Head’s up. You’ll want to turn up the volume on your speakers for this one!
Drop everything you’re doing. Sit back, plug in your headphones, whack up the bass, and find a nice, quiet corner of the room.
If you’ve sadly gotten used to hearing the depressingly fetid sound of a Pacer’s stricken lawnmower engine each morning on your daily commute, fear not – we have the perfect antidote.
We’ve pulled together five of the world’s most beautiful-sounding trains of all time – trains that if you had to take on a day-to-day basis, you could quite comfortably sit back and enjoy the ride, as opposed to aggressively pumping heavy metal into your ears in a futile effort to drown out the din.
Prepare to be taken into a world of awe-inspiring noise, power, surprising musicality and occasional sheer brutality…
Hunslet Class 323
Perhaps one of the most distinctive-sounding of all British Electric Multiple Units (EMUs), 43 of Hunslet’s quirky Class 323 were built to modernise the rail networks across England’s North West and West Midlands in 1992.
The 323 is driven by four traction motors on each driving cab vehicle, powered by a three-phase AC electric supply. In a nutshell, the inverter converts DC power into the three-phase AC supply to power the motors, using complex switching patterns which give rise to the ‘gear change’ effect. And to be honest, it hurts our puny brains just thinking about how complicated this all sounds, so we’ll simply stop trying to explain. Just press play and enjoy that characteristic whine.
Southeastern’s Class 395 Javelin trains are the dual-voltage, high-speed, 6-car EMUs providing the mainstay of services on the UK’s first high speed rail line, High Speed 1. Built by Hitachi in Japan, they’re capable of comfortably gliding along at 140mph under the 25 kV AC wires on HS1, and 100mph on the Southern 3rd rail 750V DC network.
Not only are they fast in terms of top speed, they’re extremely quick to accelerate – and they sound bloody fantastic, too. There’s a high-pitched whine as they start to pick up speed, which builds to a crescendo as the train disappears from view. At full tilt, the Javelin makes barely any noise at all. It’s a thing of beauty.
Greater Anglia’s forthcoming Stadler FLIRT units are utterly bonkers to say the least. Officially designated Class 755, 38 of these 3 and 4 car Bi-Mode monsters will soon replace all of GA’s Class 153, 156 and 170 trains throughout 2019.
Perhaps the most unique trains to enter service in Britain for a very long time, they feature an absolutely mental configuration. Three or four coaches mounted on articulated bogies within the sets allow low-floor connections between each coach, with the train dissected down the middle by a short ‘power pack’ car to generate power for when the trains aren’t under the wires.
It’s from this power pack where what can only be described as the roar of a jet engine erupts as the train passes. Bonkers configuration, rakishly attractive and devastatingly deafening, we’re really looking forward to these hitting the rails.
Siemens EuroSprinter ‘Taurus’
Known for its distinctive ‘do-re-mi-fa-sol’ sound when moving off, there can be surely no more tuneful locomotive in existence than the Mozart of the rails – Siemen’s EuroSprinter Taurus.
Officially designated by Siemens as the EuroSprinter ES 64 U series, you’ll find these locomotives all across Austria with ÖBB on domestic and Railjet services, who have given them their name, Taurus (Spanish for ‘bull’). (On the subject of Railjet, check out Sam Jessup’s in-depth look at the fascinating story behind Railjet here).
According to this incredibly technical and impossibly complicated explanation, the tuneful starting sound is caused by the EuroSprinter’s ‘insulated-gate bipolar transistor and variable frequency drive’. That sounds even more impossibly complicated than our earlier example from the Class 323, so that’s about as technical as we’re going to get with this.
HST: Paxman Valenta
No list of the world’s greatest trains would be complete without the locomotive which quite simply wrote the book on all-out uncompromising brashness.
From new, British Rail’s Intercity 125s were fitted with monstrous, turbocharged, intercooled V12 Paxman Valenta engines capable of producing 2,250bhp. Later in life, the fleet would be refitted with a mixture of ever-so-slightly quieter but vastly less characteristic power units – Paxman’s own VP185 for the East Midlands HSTs, and MTU engines for pretty much all of the rest.
But it’s the original, iconic sound of the Paxman Valenta we’re celebrating here, and you can hear that definitive roar on this video showing a GNER HST set powering out of Newcastle in 2007. Commanding the utmost of respect, you could hear a Valenta coming from miles away – that high-pitched, blood-curdling scream, coupled with the thunderous roar and savage underlying bass – it’s enough to make even the Gods tremble with fear and awe.
As one YouTuber in the comments on this video wrote – the Valenta is ‘simply the nicest man-made sound in the world’.
And we’d be hard-placed to disagree.
Over to you…
Are there any more iconic, fantastic or bonkers-sounding trains than the ones we’ve picked out for you here? Let us know in the comments below, or drop us a tweet – @transportdsn.
Image credit: TGr_79 on Flickr