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.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    M&E Construction Planning Manager: Surrey

    £60000 - £90000 per annum + Car, Pension, Healthcare: Progressive Recruitment:...

    M&E Construction Planner Solihull

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Healthcare, Pensions: Progressive Recruitment...

    PHP Developer - MySQL, RDBMS, Application Development

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: PHP Developer - MySQL, RDBMS, Applicatio...

    SAP Business Analyst - Data Migration, £75,000, Manchester

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP B...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star