INTRO: On July 9 Virgin Trains staged a high speed publicityrun with its first Pendolino Britannico tilting trainset at the Alstom test track. Murray Hughes reports

RED WAS the colour of the day on July 9, when Virgin Trains and Alstom demonstrated 200 km/h running with a pre-series Class 390 Pendolino Britannico trainset. Foreshadowing next year’s planned relaunch of tilting trains on Britain’s West Coast Main Line, the event drew 260 guests to the Old Dalby test track, now the Alstom Midlands Test Centre. British Rail had used the site in the early 1970s to test the gas turbine powered experimental Advanced Passenger Train in Britain’s first foray into tilting technology.

APT’s sad history was almost forgotten in the spectacle that franchisee Virgin Trains had put together with Alstom. Virgin chief Sir Richard Branson (inset) named Pre-Series set 02 Red Revolution at the recently completed depot at Asfordby (RG 3.01 p144) before guests were taken to a specially-built arena at Old Dalby for presentations by rolling stock leasing company Angel Trains, Alstom and Virgin. With the presentations over, the entire structure was rotated and its roof removed to give guests a grandstand view of the test track. Moments later, two jet aircraft trailing red smoke roared overhead, and PS02 burst out of the adjacent Grimston tunnel at around 160 km/h, accompanied by a display of red fireworks (right).

After more flypasts, two demonstration runs were made with PS02, giving the media and senior managers drawn from across Britain’s railway industry the chance to experience tilting at up to 6° with the train running at 177 km/h. There was a brief dash at 200 km/h before the train braked to reach the end of the 25 kV electrified section at Plumtree. Tilting was controlled from on board the train, and not yet from the Eurobalises installed in the track under the Tilt Authorisation & Speed Supervision programme (RG 5.00 p313).

Parts of the 17 km electrified route had been laid with high quality track, but some sections were in less good condition, reflecting a decision to provide infrastructure that accurately reflects the WCML. In fact, final tamping and other adjustments to improve the track were planned for July 12.

This month should see PS01 move to the WCML between Carlisle and Carnforth for strictly controlled trials that include overhead line electrical resonance and braking. Sister train PS02 is due to arrive on the WCML in October for ride quality and tilting tests. If these are successful, an Interim acceptance certificate will be awarded, paving the way for the first four series-built trains to be handed over to Virgin in December.

Virgin Trains’ Chief Executive Chris Green said that Pendolino sets would be introduced ’quietly’ into commercial service, probably in March next year on a shuttle between Manchester and Stoke. By June Virgin hopes to have at least 22 trainsets available for service at up to 177 km/h without tilt, allowing frequencies to be doubled on the London - Manchester route. If enough sets have been delivered, some Liverpool and Preston services will also be turned over to Class 390.

Railtrack is due to complete the first £3bn phase of the WCML upgrading for 200 km/h by September 2002 when Virgin hopes to have 45 of the 53 sets available. Provided that TASS is ready by then, tilt will be actuated and speeds raised to the new maximum, with journey times cut to give nominal timings between London and northwest cities of around 2h. n

TABLE: Pendolino Britannico: main contractors

Main supplier Alstom

Traction equipment Alstom

Bodyshell extrusions Alcan

Doors IFE

Seats Antolin-Loire

Brakes Knorr Bremse

Pantographs Brecknell Willis

Air-conditioning Liebherr

Cabling Huber + Suhner

Gangways Hübner

Kitchens Prisma

Toilets Evac