Blue Pullman – A Fascinating Failure?

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Back in the early post-nationalisation years, there were still a number of Pullman train workings operated on British Railways, including the famous “Brighton Belle” and “Devon Belle” trains, with passengers carried for a supplementary fare.  The traditional pullman coaches were operated by the Pullman Car Co., and manned by staff who were not employed by BR, but the private company.   These services were carried on for a time in the early 1950s, but were both uneconomic and an anachronism in the run up to BR’s “Modernisation Programme”, and the changeover from steam to diesel and electric traction.

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Then, in 1960, a new and unexpected Pullman service appeared, with trains ordered by the British Transport Commission (BTC), as it took control of the British Pullman Car Co. – which was subject to a number of debates in Parliament.  Six years earlier, in 1954 the discussions centred on the financial prospects for the Pullman Car Co. and the problems that would ensue after its franchise – yes, franchise! – expired in 1962.  The Government were concerned about the future of all supplementary fare Pullman services, and how, or if the BTC should absorb this private operator on the national railway system.

Alan Lennox-Boyd, Minister of Transport made this observation in a debate on 27th May 1954:

“The Commission has said that it does not intend that there should be any alteration in the control and operation of the Pullman cars, nor that the specialised services given by the Pullman Car Company should be altered in any way whatsoever. The Commission adds that it is its intention to continue the Pullman car service and to give consideration to the extension of this facility to other lines throughout the country.”

Why on earth would BTC / BR pay for and operate a new Pullman service in the nationalised railway era??

The Blue Pullman Experiment

On 24 June 1960 a demonstration run of BR’s diesel-electric Pullman train took place between Marylebone and High Wycombe. The six and eight-car trains were designed and built by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage & Wagon Co. for the Pullman Car Company, to be operated on the LMR and WR respectively. The Railway Gazette used an interesting phrase as it reported the new arrivals;

“The term de-luxe applied by the British Transport Commission to the new diesel-electric Pullman multiple- unit trains which begin operations shortly in the London Midland and Western Regions of British Railways suggests an over-abundance of rare but desirable qualities which are not necessary for life.”

The British Transport Commission’s Press Release for 23rd June 1960 described them as:

“These 90 mph de-luxe diesel expresses – there are five of them altogether-are of an entirely new type designed to bring a fresh conception of main-line railway passenger travel to Britain, with superior standards of comfort, and a personal service of’ meals and refreshments for all passengers.”

8-car Bristol Pullman

8-car Western Region ‘Blue Pullman’

The reasoning behind the introduction of these units was basically to attract the businessman to rail travel; or perhaps to return to rail travel, for BR had by 1960 to be on a competitive footing with air transport. The new Metro-Cammell pullmans were prestigious trains, and turned out in a striking blue and white livery.

Elevation & Layout diagrams

This was a dramatic contrast to the existing maroon livery of standard steam hauled stock, and traditional Pullman style of cream and umber. Many previously untried (on British Railways) design features were first seen on these units; some came to be adopted on a wider scale, while others were unique to the Blue Pullmans.

The first mention of the new trains (which were not conceived as Pullman at that time) was made in the Government’s White Paper of October 1956, where it was stated that new trains would be introduced for high-speed travel on selected services between important cities.

Leading Dimensions

Leading DimensionsHowever, to suggest that the Pullmans were introduced at a difficult time for BR, would be an classic understatement. Mounting deficits and continual pressure from the anti-railway brigade, road lobby, and others were not conducive to what could be seen as extravagant expenditure.

On speed terms, competition with the new electric services on the London Midland Region in particular was easily ruled out, and by 1967 the Pullmans were less patronised than ever, and a solution to their operating problems was needed.  From 6th March 1967 all were transferred to the Western Region and with three eight-car and two six-car Pullman units, they were in a position to provide an extensive service for the businessman and long distance commuter. That they were not entirely successful cannot wholly be blamed either on BR or on the Blue Pullmans themselves.

Chris Williams Photo at Reading in 1967

In late 1967 the ‘Blue Pullman’ sets received their first taste of BR’s ‘Corporate Livery’.  Here, one of the repeated sets approaches Platform 4 at Reading General on a Westbound Service.           (Photo Courtesy Chris Williams)

Even allowing for the luxurious internal appointments, there could be no suggestion of their competing on any terms with the pattern of fast Inter-City services envisaged – and later provided – by BR for the future. Time was not on the side of the Blue Pullmans.  One of the last duties of one of the power cars was during the winter of 1972/1973, when it acted as a standby generating set at Swindon,.  Withdrawal of all the sets took place in May 1973, when they were not quite thirteen years old.

Sadly, none were rescued for preservation.

Further Reading

Clicking on the image below will take you to a more detailed review of the ‘Blue Pullmans’

M-V PDF file cover

Useful Links:

Railcar.co.uk/type/blue-pullman/summary

Metcam.co.uk

British_Rail_Classes_251_and_261

“Blue Pullman, 1960”

The image below will take you to the YouTube clip of the BTF film called “Blue Pullman, 1960”  This film was directed and written by Jimmie Ritchie and photographed by David Watkin and Jack West. It was edited by Hugh Raggett with music by Clifton Parker. The film lasts about 23 minutes, and covers the testing of the new  Midland Pullman, and its maiden journey from Manchester to London.

 


 

 

 

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