Virgin cuts speeds on tilting trains

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The Independent Online

Sir Richard Branson's rail company Virgin Trains has had to cut speeds on its pioneering tilting trains after receiving an improvement notice from safety chiefs, it was disclosed today.

Sir Richard Branson's rail company Virgin Trains has had to cut speeds on its pioneering tilting trains after receiving an improvement notice from safety chiefs, it was disclosed today.

The Pendolinos have twice gone through red signals and twice hit the buffers at Liverpool's Lime Street station in recent weeks.

Virgin has now voluntarily decided to cut the trains' speed from 125mph to 110mph – meaning a much slower journey for passengers on the main London to Scotland West Coast Main Line.

The reduction comes less than two months after Sir Richard launched the 125mph service at a glittering ceremony in London attended by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The brake problem for the Class 390 Pendolinos relates to the difficulty of stopping on tracks made slippery by falling leaves and rain.

The improvement notice to Virgin from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said: "The braking arrangements for your Class 390 trains are not suitable and sufficient in conditions of low adhesion to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of employees, other railway staff and passengers."

There have been two recent instances of Pendolinos going through red signals in Warwickshire – the first at Rugby on October 21 and the second at Nuneaton on October 25.

The first of the two buffer–striking incidents at Lime Street was on October 28 when a Pendolino was damaged and several passengers were slightly hurt. There was another buffer strike at the station five days later.

It is further believed that Virgin drivers have experienced braking problems at Manchester Piccadilly station and in other places.

A Virgin spokeswoman said today: "Following the two incidents where a train has made contact with the buffer stops at Liverpool Lime Street at a very low speed, Virgin confirms that it's carrying out a full investigation with Network Rail and (the manufacturer) Alstom.

"Virgin Trains will also participate in the independent inquiry being undertaken by the Railway Safety and Standards Board. We are also working closely with the Railway Inspectorate and the Health and Safety Executive."

The spokeswoman went on: "As a precautionary measure while the investigations take place and we understand fully the issues, we have rebriefed drivers on low–adhesion driving techniques (to counter the problem of leaves on the line) and have revised the stopping point for trains at stations.

"We have also temporarily reduced the speed of these trains to 110mph. We take safety very seriously and have introduced these precautionary measures in advance of the findings of the various investigations."

Later, a Virgin spokesman added: "There have been a number of weather–related incidents. There have been some very poor rail conditions of late due to leaves and rain. Many operators make timetable changes in conditions like these."

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