155/198
Off lease Porterbrook (all stored); 065/067/069/078/080/086/089/090,