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 Trains 'Pendolino' from Glasgow Central to London Euston.

In December 2021 Kit rode on the modern day equivalent service an Avanti West Coast 'Pendolino' from Glasgow to London.


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.


Chris S - 22 February 1985

The day started early for me as I had to travel from Newark to Nottingham by car to catch a Class 120 DMU forming the 06.38 hrs Nottingham to Crewe service and then go forward behind Class 85, No. 85 011 at the head of 1S53, the 07.26 Coventry to Glasgow Central train, as far as Preston which was reached at 10.01 hrs.

Stepping out from the train and casting a glance over the departure screens I suddenly realised that I would be one of the few travelling on the 08.02 hrs Glasgow Central to London Euston relief which was to be formed using one of the Advanced Passenger Train sets, running non-stop between Preston and Euston.

It was a chance to experience the speed, thrill and tilt mechanism. After a small problem of the doors failing to close properly we slid out of Preston at 10.31 hrs at the start of our 209 mile trek southwards.

We quickly gathered speed and passed Class 25, Nos. 25 117 and 25 303 plus Class 47, No. 47 294, all heading towards Preston. Bridges, offices and houses simply flashed by. At Wigan North Western the first sign of the infamous tilt was experienced, cruising through the station at 10.41 hrs at around 70 mph, passing a 2-car DMU chugging quietly away to itself below us in Wallgate Station. Accelerating to 110 mph, we soon passed Springs Branch depot which, on this occasion, housed Class 08, Nos. 08 423/714, Class 20, No. 20 060 and Class 25, No. 25 313.

The long curve into Warrington Bank Quay demonstrated the stupendous tilt as a Class 86 quickly rushed its parcels train north at 10.48 hrs, whilst Class 08, Nos. 08 669/916, Class 25, No. 25 229 and Class 56, No. 56 106 were noted in the long meandering yard at Arpley. The APT reached 135 mph as it passed floundering patches of snow and rumbled across the River Weaver. Class 47, No. 47 223, stood patiently on the up slow line near Winsford at 11.01 hrs as our APT powered southwards towards Crewe. Permanent Way gangs left their work and stood back admiring our long convoy of sleek, coloured metal and glass as we passed by.

Approaching Crewe the brakes were applied and we slowed for the massive complex at 11.10 hrs. Suddenly, we ground to a halt about a mile north of the station. Was this disaster? No, only a routine signal check. We crawled into Crewe Station and stopped in Platform 3, all the young train-spotters turning their attentions toward our train instead of the smartly painted Class 47, No. 47 614, at the head of the Royal Train. After a two minute unscheduled stop we were on the move again observing the Class 08s, 25s, Class 33, No. 33 006 and former Clyde EMU Class 303, No. 303 067, stabled at the holding sidings outside Crewe Diesel Depot. The Class 33, together with Class 47, No. 47 532, looked in ex-works condition in sharp contrast to the line of four Class 40s awaiting entry into the nearby workshops for cutting-up. Six locomotives, of different classes, were active in Basford Hall Yard as we accelerated away.

We past an unusual soccer pitch which amused our few passengers, ordinary passengers being outnumbered four to one by enthusiasts, as it was situated on a steeply graded hillside, just as an unidentified Class 87 hurried the 'Royal Scot' past us at 11.28 hrs.

As we passed Norton Bridge, the junction with the Stoke and Manchester line, the helpful and cheerful guard came and collected our tickets and inspected our airline-styled boarding passes whilst we clattered under the M6 motorway, past meandering waterways and flooded fields. Stafford was past at high speed at 11.34 hrs and, believe-you-me 370 003 and 370 007 looked a truly majestic sight as they twisted first left, then right through Shugborough Tunnel. Colwich Junction, site of the 1986 accident, was just a blur at 11.37 hrs, the speedometer clocking 133 mph through Rugeley and 135 mph at Lichfield Trent Valley.

The brakes purred and were gently applied south of Lichfield but we soon accelerated again though Tamworth was taken at a slower speed at 11.46 hrs as we passed under the NE/SW main-line and by the time we passed more flooded fields at Polesworth, a legacy of the 'Big Thaw' the train seemed to be down to walking pace at 11.52 hrs. However, the electrification masts flashed by, as did snow drifts of up to two feet deep on the lineside. A large distribution centre for parcels flashed by on our left and he were whisked through Nuneaton at 11.58 hrs as Class 08, No. 08 805 and Class 56, No. 56 090 idled in the sidings and Class 31, No. 31 294, was engaged on ballast duties.

There was another signal check south of the station as a Class 86 hurried its Manchester-bound express northwards. Children stopped playing; mothers stopped shopping and glanced towards our superb train as we simply rocketed towards Rugby taking curve after curve at 136 mph.

The brakes came on again as we approached Rugby - no smell; no deafening noise - great! One of the old WCML faithful, a Class 310 EMU, waited as we shot through the station alongside another Class 86 waiting patiently at the head of an up empty stock working. We got through the one mile and six hundred and sixty six yards of Kilsby Tunnel in thirty nine seconds, bursting out of its southern portal besides the M1 motorway leaving bemused car owners behind as we ran parallel at 12.14 hrs.

Whilton Marina was frozen over - Ah! No better way to travel than train as we had outdone both cars and boats in a matter of seconds. We slowed on our approaches to Stowe Hill Tunnel but soon increased again once inside. One enthusiastic youngster in my carriage kept asking 'Are we doing 150 mph yet, Dad?' Sadly, we never reached that magic speed but we were not far off. There were quite a few tugs and jolts but it had been a smooth quiet ride for most of the journey. More northbound expresses passed us between Roade and Wolverton, at the latter a long line of Mk1 carriages were waiting to enter the workshops.

After slowing for the northern approaches to Milton Keynes we passed Bletchley at 105 mph with a Class 25 and 31 in the carriage sidings. We overhauled Class 310 EMU, No. 310 082 on the up slow line south of the station as a procession of northbound expresses passed on the down main line whilst on the down slow an empty freightliner was closely followed by another Class 310 EMU on a local service from Euston whilst another passed us at Tring and a Class 86 rattled north through Hemel Hempstead at 12.44 hrs. These commuter stations, along with Apsley and Kings Langley just flashed and we reached Watford Junction at 12.48. Suburbia encircled its tight fold around us at Bushey as station after station flashed by. Young rail enthusiasts strained their eyes at Harrow and Wealdstone as we sped towards the capital at 126 mph. High-rise flats and street-corner public houses typified the Greater London landscape as our APT neared its journeys end.

We slowed down past Wembley Central at 12.55 hrs, where the terrifying accident occurred the previous year and accelerated carefully past Stonebridge Park and Willesden where the now withdrawn 'Manchester Pullman' stock and selection of locomotives were stabled. Plunging into Primrose Hill Tunnel we passed a (now withdrawn) Class 501 unit diverging on its own tracks into Euston. At 13.02 hrs our train slid to a halt over the Regent Canal and we waited for six minutes as Class 08, No. 08 903, shunted ECS besides us, before cruising into Euston at 13.09 hrs, some ten minutes early. Cameras clicked and flashes flashed and I even noted one British Rail employee applauding the sight - surely it was not (at that time) not such a rare sight to see the APT in the Terminus - or was it?

Anyway, well done BR, it was an excellent run and I think you have at last perfected the tilt mechanism. I recommend it to anyone who likes speed and excitement.

NB: The speeds quoted were calculated by a fellow passenger so may not be accurate.


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 !

Return to APT-P home page


Last Revised: 04.06.2022 18:54
by R G Latham
© 1998