BODYSHELLS to form Virgin Trains’ second Pendolino Britannico trainset are due to be shipped from the Italian port of Savona to Britain this month. Having started life in Fiat Ferroviaria’s plants in Italy, they will be taken for fitting out and final assembly to Alstom’s Birmingham plant, where the nine-car Class 390 pre-production set is nearing completion. Testing of this unit is crucial to the contract for Alstom and Fiat to supply Virgin with 53 trainsets (RG 10.98 p707), and the aim is to begin running trials in November. A 10th car, originally intended for dynamic hauling tests, is shortly to start static trials.

Quite where the 225 km/h pre-production train will be able to demonstrate its capabilities is an open question. Because of uncertainties over planning permission that have so far prevented use of the intended test site in Britain at Old Dalby, Alstom and Fiat were obliged to examine other options. These included Railtrack’s East Coast Main Line, routes in France, possibly the Lille - Calais TGV line, the Velim loop in the Czech Republic, and even the test track operated by Transportation Technology Center Inc in Pueblo, Colorado, USA. Ultimately, the trains will have to be tested on the route they are destined to serve, but capacity on the WCML is already a major issue for the operators that share it, all the more so as the £5·8bn upgrading programme to fit the line for the new trains is in full swing.

Fiat is meanwhile gearing up its production lines to allow assembly of 18 Virgin cars a month. The end cars are being put together in Colleferro near Roma, and the centre cars at Savigliano near Torino.

The company has invested heavily to handle the volume of work, and new equipment at Savigliano includes automatic bogie welding gear, a robot milling machine for cutting window openings and other orifices in pre-assembled aluminium alloy sidewalls, roofs or floor structures, as well as a new paintshop.

The bodyshells are assembled from long double-skin extrusions supplied by Alusuisse: five for the floor, five for each sidewall, and four in the roof. In contrast to the ETR460 and subsequent Pendolino builds, there are two structural transverse elements that form partitions inside the car. These are needed because the centre of the roof has a large hole to accommodate the air-conditioning packs.

The Class 390 design sets unprecedentedly high crashworthiness standards for trains in Britain. According to Fiat, these are considerably higher than those specified in Britain’s Railway Group Standards, and the company commissioned AEA Technology to carry out tests to check this. The results in Table I indicate that the crashworthiness requirements for 160 km/h operation are more than covered at 225 km/h. n

Class 390 suppliers

Main contractors Fiat and Alstom

Aluminium alloy extrusions Alusuisse

Transmission drives Voith

Brakes Knorr

Wheelsets Lucchini

Gangways Hübner

Doors IFE

Air-conditioning Liebherr

Pantographs Brecknell Willis

Toilets Evac

TABLE: Table I. Class 390 crashworthiness performance

Railway Group Standards AEA Technology test results (up to 160 km/h) (up to 225 km/h)

Energy Collapse Peak Energy Collapse Peak absorbed distance force absorbed distance force MJ m MN MJ m MN

Cab end full face 1 1 4 3·3 0·97 4

Cab end over-ride 0·5 1 4 0·58 0·44 1·7

Trailer car end full face 1 1 4 2·12 0·72 3·8

CAPTION: Right: Collapsible elements are built into the roof and floor structure over the end doors of the trailer cars

CAPTION: Centre car bodyshells under construction in Fiat Ferroviaria’s Savigliano plant in northern Italy