Tomorrow's world today

The story of The Little Train That Could is an encouraging fable for anyone who has ever plodded uphill in pursuit of success, never losing sight of their destination, even when newer models have coasted by on the fast track. First seen on BBC1's Tomorrow's World in 1969, has the Tilting Train finally crested the summit, having endured a 30-year climb, to become the millennial mode of transport?

The early 1970s saw the advanced passenger train prototype tested on the London-to-Glasgow line. Passengers were promised a faster, more comfortable journey made possible by the APT's unique tilting mechanism, which allowed it to negotiate sharp bends on the track at high speeds. It was hailed as "the jewel in British Rail's crown", a beacon of hope for a national engineering industry in decline.

Tomorrow's World was an eager advocate of the APT's trail-blazing in the early days, but sadly it wasn't long before problems set in. BR was keen to point out that its revolutionary tilting mechanism was performing faultlessly - and more than a little embarrassed to admit that it was the rest of the train that was failing to keep up. The hydro-kinetic braking system caused major setbacks when the wrong kind of weather prevailed - in its first week out, the APT's brakes froze in low temperatures and its derailed passengers were downgraded to regular, more reliable, non- tilting trains. The rolling stock became a laughing stock as the APT repeatedly failed to make it out of the shunting yard, and, in the early years of the 1980s, The Little Train That Seemingly Couldn't was exiled to Crewe, destined to spend its sunset years in the locomotive equivalent of Eastbourne.

But lo! Twenty-five years down the line, here comes the Fat-Walleted Controller of great British innovation - Richard Branson - to save the day. Having seen the tilting mechanism developed in this country adopted by rail companies in Italy, Sweden and Germany, the new owner of Virgin West Coast railways has decided to bring it back home.

In 1988 TW reported from Italy on a new tilting train. "It's like a super- comfortable roller coaster - and it's really rather exciting!" enthused the presenter. And if you were wondering why the Italians' need for a smooth-cornering tilting train was pressing enough for them to steal a march on BR's idea, this was amply demonstrated by the TW reporter himself. Quaffing Chianti on board a bog-standard high-speed train, it seems, presents the stylish Italian commuter with all manner of problems, not least of which must be sponging red-wine stains off pale-hued Armani linen as you rattle untiltingly towards your meeting in Milan. The cultural divide was the key to the Italian rail industry's foresight - after all, when did you last see a BR commuter in standard class indulging in a full- sized bottle of wine for consumption between Euston and Manchester Piccadilly? The price alone is enough to make you keel over, tilt mechanism or no tilt mechanism. Hence the absence of urgency in introducing a train whose primary boast appears to be reducing the risk of on-board wine spillage.

Ten years on, TW's Howard Stableford asked Richard Branson why he's convinced the time is right to go full-tilt on the West Coast line.

"I have a dream," declared the shy and retiring Virgin boss. "I want to make trains the most desirable way to travel." Judging by the state of the rolling stock he has inherited on the existing London-to-Glasgow line, it surely could not be made any less desirable. But wait: Mr Branson's vision for his 21st century trains entails nothing less than state-of-the-art comfort at 140mph. Seat-back TV screens, plush carpets, IT facilities, spacious seating, improved lighting and tinted windows, just for starters. Don't forget the bacon and tomato rolls, Richard.

On tonight's programme (BBC1, 7.30), Craig Doyle star-gazes in Hawaii, and Philippa Forrester reports on the millennium bug.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea