INTRO: Murray Hughes rides the first three-car Heathrow Express set on the Velim test track in the Czech Republic

STREAKING through the birch forest on the circular test track at Velim northeast of Praha, the first train for Britain’s Heathrow Express service was clocking 160 km/h as part of an intensive programme of trials. It was not hard to visualise the Class 332 at the same speed on its future home ground - the Great Western main line between London Paddington and Hayes, from where an 8 km branch leads to the terminal areas of London’s busiest airport. When the fleet of 14 trains is in commercial service, they will be allowed just 8min for the 19 km from Paddington to Airport Junction near Hayes so that they do not delay Great Western’s 200 km/h inter-city trains which share the same tracks.

The test unit had spent just over a month at Velim, and was in good fettle for demonstration runs on December 4. With three headlights blazing and horn blaring, the three silver and blue cars repeatedly shot past the preparation tracks for the benefit of photographers.

The test unit has no seats, although the luggage racks are in place. Engineers from main contractor Siemens are managing the trials with officials from Velim, whose Director Dipl-Ing Ludek Pilmann said that his facility must now stand on its own feet financially.

The train had left the CAF factory in Zaragoza on October 9, reaching Velim on October 28. Commissioning work on bogies, the 25 kV 50Hz traction equipment, braking and auxiliaries was completed in November. According to Siemens’ Project Manager Dirk R