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Last Updated: Friday, 12 December, 2003, 23:36 GMT
Tilting trains return 20 years on
By Peter Plisner
BBC's Midlands transport correspondent

Think of tilting trains and most people remember the ill-fated Advanced Passenger Train.

Believe it or not, it is now 20 years since the APT was scrapped.

Passengers using it complained of feeling sick when the train went round the bends on the track.

However, on Friday a tilting train made a welcome return to the UK mainline.

Wine glass on tilting train

A common sight on continental Europe, they are now being re-introduced here.

Technology developed by British Rail has been taken abroad and refined and is now effectively being sold back to us.

The new breed of tilting trains are running on the West Coast Main Line, which runs from London to Scotland via the Midlands and the North West.

Called 'Pendolinos', they promise to reduce journey times and help improve the frequency of services in many areas.

There is only one problem, though - the track they are supposed to run on is not ready.

Upgrading work is years behind schedule and billions of pounds over budget.

It has meant that until now the Pendolino trains have not been able to tilt and their speed has been restricted.

VIP launch

However, the problems of the past did not seem to overshadow Thursday's historic first passenger trip, on a section of track where the trains can reach their top speed and where they can switch on the tilting mechanism.

The improvements between Rugby and Lichfield allowed the train to reach 125mph, a speed not seen since the APT last ran on the track.

View from the driver
A 125mph speed was the highest for 20 years
And with drinks being served to a group of VIPs on board the train, it was just as well that it could tilt.

Otherwise the glasses would probably have ended up on the floor.

Virgin Trains, which runs the line, has invested around 1bn on a fleet of more than 50 tilting trains.

The new carriages feature airline-style comfort with at seat audio entertainment, an on-board shop and electronic reservation systems.

The space age trains are part of a promise made by Virgin boss Richard Branson to revolutionise rail travel in the UK.

The trains could boost the rail industry
The company has already introduced a second fleet of new trains on its Cross Country network, some of which are also capable of tilting at high speed.

The new trains have been built in the UK using technology developed in Italy where Pendolinos have been running for many years.

In Italy and elsewhere in Europe, tilting trains have helped railways capture a large share of the long-distance domestic travel market previously held by airlines.

Virgin's new trains will help it do the same here.

But there is one cloud on the horizon. The Rail Regulator, Tom Winsor, wants the railways to save money and that could mean delaying some parts of the West Coast modernisation.

Line speed improvements in the Midlands are being deferred.

Virgin has said it will mean drivers of the new trains have to apply the brakes, rather than turn up the accelerator.

Time to tilt on track
12 Dec 03  |  Staffordshire
Network Rail to get an extra 7bn
12 Dec 03  |  Business
More problems for Pendolino
02 May 03  |  England
Tilting train on track for Games
23 Jul 02  |  England

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