In 1981 December 7th was the day that marked the début of the APT-P in passenger service, and I'd managed to be on the first run, southbound from Glasgow Central to Euston at 7.00 am on a cold winter morning. For the last three years I'd intended to mark that trip by doing the same journey on APT-P's modern day equivalent, Virgin Train's Class 390 Pendolino. 2011 seemed a good year to chose as it was the 30th Anniversary and I've spent the last few months working out the various routes and services that would get me to Glasgow and back home again without spending too much money, the purchase of a Senior Railcard being a big help in that direction.
It turned out that the best solution was to take the Caledonian Sleeper north from Euston the previous day, and to catch that I had to take an Arriva local service from Lydney to Newport, and then by First Great Western's HST service to Paddington, then a short trip on the Underground to Euston for the sleeper. The return trip would be the same in reverse, but considerably faster due to coming south on the Pendolino of course.
So at 1717 hrs. on Tuesday the 6th I was waiting in the gloom at Lydney Station to catch Arriva's 158835 twin unit to Newport, which commendably left exactly on time. However the master plan started to come apart almost right away as we stopped just outside Severn Tunnel Junction for over 10 mins! It turned out that a herd of cows had strayed across the track between Cardiff and Newport, delaying all services in both directions, so we arrived in Newport some 14 mins late only 5 mins before the planned departure time of the HST I was supposed to be on, but that didn't matter as FGW had cancelled it!
After giving the station staff the third degree I was told I could get on the first HST that arrived, which was over 30 mins. late itself, but of course my reserved seat wouldn't exist. Luckily that train wasn't too packed, and left Newport in the care of 43033 at 1825. I did have to stand until we reached Swindon but after that there were plenty of seats available. Of course the route was also part of APT history as we passed over the same metals that APT-E used to set the Speed Record of 152.3 in August 1975, and I was on board THAT trip too! Sadly the whole journey was in total darkness so there was no way to identify Uffington Loop or Pangbourne but I couldn't have everything I guess.
We arrived at Paddington at 2013 and I headed for the Underground platforms, only to find that all Circle Line trains were stopping at Edgeware Rd for some reason, and when I got there the place was packed to the eyebrows. After waiting some time, and not being able to get on two trains in succession, I finally got to Euston Square about 20 mins before the sleeper left. Euston Square is some distance from the main line station and once you get up to ground level there are no signs to tell you which direction it's in! After walking about 50 yards in the wrong direction (no Sun at night to show you which way is north or south......) I saw a road sign that showed me the correct direction and I reversed my heading and went back the other way.
Euston isn't the easiest station to find, it's hidden behind big office blocks and has almost no indications that it even exists but I finally found the main entrance and went in there. The Caledonian Sleeper was easy to track down luckily and I got aboard after being 'signed in' by the very efficient train staff. The train was huge, 16 coaches with an EWS Class 90, 90035, on the front, but it seemed that it was three trains in one and it would split at Edinburgh Waverley.
My compartment was in the very first coach, as I'd booked so many months before, and it was very quiet indeed, most impressive. As I was travelling First Class on this section I got the choice of whatever breakfast I wanted at whatever time I desired, and as I was getting off at Westerton at 0555, of which more later, I chose 0500 for my breakfast. The train left Euston exactly on time at 2115 and slid smoothly off to the north, but not exactly at lightning speed. I'd used sleeper services before so I was used to that, and at least point and crossing work didn't shake the bogies enough to wake me later in the night. Passing Watford Junction I went back to the Buffet Car to eat a rather nice lamb hotpot for an evening meal and then went back to my compartment to try and get some sleep.
I wasn't all that successful, perhaps being excited about the following day didn't help much, but I managed to get some hours in, only waking at Edinburgh when they seemed to be shunting us all over the place. I was knocked about at least three times by fairly serious bangs as various parts of the train were coupled and un-coupled. Eventually we set off to the west behind EWS 67009, as I learnt later, with only five coaches in the consist. My breakfast arrived soon afterward and it was VERY good indeed! I didn't expect an omelette, a slice of bacon, a sausage, tomato and mushrooms, as well as a bread roll and coffee but that's what I had.
After a number of twists and turns around the Scottish Lowlands we arrived at Westerton, a very small station just north west of Glasgow, exactly on time at 0555, and I got off into freezing weather and about 2ins of snow! The sleeper carried on to Fort William, but for some reason didn't go into Glasgow Central to drop anyone off, thus the change-over at Westerton. There were only three sleeper passengers doing this but before much longer a few more people turned up for their daily commute into Glasgow and Scotrail's suburban unit, 320313, soon arrived, also on time at 0610, which was very welcome as it was well heated. It stopped at every station there was before it reached Glasgow Central, at least five of them, but eventually dumped me off at what seemed to be an Underground station, but it was actually Glasgow Central Low Level so I had to climb up the stairs to the main concourse.
It was the first time I'd been there since that same date 30 years before, and surprisingly little had changed in that period, the Pendolino was even on the same platform as the P-Train was! I had over an hour before departure time, so I had another warming cup of coffee and waited. And waited. And waited........
Even though I could see the 390 sitting there the barriers were closed and no-one could board, and the departure boards didn't say which platform it was on either, alone amongst the other trains leaving there that morning. Eventually, only some 10 mins before departure, the Virgin staff opened the barriers and we all poured aboard. Once again my reserved seat was in the first coach, and it was one of the 11 coach consists, set no. 390053. Amazingly that turned out to be the last Pendolino that was built, originally named 'Mission Accomplished' but it carried no name board at all on that day. I was most impressed with the interior of the train, but then it was First Class after all. I was just taking my jacket off and making sure I had all the stuff I needed on the journey when a voice behind me said 'I think we've done this before, haven't we?' and Martin Collins was standing right behind me!
After the usual greetings Martin said that the seat reservation system on the train had got some gremlins and wasn't working at all and suggested we move back to the 2nd coach. This gave us two advantages, we could take-over a 4 seat set for some more room and we'd also gain from a better tilt environment as each coach on a 390 takes its tilt initiation signal from the vehicle in front of it. Of course the leading coach doesn't have that advantage and always lags a little from the tilt point of view. So we moved back to the vehicle behind, taking a seat a few feet behind the leading bogie, and made ourselves comfortable. The seats themselves were very comfortable, and the table between us was very ingenious, the outer halves having folding leaves to ease movement in and out of the seats. I did notice how small the windows were however, being only half the height of the monster windows in Hastings Coach's VIP compartment! I'm not sure why they made them so low, it does rather give you the impression of looking through a tank driver's vision slit, but as we spent most of the journey talking it wasn't too much of a problem.
As with most of my previous trains on the trip 390053 left exactly on time and slid smoothly out of Glasgow Central, feeling eerily just like the APT-P 30 years previously. Unlike that previous trip there was a faint hint of daylight as we were running some 30 mins. later than my earlier trip, so there was some chance of seeing if the train was tilting or not as we headed south. By the time we reached Motherwell, only 13 miles away, it was bright enough to see the platforms etc. as we paused there to pick up other passengers, and from then on I spent much of my time gauging the amount of tilt we had on during any particular curve. On the APT-P run that wasn't possible as it was pitch dark until we were south of Carstairs and I've said before that on that occasion it was as if they'd straightened out the whole track, there being no sense of curving whatsoever. Of course in those days APT-P was running with a wholly compensating tilt system, so there should have been zero lateral forces noticeable to the passengers, but nowadays railway tilt systems don't wholly compensate for cant deficiency giving the passengers some sense that they are in a curve.
Thus it turned out, I was aware that the train was entering a curve as there was a slight sense of lateral acceleration, but the speed the train was running was wholly out of context with what my balance canals were telling me. Of course the horizon was going up and down considerably so my eyes were giving me signals that at least agreed with my balance to a certain extent. As I'm hyper-sensitive to lateral acceleration after my time working on PoP Train, APT-E and Hastings Coach etc. I would estimate that the 390s operated at around 2-3 degrees of cant deficiency, which was still comfortable, for me anyway.
One thing I did notice later on in the journey, while standing up to one side of the vehicle, was that the 390 did a similar thing to Hastings Coach when we first ran it. As the tilt on any particular curve came on I could feel it start to tilt, then it would hesitate for a moment, and then tilt some more. On Hastings Coach we found that was because the tilting bolster started to move but then the air-spring system compressed slightly because of inertia, and the body of the vehicle hesitated in similar fashion before catching up on the circular portion of the curve. I've yet to find out what type of secondary suspension the 390s use, but the effect was rather similar. I might add I only noticed this when I was standing up, and then right on the outside edge of the vehicle body. One thing that wasn't obvious was any vertical accelerations as the tilt started to come on. With the E-Train system, admittedly one of much higher performance, there was a distinct vertical component, especially when sitting in the window seats.
As we headed south the catering staff came by and asked if we'd like breakfast, and as it was included in the price of my ticket I accepted, despite the fact that I'd already had one on the Caledonian Sleeper! The Virgin breakfast was also very good and I'd recommend it to anyone, plus the bottom-less coffee cups that came with it. The staff were constantly asking us if we'd like refills all the way to Euston!
I had intended to time the run in similar fashion to the performance tables published in the various railway magazines but without recording the actual speed at at the passing points as I'd need two stop watches or a GPS and I'd have to concentrate 100% the entire time for that. I was intending to enjoy the run rather than watch for mileposts so I made sure I noted as many times as was possible and then plotted the average speed of the train at each point. As it happened I was so busy chatting to Martin that I missed a few of my plotting points, but I did catch most of them. I've posted the distance-time-ave. speed table below, along with my other photos, and you can see from the way the average speed changes that the performance was pretty impressive. As the train stopped at almost every major station until it got to Warrington, the speed remained almost constant at 84 mph, dropping slightly as it got further south. However after that last stop it accelerated considerably, almost reaching 90 mph average by Watford Junction. This doesn't surprise me as the flatter contours to the south enabled almost constant 125 mph running, with few grades to slow us down.
Rob Latham had asked me to text him when I knew the unit number of the train, and the time we left Glasgow as he intended to try and take photos of us passing through Crewe. This I did as we left the terminus and Rob texted me back asking if I could take some photos of the APT-P as we passed The Railway Age at Crewe. Luckily we slowed to some 85 mph as we passed through Crewe or I'd have missed taking the photos, but even so it took some rapid finger movement on the shutter button! I managed to spot Rob on the platform at Crewe, but wasn't fast enough to take a photo of him, but he did manage to get some good ones of us passing by as you can see below.
South of Warrington, with one continuous blast of speed all the way to Euston, the 390 was seriously impressive, especially banking through the more flatter turns around the Midlands. It was on this section that I was able to notice its similarity to the Hastings Coach tilting action, but I doubt the Joe Publics would have noticed a thing, it was just VERY impressive. All too soon we were slowing for the outskirts of London and then threaded our way through the maze of tracks entering Euston. We didn't terminate on the same platform as I did in the APT-P 30 years ago, that would have been too much of a co-incidence, and we were 2 mins. down on the advertised arrival of 1212, but I still took the opportunity to take another photo of 390053 as we got off the train.
Martin had a meeting later that day so we parted company after a very enjoyable ride through nostalgia and I headed off to the Underground and Paddington. TfL seemed to have solved its problems at Edgeware Rd. by then and the short trip was relatively painless, so before much longer I was looking for the Newport HST. This one actually existed to I was able to take up my reserved seat and head of to the west under the care of 43169. 125 mph in an HST has none of the drama of the same speed in a 390 or APT-P, perhaps it's because the Western Region main line is such an effective race track being almost flat and having no curves to speak of, but in some way it was a bit of an anti-climax. As this part of my trip was in daylight I did note the E-Train's speed record start and end points but sadly I was unable to take photos as the Sun's glare on the windows wrecked my attempts.
We arrived at Newport 4 minutes late at 1508 and I only had a 20 minute wait for my Arriva shuttle back to Lydney. 158818 duly droned into the station to collect me and the other passengers, and managed to leave right on time once again. We were actually a minute EARLY into Lydney, which was a surprise, but I overall I was quite impressed. Arriving one minute early after almost 23 hours of train travel, and some 1200 odd miles, wasn't too bad I thought.
I'm very pleased I managed to do the trip, it was certainly a nostalgic landmark for me and enable me to ride on many services that I'd never done before.
'Mission Accomplished' indeed!
Virgin Trains Pendolino 390053 passing Crewe 7th December 2011 – On board were Kit Spackman and Martin Collins who both travelled on the first APT-P public trip 30 years ago that day.
On 7 December 2021 Kit rode on the modern day equivalent service an Avanti West Coast 'Pendolino' from Glasgow to London.