More than 20 years after a pioneering prototype tilting train ran on Britain's busiest railway, regular services were finally introduced in late September.
The Advanced Passenger Train, as the prototype was known, was developed by British rail engineers in the late 1970s using tilting technology to enhance speeds through bends. It was abandoned in the early 1980s due to operating problems during public trials and adverse public reaction.
Virgin Trains is now running Fiat-developed Italian Pendolino trains between London and Manchester, cutting journey times on the 180-mile run to just more than 2 hours, a 22% time reduction. London-Birmingham times have been cut by 15 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Beginning in December, the tilt mechanism will be available for the connection to Liverpool and for the route south of Preston, 210 miles from London's Euston Station.
Track and signaling upgrades to accommodate the new trains along the 400-mile west coast main line between Glasgow (Scotland) and London are now expected to cost $13.8 billion. Original estimates soared above $18 billion by 2002, but costs were brought under control after the decision to close sections of route for extended periods to allow the engineering to progress efficiently. Trains were diverted or replaced by bus services for weeks, and in some instances, months. Additionally, 600 miles of overhead wires were replaced, and 460 points installed.
By September 2006, 125 mph running speeds with tilting will be available along the whole route. In a second phase, further infrastructure work will allow speeds of 140 mph by 2009.
Alstom Transportation built the 53 electric-powered Pendolino train sets used on the system at a cost of $20 million each. Virgin also has a fleet of 125-mph tilting diesel trains, built by Bombardier, for use on routes that extend off the west coast main line on to non-electrified sections.
Once the 125-mph tilting technology is available throughout the route, Glasgow-London journey times will be reduced to 4 hours and 15 minutes, a 1-hour savings.
Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson said at the launch of the improved services, "I have waited 5 years for this. Today is a very emotional day both for myself and for the rail industry, which has made it happen."
"This is a great day for railways in Britain. Passengers on the west coast routes will now benefit from the first phase of the investment," said Prime Minister Tony Blair.