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  • In 1969, Britain set out to build a train unlike any other.

  • A high speed train that wouldn't need to run on a high speed railway.

  • When everyone else was pouring billions into constructing new smooth and straight high-speed

  • rail lines, the British would instead design a train that could reach incredible speeds

  • on any kind of track.

  • Even twisting and winding railways built a hundred years earlier.

  • Because this train would lean into corners, like a motorcycle.

  • And it promised to bring Britain's antiquated railways into the 20st century.

  • It's smooth, quiet, and an altogether delightful experience.

  • Everything that the developers and designers told me that the train should do, it does

  • appear to do, and does it exceptionally well.

  • This was going to be the Advanced Passenger Train, and in an era of automobiles and jet

  • travel, it was going to save Britain's railways.

  • In the 1960's, Britain's railways were in trouble.

  • After declining for decades, there were fewer people riding trains in 1965

  • than there were back in 1890.

  • And rail lines around the country were shutting down.

  • The problem was, Britain's railways were slow and antiquated.

  • Steam locomotives were still in use well into the1960's.

  • And that stood in contrast against the exciting freedom of automobiles and the speed and glamor

  • of jet powered air travel.

  • If British Rail was going to compete in this new era, they'd need much faster trains.

  • Because elsewhere in the world, high speed rail was proving that it could win back passengers.

  • Japan's new Bullet Trains were an instant success, carrying over 100 million passengers

  • in just the first three years of service.

  • But high speed trains need special tracks.

  • Long, straight sections of rail and gentle curves.

  • And to get their bullet trains to work, the Japanese built an entirely new high-speed

  • rail line, constructing thousands of bridges and tunneling right through mountains.

  • For their TGV, the French would end up doing much the same, building hundreds of kilometers

  • of high speed track.

  • But in Britain, there wasn't going to be any new railway.

  • For one, the country already had a vast rail network.

  • And with ridership declining, much of it was underutilized.

  • So the British set out to engineer a new kind of high speed train, one that would run on

  • Britain's existing railways.

  • But it wasn't going to be easy.

  • Britain's 100 year old rail network was full of twists and turns, and a train can only

  • round a bend so fast before the ride becomes uncomfortable.

  • Because lateral forces can send items flying off tables, or even knock passengers off their feet.

  • The Japanese and French built their new high speed railways with gentle, banked curves

  • to minimize these lateral forces.

  • But the British, would come up with a brilliant alternative.

  • Instead of building tilted tracks, they'd engineer a tilting train.

  • By leaning the rail cars into curves, like a motorcycle, lateral forces on passengers

  • could be minimized, or even eliminated altogether.

  • And British Rail would pioneer the world's first active tilting system.

  • Unlike earlier tilting suspensions, it would use computers and sensors to read forces,

  • and hydraulic rams to actively tilt each rail car.

  • It took British Rail nearly two decades to develop the technologies, but by 1979, they

  • had built train unlike any in British history.

  • It would be called the Advanced Passenger Train.

  • Driven by eight traction motors housed in central power cars, the APT produced a total

  • of 8000 horsepower, making it the most powerful domestic train to ever operate in Britain.

  • With its advanced braking system, the APT could quickly decelerate from high speeds

  • allowing it to work with Britain's outdated signaling system.

  • And with active tilting, it could round a bend nearly twice as fast as any British train.

  • And during testing in 1979, the APT hit 261 km/h, setting a new British speed record.

  • One that would hold for another 23 years.

  • Britain's new train, was going to revolutionize its railways, and there were plans to build

  • a fleet of over 50.

  • But when the APT entered service as a prototype on December 7th 1981, almost overnight it

  • went from being heralded as the train of the future, to the subject of intense media ridicule.

  • The train was plagued by technical problems.

  • Everything from frozen breaks to failed tilting mechanisms.

  • And on the third day of service, one even broke down on the way from Glasgow to London.

  • But most embarrassing, the tilt caused nearly a third of passengers to become motion sick.

  • So bad were the problems, that after just a couple weeks, British Rail was forced to

  • pull the APT from service.

  • It would take another three years of development and testing just sort out all of the issues.

  • In the meantime, British Rail tried to fight back against the negative press.

  • Like in this promotional video featuring rattling dishes and a cup of coffee on the verge spilling.

  • The conventional service from Glasgow to Houston is good.

  • There's not a patch on this.

  • It's smooth, quiet, and an altogether delightful experience.

  • Everything that the developers and designers told me that the train should do, it does

  • appear to do, and does it exceptionally well.

  • But the press had already written the APT's obituary.

  • The train had been put into service before it was ready.

  • Over 15 years and 50 million pounds had gone into development.

  • But designing a 250 km/h train to run on an antiquated rail network

  • proved too ambitious for British Rail.

  • The APT was supposed to enter service as early as 1976, but with so many novel features needing

  • development all at once, the program was difficult to manage.

  • And it was plagued by technical hurdles, delays, and in some cases, complete redesigns.

  • And the APT wasn't adequately tested, moving from the experimental stage to a fully functional

  • prototype after having run just 37 thousand kilometers.

  • Meanwhile, in testing their TGV, the French racked up nearly a half a million kilometers.

  • And even as the experimental APT was beginning to prove itself, many within British Rail

  • were hostile towards the program, preferring conventional rail technologies over such a

  • revolutionary leap.

  • So British Rail split its resources and began developing a more conventional, and not quite

  • as fast diesel train without active tilting.

  • Throw in labor disputes, quality control issues, and wavering political support, and the entire

  • program might've been doomed from the start.

  • By 1980, Britain was in an economic recession.

  • And with the APT program at risk of being cancelled altogether, the prototype trains

  • were rushed into service.

  • When it was reintroduced again three years later in 1984, the active tilt had been modified

  • to reduce motion sickness and the trains proved reliable in service.

  • But none of that mattered.

  • Because the APT could never operate to its full potential, having to share tracks with

  • slower trains and overhead electrical lines….that weren't designed for higher speeds.

  • The APT was held back by the very same outdated rail network that it was supposed to overcome.

  • With little will to develop it any further, the APT was quietly removed from service in 1986.

  • But there's a final twist of irony in the APT's story.

  • Because in 1982, British Rail sold patents for its tilting technology to Italy's Fiat,

  • who were developing an active tilting train of their own.

  • In 2002, Italian designed tilting trains were reintroduced to Britain's railways.

  • Today, they operate along the London to Glasgow route, which is the exact same route the APT

  • was once supposed to serve.

  • Starting this YouTube channel has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.

  • Not a day goes by where I don't look forward to working on the next mustard video.

  • Because I can't think of anything more rewarding than doing something creative and sharing

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  • If you've been thinking about starting your own channel, do it.

  • Because the demand for high quality YouTube content is growing every day.

  • But a lot goes into a making videos that people actually want to watch.

  • So I'd start by learning directly from YouTube's top creators.

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B1 US rail apt train tilting british high speed

This Train Made Passengers Sick: The APT Tilting Train Story

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/28
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