Speeding up to Scotland Pendolino Set City of Stoke on Trent

6.30am Wednesday 26/4/2006

Pendolino Set 390 029 “City of Stoke on Trent” in Euston Station, London prior to heading the 0646 train to Glasgow Central.

Pendolino 390 029 was formally named at Stoke on Trent station on 29 September 2003 to mark completion of major engineering work to upgrade the West Coast Main Line for 125 mph tilting operation from September 2004.

This first train of the day for Glasgow had an allocated journey time of five hours and five minutes so there was the hope that it might be achieved in five hours exactly – or less – appreciating the eleven stops involved.

Just prior to departure Driver Chris Bird and Train Manager Salin Patel – based at Euston – feverishly prepared their train for the journey north. For all the gloom in Euston Station, most of the four hundred miles trip over the Border was taken on a crisp, clear sunny day.

At precisely 0646 this train slid slowly from the allocated platform and in no time at all was speeding up Camden Bank. In exactly nine minutes it flew through Harrow and Wealdstone station, giving me just a glimpse of my former work place for fifteen years in the local Council Offices there.

Watford Junction was passed at 0658 and on emerging from the northern portal of the tunnel there was a touch of frost on the Hertfordshire end of the Chilterns. More importantly I noticed that the malt drinks factory at Kings Langley was under demoli-tion. No more will I be greeted by its welcoming sign alternating between time and temperature, something I always looked forward to prior to alighting from the overnight “Royal Highlander” at Watford Junction, and then the local service to Harrow & Wealdstone.

The minutes just seemed to tick away: shooting through Bletchley at 0714 before slowing down for arrival at Milton Keynes a little early, but departed on time at 0717. Even allowing for the two minutes gained to Rugby, this Pendolino still left this important junction as scheduled at 0739. Acceleration then was most remarkable before slowing down considerably for new trackwork near Atherstone.

Tamworth was hardly noticed as the train rushed through the station at high speed, followed with quite a tilt through Lichfield at 0801. There was quite a severe – and inevitable – tilt both ways on the ‘S’ bends near Nuneaton (0805).

Anticipated the tilt over the ‘S’ bends of the Stafford curves and through the station (0812) at lower speed. At 0815 obvious acceleration was felt as the Pendolino surged northwards over lightly undulating fields on either side of the track. By 0818 we were really speeding, and I’d loved to have known what the actual figure was?

The 158 miles between Euston and Crewe was covered in exactly 100 minutes, arriving in that famous complex at 0826. Consequently there was a good six minutes to spare before departure on time at 0832. This pattern continued through to Warrington Bank Quay (0847: four minutes early) and Wigan North Western (0900: two minutes early)

Around five minutes out of Wigan (near Euxton) there was a caution for permanent way work. At 0908 “City of Stoke on Trent” accelerated away and soon passed Leyland at 0911 to arrive in a cloudy Preston with only a minute to spare for the loco crew change. Taking the train onwards to Scotland was local driver Justin Purves, plus Train Manager Linda McAlpine returning home to Glasgow.

For some reason the Pendolino was one minute late at Lancaster, but soon sped through Carnforth at 0941 before reaching Oxenholme behind time at 0947, departing
at 0949. Now three elusive minutes late, and Shap beckons! About five minutes out of Oxenholme a slow ascent was made due to permanent way work near Grayrigg before accelerating through a rather overcast Lune Gorge with little snow patches still remaining on some of the tops.

Accelerated through Tebay at exactly 10am, topping Shap Summit at 1003 only to be given a signal check ahead at 1005 whilst approaching new track near to the quarry. Indeed there was a fair amount of permanent way work in the section north of Oxenholme before arriving in Penrith at 1013; now only one minute late.

On nearing Carlisle there was a caution at 1021. This did not seem to affect the
schedule as the Pendolino arrived in Citadel Station with two minutes to spare at 1028. Seventy-one minutes were now allowed for the one hundred miles over the Border, and with an ‘on-time’ departure at 1030 there was fair anticipation of a good run within that schedule.

However, we had no sooner cleared the city and beyond Kingmoor when the train was cautioned near Floriston due to permanent way work. Stopped near Gretna
Junction (1040) for a good three minutes where pw staff were working on the points leading to the old Glasgow and South Western line via Dumfries and Kilmarnock.

Eventually Ecclefechan (1052) and Brackenhill (1053) were passed, and with the sun shining over Lockerbie, that small township was hardly noticed as 390 029 headed its train at high speed through the station. At 1058 there was a touch on the brakes nearing Beattock before rushing through the old station and past the maintenance yard at 1102, only to be cautioned on approach to the new bridge over the old A74 near Greskine where structural work was being carried out.

The Summit was easily topped at 1110 leaving only the long and steady descent to Scotland’s major city some fifty miles away. Abington loop was passed at 1115 followed with Lamington at 1117, tilting beautifully across the infant River Clyde in the process. Tinto Hill – as always – providing a perfect beacon in the heart of Clydesdale.

Little trace remained of the former important junction at Symington as “City of Stoke on Trent” rushed through the site at 1120. In the 50s this was an important place for separating or connecting Glasgow/Edinburgh trains on journeys to and from England.

A slowing down through Carstairs (1123) was called for as the overcast clouds parted to reveal the sun again for the stop at Motherwell (1135) some seven minutes late. In no time at all Driver Purvis had his train well up to speed, passing Newton (1141), Uddingston (1142) and the sacred Polmadie Motive Power Depot at 1144. Incredibly this Pendolino crawled into the magnificent Glasgow Central Station at 1147 – three minutes early; only one minute out of the hoped for five hours overall schedule!.

This remarkable journey shows just what these new Virgin Pendolinos are really capable off. There was always the feeling that at any time there was plenty of power in reserve. Certainly once all the realignment, permanent way and maintenance work is completed, a regular four hours journey will become common place between Glasgow and London. Once that happens, who would seriously consider spending two hours at an airport waiting for a flight between these two cities, when you can be assured of such timing as this journey, with no hassle at all in the package?

Due appreciation is recorded to Dave Ewart of Virgin Trains whose co-operation and support on this journey was so essential.

The new Hornby model certainly does justice to the real thing.

By Iain Lamb

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