Bids in for Virgin's pounds 1bn tilting trains

Long-suffering passengers on the West Coast Mainline can look forward to travelling in the lap of luxury in the next millennium after bids were handed in yesterday for the biggest train order in British railway history. Michael Harrison reports on what tr
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The Independent Online
The order for a fleet of 55 high-speed tilting trains placed by Virgin Trains is worth almost pounds 1bn including the cost of supplying the rolling stock and maintaining it over the 13-year life of the franchise.

The seven carriage trains will offer three classes of travel - premium, business and standard class, executive lounges, seat back videos and computer games consoles. Some carriages will also be fitted with special children's seats.

Three competing bids were handed in by yesterday's deadline from GEC- Fiat, Adtranz and Siemens.

Virgin is expected to narrow the shortlist to two next month, announce a preferred bidder in January and sign firm contracts in March.

The trains will replace some of the oldest and most decrepit rolling stock on the rail network and will start entering service in 2001. Once the new fleet is in operation and the West Coast Mainline has been upgraded by Railtrack at a total cost of pounds 2.1bn, the journey time from London to Birmingham will be cut to one hour. Manchester will be two hours away and Glasgow four hours.

The tilting trains will be able to travel at a maximum speed of 140 mph although the three manufacturers have been asked to include an option in their bids for trains capable of 160 mph.

GEC-Alsthom and Fiat yesterday unveiled a half life-size model of the Pendolino tilting train which they are offering to supply. The train is already in service in Italy and eight other European countries and Great North Eastern Railways has ordered two Pendolinos.

Peter Murray, managing director of GEC-Alsthom, said that if it won the contest then 70 per cent of the work would come to the UK. The bogies, tilting mechanism and body shells will come from Italy. But all the traction equipment and interiors will be UK-sourced and the trains will be assembled at GEC-Alsthom's Birmingham and Preston factories which employ a total of 1,900.

Adtranz, a joint venture between ABB and Daimler Benz is offering the Swedish X2000 tilting train but again this will be assembled at its Derby factory, formerly part of British Rail Engineering. Siemens is bidding with the German ICE train - Inter City Express.