The Train that Floats in the Sky - memories, and a new video, of the high speed hover experiment of the 60s and 70s in the Fens

A new film about Cambridgeshire’s remarkable high-speed hovertrain experiment of the 1960s and ‘70s.

A new film about Cambridgeshire’s remarkable high-speed hovertrain experiment of the 1960s and ‘70s. PHOTO: Courtesy of Department of Archaeology and Anthropology University of Cambridge - Credit: Archant

The forgotten story of the remarkable high-speed hover train experiment of the 1960s and ‘70s, trialled in the Fens, has been made into a film.

The Train that Floats in the Sky tells the story of a trial that is rarely acknowledged but shows how this area played an important role in the world’s history of high-speed transport.

Marcus Brittain, the film coordinator, said: “Memories of a grand experiment to develop a magnetic hover train tells an intriguing story of innovation and a utopian vision that should have transformed the landscape, but of which today there is little trace.”

After lengthy negotiations a scheme was launched in 1967 with government funding of £5.25 million.

Tracked Hovercraft Ltd was formed and, with the company’s offices based in Cambridge, a full scale test track was built.

Work building the gigantic concrete monorail began in 1969 along the Old Bedford River between Earith and Sutton Gault.

It was the “long, straight and flat character of the Bedford Level that attracted many forms of scientific experiment” that today are the subject of an “Archaeology of the Great Straight.

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In spite of the experiment’s progress it was beset with problems, many caused by the soft Fenland ground, and in 1973 the funding was cut and, with considerable emotion for those invested, the project was ended.

As part of ongoing investigations into ‘Fenland utopias’ by the University of Cambridge archaeological unit (CAU), the story of Cambridgeshire’s hover train has been produced for a short film.

It has been made in partnership with Railworld in Peterborough as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant-aided Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership.

Created by motion graphic designer Nick Edwards, the 14-minute film features original period footage and interviews with local researcher Eddy Edwards, Railworld trustee Brian Pearce and CAU director Chris Evans.

It captures the moment of discovery of a lost hover train archive.

The hover train project was a significant British research and development scheme that combined Sir Christopher Cockerell’s hovercraft invention with Sir Eric Laithwaite’s work on linear induction motors.

“The ultimate aim,” explained Mr Brittain, “was high-performance transport technology using environmentally sensitive motors, and to achieve this before France’s ‘Aerotrain’ project.”

The film explores the local and physical legacy of the Tracked Hovercraft project, and a near-forgotten Fenland vision of the future.

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