EPS Class 73/1

European Passenger Services

The British Rail Board formed "European Passenger Services Ltd" (EPS) in November 1990 to manage their involvement in developing and operating international passenger services through the Channel Tunnel. As mentioned elsewhere on the website, such was the optimism of the project that not only would London have direct daytime passenger rail services to Paris and Brussels, but so would provincial cities Manchester, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, to name but three. Night time Chunnel sleepers would also connect Plymouth, Swansea, and the Scottish cities with the continent, through an EPS subsidiary named "European Night Services" (ENS). The daytime service was branded "Eurostar"; the sleeper trains came under the name "Nightstar".

The scope of the scheme gave the then fledgling EPS a substantial motive power fleet. Most of this comprised brand new stock, whilst some had been repurposed from the existing British Rail pool. In the end, EPS accounted for eleven Class 373 "Three Capitals" TMST sets, seven "Regional" TMST sets, seven Class 92 electrics, twelve Class 37/6 diesel-electrics, and two Class 73 Electro-Diesels, the latter of which this section concerns. A Class 08 shunter, No. 08948, later joined the EPS ranks.

Unlike on the French side of the Channel, where a high speed line in the form of LGV Nord had been completed in readiness for passenger services through the tunnel, the existing domestic rail network had to suffice in the UK for these trains. Between the Chunnel and capital, this comprised the third rail lines of the South Eastern Division, a snippet of the South Western for the Waterloo approaches, with a maximum operating speed on the fastest sections of 100-MPH. In the unlikely event that a technical fault rendered a TMST unmovable under its own power on these lines, a pool of EPS rescue locomotives was formed. Class 73 Electro-Diesels Nos. 73118 and 73130 were selected to be part of this "Thunderbird" fleet which, as it transpired, would also draw numbers from the “Nightstar” Class 37/6 pool.

Nos. 73118 and 73130 were taken from BR’s Civil, Mechanical & Electrical Engineering (CM&EE) department in early 1994 to join EPS. They had only been part of the former since 1993, both having received that department’s renowned “Dutch” livery in the same year. No. 73130 had typically been found parked in the sidings adjacent to platform 1 at Brighton. The pair had previously worn variations of InterCity’s “Executive” livery and the names “City of Portsmouth” and “The Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway” were carried by Nos. 73130 and 73118 respectively. No. 73130 lost its name when repainted into “Dutch” colours, but No. 73118 retained its plates.

The EPS Electro-Diesels were dispatched to Crewe Works in spring 1994 for modifications to make them capable of hauling Class 373 sets without the need for a translator vehicle. The most obvious addition to make this possible was Scharfenberg coupling equipment at both ends of each locomotive; the “Dutch” paint scheme also gave way to two-tone EPS grey, complete with Chunnel circle emblems and "EPS" logo, and No. 73118 finally lost its name. The pair emerged complete from Crewe Works in June 1994.

The London depot of the "Eurostar" fleet was North Pole. This was situated on the opposite side of the Great Western Main Line to Old Oak Common, about 2¾-miles west of Paddington, but was only accessible from the West London Line. Whilst "Thunderbird" locomotives were often stabled here, maintenance of them was carried out elsewhere: the Electro-Diesels were serviced at Hither Green Depot, and the Class 37/6 diesels at nearby Old Oak Common.

The Electro-Diesels' potential scope for "Eurostar" operation was much reduced on the opening of Section 1 of the 25kV overhead wire-equipped Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) to scheduled passenger services on 28th September 2003. As a result, "Eurostar" services now ran upon 23-route-miles of domestic third rail route from Waterloo to Fawkham Junction, compared to 70-miles of the previous core line via Bromley South, Orpington, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, and Ashford. Arguably, the importance of Nos. 73118 and 73130 had already been diminished through the abundance of 37/6 locomotives available for TMST rescue operations as a result of the "Nightstar" project cancellation in 1999. Indeed, the Class 37/6 fleet did not possess the Scharfenberg coupling equipment of the Class 73s, which required them to use translator wagons when coupling to TMST formations.

The end of the line for Nos. 73118 and 73130, in addition to the remaining Class 37/6s (which had gradually been dispersed to other owners since Nightstar's cancellation), occurred on the opening of Section 2 of the CTRL. Scheduled passenger services from St Pancras International to Southfleet Junction (where Section 1 of the CTRL was met) via Stratford and Ebbsfleet, commenced on 14th November 2007. Later that month, No. 73118 was taken by road on low-loader to the Barry Rail Centre for an indefinite loan period. No. 73130 was loaned to "RailSchool.org", based at North Woolwich; the locomotive was eventually purchased by the "Coulsdon Old Vehicle & Engineering Society", being in their possession by October 2016.

No. 73130 visits Waterloo International

As part of the official handover of EPS' first Class 92, No. 92020 "Milton", by Brush Traction, a formal ceremony was held at Waterloo International on 1st February 1995. No. 92020 visited the terminus, but did not operate under its own power, instead being dragged into platform 24 by Class 47 No. 47385. In Rail Magazine at the time (February 15th to 28th 1995) it was reported that the move was timed in-between the arrival of two Eurostar services and, shortly afterwards, Scharfenburg coupler-fitted Electro-Diesel No. 73130 arrived to haul No. 92020 out of the way of No. 47385, so the Class 47 could depart. No. 73130 hauled No. 92020 back to North Pole Depot after the ceremony, the pair being seen heading north through Kensington Olympia at 12:49.

No. 73130 was not the first Electro-Diesel to visit Waterloo International, however. On 22nd July 1994, Pullman-liveried No. 73101 "The Royal Alex" arrived at the terminus to remove a rake of empty InterCity BR Mk1 stock to Stewarts Lane. The stock had previously arrived at the International platforms behind Class 47 Nos. 47786 and 47834 as part of a train chartered by Littlewoods on behalf of Roy Castle OBE for his Lung Cancer Appeal.

29th August 1996

No. 73130 is seen passing through Wandsworth Road, likely on a move between Hither Green and North Pole Depots. The two-tone grey, complete with triple Chunnel roundels and "EPS" logo, suited the class well, albeit worn in combination with rather ugly Scharfenburg couplers. © David Glasspool Collection

29th August 1997

No. 73130 leads No. 73118 in the "down" direction, as the pair round the curve on the approach to Bearsted station, the platforms of which are 140-yards behind the cameraman. The yellow uniforms of the crew are evident in this picture. © David Glasspool Collection