British Rail Class 390

British Rail Class 390
Virgin Class 390 Pendolino

390029 City of Stoke-on-Trent at Birmingham New Street
Standard Class interior of a Virgin Trains Class 390
In service 23 July 2002 –
Manufacturer Alstom
(Fiat tilting system)
Built at Washwood Heath, Birmingham
Savigliano, Italy
Family name Pendolino
Constructed 2001 - 2004
2009 - 2012[1]
Entered service 2002
Number built 57 trainsets
Number scrapped 1 trainset
(due to the Grayrigg derailment)
Formation 9 cars per trainset
One 11 car set on test runs
Fleet numbers 390001 – 390054
Capacity 145 first class seats
294 standard class seats
Operator Virgin Trains
Line(s) served West Coast Main Line
Car body construction Aluminium
Car length 23.9 m (78 ft 5 in) intermediate cars, 25.1 m (82 ft 4 in) cab cars
Width 2.73 m (8 ft 11 in)
Height 3.56 m (11 ft 8 in)[3]
Doors Hinged Plug, electrically driven
Maximum speed Design: 140 mph (225 km/h)
Service: 125 mph (201 km/h)
Weight 466 tonnes (459 long tons; 514 short tons)
Power output 5.1 MW (6,840 hp)
Electric system(s) 25 kV 50 Hz AC
Current collection method Overhead
Braking system(s) Regenerative, Rheostatic, Disc
Gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

The Class 390 Pendolino is a type of train used in Great Britain. They are electric multiple units using Fiat's tilting train pendolino technology and built by Alstom. Fifty-three 9-car units were originally built for Virgin Trains from 2001 to 2004 for operation on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), with a further four trains and 62 cars built 2009-2012. The original batch of trains were the last to be assembled at Alstom's Washwood Heath plant, in Birmingham, before its closure in 2005.

The Class 390 is one of the fastest domestic electric multiple units operating in Britain, with a top speed of 140 mph; however limitations to track signalling systems restrict the units to a maximum speed of 125 mph (200 km/h) in service. In September 2006, the Pendolino set a new speed record, completing the 401 miles (645 km) length of the West Coast Main Line from Glasgow to London in 3 hours, 55 minutes, beating the 4 hours 14 minute record for the southbound run previously set in 1981 by its ancestor, British Rail's Advanced Passenger Train. The APT retains the ultimate speed record for this route, having completed the northbound journey between London and Glasgow in 3 hours 52 minutes in 1984 which included a 5 minute delay due to a signal fault.[4]

In September 2010, Virgin Trains and Alstom launched a co-branded Pendolino (390004) which was renamed "Alstom Pendolino" and carries a Virgin/Alstom livery on coaches A & K in recognition of the partership between Alstom and Virgin Trains.[5]



In 1997, when Virgin Trains won the InterCity West Coast franchise, they made the decision to replace the train fleet they inherited with new trains. The old fleet consisted of British Rail Class 86, 87 and 90 electric locomotives, which operated in push-pull mode with Mk.2 and Mk.3 coaching stock. Virgin placed an order with Alstom/Fiat for the construction of new tilting trains.

Tilting trains were nothing new for the West Coast Main Line. Twenty years previously, British Rail had developed the revolutionary, but ultimately unsuccessful, Class 370 Advanced Passenger Train (APT).

Fiat supplied much of the content of the Class 390 units, including the bodyshell and the bogies, whilst final assembly was carried out at Washwood Heath. The tilting technology was developed by SIG Switzerland (later FIAT-SIG, today ALSTOM). Two electromechanical actuators are used per car to achieve the desired tilting angle on curved stretches of track. The train can tilt to a maximum of eight degrees.[6] In contrast to other Fiat tilting trains which use hydraulic tilting actuators, the electromechanical systems offers lower maintenance cost and higher efficiency.

The new trains were intended to run at 140 mph (225 km/h), but the West Coast Main Line modernisation programme, which was an upgrade to the infrastructure to allow faster line speeds, ran over budget. Consequently plans were scaled back, and in a manner reminiscent of the introduction of the Intercity 225, the lack of signalling upgrades resulted in the maximum line speed being restricted to 125 mph (200 km/h). Although this (and 140 mph) are well below BR's hopes for APT of 155 mph (249 km/h), but it does match the maximum speed of 125 mph (200 km/h) for the APT in passenger service (although one APT set reached 162 mph (261 km/h) in testing).

Fifty-three units were originally built, numbered 390001-390053. Each now has nine vehicles, although the first 34 sets were built as 8-car units, with the ninth vehicle built later and fitted into the unit during 2004. A further four 11-car sets were built 2009-2012 as well as 62 cars to enable 31 more trains to become 11-car sets.[1] The August 2010 unit formation is described in the table below, with vehicles listed in the order they are formed in the unit:

Vehicle numbers Type Description Seating
1ST STD Toilets
69101-69153 DMRF Driving motor: first class open with kitchen 18 - -
69401-69453 MF Intermediate motor: first class open (with disabled seating) 39 - 1(D)
69501-69553 PTF "Quiet Zone" Intermediate trailer with pantograph: first class open 44 - 1
69601-69653 MF Intermediate motor: first class open 46 - 1
68801-68853 TS Intermediate trailer: standard class open - 76 1
69701-69753 MS Intermediate motor: standard class open (with disabled seating) - 66 1(D)
69801-69853 PTSRMB Intermediate trailer with pantograph: standard class with shop/buffet - 48 -
69901-69953 MS Intermediate motor: standard class open (with disabled seating) - 64 1(D)
69201-69253 DMSO Driving motor: "Quiet Zone" standard class open (with cycle storage) - 46 1

The units incorporate a number of innovations, including a walk-in shop in place of the traditional buffet/restaurant car, and extensive passenger visual information systems on the inside of the car ends and on the outside of the doors. Following criticisms of the pressure- operated automatic gangway doors of the older Mark 3 and Mark 4 carriages (which could easily be held open by items of luggage resting on the floor sensor, allowing draughts into the passenger saloon), the gangway doors on the 390 sets are of the pushbutton "open on demand" type. All seats originally had an on board entertainment system over which Virgin broadcasted a number of pre-recorded music channels. This feature was disabled in March 2010 to make way for the new on board WiFi provided by T-Mobile.[7][8] Each seating row has a dot-matrix LCD display to indicate the reservation status of each seat; this was intended to replace the conventional printed labels which were manually inserted by the train crew.

The coaches also incorporate steps which automatically extend to platform level when the doors are opened. This feature was first seen on the APT-P, which as mentioned above is a distant ancestor of the Pendolino. The windows are fitted with roll-down blinds. For the summer period coach G (MFO) has been re-classified as standard class to provide extra standard-class capacity.

Current operations

Class 390 at Stafford railway station on 29 April 2010
Class 390, no. 390045 "Virgin Valiant" at Carlisle on 27 August 2004, whilst forming a Glasgow Central to London Euston express. In common with the rest of the fleet, this unit is painted in the latest Virgin Trains silver and red livery.
Class 390, no. 390012 cab interior at Glasgow Central station
Class 390, no. 390020, "Virgin Cavalier" in London Euston, on 24 March 2009
Class 390, no 390026, "Virgin Enterprise" in Birmingham New Street on 5 July 2009
Class 390 Virgin Pendolino EMU 390025 at Birmingham New Street railway station

The fleet was introduced into passenger services from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly on 23 July 2002 to coincide with the opening of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Over the next few months they began to monopolise the Manchester services, and were soon introduced onto routes to Liverpool Lime Street, Birmingham New Street, Wolverhampton and Preston. By late 2003 the last of the elderly Class 86 locomotives had been withdrawn owing to the introduction of the Pendolinos.

2004 saw their sphere of operation expand further. The units started to operate services to Glasgow Central, and by the end of summer, in theory all services north of Preston were worked by Class 390 units. This allowed the final Class 90 locomotives to be withdrawn, and inroads were made into the main Class 87 fleet. It was expected that all locomotive-hauled trains would have been replaced by the end of 2004, but the Pendolinos suffered from several technical problems, which granted the Class 87s a stay of execution. By January 2005, only eight locomotives remained, for use on peak London Euston-Birmingham New Street services.

Another development in 2004 was the clearing of the units for the North Wales Coast Line from Crewe to Holyhead. This line is not electrified, so Virgin's Class 57/3 "Thunderbird" diesel locomotives are used to haul the electric units. After Virgin's loss of the crosscountry franchise, it introduced its remaining Class 221 "Super Voyagers" onto the coastal line, ending the practise of hauling the units from Crewe. As a diesel tilting train these do not require a Class 57 to haul them, rendering several redundant. These locomotives have special Dellner coupling adaptors and electrical systems that make them compatible with Pendolino trains, allowing failed units to be rescued. The Class 57s are also used when engineering works force Pendolino services to run over non-electrified diversionary routes.

Virgin Trains have named their entire fleet. Most carry promotional names such as "Virgin Valiant", "Virgin Crusader" and "Virgin King", but some have received traditional names such "City of London" and "City of Liverpool". The names are carried on the MFO (696xx) vehicle.

The entire Pendolino fleet is allocated to the (ALSTOM) Manchester Traincare Centre at Longsight, where heavy maintenance is carried out. Longsight boasts a hoist on which an entire Pendolino set can be lifted. Lighter maintenance, cleaning and overnight stabling is carried out at ALSTOM's other centres: Wembley (London), Oxley (Wolverhampton), Edge Hill (Liverpool) and Polmadie (Greater Glasgow).

Pendolino names

Number Name Notes
390-001 Virgin Pioneer
390-002 Virgin Angel Formerly "Red Revolution"
390-003 Virgin Hero
390-004 Alstom Pendolino Formerly Virgin Scot
390-005 City of Wolverhampton
390-006 Tate Liverpool Formerly Virgin Sun
390-007 Virgin Lady
390-008 Virgin King
390-009 Treaty of Union Formerly Virgin Queen
390-010 A Decade of Progress Formerly Commonwealth Games 2002, then renamed Chris Green, then A Decade of Progress, after a book written by John Balmforth at Wolverhampton railway station on 8 May 2007.
390-011 City of Lichfield
390-012 Virgin Star Both versions of the Hornby Virgin Pendolino driving car model (R2467 & R2467X) hold the number 390012
390-013 Virgin Spirit
390-014 City of Manchester
390-015 Virgin Crusader
390-016 Virgin Champion
390-017 Virgin Prince
390-018 Virgin Princess
390-019 Virgin Warrior
390-020 Virgin Cavalier
390-021 Virgin Dream
390-022 Beth Tweddle MBE[9] Formerly Virgin Hope, then renamed Penny the Pendolino.
390-023 Virgin Glory
390-024 Virgin Venturer
390-025 Virgin Stagecoach
390-026 Virgin Enterprise
390-027 Virgin Buccaneer Also carries the name Jessica Varnish.
390-028 City of Preston
390-029 City of Stoke-on-Trent
390-030 City of Edinburgh
390-031 City of Liverpool Decorative livery around the nameplate to commemorate the city's European Capital of Culture status.
390-032 City of Birmingham
390-033 City of Glasgow Crashed at Grayrigg on 23 February 2007. Formally written off on 30 November 2007 with the undamaged cars sent to Crewe Training Centre [10][11][12]
390-034 City of Carlisle
390-035 City of Lancaster
390-036 City of Coventry
390-037 Virgin Difference
390-038 City of London
390-039 Virgin Quest
390-040 Virgin Pathfinder
390-041 City of Chester
390-042 City of Bangor
Dinas Bangor
Has a different nameplate on each side, one in English and the other in Welsh
390-043 Virgin Explorer
390-044 Virgin Lionheart
390-045 101 Squadron Formerly Virgin Valiant
390-046 Virgin Soldiers
390-047 CLIC Sargent Formerly Virgin Atlantic, and then Heaven's Angels after Virgin's record attempt to cover Glasgow-Euston in the shortest time recorded. It occurred on 22 September 2006.
390-048 Virgin Harrier
390-049 Virgin Express
390-050 Virgin Invader
390-051 Virgin Ambassador
390-052 Virgin Knight Also carries the name Alison Waters[13]
390-053 Mission Accomplished
390-054 originally first new 11-car unit; reduced to 9-car for immediate entry into service

Problems and incidents

The Pendolino stock has not been without its problems. In October 2004, a train overshot the platform at Liverpool Lime Street station and collided with the buffer stops, and a similar incident occurred only a few weeks later at the same station.[14] The Rail Safety and Standards Board's inquiry into the incident identified a software glitch in the wheel slip protection (WSP) system whereby the train's friction brakes were inhibited at low speeds after prolonged coasting (such as that occurring on approach to a station). The units were once again limited to 110 mph (180 km/h) for a short period until modifications to the software were made.

The "smelly toilet" problem that has plagued Virgin's diesel trains, the Voyagers, has also been problematic in the 390 units.[citation needed] Odours evident in the vestibules have been attributed to the vents for the toilet tanks being next to the air conditioning inlets. Virgin and Alstom continue to work on the problem. Trials on different sets to solve this problem include air fresheners in vestibules, cleaning the retention tanks with a solution that Virgin Atlantic use, replacing the pipework that extracts the waste from the toilet bowl and modifications to where the excess gas is ejected. As of July 2010, this has still not been solved.[citation needed]

As a result of the smaller cabin dimensions necessitated by the tilting geometry, the higher floor needed to package the tilting mechanisms themselves, and the need to provide disabled toilets, the units have a lower seating capacity than the nine-car Mark 2 and Mark 3 rakes that they replaced. The result has been severe overcrowding on some peak time services, something that Virgin has mitigated through the increased frequency of service.

The smaller size of the Pendolino windows has attracted comment and, in fact, the window size is unprecedented for British railway rolling stock. The wider window pillars mean that in some standard class carriages, 22.5% of the seats are parallel with either no window or only a limited portion of one, however the roll-over strength of the bodyshell was commented on regarding the crashworthiness performance of the train in the RAIB Accident Report into the derailment at Grayrigg[15]

Grayrigg derailment

On 23 February 2007, a faulty set of points caused a Virgin Trains Pendolino to derail near Grayrigg in Cumbria. The train, unit 390 033, named "City Of Glasgow", formed the 17:15 departure from London Euston bound for Glasgow’s Central station. 115 people were on board, one of whom was killed. The train's excellent crashworthiness was credited with preventing more fatalities.

The train was formally written off on 30 November 2007, owing to the prohibitive cost of repair against the price of a new set; a driving car and carriage from the train have subsequently been put into use for training purposes at the Virgin Trains Talent Academy in Crewe.[16] Virgin trains has since leased a Class 90, Mk3 coaches and a DVT (Driving Van Trailer), all painted in Virgin's new livery, and affectionately nicknamed the "Pretendolino" by Alstom maintenance staff, as a replacement for the train written off.[17]


Class 390, 390002 "Virgin Angel" & 390042 "City of Bangor" at London Euston on 8 April 2009

With the sharp increase in passenger numbers following the WCML modernisation, the Department for Transport has announced a capacity increase by procuring additional sets (with one intended to replace the unit damaged at Grayrigg). Four new sets will be built with 11 cars, and an existing 31 will be lengthened to 11 cars.[18] This will require major infrastructure changes to allow stations and depots to accommodate the 11-car units. Virgin Rail Projects will work to introduce these new trains with the new franchise winner as well as Alstom, Network Rail and the current franchise holder, Virgin Trains West Coast to ensure the new sets will be able to run from 1 April 2012.

With the closure of the Washwood Heath works, any additional vehicles will be manufactured in Alstom's Savigliano factory in Italy.[19]

In July/August 2008, a contract was signed between Angel Trains and Virgin to take on two Class 180 trains to replace the current arrangement of a Class 90 and MK3 rake, but in October 2008, Virgin West Coast cancelled this agreement as it had procured a lease on a rake of Mk 3 rolling stock, their preferred choice over the Class 180 DMUs.[citation needed]

In June 2010, it was announced that the new units would be placed in store until the planned start of the new West Coast franchise in 2012. This provoked some criticism given the overcrowding in place on the WCML, which the new trains were intended to alleviate. However, in August 2010, it was announced that East Coast had been asked by the DfT to bring into service at least one of the new 11-car units on the East Coast Main Line for a period of nine months from July 2011, after which it would be returned to the West Coast franchise.[20] East Coast never used the unit but instead lease an extra InterCity 125 set from East Midlands Trains.[21] The first new sets have been built with 11 cars and delivered via Dollands Moor to Edge Hill.[22][23] On 14 July 2011, the Virgin Trains Media Room on their website announced that Chief Operating Officer, Chris Gibb accepted the train (as a 9 coach set) from Alstom Transport UK Managing Director, Paul Robinson and Malcolm Brown, Angel Trains’ Chief Executive, at Alstom’s Edge Hill Traincare Centre in Liverpool on 12 July.

Fleet details

Class Operator No. Built Year Built Cars per Set Unit nos. Notes
Class 390 Virgin Trains 53 2001-2004 9 390001-390032
390033 written off
31 units to be lengthened to 11 cars (yet to take place).[1]
1 2009 390054 390054 originally first new 11-car unit; reduced to 9-car for immediate entry into service[24]
Stored[25] 3 2009-2012[1] 11 390055-390057 New sets purchased as part of extra 106 vehicle order.[23][1]


Hornby Model Railways manufactured a model of the Class 390 in '00' Gauge.[26] The "train pack" consists of a four- carriage train; extra carriages are available separately.[27]

See also


  2. ^ Traction Recognition, Colin J. Marsden, Page 216, ISBN 978-0-7110-3277-4, Published 2007 (First edition) / 2009 (Referenced edition), Ian Allan, Hersham, Surrey
  3. ^ CLASS 390 'Pendolino'
  4. ^ "Virgin train breaks speed record". BBC News. 22 September 2006. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  5. ^ New look for Virgin Pendolino |
  6. ^ Mathieson, SA (March 2002). "Full Tilt". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  7. ^ "Please note: Virgin Trains onboard entertainment system no longer functions." [1]
  8. ^ Northern Railways • View topic - Changes to Virgin Trains onboard entertainment
  9. ^ "Gymnast Beth Tweddle meets the train given her name at Liverpool Lime Street". Liverpool Daily Post. 2 September 2011. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  10. ^ LocoScene
  11. ^ "DfT rejects Virgin bid for longer Pendolinos". The Railway Magazine (London: IPC Media Ltd) (March 2008): page 9. ISSN 0033-8923. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  12. ^ Coward, Andy. "Virgin Trains writes off its Lambrigg crash Pendolino". RAIL (Peterborough: emap) (585): page 66. Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  13. ^ "UpMain Editorial and Photography".  - Web reference does not show nameplate[citation needed]
  14. ^ "The Pendolino: The 125mph train". BBC News. 2007-02-24. Retrieved 2010-09-20. "Until the Cumbria crash there had been only minor incidents involving the Pendolino train. These included two incidents at Liverpool Lime Street Station where the train hit buffers at the platform." 
  15. ^ RAIB Report into Grayrigg Derailment. RAIB. pp. Page 151. 
  16. ^ "The News in Pictures". Railway Herald (244): p. 8. 2010-11-01. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  17. ^ Coxon, Dave "The Class 390 Pendolinos", Testing Times, accessed March 13, 2010.
  18. ^ The DfT accreditation process document specifies 31 lengthened sets, with options for lengthening a further 21 sets and procuring a further 23 full sets. Four lengthened sets are to be achieved within the current franchise (by 31 March 2012) but will not see public use until the next franchisee starts using the others once the franchise has been re-let from 1 April 2012.Department of Transport Pendolino lengthening and fleet expansion project
  19. ^ Railway Gazette: More West Coast Pendolinos
  20. ^ East Coast asked to commission new 11-car Pendolino train - East Coast, 11/08/10
  21. ^ "East Coast leases 14th HST from May". Rail (Peterborough) (669). 4 May 2011. 
  22. ^ "News Journal". Railway Herald (250): p. 3. 2010-12-13. Retrieved 2010-12-19. 
  23. ^ a b West Coast Main Line increases its Pendolino fleet - Alstom Transport. 2010-12-14. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
  24. ^ New Alstom Pendolino train to enter service with Virgin -, 14/07/11
  25. ^ Rail Magazine, issue 647, p6, West Coast is overcrowded but new stock to be stored by Richard Clinnick.
  26. ^ "Virgin Trains Pendolino Train Pack". Hornby Trains. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  27. ^ See [2] [3] [4] [5] for examples

External links

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