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Thursday 19 November 2009

Pass The Sick Bag

Back in the regrettably brief heady days of British Rail’s Advanced Passenger Train (APT), which was abandoned, setting travel on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) back a quarter of a century, argument raged over whether tilting trains induced a kind of travel sickness in passengers. On APT’s inaugural trip from Glasgow to London, many of the assembled hacks thought it did, but then, many of them were still in a tender state after not getting to bed nice and early.

Eventually it was conceded that, when the tilt of the train compensated fully for the increased side force generated by cornering, it was possible for the brain to think that the train was travelling in a straight line, only for the passenger to then look out the window to see that it was not – and thus the occasional sickness. BR sorted this by making the tilt mechanism compensate less than fully for the cornering force, which tilting trains generally all do nowadays.

Even so, the case is made across Europe that tilting trains using the Fiat hydraulic tilt system are prone to make their occupants feel queasy, and I have to confess that during a journey from Lisbon to the Algarve back in 2006 I felt less than comfortable at one point, but it was dark, so the case above should not apply. It was with this in mind that I boarded the Alfa Pendular service on Monday afternoon at Albufeira, worked by a train with the Fiat tilt system. We certainly generated some aircraft style bank angles, given that the train body can tilt up to nine degrees, and the banking of the track has to be added in. But there was no queasiness.

So I was reassured, but clearly not everyone is happy: these trains have sick bags provided, discreetly deployed with any mention of sickness on the side away from the passenger. Knowing that some will not believe me, I took one as proof.

[Trains using the Fiat tilt system include the Italo-Swiss Cisalpino, the Italian ETR 460, 470 and 480, and the Spanish Alaris, as well as the Portuguese Alfa Pendular. Similar trains operate in the Czech Republic, Finland and Slovenia. However, the Pendolino trains operated by Virgin Trains on the WCML use the Swiss SIG electronic tilt system, which is also proving surprisingly reliable. So there]

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