Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

So come on, which one’s better then?

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 13 January 2010

In the halcyon days before nationalisation, the days of the “Big Four”, there was a long and protracted battle for supremacy for the route to Scotland between the LNER and the LMS over who could get there fastest. Here, the LNER had a natural advantage; running out of King’s Cross, it used the East Coast Main Line to reach Edinburgh Waverely. The ECML is relatively straight along most of its route, allowing trains to run at high speeds. The LMS by contrast ran out of Euston along the West Coast Main Line to Glasgow Central. When built, the WCML had to utilise the natural contours of the land on the western side of Great Britain, resulting in a far more ‘twisty’ route, resulting in lower speeds. Despite this, the LMS’ Coronation Class was more than a match for LNER’s Class A4 Pacific, with little to choose between the two companies timetables. However, the advent of first nationalisation, then the end of steam, led to changes. British Rail commissioned the construction of a new class of purpose built express diesel locomotives to take over the ECML services, which resulted in the sleek Class D33/1 Deltic (later Class 55), while the WCML was electrified starting in 1959, and had a series of new electric locomotives starting with the Class AL1 (later Class 81). Time continued and the Class 55s, which had increased the line speed to 100mph, were themselves replaced by the 125mph capable InterCity 125 system, while the electric locomotives on the West Coast soldiered on and remained limited to 110mph.

Where am I going with this? I’m going to today. Finally, 40 years after the end of steam on Britain’s railways, the ECML and WCML have trains that can match each other, and track that allows them to run (almost) as fast as they were designed. Before I carry on, and for the sake that I shall always think of it thus, I will continue to refer to the ECML operator as ‘GNER’. The GNER Mallard (consisting of a Class 91 locomotive and Mark 4 coaches) entered service in 1991 with the promise of 140mph running. Derived from the abortive Advanced Passenger Train, it produced both the most powerful locomotive ever operated on Britain’s railways, and custom built passenger coaches. The Virgin Pendolino is also derived from Advanced Passenger Train, in that it tilts; in order to reach the specified 125mph on the twisty WCML, it was necessary to construct a tilting train to avoid the lateral forces that would cause the train to derail at high speed while cornering. The order cost Virgin Trains £1 billion for a total of 53 EMU sets, to replace their existing and elderly electric locomotives and coaches.

So, which one is better then? The Mallard (the name comes from GNER’s refurbishment project between 2001 and 2006) is a decade older than the Pendolino, and it shows. But in a good way. The coaches were constructed under a specification from British Rail, which ran railways as railways, rather than as a business. As a consequence, the Mark 4 coaches have much more legroom and headroom as a result of the profile being roomier than the Class 390. On the Pendolino you are far more constricted into your seat, the windows are narrower, and the vehicle just feels much more gloomy. Travelling on a Mallard is a much nicer experience. This is why, in my view, it’s folly for the government to simply cast them aside when its super-duper new replacement enters service. One can only hope that, given the planned electrification projects, some canny open-access operator finds a plan to use them in the future.

GNER Mallard

Virgin Pendolino


2 Responses

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  1. Issac Maez said, on 15 January 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Hi , just read your blog, found it on my usual surfing tangents.Hopefully I’ll see more of your posts on the net! I have added your Rss feed to my RSS feed reader, can’t wait to read more .cheers

  2. Chairman Pip said, on 21 January 2010 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for the support!!

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