Full Tilt on Train to Euston; A Landmark Was Reached Yesterday When the First Tilting Train Made Its Maiden Journey Carrying Passengers on the West Coast Main Line between London and Staffordshire. Jonathan Walker Was on Board the Virgin Trains Pendolino for the Historic Journey
Byline: Jonathan Walker
Someone call Norris McWhirter -I now qualify for a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Yesterday I travelled by train from Lichfield in Staffordshire to London's Euston station in only 76 minutes -the fastest journey ever on that stretch of track.
It may not sound like much, but it was a milestone in the rail industry's efforts to speed up the West Coast Main Line.
The trick was to make the train tilt to the side as it went round bends. No doubt any GCSE physics student could explain why this is important, but all I know is this -it lets the train go quicker.
New trains capable of tilting have been operating on our railways for some time now.
But yesterday was the first time they had been allowed to do their thing with members of the public on board. We went full tilt, so to speak.
The journey began at Euston. We boarded one of Virgin Trains' new space-age Pendolino models, made by Alstom in Birmingham, all slick curves and comfy seats.
Among the special guests were Chris Green, the Virgin chief executive, and Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority. They wandered through the carriages, meeting and greeting passengers.
A Virgin spokesman explained, almost apologetically, that some tilting had occurred in the past, but only on test runs with nobody except Virgin staff on board.
This was still an historic occasion, he promised. Personally, I was rather pleased to hear that they'd already made sure everything worked correctly before I got on.
The first section of the journey was nothing special. Only a small section of the track has been upgraded sufficiently to allow full-blown tilting, and we were stuck at the old-fashioned maximum speed of 110 miles per hour. In the meantime, I enjoyed one of Virgin's traditional full English breakfasts and read the paper.
But then we reached Rugby -and heard the announcement everyone had been waiting for.
Over the intercom, a voice from the driver's cabin warned: 'The tilting mechanism has been engaged.'
There was no turning back now. Would we find ourselves on a roller-coaster ride, swinging from side to side, hanging on to our armrests for dear life? Would the train hit a particularly sharp corner and tilt 45 degrees to the left, sending cups of coffee flying? Would I regret eating those bacon and eggs?
I waited, fearing the worst. A minute or two later, came a second announcement: 'We are now doing 125 miles per hour, with the tilt working perfectly.'
Eh? I hadn't noticed a thing. …