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TS18: Branson’s Baby

The Virgin Trains BR Class 390 ‘Pendolino’ is coming soon to Train Simulator!

By the turn of the 21st Century, the West Coast Main Line was in dire need of major overhaul, and new traction. The Inter-City powerhouses such as the Class 86 and Class 87 had done their time, and a brand new era was due.

Privatisation saw Virgin Trains win the bid for the West Coast franchise; it was Virgin’s goal to reduce journey times and improve comfort between London Euston and Glasgow Central. Some of the work to achieve this would be modernisation of the WCML itself, and to run on it, a fleet of state-of-the-art high speed trains – and to go all out – Virgin wanted tilting traction.

The West Coast Main Line has a history with tilting technology; its many curves slow trains down in order to maintain passenger comfort, and while the track itself cants, or super-elevates, into each curve, there is only a certain degree to which this is a safe practice. Any further tilting would have to be done by the rolling stock themselves.

British Rail engineers explored the concept of a train which could tilt around curves, the project would culminate into the ‘Advanced Passenger Train’ (APT). A gas-turbine experimental unit was developed in the 1970s to prove the theory, and the technology was then tried and tested in the electric prototype in the 1980s.

Ultimately, the pressure to push APT into service let flaws seep through while in service, and growing opposition from the press combined with a falling political will saw the project shelved. The traction motor technology was used to develop the Class 91, and the tilting technology sold to Fiat.

Despite the failure of tilting some 20 years prior, it was seen by Virgin Trains as a solution to the slalom-like West Coast Main Line, and so, an order was placed for 53 high-speed electric multiple units. The units were to come from Alstom, who had recently taken over Fiat, which themselves combined the APT technology with their own ETR 401 efforts to make the ‘Pendolino’ family.

The knack of APT’s tilting was that it was too good, a bold claim, but proven with the fact that passengers didn’t notice the tilt, disrupting their balance upon looking out the window. Fiat’s Pendolinos work around this by forcing the train to tilt at key points in the curves, making the motion noticeable, and subsequently less nauseating, for those on-board.

Now refined, the tilting technology of the Pendolinos was to pay dividends; the Virgin Trains fleet, classified as the Class 390, was designed to be capable of 140mph, as it was the intention to have the WCML upgraded for such high speeds.

Unfortunately, the aspirational upgrade was never fully delivered, and the speed limit only taken up to 125. Still, this was a significant increase in-and-of-itself, and the tilting capabilities of the Class 390s could take full advantage of key sections, where conventional trains would have to run slower.

When ordered, the 53 Class 390s were split into 8 and 9-car configurations, however capacity concerns were quickly raised following their introduction into service in 2002, and all units were brought up to 9-cars in 2004. To further increase capacity, 62 extra cars were built and delivered between 2009 and 2012, bringing 31 sets up to 11-cars, and a further 4 brand new 11-car sets also joined the fleet.

Since 2002, the Class 390s have been working limited-stop services between London Euston, and several key stations including Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, and of course Glasgow Central. The fleet has also traversed the North Wales Coast Line in years prior, hauled by modified Class 57s.

In Train Simulator, the Virgin Trains BR Class 390 ‘Pendolino’ will arrive in Pro Range fashion, kitted out with extra details and features that make the experience all-more immersive. You will be able to take in the sights of Thomson Interactive’s stunning WCML Trent Valley route from a whole new perspective, leaning around every curve and racing past on the fast lines at 125mph.

A carrier of millions every year, the Virgin Trains BR Class 390 ‘Pendolino’ is coming soon to Train Simulator! ■

390_0002 The re-worked Class 390 for Train Simulator comes equipped with extra 'Pro Range' details, 9 and 11-car variants, and of course the bold Virgin Trains livery. 390_0003 We follow 390123 on a non-stop southbound run across the Trent Valley, seen accelerating out of Stafford and joining the up-fast line towards Rugby. 390_0004 Watching the valley lean with every curve makes for an unforgettable experience, be that from the best seat in the house (above), or among idyllic first class seating (below). 390_0005 390_0006 As the speed picks up, the Class 390 gets to work, cruising at 125mph and effortlessly snaking its way along the West Coast (above and below). 390_0007 390_0008 A dash of modern red flies past local housing as the Italian-designed Pendolino makes its way south (above), and catenary dances above the southbound service which is capable of seating over 580 (below). 390_0009 390_0010 Rugeley Power Station is where we leave 390123 to continue towards Rugby (above and below). The rest of the journey will be for you to experience when the Virgin Trains BR Class 390 ‘Pendolino’ arrives for Train Simulator! 390_0011

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