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Tilt Train Aces Local Audition


The train from Spain rode smoothly (but not all that quickly) through the rain.

The high-tech, Spanish-made Talgo train, which is designed to tilt into curves to maintain speed, glided through the first of its exhibition runs Tuesday along Metrolink's Santa Clarita line. Commonly used on Spanish National Railways and other rail lines in Europe, the Talgo handles with ease curves that require traditional trains to slow down.

This should have been cause to celebrate in north Los Angeles County, where the winding tracks have been blamed for the almost 1 3/4-hour commute from Lancaster in the Antelope Valley to downtown Los Angeles.

But although Talgo took the curves like butter, the many scheduled stops along this route kept the train from achieving anything near its cruising speed of more than 125 m.p.h. It instead traveled at about 80 m.p.h., or only slightly faster than Metrolink trains now in use on that run.

But Metrolink officials said they were impressed by the train's technology and might be able to make good use of it on routes that do not have so many stops.

"It's one of the highest quality trains in the world, both in comfort and technology," said Richard Stanger, Metrolink executive director. "I think the tilt-train technology that allows higher speed is inevitable in Southern California, (but) not necessarily along the Metrolink lines."

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), chairman of the Assembly's Transportation Committee, said there is a "huge opportunity" for high-speed rail in Southern California because it can improve public transportation while using existing tracks.

The Tuesday ride was only for officials and members of the press. Regular passengers can try it on the same route today and on the Los Angeles-San Diego Metrolink run Thursday.

Those who take it will probably enjoy the ride. Talgo might not be much faster than Metrolink, but it's undeniably more luxurious.

While each double-deck Metrolink car carries 145 passengers, Talgo cars carry a maximum of 36 in recliner seats with fold-down trays, magazine pouches and overhead reading lights.

Each Talgo car has three video monitors mounted on the ceiling and positioned so at least one is visible from every seat. For a snack, passengers have a choice between a casual diner and a more formal dining car.

"They do dental work here, too," quipped one passenger Tuesday.

Many of the differences between Metrolink and Talgo cars stem from their differing day-to-day functions. Unlike Metrolink cars, the Talgo models are used mostly on long-distance routes with relatively few stops.

One potential problem for passengers susceptible to motion sickness is that Talgo's elevated suspension can produce a rolling motion similar to what is felt on the deck of a ship. At least one of the passengers Tuesday said she felt slightly nauseated.

Talgo is not the first tilt train to get a local tryout. Last year Southern Pacific tested a Swedish-made model on its Santa Barbara-Moorpark route.

For those who want to try Talgo for themselves, it departs today from Los Angeles at 9:02 a.m., arriving at the Acton Metrolink station at 10:38. It leaves Acton at 11 to return to Los Angeles at 12:33 p.m.

On Thursday, it leaves Los Angeles at 9:40 a.m., arriving at the San Diego station at 12:38 p.m. It departs San Diego at 1:30 to return to Los Angeles at 4:55 p.m.

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