Bringing back the Brighton Belle

Keep in touch with the restoration...and the count-down to the launch of excursions on the mainline

45 years ago today...

The last scheduled run from London to Brighton

Winston Churchill's final journey

45 years ago today, on Sunday 30 April 1972, we witnessed the last scheduled run of the Brighton Belle. Pictured holding up the cut out of a chef in dark uniform, just before the unit set off from London Victoria, is Chris Lade, the conductor. Chris had joined British Railways on 3 May 1934 as a 16 year old and achieved forty years of service, particularly as an attendant on Pullman trains.

His hobby was swimming and he swam year round off Hove beach at Courtney Gate. This a profound impact on his life, as his skills helped him swim three miles to a destroyer during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

He was involved in many high profile journeys during the 1960s as the Lead Conductor for the Royal Train, often taking the Royal family to events such as the Derby and Oaks at Epsom races as well as taking care of visiting Presidents, Prime Ministers and foreign royalty.

Chris was also responsible for looking after the family and special guests who travelled on the funeral train which carried the body of Sir Winston Churchill from Waterloo to Bladon, for the final leg of the funeral journey in January 1965. Fittingly, the rake was comprised of five Pullman cars - brake car Nº208, cars Carina, Lydia and Perseus and brake car Isle of Thanet.
30 April 2017
A fuller account of this last journey of one of our greatest leaders can be found here. The driver for the journey was 61 year old AW Hurley who was a veteran of Royal Train Duties and who had previously fired a war-time train carrying Winston Churchill. The fireman was Jim Lester. Leaving Waterloo at 1:28pm, the train travelled slowly by Southern metals to Reading where it joined the Western region line for the continuance to Handborough, arriving at 3:23pm. Following a job well done, 34051 returned light engine to Nine Elms and back to her regular daily tasks.

Return of the Brighton Belle delayed a while

Our hopes to see the Brighton Belle returned to the mainline in the same year as the Flying Scotsman were not to be. After a frustrating year be-set by problems with the complex re-wiring of the motor thirds and resource constraints, the Trust reluctantly took the decision to leave its home at Barrow Hill, a process which cost almost six months of productive activity.

The Trust paid fulsome tribute to the ground-breaking work carried out by Rampart Engineering. “They were able to achieve what everyone said was impossible and Paul Ramsden should be proud to have created a national centre of excellence for heritage railway restoration at Barrow Hill. Our problem with hitting our stretching targets has been one of capacity – the ability to work on at least four cars at the same time.”

The new home for the project is at W H Davis at Shirebrook, where all of the Belle cars now sit in a vast building akin to an aircraft hangar, with all components and spares sat adjacent to each car in racked out shipping containers. The project has suddenly moved up a gear by virtue of the massive space available, finally allowing the application of lean manufacturing techniques to the project with all the assets to hand instead of being stored at multiple locations throughout the Chesterfield area. A game changer…

The professionalism of the W H Davis management team has allowed an excellent working relationship to be quickly established and the team has access to a large in-house engineering resource to accelerate completion of the project. Problems with the complex wiring systems apart, this final phase is essentially a production line; all of the engineering challenges have been fully resolved and the conditions set by the Rail Regulator are being met.

After re-launching a four car Belle unit, the speed of the completion of final two cars will be a simple product of the rate at which funding can be pulled in. The Trust is crossing its fingers that, with a tail wind, mainline testing might be completed by the end of the year, but getting it right is more important than doing it quickly - we'll keep you posted on progress.

Excursion programmes  in sight at last!

The Belle will soon return to the British mainline! Re-scheduling of the restoration project's work programme will see the all-important mainline running tests hopefully being carried around the end of the year, leading to the train's return to passenger-carrying service.  

The project continues to throw up demanding engineering challenges. One testing issue was the discovery that sharp knibs in the core of galvanised wiring conduits had fouled the densely-packed cable runs. For safety and reliability reasons, the work had to be carried out again using a different mounting regime, requiring four months of previously un-scheduled workload as well as extra expense. There have also been regrettable and lengthy delays in the delivery of wheel sets, as well as an unsuccessful search for a Stills gas water boiler to complete the kitchen in Car 85. 

A restricted number of Donor Friends was able to tour the cars in the shed at Barrow Hill recently, including leading BBC journalist Nicholas Owen (pictured here with Trust Chairman Denis Dunstone) and former Scotsman owner, Sir William McAlpine. They were all impressed by the standards of workmanship from Ramparts, including the many miles of aircraft-quality wiring.

'The two great trains from the inter-war years back on the mainline' (BBC)

The world has rightly fallen in love with the Flying Scotsman, now well and truly back on the British mainline. Tens of thousands of admirers lined the route from London Kings Cross to York on 25 February 2016 as it made a triumphal return to its home town!

The overhaul of 'The Scotsman' started in 2006, with a history of repeated discovery of un-mapped problems. Ian Riley has undoubtedly done a fantastic job to return this record-breaking and 93 years old locomotive to  relaible service.

It is worth remembering that the project to restore the Brighton Belle to the mainline was launched in 2009, with the engineering work not truly underway until early 2011. And that this has been a  much more complex and stretching project than the major overhaul of the Flying Scotsman.

On BBC One last night (7 March 2016)  the point was made very forcefully that 2016 will go down in the record books as a landmark year for heritage railway restoration with what were, almost certainly, the two most important trains from the inter-war years returning to the British mainline. What a moment to celebrate! You can watch on iPlayer here  (commences at twenty minutes in).

Doris' original clock gifted to the restoration programme

By an extraordinary piece of timing, as First Class Car ‘Doris’ waits to enter shortly the Brighton Belle Shed at Barrow Hill, a kind gesture from the family of the late Graham Stenning has reunited her with her original double-faced Pullman clock.
This heavy 17cm tall mechanical chronomter sits within the central bulkhead divider, providing an accurate time check for passengers travelling in both saloons. Both faces are engraved with the car name.
Avid collector of all things railway, rail engineer Graham died on 30th June, 2015, aged just 52, after a long battle with leukaemia.
Some may recall that on 11th December 2015, the  Southern and Gatwick Express' "thunderbird" and route learning locomotive 73202 was named "Graham Stenning" at Lovers Walk Depot in honour and memory of Southern's long serving and widely respected Apprentice Manager.
The unveiling was attended by Graham’s brother Paul and other members of the Stenning family and many former apprentices. It was hosted by Graham’s colleague and friend, Peter Worsfold.

The Pullman crest can return!

In her very last operational years the Belle suffered the indignity of the removal of the Pullman crest on the front of each driving car, replaced by an ugly yellow panel. This served a valuable safety function, but, aesthetically, it was a disaster. In mid-December 2015 we learned that, having incorporated the latest running lights into the front elevation (see below), we should be able to launch the train with the crest re-instated! The big decision now is whether to adopt the very large celebratory crest which marked the launch of the Blue Pullman or the smaller standard item which it wore for over thirty years.
Here's the technical stuff: RGS GM/RT2483 required the front of trains to include a yellow warning panel to increase their visibility to members of the public and trackside staff. GM/RT2483 issue one clause C1.1 and C1.2.1 does not have a requirement for the colour of the front of trains; the presence of a head lamp meeting the requirements of the TSI is considered to give a sufficient visual warning that a train is approaching; whilst the combination of that head lamp along with the marker lamp layout is considered to make an approaching train identifiable as a train.

First Class Car 'Doris' arrives at Barrow Hill

'Doris' arrived at Barrow Hill on 16 November 2015 after being hauled by road from the Bluebelle Railway, where she was stored in a siding at Horsted Keynes while awaiting a restoration slot in the Brighton Belle Shed. In early December we saw the fist stage in her return to the mainline, the removal of her interior. All of the fine marquetry panels will be passed to the craftsmen at Wheathills of Derby, while our engineers will prepare for the complex process to strengthen the underframe and to adapt her for '60s stock BR bogies. The ride will be much improved and she will be able to run at 90 mph.
'Doris' was swapped for the Golden Arrow Pullman car 'Carina' in 2011, the latter being acquired by the Trust from Jim Kay on the North Yorkshire moors Railway. 'Carina' is a key part of the Bluebell Railway's long-term plan for a five-car, all-Pullman, Golden Arrow train, providing a much-needed second kitchen. A number of years ago, the railway acquired 'Doris' as a potential second kitchen, but recognised that the conversion from electric to steam specification might not be optimal from a heritage standpoint. The Bluebell Railway therefore agreed to release 'Doris' for the Brighton Belle project if another Pullman kitchen car could be found.

The Brighton Belle: one of the trains that 'time forgot' - BBC4

BBC 4 will be broadcasting the first in a new series of the 'Timeshift' programme on 2 September 2015. Entitled 'The Trains That Time Forgot: Britain's Lost Railway Journeys', this hour long documentary looks at the pivotal role of three named trains - The Brighton Belle, The Flying Scotsman and the Cornish Riviera Express. We journey back to a lost era of rail travel, when trains had names, and character and style.  When, instead of buying a ticket for a journey, you booked yourself on a ‘service’.  These trains were named by the original railway companies essentially as a marketing tool; to attract passengers amidst great competition.
Once the pride of the railway companies that ran them, the ‘named train’ is now largely consigned to railway history.  Around 350 named trains have come, and mostly gone, in this country.  In Timeshift: ‘The Trains That Time Forgot’ , writer and presenter Andrew Martin asks why we once named trains and why we don’t do so anymore.  Andrew embarks on three railway journeys around Britain, following the routes of three of the most famous named trains:  The Flying Scotsman, from Edinburgh to London, Kings Cross … The Cornish Riviera Express, from London, Paddington to Penzance and The Brighton Belle, from London, Victoria to Brighton.   Click here to watch a short clip (do remember to select full screen and turn the sound up!) No doubt the programme will be repeated several times on BBC 4.

The Brighton Belle enters the 21st century

Much of the complex engineering work that has been carried out in the Brighton Belle Shed at Barrow Hill will never be seen by the travelling public when she returns to the British mainline in 2016. The much strengthened underframe and crash protection in the cabs are to all intents and purposes invisible, but essential to meet the very significantly more demanding safety regime of our modern railway system. Under the floor runs many kilometres of new wiring, some of which will permit the train to run off the third rail system, with the driver in the front cab controlling a Class 73 or similar locomotive propelling the train from the rear.
In this picture of car 91, taken on 1 August 2015, we see the new running lights which are mandatory for mainline operation. The first attempts were significantly more arresting to the eye, but the final approach we see here, supported by the rail authorities, gives us lamps which are subtly blended in. She might have been built in 1932, but when she retuns to the mainline in 2016, the Belle will  be much faster, will ride better and will be much safer. That's quite a result!

The Brighton Belle 'revived after years on the scrapheap' - BBC1

The BBC celebrated the imminent return of the Brighton Belle with a very generous ten minute mini documentary on 23 March 2015, which was broadcast in peak time in most regions.
If you missed it, the package can be viewed on BBC iPlayer for the next 30 days (until 20 April) - click  here . The documentary follows the Belle's story from its introduction into service in 1932 through to the dispersal of the fifteen Belle cars around the country and the story of the 5BEL Trust's struggle to locate, then acquire, enough vehicles to restore to return a complete train to the mainline.
It also highlights the high cost of the project, now expected to exceed £6 million.
The picture on the left is a reminder that the Brighton Belle was a Royal Train, having frequently carried members of the British Royal Family. On 15 June 1953, the entire Royal Family travelled from London to Portsmouth on the Belle to participate in the Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead, which marked the coronation of Elizabeth II. There was a total of 23 kms of naval ships moored for the Review!