The APT (and the NRM)

The Advanced Passenger Train (APT) project was given the go-ahead in 1969, the year I joined BR Research at Derby. After some theoretical studies, laboratory and on-track testing of various systems for the proposed train, the APT Experimental - E-train or APT-E - moved under its own, gas turbine power in 1972. Four years later it ran, under its own power, from Derby to the National Railway Museum (NRM) at York and was there until September 2009 when it moved to Locomotion, the NRM outpost at Shildon. It has since received much refurbishment and benefits a great deal from being kept under cover.

In those initial four years the train achieved a new British railway speed record of 152.3mph and a record average speed for the journey from St. Pancras to Leicester of 101.6mph. Design work for the prototype trains (APT-P) had also been started and construction authorised in 1974.

My own connection with APT started, reluctantly, with my transfer to the Instrumentation Section in 1971, after the project on which I had been working was cancelled. Most of my colleagues had formed the basis of a new Electrification Section and I escaped from the Instrumentation Section by securing a post in that team in 1974.

During those three years I had worked on various pieces of instrumentation for monitoring test rigs and systems for E-train but my biggest claim to fame was the design of the cabinets fitted in the instrumentation car, TC2 (trailer car 2) - which are still in place!

I had not escaped from association with the APT project by joining the Electrification Section! APT-P was to be electrically powered and members of my new section were involved in aspects of pantograph design, for instance. When an APT-P power car took to the rails in 1977 - hauled by a high-speed diesel! - it was the Electrification Section's job to monitor the behaviour of the pantograph and its effects on the overhead power lines. This association continued until the project was cancelled in the mid 80s, but not before APT-P had pushed the British rail speed record up to 162mph a record which was eventually overtaken by a Eurostar after HS1 opened.

During test programmes my duties were usually at trackside but on one memorable occasion I was offered a run on the train whilst tests were taking place between Beattock and Gretna. On the uphill run I made my way to the rear cab where, on this sinuous, uphill section of the West Coast Main Line, I saw that the speedometer was reading 155mph!

When Virgin's new Pendolino high speed tilting trains were introduced to the press the opportunity was not missed to publish a number of derogatory comments about the "failure" of British Rail's APT. On 13 July 2001 I had the following letter published in The Guardian:


"My blood boils when the myth is propagated that British Rail's advanced passenger train was a failure (Tilting at time, July 10). The only failure was the PR.

"The embarrassing inaugural run was forced on the development team by BR's senior management when there were still problems to be ironed out. There were complaints from members of the press that the tilt system made them feel nauseous, but there is some suspicion that liberal hospitality may have made a contribution to this.

"After the media demolition job, APT development continued and the train began to show promise. As a member of the BR research team responsible for measuring the effect of high-speed trains on the overhead power collection system, I was usually trackside during APT tests, but I grabbed the chance of a ride on one of the test runs.

"On the sinuous section of the west coast main line from Gretna to Beattock, on a rising gradient, the speed was held at 155mph. To describe the experience as exhilarating would be wrong - it was without fuss and I felt none of the ill-effects earlier commentators alleged they had suffered.

"The APT holds the UK rail speed record of 162.2 mph, achieved on December 20 1979. Britain's present fastest train is the Eurostar, which daily reaches 186mph in service, but this speed won't be achieved in Britain until the first section of the Channel tunnel rail link is opened.

"APTs went into service, with no fanfare, replacing ordinary electric services on the Glasgow-Euston run, but the BR board lost its nerve and funding was withdrawn. If it weren't for this we could be selling tilting trains to the world rather than the other way round."


During my research for this letter - to confirm facts such as the details of the speed record - the Internet brought me into contact with the Advanced-Passenger-Train e-mail group and the E-train support group. On Saturday, 13th October I visited the NRM at York, met Paul Leadley and other members of the support group - and stepped on board the E-train and TC2 instrumentation car for the first time in nearly 30 years!


  (Click on an image for a larger version - opens in a new window)

E-train stands forlorn outside the NRM after standing "in the cold" for over two decades. The roof is covered with moss, panels are missing, the paintwork is faded and PC1 cab has been vandalised. Fortunately, much of this is soon to be put right and a new covered facility will be available in about 2 years.


  In contrast, TC2 has spent its time at the NRM under cover. Most of the time this has been in the main hall but it is now in the reserve collection hall - now open to the public - jostled by a host of railway artefacts such as the antique railway office chairs, seen here, alongside a spare British Leyland gas turbine engine, as fitted to the power cars.

  This is it! My pride and joy!

I renew my aquaintance with the instrumentation patch panel which enabled signals from transducers to be routed through appropriate amplifiers to a particular recording device or mini-computer. The high-quality connectors were from Lemo in Switzerland but the weights and pulleys were redundant Post Office telephone exchange equipment!

The National Railway Museum, York

I could not allow my visit to the NRM to be limited to E-train only, so here is a selection of some of the exhibits I found most interesting. Click on a picture to see a bigger image (opens in a new window).

The Shinkansen (New Trunk Line) train. It's presence in York has raised some controvery (not made in UK!). Service speed was only 130mph, just 5mph more than our own HSTs.

Like a ballroom inside! They look like actual passengers but, in fact, are watching a video - or not!

Eurostar (cab mock-up, actually!) meets Shinkansen. Not called a 'bullet train' in Japan but Hikari (Lightning). Reminds me of a Dakota!

An interesting development - an overhanging, railed gangway enables one to view the inside of this Travelling Post Office whilst preserving the exhibit's security.

The locomotive which started the era of speed on the East Coast Main Line - the prototype of the Deltic locomotives which raised the ECML service speed to 100mph.

The LB&SCR "Terrier" makes a big contrast with the locomotive built in Britain for China.

Overhead Line Uplift Measurements in Scotland

I recently turned up some slides taken during APT high speed tests on the West Coast Main Line between Gretna and Beattock in Spring, 1979. I was part of a team making measurements of ohl uplift as the APT passed. The location is somewhere near Lockerbie.

Click on a picture to see a bigger image (opens in a new window).

My colleague John Tansley was posted down the line to give an advanced  warning. When filming was started the whole magazine would be used in seconds.

This was an 'up' (downhill!) run. It's interesting that the second vehicle seems to have a tilt anomoly.

Speed had to be recorded to relate to ohl uplift and this was how it was done. A police radar gun, modified to fit on a camera tripod.

Richard Billinge with the Vinten high-speed camera. This was focused on the end of an ohl registration arm.

370 002 leans into the curve at high speed. If you look carefully you can see that the driver is 'tilted' too, proving it's not posed!

Gerry Bates
28 January, 2005.