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Sir Richard Branson’s tilting trains are set for the UK’s biggest fleet upgrade after being launched nearly two decades ago.
The Pendolino trains, which run from London’s Euston up the west coast to Glasgow, will be overhauled by current operator Avanti in a programme costing £117m.
There will be a return of a restaurant car, with a cafe-bar carriage to be introduced for customers to meet and enjoy train coffee and cans of lager.
First class seating will also be curtailed, with one carriage on each of the 35 eleven-car Pendolinos converted to standard class. In total, 25,000 seats will be replaced.
Sir Richard hailed the Pendolino as a “new dawn” for Britain’s railways when they launched in May 2002.
Joined at the launch at the time by pop song writer Pete Waterman, the billionaire Virgin Group founder said: "For the last four years, I've felt a bit like a stuck gramophone record promising within five years that there would be a rail revolution in this country.”
But while boasting a top speed of 140mph, the trains are limited to just 125mph because of the track design. Last month Avanti failed to break a 36-year-old record between London and Glasgow by just 21 seconds.
The electric fleet has clocked up more than 270 million miles serving cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh for nearly 20 years. The project is being carried out by train manufacturer Alstom at its new depot in Widnes, Cheshire.
Avanti’s diesel-powered Voyagers are being replaced by new electric and hybrid trains built by Hitachi from 2023.
Britain’s railways lag countries on the Continent in terms of service electrification. Roughly two in five UK trains are electrified, compared with five in Europe.
Ministers last week issued a decarbonisation plan, which included an ambition for the railways to meet the Government’s net carbon zero target by 2050.
Siemens, one of the world’s biggest train manufacturers, estimated that the Government will miss its target by around 10 years.