IT IS a transport icon, and can claim a significant place in Britain's rich railway heritage.

But from today, it's being given a £45m makeover.

York-based train operator GNER was today due to launch the first of its new-look diesel 125 trains, as part of a major overhaul.

And to mark the event, Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan has published a special poem, commissioned by GNER, to celebrate the life and times of the much-loved 125 train.

First introduced into passenger service in 1978, the iconic 125mph High Speed Trains (HSTs) are receiving a complete makeover and GNER's 13-strong fleet is being stripped down to bare metal and totally refurbished to new standards of style and performance.

Richard McClean, GNER's operations director, said: "This substantial investment, the biggest of its kind, will make the popular HSTs look and perform like new trains. They have done fantastic service and in their new, much improved condition, will continue to set very high standards of customer service for years to come.

"The new-look HSTs will transform the journey experience for passengers all along the route, but particularly for those travelling to or from Inverness, Aberdeen, Harrogate, Skipton and Hull, as these are locations that GNER only serves with diesel trains." The interior refurbishment replicates the style of GNER's 30-strong electric Mallard fleet, which has already been rebuilt.

Design features include:

  • brighter and more spacious interiors
  • new, softer contoured seats with improved back support and fold-up arm-rests
  • new luggage racks offering more storage space
  • new tables, carpets and lighting
  • new toilets and vanity units
  • laminated glass windows
  • refurbished vestibules

The full fleet refurbishment programme is due for completion by early 2009 and is being carried out by Wabtec Rail in Doncaster.

John Meehan, managing director of Wabtec Rail said: "Wabtec Rail is delighted to complete the delivery of the first, new-look, refurbished HST into passenger service, on time and within budget. We are very proud to have been awarded this prestigious contract by GNER, which represents an important milestone in the growth of our vehicle refurbishment capabilities."

New high-performing, quieter and more reliable engines are also being fitted. which are 20 per cent more fuel-efficient and are capable of using bio-fuels, significantly decreasing emissions and offering an even more environmentally-friendly form of transport.

In the longer term, the Department for Transport is leading a national procurement exercise to introduce a new fleet of replacement high-speed trains.

The Press reported earlier this month that it likely that the test trains will be trialled first on the East Coast Main Line from 2012, before a network roll-out from 2014.

The High Speed Train, by Ian McMillan

The High Speed TrainThe High Speed Train;To the top of the mapAnd back again;Shining in the sunshineGleaming in the rainThe High Speed Train!
A train is like a poem, it seems to me;It moves on lines with poise and grace.

You don't get more graceful than a HST

as it puts a smile on the traveller's face!
It travels to places with names that singThat linger in the mind as the train rolls by;With names that crackle and names that ringUnder high speed clouds in a clear blue sky.

Harrogate, Hull and Inverness,

Places to visit and places to beAnd just between us I have to confessI've spent much of my life on the old HST
And the names of the trains shine like gold:Aberdeen and the Kingdom of FifeMoving stories repeatedly told,And I venture to say that this is the life!'
Zooming along on that legendary routeThe Flying Scotsman made its ownAnd let me tell ye I hae nae dootThat the last quarter century has just flown!
And I have to say that for twenty five yearsI've clocked up the miles as the world's moved onMiles tinged with coffee and lit up with beersStations I've passed through and times that are gone;
So I want to salute the HSTAnd wish it a future on time and at speedSo raise up your glasses and say now with meThis train is a queen and a Chieftain indeed!
The High Speed TrainThe High Speed TrainTo the top of the mapAnd back againShining in the sunshineGleaming in the rain:The High Speed Train!