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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 07:19 GMT 08:19 UK
Testing the trains of the future
The tilting train
The train will reach speeds of 140mph
Virgin Trains are testing tilting high speed trains capable of travelling up to 140mph, cutting the journey time from London to Glasgow to less than four hours by 2005.

The BBC's transport reporter Tom Symonds looks at how the latest technology promises faster train travel on the West Coast mainline.

Virgin is heralding the return of the tilting high-speed train two decades after Britain abandoned the technology.

The company is testing its new trains, which tilt left or right on bends to enable them to go faster without making passengers uncomfortable.

Virgin's Pendolinos takes its name from the pendulum - it swings in and out of bends, smoothing the journey for passengers at high speeds.

The Pendallinos will be able to travel at up to 140 miles an hour, compared with current speeds of around 110mph.

Passengers on Britain's railway backbone will benefit most.

The hope is that tilting trains will begin running on the West Coast Main Line in the second half of next year.

Behind schedule

Railtrack is currently rebuilding sections of the line to enable trains to reach such high speeds, though the work is slightly behind schedule.

Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson wants faster train travel
For the first few years trains will travel at 125 mph.

But by 2005 the 140mph service will cut the journey time from London to Glasgow by over an hour to 3 hours 55 minutes.

Yet this is technology that was tried out 20 years ago.

The Advanced Passenger Train, developed by British Rail, has become known as a great British failure.

Travel sickness

Its tilting carriages were far from reliable and some passengers complained of feeling sick.

Dr Alan Wickins, who worked on the original project, said: "The problem of passenger comfort on the tilting train had been resolved.

"Everyone realised instead of cancelling completely the centrifugal force passengers had to have a sense of going round the corner to prevent them feeling sick."

"So we just reduced the amount of tilt."

Yet British Rail was concerned at the length of time it was taking to make the train work - and in the early 80s scrapped it.

For that reason, the technology behind Virgin's Pendolinos is Italian - engineers in Italy were also working on designs for tilting trains, which were introduced shortly afterwards and are still operating on the country's railways.

There may still be concerns that the new tilting trains will make passengers feel uncomfortable - especially those who suffer from travel sickness.

Glitzy ceremony

Like their predecessors at British Rail, Virgin will most want its new train to be reliable.

But introducing extremely fast trains does not necessarily involve making them tilt.

If the bends are not as sharp, the tilting mechanism is not needed.

The French railways have achieved high speed train travel by building straighter lines.

On Friday Virgin launched the new train in a glitzy ceremony, and will begin tests on a track in Leicestershire.

Next year, passengers will get their first taste of swinging train travel.

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See also:

06 Mar 00 | Business
Virgin's 200mph East Coast vision
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