THE FIRST pre-series Pendolino Britannico for Virgin Trains’ West Coast franchise made its initial run on February 14, as part of celebrations to mark the opening of Alstom Transport’s British test centre at Asfordby, near Melton Mowbray. The company has acquired the former British Rail test track at Old Dalby, and is investing £12m in upgrading it. The Asfordby centre has been built on the site of a disused coal mine alongside the 21 km route.

Marking the close co-operation between Virgin and Alstom on the Pendolino project, the centre was opened by Virgin Trains Co-Chairman Richard Bowker. Alstom’s President Michel Moreau and Vice-President Mike Lloyd named 390 001 Virgin Pioneer (inset).

The test track is being electrified at 25 kV and equipped for operation at up to 200 km/h. It will also be used for development of the ETCS-based TCS signalling and TASS tilt control systems.

The eight-car pre-series Pendolino will be used for basic vehicle and traction tests over the next few months, with the nine-car second set arriving in April for trials of the tilt equipment. In September the units will move to the curving Carnforth - Carlisle section of the WCML and possibly the East Coast Main Line for trials up to 225 km/h.

In the longer term, all 53 Pendolinos and Alstom-built multiple-units for the British market will go to Asfordby for commissioning and ’shake-down’ running before delivery.