This is the third article in a series on the history of the locomotives associated with the Corps. If you haven’t already, read Part One and Part Two for context (links open in new window). The subject this time is 43070, ‘The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers’.

43070 was a class 43 locomotive, better known to many as an InterCity 125. Introduced in 1976, their striking 'wedge' design (created by industrial designer Sir Kenneth Grange), iconic livery, and reliable performance ensured the 125s were a feature of the UK’s railways for many years. They were also at one time the fastest diesel locomotives in the world.

It is ironic, then, that the 125s were never intended to have a long-term presence on Britain’s railways. The 125s did improve on the previous group of diesel locomotives, which were aging and increasingly inefficient. Yet they were only intended to be an interim upgrade before the next generation Advanced Passenger Trains (APT) began running.

Side view of a train with bright yellow strips of paint to top and bottom, blue in middle. Train parked on tracks outside a depot.

A restored Inter City 125 in its original yellow and blue livery. © Geof Sheppard, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The APT was developed in the 1970s-80s and designed to tilt as it traversed a railway line’s curves and corners. In theory, this would enable higher average speeds, shortening journey times. The prototypes did run at record speeds, but other design issues prevented general use, even after many years of development. They were eventually introduced on the London to Glasgow line in December 1981 after significant pressure from the government of the day. Various problems meant the locomotives were withdrawn only weeks later.

This situation ensured the 125s took on an importance they were never intended to have. British Railways had no choice but to rely on them as their main passenger vehicles. This proved to be a wise choice, as some UK railway companies were still using 125s as recently as 2021. Mass withdrawals began in only 2017, over forty years after their introduction.

43070 was built in 1977, with construction finishing on 15 December. This was likely at British Railway Engineering Limited’s Crewe works. It initially worked in the north east around Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Heaton, but also operated out of the Landore depot near Swansea. Virgin Rail acquired it in May 1998, after which it was based in Laira near Plymouth until 2003.

The next owner was Midland Mainline, and it was this company that gave 43070 its first name. In 2003 - 2004, this company operated an hourly service between London St. Pancras and Manchester Piccadilly. The service was named 'Project Rio' after footballer, Rio Ferdinand, and his journey between clubs. He transferred from West Ham to Leeds in 2000, then crossed the Pennines by signing for Manchester United two years later. A total of 20 trains prefixed 'Rio'. History does not appear to record Mr. Ferdinand’s opinion of this initiative.

43070 was formally named Rio Pathfinder on 26 August 2004. During a short period in 2005-2006, it was owned by Cotswold Rail. By 30 September 2007, the name was removed and 43070 joined the First Great Western fleet.

43070 was renamed ‘The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers’ at a formal ceremony at Paddington Station on 16 October 2007.

Large group of REME bandsmen in uniform stand in position inside Paddington Station.

The REME Band awaiting the arrival of HRH Prince Philip for the 2007 naming ceremony. © George Bodnar Archive/IconicPix.

Appropriately for the Corps, it was HRH Prince Philip, who led the formalities. Buckingham Palace officially recorded the event as follows,

“His Royal Highness, Colonel-in-Chief, this afternoon named a First Great Western railway locomotive after the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Paddington Railway Station, London W2.“

Prince Philip stands on the left, Andrew Haines on the right, the nameplate sits on stools between them.

Prince Philip with Andrew Haines, Managing Director Rail Division of First Group, and the presentation copy of the nameplate that now forms part of the Museum’s collection. © George Bodnar Archive/IconicPix.

Soldiers stand in No2 Dress either side of nameplate attached to train.

Warrant Officer Class 1 (ASM) Walker and Craftsmen Armstrong, Mortimer, Warder and Metters stand next to the newly-named locomotive. © George Bodnar Archive/IconicPix.

 ‘The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers’, 43070, continued operating until it was taken out of service in June 2019. Along with four other locomotives, it made its final journey via Long Marston, Worcester, Cheltenham and Lydney, and was ultimately driven to the Sims Metals company near Newport Docks in Gwent.

Diesel train on outdoor tracks from a distance, materials and buildings visible around it.

The final journey of 43070, as it nears Sims Metals where it was scrapped in January 2022. © Gareth James, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The REME Museum acquired a replica of the nameplate in 2008. A valued part of our permanent collection, it takes its place alongside other material telling the story of the REME locomotives.

Up close view of nameplate, wood with metal plate reading " The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers "

A close-up of the nameplate at the Museum. A:2008.4984.

With thanks to the Great Western Railway company, IconicPix and Gareth James. Thanks also to Zoe Tolman, Archives Assistant, and Fiona Redmond, Front of House Assistant.

Richard Davies, Curator