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British Rail Class 390 Pendolino
390029 'City of Stoke-on-Trent' at Birmingham New Street.JPG
390029 City of Stoke-on-Trent at Birmingham New Street
Class 390 Interior.JPG
The interior of a Virgin Trains Class 390
In service 23 July 2002 - Current
Manufacturer Alstom, Washwood Heath, Birmingham
(Fiat tilting system)
Family name Pendolino
Constructed 2001 ~ 2004
Number built 53 trainsets
Formation 9 cars per trainset
Fleet numbers 390001 - 390053
Capacity 145 first class seats
294 standard class seats
Operator Virgin Trains
Line(s) served West Coast Main Line
Car body construction Aluminium
Car length 24.1 metres (79 ft)
Width 2.73 metres (9.0 ft)
Height 3.56 metres (11.7 ft)[2]
Maximum speed 140 miles per hour (230 km/h) [Design]
125 miles per hour (201 km/h) [Service]
Weight 466 t
Power output 5.1 MW
Electric system(s) 25 kV AC Overhead
UIC classification 1A'A1'+1A'A1'+2'2'+1A'A1'+2'2'+1A'A1+2'2'+1A'A1+1A'A1[3]
Braking system(s) Regenerative, Rheostatic, Disc
Gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)

The Class 390 Pendolino is a type of train used in Great Britain. They are electric multiple units using Fiat's tilting train pendolino technology and built by Fiat Ferroviaria. Fifty-three 9-car units were built for Virgin Trains from 2001 to 2004 for operation on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). The trains were the last to be assembled at Alstom's Washwood Heath plant, in Birmingham, before its closure in 2005.

The Class 390 is one of the fastest domestic electric multiple units operating in Britain, with a top speed of 140 mph; however limitations to track signalling systems restrict the units to a maximum speed of 125 mph (200 km/h). In September 2006, the Pendolino set a new speed record, completing the 401 miles (645 km) length of the West Coast Main Line from Glasgow to London in 3 hours, 55 minutes, beating the 4 hours 14 minute record for the southbound run previously set in 1981 by its ancestor, British Rail's Advanced Passenger Train. The APT retains the ultimate speed record for this route, having completed the northbound journey between London and Glasgow in 3 hours 52 minutes in 1984.[4]



In 1997, when Virgin Trains won the InterCity West Coast franchise, they made the decision to replace the train fleet they inherited with new trains. The old fleet consisted of British Rail Class 86, 87 and 90 electric locomotives, which operated in push-pull mode with Mk.2 and Mk.3 coaching stock. Virgin placed an order with Alstom/Fiat for the construction of new tilting trains.

Tilting trains were nothing new for the West Coast Main Line. Twenty years previously, British Rail had developed the revolutionary, but ultimately unsuccessful Class 370 Advanced Passenger Train (APT).

FIAT supplied much of the content of the Class 390 units, including the bodyshell and the bogies, whilst final assembly was carried out at Washwood Heath. The tilting technology was developed by SIG Switzerland (later FIAT-SIG, today ALSTOM). Two electromechanical actuators are used per car to achieve the desired tilting angle on curved stretches of track. In contrast to other FIAT tilting trains which use hydraulic tilting actuators, the electromechanical systems offers lower maintenance cost and higher efficiency.

The new trains were intended to run at 140 mph (225 km/h), but the West Coast Main Line modernisation programme, which was an upgrade to the infrastructure to allow faster line speeds, ran over budget. Consequently plans were scaled back, and in a manner reminiscent of the introduction of the Intercity 225, the lack of signalling upgrades resulted in the maximum line speed being restricted to 125 mph (200 km/h). Unfortunately this (and 140 mph) are well below BR's hopes for APT of 155 mph (249 km/h), but it does match the maximum speed of 125 mph (200 km/h) for the APT in passenger service (although one APT set reached 162 mph (261 km/h) in testing).

Fifty-three units were built, numbered 390001-390053. Each now has nine vehicles, but the first 34 sets were built as 8-car units, with the ninth vehicle built later and fitted into the unit during 2004. The unit formation is described in the table below, with vehicles listed in the order they are formed in the unit.

Vehicle numbers Type Description Seating
1ST STD Toilets
69101-69153 DMRF Driving motor: first class open with restaurant 18 - -
69401-69453 MF Intermediate motor: first class open (with disabled seating) 39 - 1(D)
69501-69553 PTF Intermediate trailer with pantograph: first class open 44 - 1
69601-69653 MF Intermediate motor: first class open 46 - 1
68801-68853 TS Intermediate trailer: standard class open - 76 1
69701-69753 MS Intermediate motor: standard class open (with disabled seating) - 66 1(D)
69801-69853 PTSRMB Intermediate trailer with pantograph: standard class with shop/buffet - 48 -
69901-69953 MS Intermediate motor: standard class open (with disabled seating) - 64 1(D)
69201-69253 DMSO Driving motor: "Quiet Zone" standard class open (with cycle storage) - 46 1

The units incorporate a number of innovations, including a walk-in shop in place of the traditional buffet/restaurant car, and extensive passenger visual information systems on the inside of the car ends and on the outside of the doors. Following criticisms of the pressure- operated automatic gangway doors of the older Mark 3 and Mark 4 carriages (which could easily be held open by items of luggage resting on the floor sensor, allowing draughts into the passenger saloon), the gangway doors on the 390 sets are of the pushbutton "open on demand" type, although these have been criticised for automatically closing on passengers waiting to leave the train.[citation needed] All seats have aircraft-style plug in radio/entertainment systems over which Virgin broadcasts a number of pre-recorded music channels. Each seating row has a dot-matrix LCD display to indicate the reservation status of each seat; this was intended to replace the conventional printed labels which were manually inserted by the train crew.

The coaches also incorporate steps which automatically extend to platform level when the doors are opened. Interestingly, this feature was first seen on the APT-P, which as mentioned above is a distant ancestor of the Pendolino. The windows are fitted with roll-down blinds. For the summer period coach G (MFO) has been re-classified as standard class to provide extra standard-class capacity.

Current operations

Class 390, no. 390045 "Virgin Valiant" at Carlisle on 27 August 2004, whilst forming a Glasgow Central to London Euston express. In common with the rest of the fleet, this unit is painted in the latest Virgin Trains silver and red livery.
Class 390, no. 390012 cab interior at Glasgow Central Station, Scotland.
Class 390, no. 390020, "Virgin Cavalier" in London Euston, on 24 March 2009.
Class 390, no 390026, "Virgin Enterprise" in Birmingham New Street on 5 July 2009.
Class 390 Virgin Pendolino EMU 390025 at Birmingham New Street railway station.

The fleet was introduced into passenger services from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly on 23 July 2002 to coincide with the opening of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Over the next few months they began to monopolise the Manchester services, and were soon introduced onto routes to Liverpool Lime Street, Birmingham New Street, Wolverhampton and Preston. By late 2003 the last of the elderly Class 86 locomotives had been withdrawn owing to the introduction of the Pendolinos.

2004 saw their sphere of operation expand further. The units started to operate services to Glasgow Central, and by the end of summer, in theory all services north of Preston were worked by Class 390 units. This allowed the final Class 90 locomotives to be withdrawn, and inroads were made into the main Class 87 fleet. It was expected that all locomotive-hauled trains would have been replaced by the end of 2004, but the Pendolinos suffered from several technical problems, which granted the Class 87s a stay of execution. By January 2005, only eight locomotives remained, for use on peak London Euston-Birmingham New Street services.

Another development in 2004 was the clearing of the units for the North Wales Coast Line from Crewe to Holyhead. This line is not electrified, so Virgin's Class 57/3 "Thunderbird" diesel locomotives are used to haul the electric units. (After Virgins loss of the crosscountry franchise, it introduced its remaining Class 221 "super voyagers" onto the coast line ending the practise of hauling the units from Crewe. As a diesel tilting train these do not require a class 57 to haul them, rendering several redundant.) These locomotives have special Dellner coupling adaptors and electrical systems that make them compatible with Pendolino trains, allowing failed units to be rescued. The Class 57s are also used when engineering works force Pendolino services to run over non-electrified diversionary routes.

Virgin Trains have named their entire fleet. Most carry promotional names such as "Virgin Valiant", "Virgin Crusader" and "Virgin King", but some have received traditional names such "City of London" and "City of Liverpool". The names are carried on the MFO (696xx) vehicle.

The entire Pendolino fleet is allocated to the (ALSTOM) Manchester Traincare Centre at Longsight, where heavy maintenance is carried out. Longsight boasts a hoist on which an entire Pendolino set can be lifted. Lighter maintenance, cleaning and overnight stabling is carried out at ALSTOM's other centres: Wembley (London), Oxley (Wolverhampton), Edge Hill (Liverpool) and Polmadie (Greater Glasgow).


Pendolino names

Number Name Notes
390-001 Virgin Pioneer
390-002 Virgin Angel Originally named "Red Revolution",
390-003 Virgin Hero
390-004 Virgin Scot
390-005 City of Wolverhampton
390-006 Tate Liverpool Formerly Virgin Sun
390-007 Virgin Lady
390-008 Virgin King
390-009 Treaty of Union Formerly Virgin Queen
390-010 A Decade Of Progress Originally named Commonwealth Games 2002, renamed Chris Green, then A Decade of Progress, after a book written by John Balmforth at Wolverhampton station 8 May 2007.
390-011 City of Lichfield
390-012 Virgin Star
390-013 Virgin Spirit
390-014 City of Manchester
390-015 Virgin Crusader
390-016 Virgin Champion
390-017 Virgin Prince
390-018 Virgin Princess
390-019 Virgin Warrior
390-020 Virgin Cavalier
390-021 Virgin Dream
390-022 Penny the Pendolino Formerly Virgin Hope
390-023 Virgin Glory
390-024 Virgin Venturer
390-025 Virgin Stagecoach
390-026 Virgin Enterprise
390-027 Virgin Buccaneer
390-028 City of Preston
390-029 City of Stoke-on-Trent
390-030 City of Edinburgh
390-031 City of Liverpool Decorative livery around the nameplate to commemorate the city's European Capital of Culture status.
390-032 City of Birmingham
390-033 City of Glasgow Crashed at Grayrigg on 23 February 2007. Formally written off on 30 November 2007[5][6]
390-034 City of Carlisle
390-035 City of Lancaster
390-036 City of Coventry
390-037 Virgin Difference
390-038 City of London
390-039 Virgin Quest
390-040 Virgin Pathfinder
390-041 City of Chester
390-042 City of Bangor
390-043 Virgin Explorer
390-044 Virgin Lionheart
390-045 101 Squadron Formerly Virgin Valiant
390-046 Virgin Soldiers
390-047 CLIC Sargent Originally named Virgin Atlantic, and renamed Heaven's Angels on 22 September 2006 as part of the record speed attempt, with a fully loaded train, Glasgow Central to London Euston non-stop.
390-048 Virgin Harrier
390-049 Virgin Express
390-050 Virgin Invader
390-051 Virgin Ambassador
390-052 Virgin Knight
390-053 Mission Accomplished

Problems and incidents

The nameplate of 390001 - "Virgin Pioneer" now "101 Squadron"
The nameplate of 390021 - "Virgin Dream"
The name plate of 390026 - "Virgin Enterprise"

The Pendolino stock has not been without its problems. In October 2004, a train overshot the platform at Liverpool Lime Street station and collided with the buffer stops, and a similar incident occurred only a few weeks later at the same station. The Rail Safety and Standards Board's inquiry into the incident identified a software glitch in the wheel slip protection (WSP) system whereby the train's friction brakes were inhibited at low speeds after prolonged coasting (such as that occurring on approach to a station). The units were once again limited to 110 mph (180 km/h) for a short period until modifications to the software were made.

The "smelly toilet" problem that has plagued Virgin's diesel trains, the Voyagers, has also haunted the 390 units. Odours evident in the vestibules have been attributed to the vents for the toilet tanks being next to the air conditioning inlets. Virgin and Alstom continue to work on the problem. Trials on different sets to solve this problem include air fresheners in vestibules, cleaning the retention tanks with a solution that Virgin Atlantic use, replacing the pipework that extracts the waste from the toilet bowl and modifications to where the excess gas is ejected. As of January 2009, this has still not been solved.

The heavy weight of the trains caused considerably increased track wear. In 2006 the Pendolino was singled out for criticism by the then United Kingdom secretary of state for transport Alistair Darling due to its high weight per passenger increasing track wear and reducing the environmental benefit of travel by train.[citation needed] As a result of the smaller cabin dimensions necessitated by the tilting geometry, the higher floor needed to package the tilting mechanisms themselves, and the need to provide disabled toilets, the units have lower seating capacity than the nine-car Mark 3 formations that they replaced.

Fewer (and smaller) windows than the old rolling stock has also attracted criticism for making the Pendolino's cabin interiors seem darker and claustrophobic, although the thicker window pillars are part of the coaches' improved rollover protection. The total window area of a Pendolino carriage is only 10.1 sq m (researched by JustinSmith) as opposed to the 19.0 sq m (researched by "The Railway Age", Crewe) of its predecessor the APT. The vast majority of rolling stock has a figure around that of the older train and thus the Pendolino is deficient in this area. The wider window pillars mean that in some standard class carriages, as many as 36% of the seats are parallel with either no window or only a limited portion of one.[7]

The trains have also been criticised for providing less space for cycles, due to the lack of a guard' van, when demand for cycle space by passengers is increasing. The current solution is a stricter system of advance cycle reservations being imposed by Virgin trains.

Grayrigg derailment

On 23 February 2007 a faulty set of points caused a Virgin Trains Pendolino to derail near Grayrigg, Cumbria. The train, unit 390 033, named "City Of Glasgow", formed the 1715 departure from London Euston bound for Glasgow’s Central station. 115 people were on board, one of whom was killed. The train's excellent crashworthiness was credited with preventing more fatalities.

The train was formally written off on 30 November 2007, owing to the prohibitive cost of repair against the price of a new set. This has led to Virgin hiring a Class 90 from EWS as well as a rake of Mark 3 coaches (still in the old Virgin livery) to cover for the missing unit.[6] In December 2008 class 180 trains were expected to take over, but these three sets were passed on to Northern Rail for use on their Manchester Victoria-Blackpool North service. Virgin trains has since leased a class 90, Mk3 Coaches and a DVT all painted in Virgin's new livery as a replacement for the train written off.[citation needed].


Class 390, 390002 "Virgin Angel" & 390042 "City of Bangor" at London Euston on the 8th April 2009

With the sharp increase in passenger numbers following the WCML modernisation, the Department for Transport has announced a capacity increase by procuring additional sets (with one intended to replace the unit damaged at Grayrigg). Four new sets will be built with 11 cars, and an existing 31 will be lengthened to 11 cars.[8] This will require major infrastructure changes to allow stations and depots to accommodate the 11-car units. Virgin Rail Projects will work to introduce these new trains with the new franchise winner as well as Alstom, Network Rail and the current franchise holder, Virgin Trains West Coast to ensure the new sets will be able to run from 1 April 2012.

With the closure of the Washwood Heath works, any additional vehicles will be manufactured in Alstom's factories at Savigliano, Italy. [9]

In July/August 2008, a contract was signed between Angel Trains and Virgin to take on two class 180 trains to replace the current arrangement of a class 90 and MK3 rake, but in October 2008, Virgin West Coast cancelled this agreement as it had procured a lease on a rake of Mk 3 rolling stock, their preferred choice over the Class 180 DMUs.[citation needed]

Fleet details

Class Operator No. Built Year Built Cars per Set Unit nos. Notes
Class 390 Virgin Trains 53 2001–2004 9 390001 - 390032
390034 - 390053
390033 written off
31 units to be lengthened to 11 cars 2009-12
4 new 11-car sets to be built 2009-12


Hornby Model Railways manufactured a model of the Class 390 in '00' Gauge.[10] The "train pack" consists of a four- carriage train; extra carriages are available separately.[11]

In addition to this, Dapol have confirmed that they will be producing an N Gauge Pendolino train pack. This follows their previous model of the 390 in 00.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Traction Recognition, Colin J. Marsden, Page 216, ISBN 978 0 7110 3277 4, Published 2007 (First edition) / 2009 (Referenced edition), Ian Allan, Hersham, Surrey
  2. ^ CLASS 390 'Pendolino'
  3. ^ Evans, John (2007-10). "Train Configuration". Supporting Passenger Growth on the West Coast Main Line. Alstom. p. 4. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  4. ^ "Virgin train breaks speed record". BBC News. 22 September 2006. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  5. ^ "DfT rejects Virgin bid for longer Pendolinos". The Railway Magazine (London: IPC Media Ltd) (March 2008): page 9. ISSN 0033-8923. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  6. ^ a b Coward, Andy. "Virgin Trains writes off its Lambrigg crash Pendolino". RAIL (Peterborough: emap) (585): page 66. Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  7. ^ BV-Flyer Pendolino Seating Diagrams
  8. ^ The DfT accreditation process document specifies 31 lengthened sets, with options for lengthening a further 21 sets and procuring a further 23 full sets. Four lengthened sets are to be achieved within the current franchise (by 31 March 2012) but will not see public use until the next franchisee starts using the others once the franchise has been re-let from 1 April 2012.Department of Transport Pendolino lengthening and fleet expansion project
  9. ^ Railway Gazette: More West Coast Pendolinos
  10. ^ "Virgin Trains Pendolino Train Pack". Hornby Trains. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  11. ^ See [1] [2] [3] [4] for examples

External links


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