INTRO: The first pre-series Pendolino Britannico trainset is nearing completion at Alstom’s Washwood Heath works in Birmingham. With a high profile roll-out scheduled for February, there is no time to lose in completing a demanding test programme

VIRGIN TRAINS has staked its commercial future on the success of its Class 390 tilting Pendolino Britannico trainsets, the first of which is nearing completion in the Alstom works in Washwood Heath, Birmingham. The pre-series unit has a date with destiny in February, when it is due to be rolled out in a high-profile ceremony. The train will then be taken to the Old Dalby test track for running trials before it is accepted to run on Railtrack metals.

Each of the eight cars in the launch unit must undergo a thorough programme of static tests before the train is assembled. These single-car tests include full wiring checks, a mechanical type test, weight and sway tests, bogie slewing to simulate track twist, and checks of the tilt equipment. The speed of operation of the tilt system will be checked, as will the pantograph mechanisms on cars 3 and 6 that allow the pantograph to remain vertical under the wires as the body tilts.

By December Alstom expects to be able to carry out coupled tests, running cars through a reverse curve to ensure that the inter-car gangways function correctly. The next step is to conduct a half-train test, where the communications networks can be checked, together with the auxiliaries such as battery chargers and converters. Checks will be made on the traction equipment, the pantographs and vacuum circuit breaker, and static brake trials will be carried out.

This will pave the way for full train testing, which will include EMC trials. At this stage every on-board system will be checked to ensure that it functions correctly, including train management, tilt authorisation and speed supervision systems, air-conditioning, doors, lighting, and so on. The final stage will be to run the train on the short test track at Washwood Heath, where it is possible to perform in-motion weighing and to establish the train’s electrical and electronic footprint.

The pre-series train was originally to have been rolled out in the first half of this year, but by late summer the date had slipped to October. Virgin was not satisfied, and after a high-level meeting with Alstom on September 4, a project review was held a week later. The outcome was a revised delivery schedule for the pre-series train and the appointment of Bruno Sol-Rolland, previously Managing Director of Alstom Transport’s high speed train business, as Director for the Pendolino project. Alstom has re-examined its train assembly plans, and has nominated its Barcelona factory in Spain as a possible site for establishing a parallel production line to try and ensure that it can meet the delivery schedules for the rest of the Class 390 fleet.

CAPTION: In the test bay. The first Class 390 driving car undergoes high-voltage tests at Washwood Heath

CAPTION: Far right: Final fitting out of a Class 390 cab in Birmingham

CAPTION: Virgin Trains is still acutely aware of the hurdles ahead in its West Coast franchise. The words ’Mission Impossible’ adorn the side of first class AE car IC1001 (right)