Midland Mainline started operations in 1996 following privatisation of the rail network becoming 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 and soon spreading across the fleet. The livery is often regarded as one of the best in privatisation.
As the shortest distance inter city operator the Midland Mainline core route was Nottingham and Sheffield to London St Pancras travelling through Derby and Leicester. Some services were (as is still the case) extended to and from Leeds. Upon the start of the franchise Midland Mainline operated solely HSTs however these were later supplemented by class 170 turbostar units.
The tragic accident at Southall in 1997 meant that Great Western required a temporary replacement machine for 43163 (which had been at the rear of the train) and so 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.
The ten power cars leaving the Virgin fleet in October 2002 were used to boost other fleets, MML welcoming 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.
A change is as good as a rest so in 2004 Midland Mainline had a major rebrand dropping the primary colour of teal and replacing it with dark blue. Accompanying the blue was a grey and white touch along with the ‘Bambi’ logo. The coaching stock followed the blue and grey through with a mainly white upper section. This identity continued through to the end of the franchise, although ‘Bambi’ was later dropped for a simpler logo.
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. In 2003 Midland Mainline operated services from London St Pancras to Manchester Piccadilly to assist passengers between the two cities whilst major engineering works were carried out on the West Coast Main Line.
The services ran along the midland main line as far as Dore where they then ‘turned left’ and through the Hope Valley to Manchester. To operate these services Midland Mainline acquired HSTs from Virgin Trains. 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 including repaint into the Midland Mainline blue and grey livery. as part of the Project, with 43155/194/198 being omitted for cost reasons. The fleet was supplemented by a full First Great Western set powered by 43005+009 which had been returned off lease by FGW.
From September 2003 spare power cars from cross-country operations 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 a spate of 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.
Project Rio’ operation ceased in September 2004 and the fleet was disbanded; 43063/071/079/088/091/ 156/161/162/180/195 were 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 43069/070/086/087/155/ 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.
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.
At the end of 2005 the fleet consisted of power cars 43007/043-061/064/066/072-077/081-083/085/104/166/178 and 184.
The surplus of HSTs at MML (brought about by the full introduction of Class 222 Meridians) meant that GNER was able to add two sets to its fleet from May 2007 in order to operate more trains along the London to Leeds route, and 43051/053/056/057/077 transferred across.
Franchise changes were announced during Summer 2007, the East Midlands franchise (including all the MML operations) was awarded to Stagecoach who announced plans to replace the last few remaining Valenta engines in their fleet with VP185s to gain a common fleet. The Stagecoach story continues here.