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Debate Tilting trains

The two bidders for the East Coast Main Line rail franchise recently submitted revised bids to the shadow Strategic Rail Authority. Virgin Rail has not included tilting trains, but the incumbent GNER has.

This week we ask: Should tilting trains be used on the East Coast Main Line?


Richard McClean, production director Great North Eastern Railways

Having generated passenger growth of 25% in four years, Great Northern Eastern Railways is running out of seats for all those that want to travel on its high speed services. Despite having increased the number of services to 125 each day from May of this year, demand will soon begin to outstrip the company's ability to provide enough trains and seats. More trains are desperately needed.

As part of a new £3bn 20-year franchise, GNER plans to work with Railtrack to upgrade the existing East Coast Main Line and to introduce 25 active tilting trains to the route in two batches. These new trains will help satisfy our main priority - seats for all passengers.

By 2005, these fast, comfortable, 550 seater trains, offering excellent on board service will be encouraging even more people to travel by train. Tilting trains running at high speed on an upgraded ECML will provide a real alternative to domestic airlines between Edinburgh, Newcastle, Yorkshire and London.

These trains will have the potential to cut half an hour off the Edinburgh-London journey time and a further half an hour off the journey from Edinburgh to Aberdeen.

Between Newcastle and London, the ECML is a fast line for any type of train. North of Newcastle the 125 miles route to Edinburgh line is less straight, but is ideally suited to active tilt technology which allows trains to corner smoothly and more quickly. This is where real journey time savings can be made.

Similarly, north of Edinburgh, passengers travelling to Aberdeen and Inverness on the non-electrified main line will benefit from the introduction of the world's first diesel-powered tilting train.

The geography of the East Coast Main Line, Railtrack's plans to upgrade the line, the proven technology of tilting trains and the benefits they will bring for passengers make these trains the right choice for the future.


Richard Bowker, director, Virgin Rail Group

Virgin Stagecoach has set out the technical and wider economic arguments for and against tilt and for a high speed line solution in its submission to the shadow Strategic Rail Authority. The sSRA has extended its own timescale for assessing these and other issues associated with the East Coast Main Line franchise bids, and under that process Virgin Stagecoach is not at liberty to disclose details of its submission.

There are nevertheless five key points we can make on tilt.

Tilt will not be operationally deliverable until 2005 at the earliest.

It only provides journey time benefits against the rolling stock solutions for one station pair - London-Edinburgh - and even then the advantage is only around 5-10 minutes.

For all the other major flows (Newcastle, York, Leeds etc), Virgin Stagecoach has identified a better rolling stock solution in terms of journey time.

The cost of accommodating tilt on the Railtrack network is not inconsiderable. Virgin Stagecoach estimates that it is £180M, and the West Coast experience suggests that this may be a serious underestimate.

On those sections of route where tilt does offer a journey time benefit (in effect Newcastle-Edinburgh) the increased journey times are achieved at the expense of a reduction in route capacity because speed differentials are increased. This section of route happens to be critical in capacity terms.

Virgin Stagecoach remains absolutely committed to the high speed line proposal. This is the only way of achieving both the transformation in journey times and the uplift in capacity needed.

Tilt turns out to be an irrelevance on the East Coast which, unlike the West Coast, is basically a 125mph railway uninhibited by curves over most of its length.

The facts Virgin has ordered 55 tilting trains for the West Coast Main Line franchise.

The trains are expected to knock 1 hour 10 minutes off the present Euston to Glasgow travel time.

The trains are scheduled to be introduced by the summer of 2001.

GNER on the ECML route is currently one of the UK's best loved train operators.

GNER proposes to phase in 225km/hr tilting train services by 2007.

The winner of the ECML franchise will be announced by the sSRA in the autumn.

The East Coast Main Line franchise was awarded to GNER Holdings on 28 April 1996 for a seven-year term.

In autumn 1999 the sSRA asked for bids for the replacement of the ECML franchise, for a 20-year term.

The two bidders were Virgin and GNER.


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