Memories of travel on APT

If you have any memories of travel on the APT - Please let me know !

Ian Johnson - 7 December 1981

Just before 07.00 passengers were advised of our impending departure by the guard, and the plug type sliding doors were closed. As the train gathered speed out of Glasgow, the rapid acceleration was impressive and the riding qualities over the complex crossovers tended to be dominated by a rolling component rather than a vertical movement. Getting away through the suburbs, speed was over 100 mph by Uddingston, with our first stop at Motherwell scheduled 13 minutes out of Glasgow. Our arrival was just under 13 minutes after what can only be described as a unique experience in braking, which demonstrated how effective is the combined, effect of hydro-kinetic and conventional brakes. Blending in of the conventional brakes at about 50 mph gave one the impression of good control right down to a stand. Getting away smartly from Motherwell one noted a certain "bumpiness" which could almost be likened to the sensation of wheel slip. Our rapid restart was not sustained since regrettably there had been a signal failure near Carluke, 7½ miles from Motherwell, and we stood for over three minutes before we were allowed to proceed. As a result we passed Carstairs about 8 minutes late and then continued up to Beattock summit which was passed 9 minutes late at a speed of 117 mph. A wintry dawn was just breaking over Hart Fell as we began the winding descent. This was to be the first visible experience of the tilt mechanism and with the speeds touching 125 mph the ride seemed smooth and effortless. The only indication of tilt is seeing the skyline outside rising or falling. Mr Leslie Soane, General Manager, Scottish Region, announced over the train communication system that we had reached 125 mph on the run down from the Summit. We trundled into Carlisle to a drizzly morning just under 5½ minutes late, some 72 minutes after leaving Glasgow. The climb up to Shap Summit took just over 22 minutes, despite the 90 mph speed restriction at Penrith and a reduction in speed to 20 mph for a P.W. check at the site of Shap station. As we came barrelling down through the Lune valley, one could sense the coach tilting to a greater degree with speeds approaching 125 mph. Eventually we drew up in Preston approximately 4 minutes late after experiencing once again the technique of rapid braking from 126 mph at Garstang.

At Preston crews are changed and the Polmadie driver handed over to his colleague from the L.M. Region. Our stop at Preston was more than twice the permitted 2 minutes. With the guard closing the doors one or two new passengers seemed slightly confused, but there was no doubt about our acceleration as we reached over 100 mph in the four miles to Leyland. The Cheshire Plain from Warrington to Crewe was crossed at an average of 110 mph. The running through the Trent Valley was equally impressive and it was clear that clearance had been given to regain some of the lost time. It was just under the hour from Preston when we roared through Polesworth (102.3 miles) with speed around the 125 mph mark, so that by Rugby we were just over two minutes early. The fastest speed was still to be experienced, for at Blisworth, a maximum of 138 mph was recorded and later confirmed. Within the train throughout this running there was no sensation of exceptional speed, although occasionally a bad stretch of track caused a slight jolt. A number of passengers were interviewed by the media who seemed concerned about our state of health. They were most disappointed when everyone said they had enjoyed the run and were not suffering from 'sea-sickness'. We rolled into Euston just under one minute early, having taken 254 minutes for the overall journey of 401.4 miles. The actual running time of 245 minutes 41 seconds represented an outstanding performance. Sir Peter Parker was on hand to welcome our arrival and there was a barrage of flash guns as photographers, both amateur and professional caught the event for posterity.


Kit Spackman - 7 December 1981

Thirty years later Kit travelled by Virgin Pendolino 390053 from Glasgow Central to London Euston.


P G Barlow - 12 December 1984

Special APT press run 16:35 Euston - Glasgow 3hr 52min 40sec.

Press Run 12 December 1984Press Run 12 December 1984Press Run 12 December 1984


Chris Gardner - 1984

During the later months of 1984, APT was put in to regular service on a Glasgow-London-Glasgow diagram, as an unadvertised relief.

I traveled several times on APT during this period. The only way of making a day trip from London was by taking an early morning train to Crewe, and changing there for Preston, arriving in time to catch the up APT back to Euston. These were nail-biting expeditions - this was before the era of the mobile phone, and British Rail never seemed quite sure whether the train would run or not. We had two opportunities to telephone to establish whether the trip was "on" - once from Euston, before APT was due to have left Glasgow, and once at Crewe, whilst changing trains. At that point, APT should have already been on her way, though we were once told she was not running because of wheel flats. A sixth sense guided us to Preston, where we found, to our relief, she was indeed on her way from the North.

There was the strange ritual at Preston of obtaining a "boarding pass" - not the only thing BR borrowed from the airlines during its APT experiment. The boarding pass was nothing more than a badly photocopied slip of paper, but it clearly played an important part in getting us onto the train. BR staff were unashamedly proud of their new toy. It may have been an unadvertised relief, but the relish in the announcer's voice at Preston was obvious; "the next train to arrive on platform three will be the Advanced Passenger Train service to London Euston, calling at…"

Poor APT's wings were well and truly clipped on these runs. She was officially limited to 125mph, and restricted by the presence of the slower InterCity service just ahead. The pattern of each journey would be a lively (and indeed slightly bouncy) acceleration from the station stop, 125mph (or more) being gained very quickly, followed by an inevitable slowing to 100mph once the service train had been caught. The excitement was therefore in the first 15 minutes or so after each station. Regrettably, I did not keep my logs, but I can remember 136mph as being the fastest speed I recorded. This remains the fastest I have ever timed on BR (the next being 132mph on an HST between Swindon and Reading).

The ride was the most exciting I have ever experienced by rail. A bit bouncy as it accelerated from a stand, but very nippy - wonderful acceleration and braking. A bit claustrophobic inside, and the tartan moquette was a bit loud. Still, it was by then, completely reliable, and it was a great tragedy that this wonderful train never saw squadron service.

The train was usually almost empty, and many of the passengers were BR staff and engineers who had worked on the APT project. Others were enthusiasts, and there would usually be one or two people who had missed their train at Glasgow, were delighted to find there was a relief. It was like a small and friendly club. There were two separate portions, each with a buffet as the central power car had been cordoned off as a result of fears that the intense magnetic fields would interfere with heart pacemakers. I had many conversations with APT engineers - obviously glowing with pride that their child had finally come good. "Of course she could do 180mph if she were allowed to…"

After the public launch in 1981, the press had a field day with stories of "tilt sickness". Maybe this was as a result of badly adjusted or failed tilt mechanisms, because I can't say this there was any evidence of this on my runs in 1984, during which the tilt performed faultlessly. The only cause for complaint (possibly) would be the strange bouncing that accompanied any acceleration from standing. It was, of course, an unusual experience - on one side you would see ballast and running lines, on the other the sky, and the surface of the wine in a wine glass would stay level while the glass tilted - but it was not uncomfortable.

This period of APT's history culminated on December 12th when she set a new London-Glasgow record of 3hrs 52mins. That's 401 miles at an average speed of 103mph, which had included a five minute stop at Stafford due to track circuit failure.


Andy Sisley

It all seems so long ago now. I had 3 runs on the APT-P. The first time was a Euston to Glasgow run on a Friday morning on a BR staff only run. The train was formed of 2 power cars, but there was only one car behind the power cars plus the driving trailer. All the passengers sat forward of the power cars. This was one of the major design faults with the APT-P, the power cars in the centre effectively made it 2 trains requiring 2 crews to operate. I traveled in the 2nd class, the trim was a tartan check in all coaches, well they were supposed to be Scottish trains. We settled down with some excitement of the journey to follow. As we pulled slowly out of Euston, 2 things struck me, firstly the ride was not as smooth as a Mark 3 coach and secondly as we cleared the cross overs, the acceleration of this train was amazing, it was the first time I had traveled by train and actually been able to feel the acceleration. The interior of the coaches were fairly compact as the side swept in quite a lot to allow for the tilting.

Quickly up to a reasonable speed, the ride improved as the speed built, but it was still a bit harsh. We reached Wolverton (our home station), 52 miles out in 28 minutes and as we ran round the relatively tight bend, you could really sense the train leaning with the tilt. As we ran onto the viaduct north of the station, there was an almighty jolt and for a split second I thought we were off the rails, but of course we were not. The next highlight was as we ran along the side of the canal near Weedon. As the train again banked, I looked out of the window and had the sensation of looking into the canal, which was a bit disconcerting at the time. Looking back along the train, the angle of tilt was well demonstrated by looking at the uprights of the overhead wire gantry's, which appeared to lean over severely.

We were held up somewhere before Crewe and on leaving Crewe, the speed rose considerably and I remember checking it on the mile posts at over 140mph on several occasions. North of Preston and the train spent a lot of time tilting and I remember another passenger asking a member of the technical team on board about the tilting, I think he was asking why it wasn't operating, the technical team man informed him the tilt was being used. This was one of the things about the train, you could only tell it was tilting if you were looking out of the window, you couldn't feel it from inside really.

Braking was also impressive for the simple reason there was no smell, which anyone knows is very much associated with HST's and disc braked trains in general. We were late into Glasgow, I can't remember by how much, but the train had run reliably all the way.

The other times I traveled were on Friday 4.30 afternoon relief trains out of Euston that were run 3 times a week for some months. We went as far as Preston before catching a ex Blackpool train back to Rugby and then switching to the AM10 service back to Wolverton. We used to see how quickly we would get from Euston to Wolverton as this was the stretch I always found most impressive. On the second run we were delayed somewhere for sometime and nearly missed the return train, which on arriving at Preston already had the Electric Loco on and was ready to go.

We tried to travel one more time, but as we ran past the carriage sidings near Willesdon on the way into Euston on the AM10, the APT-P was still sitting there. On arrival at Euston, we went along to the usual platform, which from memory was 12 or 13, but there was nothing on the departure board about the train. On inquiring, we were told the service had been cancelled, we never found out why it was cancelled, I assume there was a technical fault. As we returned to Wolverton on the AM10 service, we again ran past Willesden and I was the APT-P for the last time. Soon after this the service was cancelled and the programme was cancelled.

Between 1997 and 2000, I worked with a chap who had been employed at Derby and had worked on breaking up some of the sets. Now I often wonder how it is that 30 years ago BR designed and built the most advanced train the world has ever seen and now we have to buy trains, including tilting trains from overseas.

IKB would turn in his grave.

Andy, ex BREL employee at Wolverton.

If you have any memories of travel on the APT - Please let me know !

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Last Revised: 11.11.2019 12:49
by R G Latham
© 1998