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Railwatch 070 - December 1996

Trains for lean times

Tilting trains have re-emerged as favourite to provide a cost-effective upgrade for the long-neglected West Coast main line.

And while it may not allow Britain to compete with French high-speed trains or German InterCity expresses, it is a start.

The new breed of tilting train being talked up by the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising and Railtrack will not be as fast as the advanced passenger train which was abandoned by British Rail in 1985 under pressure from the Government. Instead of aiming for a quantum leap as proposed by much-maligned BR, the current controllers of the slim line railway have set their sights much lower. Even if the tilting trains are brought in, speed on the "premier" line will be around 125 mph - the same as the InterCity 125 diesel train which has been operating in many parts of Britain for 20 years!

But at least tilting trains have a successful track record. They have proved themselves in Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and France. Even prevaricating road-obsessed British politicians cannot ignore them any more.

Railtrack is talking of saving 20 minutes on the current 1hr 40min journey to Birmingham, 30 minutes on the 2hr 30min journey to Manchester and 40 minutes on the five hour journey to Glasgow. Further increases could be achieved if cab-based signalling - currently under development - lives up to expectations.

The tilting trains have proved their commercial worth in Italy. In 1995 Pendolinos carried 2.8 million passengers in Italy, inceasing passenger numbers by 13%. Pendolino trains, operated by Italian Railways, were introduced in September on international journeys between Lyon, Turin and Milan saving one hour. They will also soon be running from Milan to the Swiss cities of Lausanne, Berne and Geneva.

Next year the Italians are planning to upgrade some of their tilting services to high-speed services and the tilting trains will be cascaded to other routes. All are branded as Eurostars. There is also a second generation of Pendolino trains on order - the ETR 500 which is being built by a consortium including Adtranz, Breda and Fiat.

Even the Americans have ordered 12 tilting trains for the Amtrak north-east corridor route from Washington to New York and Boston. Bombardier and GEC-Alsthom will build the Amtrak trains. In Britain, Adtranz unveiled its family of tilting trains to the West Coast Rail 250 conference in Manchester in September.

Its train is based on the technology of Sweden's X2000 trains, as featured in 1992 by Railwatch (which also highlighted the long wait for Thameslink 2000. We're still waiting!) Now Railtrack and OPRAF want tilting trains to run on the West Coast by 2002. They also want "some track improvements".

The franchise for the line will be awarded in March. But what they seem to have abandoned is hope of converting the West Coast main line into a genuine high speed rail line.

History lesson: In 1992, Virgin told Railwatch it was hoping to run tilting trains on the West Coast main line but the chances were now "way in the future". A spokesman said then: "We didn't need privatisation. We were prepared to run in co-operation with British Rail."

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