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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
Tilting trains project 'will go ahead'
Sir Richard Branson unveils the Italian-designed Pendolinos
Virgin has spent about 1bn on the 53 new trains
Plans to introduce high-speed tilting trains between London and Glasgow are not in doubt, according to the Government's rail watchdog.

The Strategic Rail Authority spoke out after Railtrack admitted it was looking at ways to cut the soaring costs of the project - which would take nearly an hour off an average journey.

There had been speculation this meant the 125mph trains, run by Virgin, might not be able to operate in tilting mode on services north of Manchester.

But the SRA, which monitors rail performance targets, said the line between Manchester and Glasgow would be modernised sufficiently for the project.

Tilting trains
Built in Italy
Expected to be introduced on west coast in May 2003
Top speed of 140mph, already scaled back to 125mph
Could cut London to Glasgow times by up to an hour

A final decision will, ironically, be partly taken by SRA chief Richard Bowker - a former chairman of train operator Virgin Trains.

Train operator Virgin also said it was confident it would still be able to introduce some of the trains next year, and go "full tilt" in 2004.

The final say lies with the SRA, which went on to dismiss claims the cost of upgrading the line could reach 13bn.

It believes the final figure will be less than 10bn - which still represents a quadrupling of Railtrack's original estimate of 2.1bn in 1998.

Journey times

A spokesman for Virgin, which would have to be compensated if the project is scrapped, said it was aware Railtrack was considering its options.

But he added: "We have bought trains that will tilt and we intend using them in that capacity. We believe the SRA and Railtrack want the same outcome."

Tilting train
The Italian-designed trains can reach 125mph
Allowing the new Virgin Trains to tilt between Manchester and Glasgow at 125mph would reduce journey times on that stretch by nearly half an hour.

Railtrack, which is shortly to be taken over by the not-for-profit organisation Network Rail, said the project was still "certain" to deliver increased line speeds, capacity and shorter journey times to destinations along the entire route, including Scotland.

However, it does admit it is considering ways of cutting costs and speeding up work.

The exact detail of where increased line speeds would operate had still to be determined, a spokesman confirmed.

But the SRA insists it has ultimate control over the future of the troubled project and that Railtrack does not have the power to change the plans.

The track upgrade means sections along the route will be shut each weekend until December, to allow the work to be carried out.

Virgin had originally hoped to bring in the Italian-designed Pendolino trains in May this year.

But the upgrade delays mean the trains have only operated a Birmingham-Manchester non-tilt shuttle service for this summer's Commonwealth Games.

In an order worth about 1bn, Virgin has ordered 53 of the trains.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tom Symonds
"The cost of this project has risen from just over 2 billion to between 10 and 13 billion"
The BBC's Nick Ravenscroft
"The chorus of disapproval has been loud"
See also:

03 Apr 02 | Business
26 Nov 01 | Business
08 Oct 01 | England
12 Jul 01 | UK
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