Virgin West Coast Mainline Tilting Train

ALSTOM and Fiat Ferroviaria have signed a 1.8 billion Euro contract with Virgin Rail Group for a new fleet of high speed tilting trains. The order is the single most important rail contract in the UK for many decades and the most advanced deal since British Rail privatisation. These new trains will form the centrepiece of Virgin's plans for delivering a radically improved service on the West Coast Trains franchise which runs key mainline services from Scotland, North West England and the Midlands to London.

Virgin West Coast Mainline Tilting Train PDF Virgin West Coast Mainline Tilting Train

Virgin Trains Pendolino

Tilting trains were invented by British Rail in the 1970s, resulting in the building of the Advanced Passenger Train (APT). Prototypes of these operated on the West Coast Main Line in the 1980s before the project was abandoned in 1986. One of the units was subsequently preserved and can now be seen at The Railway Age, Crewe.

When Britain abandoned the tilting train concept, other railway administrations, notably in Italy and Sweden, went on to develop successful tilting trains. In Italy, Fiat Ferroviaria developed the Pendolino for FS (Italian State Railways). Pendolino is the Italian word for tilting and Virgin Trains has adopted this name for its new fleet.

World Class Travel

The Pendolino will bring massive improvements to rail travel, coupled with innovations in on-board entertainment and service. This will allow Virgin Trains to recapture rail's natural market share on the route by winning travel back from congested motorways and airlines, as well as generating new travel.

Standard Class

The Standard Class journey experience will also be significantly enriched with the following features:

First Class

As well as all the features available in Standard Class, the four First Class coaches on each train will have their own kitchens and a dedicated customer service team to provide an at-seat service throughout every journey, seven days a week. The kitchen will provide the largest galley area for any European train, ensuring a flexible service of meals and refreshments. All refreshments will remain complimentary for First Class ticket holders and include a hot breakfast followed by an all-day offer of light snacks and drinks. The service will also include complimentary newspapers, magazines and audio headphones. In addition, a 240 volt power socket has been provided near every seat for recharging laptops and mobile phones. A quiet coach will be available in First Class where the use of mobile phones will be prohibited.

New information displays will keep passengers well informed both outside and inside the trains, and the train manager will be located in the centre of the train for easy access. The Pendolino is one of the first trains to fully comply with the latest legislation for disabled access, toilets and information. They are built to the standards required by The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and have seven toilets on board, three of which can accommodate wheelchairs. In addition, there are three wheelchair spaces on each train (two in Standard Class and one in First Class).

Other features include baby changing facilities and the ability to reserve, in advance, one of the eight bicycle rack positions.

There are 441 seats in each nine-car unit, 296 in Standard Class and 145 in First Class, the latter of which also offers an at-seat service of complimentary refreshments.


Cyclists naturally lean into a curve for greater speed and comfort. The European experience has shown that train passengers can benefit in a similar way and the Pendolino brings this technology to the UK. The West Coast Main Line is a particularly curvaceous route which could only be straightened by building a multi-billion pound new railway.

Unfortunately, the development of towns and cities along the route made this an unviable proposition. The alternative, therefore, was to utilise and upgrade the existing infrastructure to allow tilting trains to take the curves 20% faster than conventional trains. The Pendolino is designed to tilt freely as it meets curves and has a maximum tilt of eight degrees in addition to any "super-elevation" that is built into the track for conventional trains.

Tilting Trains are fitted with TASS (Tilt Authorisation and Speed Supervision) which monitors the train through trackside balises. A balise authorises the train to tilt, control its speed through the curves and turn the tilt system on and off at the appropriate places and times.

British Pendolinos

In 1998, Virgin Trains placed an order with Fiat Ferroviaria and Alstom for 53 high speed tilting electric trains for the West Coast franchise. The trains were procured in association with train leasing company Angel Trains. Fiat Ferroviaria was acquired by Alstom in September 2000 and is now known as Alstom Ferroviaria. The value of the order for these trains is in excess of £1.2 billion.

Unlike the earlier APT, the trains procured by Virgin Trains (the 10th railway administration to buy Pendolino trains) have a proven track record. Other operators include railways in Finland, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland.

Body shells were built at the former Fiat Ferroviaria factory in Savigliano near Turin and were transported by sea to Alstom's factory at Washwood Heath in Birmingham for completion. Apart from the construction of the body shell, all other work is carried out in Britain.

The contract with Alstom covers design, building and maintenance of the new trains up to the end of the existing West Coast franchise in March 2012.

The 53 trains will consist of nine vehicles. Each Pendolino has 24-wheel drive, with 12 × 570 hp traction motors - 6840 hp in total - and is capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph in 60 seconds (0-100 mph in 100 seconds).

The Class 390 Pendolinos incorporate the latest safety developments. The body shell has crush resistance with three times the absorption of the existing High Speed Train fleet. Each new train has the Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS) fitted on delivery.

The fleet will be fitted with the European Train Control System (ETCS) offering automatic train protection for the start of 140 mph operation in 2005.

The trains will be maintained by Alstom Traincare, which has established a "mothership" depot at Longsight (Manchester), recently upgraded, along with the other depots at a cost of £23 million. Satellite depots have been established at Polmadie (Glasgow), Oxley (Wolverhampton) and Edge Hill (Liverpool) and each has been upgraded to cater for the new trains.

The first two pre-series trains commenced testing on Alstom's Old Dalby test track in Leicestershire during the Summer of 2001. Testing on the West Coast Main Line in the Lake District, using these two pre-series trains began in October 2001, with the first production Pendolino delivered to Virgin Trains the following month. A new train will enter service every week in 2002.

Technical Specifications - Class 390

Manufacturer Alstom Transportation
Leasing Company Angel Trains in conjunction with HSBC
Number of Trains 53
Length Nine cars (207 metres)
Trains time-tabled in traffic per day 46
Maximum speed 140 mph (250 kph)
Electric Traction equipment Alstom Onix 800 traction drive
12 × 570 hp traction motors
Maximum power at wire 6.7 MW
Maximum power at rail 6,840 hp (5.1 MW)
Acceleration 0.43 m/s per second (0-60 mph in 60 seconds)
Weight 471 tonnes (43 to 53 tonnes per vehicle)
Braking Regenerative, Rheostatic, Disc
Safety signalling systems (three) AWS (Automatic Warning System)
TPWS (Train Protection Warning System)
ETCS (European Train Control System)
Tilt actuation Electric: max 8 degrees (TASS over-ride)
Seats per train 441 (145 First Class, 296 Standard Class)
Toilets per train Seven (including three disabled toilets)
Wheelchair spaces per train Three (one First Class and two Standard Class)
Bicycles per train Eight per train
Audio at Seat All seats

Meet the Family

Pendolino 390006 Mission PossiblePendolino 390006 Mission Possible
Virgin Pendolino 390006 Mission Possible drew up alongside the newly-painted APT on 16 June 2002.

'OO' Gauge Model

DAPOL Pendolino
DAPOL Pendolino EMU 'OO' gauge model.

Virgin Pendolino the next chapter…

The New Virgin Pendolino the next chapter…

Ready for tilt…

Ready for tilt…

Class 390 'Pendolino' Tilt System.

Seating Plan

Coach A Coach B Coach C Coach D Coach E Coach G Coach H Coach J Coach K
Pendolino Seating Plan PDF VT 9 Coach 'Pendolino' Seating Plan

Coach A Coach B Coach C Coach D Coach E Coach F Coach U Coach G Coach H Coach J Coach K
Pendolino Seating Plan PDF VT 11 Coach 'Pendolino' Seating Plan

AVANTI West Coast

Avanti West Coast officially took over the operation of long-distance train services on the West Coast Main Line from Sunday 8 December 2019, heralding a new era of InterCity and future high-speed rail services in the UK.

CGI of Avanti West Coast 'Pendolino'CGI of Avanti West Coast 'Pendolino'
Computer-Generated Images of an Avanti West Coast 'Pendolino'.

Seating Plan

Pendolino Seating Plan PDF AWC Refurbished 'Pendolino' Seating Plan

AVANTI Railfans Zone : 'Our Pendolino Trains'.

Built to Tilt

London to Glasgow in just over 4 and a half hours.

Sometimes it's good to stand out from the crowd.

Our unique tilting Pendolino trains are the fastest way to travel from London to Glasgow. Less time travelling, more time enjoying your destination.

Fully refurbished in partnership with our friends at Avanti West Coast and Alstom.

Angel Trains – 'Built to Tilt' advert.

390047 Glasgow-London 22 September 2006.

390053 Glasgow-London 7 December 2011.

390141 Glasgow-London 7 December 2021.

390119 London-Liverpool 22 February 2023.

CORYS Class 390 Simulator.

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© R G Latham 2024.