Dave Wilson tells how some design engineers reduced the noise inside the carriages of a new high speed train – with some unexpected consequences.

<b>’Our thoughts are clay, they are moulded with the changes of the days; when we are resting they are good; under fire, they are dead.’ – All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque).</b>

The designers of the brand spanking new train were pretty proud of their prototype. Not only did it run faster than any train before it, it was ergonomically enchanting. And it came kitted out with all the latest mod cons for the lucky passengers: comfortable reclining seating, art deco lamps, a bar and a quiet coach for those who despise the endless murmurings of the chattering classes during their journey.

But there was one problem. Noise. Yes, that’s right. As fast as the new train was, it did have one big problem. You could hardly hear yourself speak as it hurtled along the verdant Victorian infrastructure. It was that loud.

After a bit of head scratching, one designer recalled recently reading about a new type of glass that had been developed specifically with the purpose of dampening sound. Maybe, just maybe, it would be the answer to their prayers.

And so, without wasting a moment, the train’s developers called up the glass maker who duly dispatched a technical sales representative off to the rail yards the very next day.

After a brief product demonstration, some quick calculations on their electronic slide rules and a discussion about cost, the fellas from the train company ordered many sheets of the new glass from the happy technical sales manager. It was to become the start of a beautiful bespoke relationship. Or so it seemed.

A few weeks later, the glass arrived and a team of fitters were dispatched into the yards to kit out the new train. Within a day, the job was done. Now it was time once more to take it out their baby and test it on the rails.

Seventy miles per hour. Eighty. Ninety. One hundred miles per hour. As fast as the train was pushed, you could have heard a pin drop inside the carriages. The designers were delighted. So delighted, in fact, that they went into the buffet car to celebrate over a couple of well-deserved Stella Artois.

The journalists clambered about the train for a demonstration about three months later. Equipped with the prerequisite PCs and mobile phones, they were determined to see which one of them could file a story on the new train first.

As the train sped through the English countryside, the hacks attempted to phone their respective bases to file their stories. But as hard as they tried, not one of them could reach their offices. They tried their mobiles sitting down, they tried them standing up. They tried them while walking down the train. Eventually resigned to the fact that the reception in the part of the country they were in was obviously rotten, they gave up.

It was only later, when the journalists had gone, that one of the designers realised the terrible truth. While speaking to his wife on his mobile phone, he discovered that the moment he set foot inside a carriage, he too was cut off.

The noise from outside the train wasn’t the only thing that the glass was attenuating.