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.

 


 

 

 

Blackpool Lights Up – Finally

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The 19 week programme to electrify the line from Preston to Blackpool North has – it seems – finally been completed, and on 16th April, the new service is now planned to start.  The programme was extended by a 3 weeks – and according to Network Rail, the major cause of the delay was the extreme bad weather in March.

PROJECT UPDATE: Blackpool North line to reopen on Monday 16 April

So, the project has overrun by 16% – but at least it is now finished.  Services to Blackpool stopped on 11th November and were due to restart on the 26th March – in good time for the start of the Easter holidays and the tourist season.

When the delay was announced the MP for Blackpool South was incensed and took the matter up with Norther Rail (the franchisee), and of course in Parliament.  The local paper carried a story about the delay:

‘Damaging’ rail delay will impact on tourism, says MP

However, Network Rail has completed:

  • Rebuilding 11 bridges
  • Remodelling 11 station platforms
  • Replacing 11km of track
  • Upgrading drainage
  • Installing a completely new signalling system, operated entirely from the Manchester ROC

Alongside the changes at Blackpool North and Kirkham & Wesham stations, Blackpool train care depot to support the roll out of new Class 331 trains later in 2018.

In the meantime Class 319 units will be relocated from Southern England – good to recycle.  But at least one observer has noted that whilst Transpennine run electrified services into Manchester Airport, currently it seems Northern Rail are not planning for this.

Whilst Network Rail are to be congratulated on completing the job – it’s still ‘wait and see’ to find out how the ‘Great Northern Rail Project’ fulfils its declared intentions.

 

Underfunding & Cancelled Electrification

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On Thursday 29th March, the UK’s “National Audit Office” released the results of its investigation into why the UK Government, and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling chose to cancel electrification projects.  Back at the start of CP5, Network Rail stated that electrification was a strategic top priority, with £3 billion in schemes to be carried out between 2014 and 2019.

In 2017 the Government then decided that three of those schemes were to be cancelled, because:

“… the Secretary of State explained that the projects were cancelled on the basis that it was were no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits.”

Perhaps the most telling statement in the NAO Press Release is this one:

“The NAO investigation identifies that that it is too early to determine whether the Department will still be able to deliver the benefits of electrification without these electrification projects in place.”

NAO Press Release

The lines that the Transport Secretary decided to cancel were:

  • The Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea
  • The Midland Main line between 
  • The Oxenholme to Windermere

For the latter – a short stretch of line – it’s ironic in 2018, since the Lake District is now a UN World Heritage Site, and the growth in tourists is predicted to experience significant growth.  The section of the main line between Wales two largest cities not now being electrified is very much a mystery, whilst the former main line to Nottingham and Sheffield also links major population centres.

The Midland route was a particularly bad example of decision making, since at the time the decision was made to cancel, the bi-mode trains with the required criteria to deliver the timetable of the route did not exist.

Cancelled ElectrificationsAnyway, having taken the decision the National Audit Office has identified some interesting, and perhaps key points that suggest this was and has been a poor decision, with a lack of foresight.

  1. It was no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits.
  2. Bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration to deliver the timetable of the route did not exist.
  3. Network Rail projects had to be cancelled because the ‘investment programme’ could not be delivered within the available funding.

Plans to raise and retain £1.8 billion to reduce the funding shortfall, through asset sales, were unachievable, so these projects were cancelled to help reduce that shortfall, and according to the NAO Report:

“The Department estimated that cancelling these three projects would save a maximum of £105 million in 2014-19 rail investment period, but would avert £1,385 million of spending in the following 2019-24 period.”

So now we have to wait until 2024 to find out if these savings have been made, and if the wait was worth it – wonder what the impact on passengers will be, or business, or tourists…..

Newbury station sunrise

National Audit Office (NAO) – Investigation into the Department for Transport’s decision to cancel three rail electrification projects

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Now That’s What I Call A Digital Railway

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This video on signalling has just been published by the UIC:

And, as they say:

Signalling is an essential cornerstone of the railway system

Bit different to this:

RPBRLY-1

Or even this:

RPBRLY-2

And even in the UK there is ‘new kid on the block’ (pardon the pun!), it is the “digital railway” – on the official website, this is what they say that this new technology for train control and signalling will provide:

 

“Digital Railway aims to deliver the benefits of digital signalling and train control more quickly than current plans, deploying proven technology in a way that maximises economic benefit to the UK.”

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Network Rail – Lots of Alliances

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A Prior Information Notice (PIN) was published by Network Rail yesterday in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), for a tender exercise covering design and construction of track works on plain line track and switches and crossings. Alongside this the scope of work will include surveying, drainage, investigations and installation works for foundations, traction power, signalling systems, station and lineside works.

Well, everything associated with the infrastructure really.

The wording of the OJEU notice makes it clear that Network Rail is seeking suppliers and consortia to “pre-form partnerships” for this work. To this end the notice defines three “Lots”, which Network Rail’s press release describes as ‘alliances’, as below:

  • Alliance 1: North (Scotland Route)
  • Alliance 2: Central (London North West, and London North East & East Midland Routes)
  • Alliance 3: South (Anglia, Southeast, Wessex, Western, and Wales Routes)

This is a 10-year deal, worth some £5 billion, and represents a major portion of the recently announced Railway Upgrade Plan, and a significant chunk of the next five-year funding period – Control Period 6 (CP6) – between 2019 and 2024. It is obviously essential that suppliers and prospective bidders demonstrate “relevant expertise”. But given what has happened to ‘Carillion’, it is clearly even more important that whichever ‘economic operators’ are selected, that they provide economic stability and deliver value for money.

Crossrail milestones completed
The changes provided through Network Rail’s route devolution may bring some interesting challenges as well as opportunities to deliver the infrastructure improvements over the next 5 to 10 years. It is good to see this latest OJEU notice underpinning the UK’s commitment to improving the railway network – we’ve not seen too many such notices in recent years. Steve Featherstone, Network Rail’s director for Track made an interesting comment following this announcement:

“This tender represents a major milestone in the development of our strategy for our track infrastructure investment programme. It also represents a significant commitment by Network Rail to the rail industry and we are expecting high levels of interest in these contracts from the supply chain. In return, we will be looking for clear and firm commitments from the supply chain to deliver value for Network Rail.”

Network Rail’s published Railway Upgrade Plan and CP6 procurement strategy are well worth a read.

The original Network Rail Press Release can be found here .

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Flying By Rail

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Exactly 20 years ago, in the Spring of 1998, the German Government approved the project to build the world’s first high-speed maglev railway line.  The plan was to link Berlin and Hamburg with what was effectively a development of British Railways Research Dept., and Professor Eric Laithwaite’s “Linear Rotating Machine”.  The invention by Eric Laithwaite took place in the 1960s, and a little over 30 years later, in 1997, the world record speed for this form of traction achieved a speed of 450 km/hr.  In effect, rendering the Japanese ‘bullet’ trains to what might be described as ‘semi-fast’!!

Transrapid 08 for DBaGTransrapid 08 for DBaG_Close ViewThere has of course since then been a lot of development of high-speed rail on conventional tracks, but the UK has still not caught up with what it had essentially begun over 50 years ago.  There have been claims, notably referred to in “Wikipedia” that the idea was first put forward in or around 1904, and under a US patent, followed by a similar series of “patented inventions” in Germany during the 1930s, and yet another attempt in the late 1960s in the US.  All of which proved to be simple experiments along the way, with the greatest rail based advances taking place in the UK and Germany between 1978/79 and 1984/85.

The “Transrapid” project in Hamburg in 1979, and the simple Birmingham ‘maglev’ people mover built on the linear induction motor concept devised by Professor Laithwaite some years earlier.  The Japanese also embarked on the development of magnetically levitating high-speed trains, but the technology they adopted required super-conducting electro magnets, which was perhaps a limitation on its prospects for mass transportation.

Shanghai TransrapidToday there is only one implementation of the original Transrapid design, the one linking Shanghai to Pudong International Airport – a distance of 30.5km.  There had been plans to expand within China, but costs proved excessive, and existing high-speed rail provides the solution across China’s rail network.  In Germany, the original plan to build a line across to Denmark and Holland was also ruled out on the grounds of costs.

It seems unlikely that – given the improvement in conventional steel wheel on steel rail technology – that the maglev idea will be anything other than a might have been.

It was all looking so much different back in the 1990s, when I wrote this article for Electrical Review:

Electrical Review Nov 1998 Maglev Feature

Maglev1

Some further reading:

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The Great North Rail Project

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As part of Network Rail’s £1 billion, 25-year “Railway Upgrade Plan” there are 7 projects that form the  “Great North Rail Project” sub-project which is intended to be complete by 2022 – only 4 years from now.  They include:

  • Liverpool City Region upgrade
  • Manchester to Preston improvements
  • Preston to Blackpool North
  • Transpennine Route upgrade
  • West Yorkshire signalling upgrade
  • Ordsall Chord
  • Calder Valley improvements

These seven projects are highlighted as the infrastructure improvements in the north of England.  Fair enough, Network Rail doing infrastructure work – but these projects seem to suggest Network Rail may be providing new trains – in particular there is a reference to those trains as part of the “Railway Upgrade Plan”.

The key benefits include longer, faster, more frequent trains; a better, more reliable infrastructure; and better facilities for passengers, especially at stations.

To be fair, and maybe I am being picky but isn’t it the job of the rolling stock leasing companies to buy and offer the new trains to the train operating companies – Transpennine, Northern Rail, etc. – not Network Rail.  Or perhaps since the physical infrastructure is being upgraded, is this going to be a first step towards re-nationalisation?

However, amongst the key projects of this grand plan, electrification is being progressed – yet not in the North.  The new “Azuma” trains have already encountered a problem, since the East Coast Main Line franchise is soon to be terminated, so they may not enter service at all, or be delayed, or under a publicly owned railway.  Similarly, Network Rail indicate that HS2 is one of their key projects – but I thought this was another privately funded scheme.

So where are we today?  There is still a lot of infrastructure work to be completed before Blackpool can be reached by a new electric train service, and Liverpool Lime Street is being closed in the summer for a couple of months, and the Chorley “Flying Arches” appear to be uplifted.

Here are a few snaps of work in progress in the North West: