Long ago in 1972 British Rail retired from service a train from 1932. Introduced in the depths of depression, it was the most modern, iconic, Art Deco Pullman train by now rather old and battered, and in typical British fashion, it was much loved by those who used it, like Sir Lawrence Olivier.
This was a train to inspire, as you will see when you read about its history – and it has one of those. Amazingly, and again in rather British fashion, when it ws discarded not one of the unique carriages was allowed to go for scrap. They all became pubs or curios, and some of the jewels even ran in the Orient Express, British Pullman.
A group of people decided to restore a Brighton Belle train. Careful thought was that to be effective, and to allow people to appreciate the glorious manifestation of Art Deco that had been lost, the best thing to do was to put the Brighton Belle back on the main line. Here the challenge really began.
In the 30 years or so since the train was retired the railways south of the Thames have become professional people-moving machines – would Brighton Belle be allowed to enter the dense flow of this 90mph intricately timetabled and vital transport system?
One of the unappreciated results of the otherwise trying habit in the modern world of having rules for everything is that they tend to apply universally . So if you can meet the standards and comply with the conditions then age doesn’t matter. This train’s value is best appreciated running on the main line, as it was built. In fact this is costly and massively difficult – and that accounts for how long it is taking. Yet at the end of it all we shall have a 6 Car train that is capable of 90 mph top speed, that can accelerate as fast as modern trains, is fitted with all the necessary safety updates. Had it not been thus, then the future was the sad one of being hauled up and down a heritage railway behind a diesel locomotive.
With the exception of the VSOE cars, the rest in heritage railway duty had reached the end of the rusty siding, and there was a reason why, one that caused big changes. Since 1932 the British ‘rear’ has undergone expansion. Only 40 seats were first class, and those that were not sat four across the car. We’ve altered that to three, just as Pullman did, adding an extra car with a kitchen, and restoring the original, glorious Art Deco interior. Thus the comfort level has soared, fitting the train for superb dining as well as making it a delight to the eye.
Having got the train, then we have wonderful plans for it. The public demand is for pleasant days out by rail. The Pullman comfort of Brighton Belle certainly enables that. The kitchens, and the staff we have on board, will offer top-quality dining, whilst the train glides smoothly through the Garden of Kent, taking you for a memorable visit to one of a huge variety of venues.
It is a feature of this train that it can reverse direction within moments, it is only six-cars long; it will fit neatly in to almost any station. Although it takes its power from the third rail, it is also able to be pushed or pulled by a locomotive, and so excursions to anywhere on the system are practical.
A range of Pullman days out will be offered, with the emphasis on relaxation, comfort and fine dining. We shall take you firstly to locations withing the third rail powered lines, but Brighton Belle will be universal, it can traverse grand main lines or visit remote branches.
The eventual capacity will be over 170, but initially the train will be launched with 4 cars and just under 100 seats. When you see it glide past in stately fashion, with its gleaming umber and cream Pullman livery, there can be only one result – you will just have to take a trip.
Marketing Director: Gordon Rushton
Finance Director: Stephen Baxter
Heritage Advisor: Antony Ford
Archivist: Terry Bye
Accountant: Tanya Romyn