Published 22nd March 2014
The 5-BEL Trust is an organisation that is restoring former Pullman carriages to recreate the famous ‘Brighton Bell’ train. This ran until 1972 between Victoria and Brighton carrying many famous people between the capital and the famous seaside resort. It is called a 5BEL because it was a five carriage train designated as The Belle’ and The Brighton Belle’ commenced running in 1934 after running for a year as ‘The Southern Belle’.
The hour long journey was just long enough for the first class passengers to ‘take refreshments’ in the first class Pullman cars. The only similar train operating today is the ‘British Pullman’ operated by Belmont which does cost rather a lot, up to £400 for a day out but makes a great way to celebrate.
The Trust has embarked on a long, technically challenging and expensive restoration over the last few years. This followed the organisation purchasing several Pullman carriages from around the country which had been used as static restaurants.
The work is being carried out at the Barrow Hill Works near Chesterfield and the aim is to return a complete, what is called 5BEL Pullman train, to mainline service. The project is continuing to progress and modifications to the underframe prototype on Car 91 have now been signed off as fit to operate on the national network.
This work added four months to the project but has added protection providing additional redundancy in the overall strength and crash-worthiness of the vehicle. It has also added to the cost but the work means that the carriage meets todays higher safety standards and will be used on the other five carriages.
What the Trust describes as ‘heavy’ work is now underway on three Belle cars in their ‘Brighton Belle’ workshop at Barrow Hill reminding those with long memories of the major overhaul carried out at Preston Park (near Brighton) in 1955.
The train has had to be equipped with updated control boxes, power and Train Protection Warning System wiring, about to be installed. One box will provide the linkages that will enable the train to be coupled to a diesel or Electro-diesel to be operated over unelectrified sections of the network. The locomotive can be attached to either end of the train and if at the rear, the train will be driven from the motor third coach at the front.
Work includes refitting of the vestibule woodwork on Car 91 while Car 88 still has its original buffer beams that will shortly be transformed by the revised profile to enable buck-eye couplings to be used – a safety enhancement required on today’s railways.
Car 91 has had to be fitted with a pair of jumper boxes which link and control the train systems. The cost of providing these and the required type of cabling has proved expensive as prices have soared in the last few years.
Because of the way the engineering team has carried out the work, most passengers will not realise that significant engineering alterations have had to be made and these changes include crash protection strengthening of the front end and front corners of each of the motor third carriages.
These have been fitted with new vertical and horizontal pillar braces mainly hidden by the driver’s desk and as with other trains today, offer protection against head on crashes. The driver’s doors have been welded-shut and cross-braced which will give the next generation of drivers some warmth and a dry place to work. The welding and fabrication was carried out by Rampart to a very high standard. It was not unknown for drivers to wrap sacks around their legs for warmth in the older trains because of the drafts!
The driver will now have to enter the cab via the luggage doors and a ‘false’ floor allows access to the control gear wiring for inspection and servicing. The driver’s door shut-lines remain after the permanent welding but only those with good eyesight and a long memory will notice the altered window formation on this side of the car.
This is partly due to the installation of a disabled passenger compliant toilet at the front of the passenger area which is also where the luggage doors are providing easy access for these passengers.
Car 91 retains its buffers but for cosmetic purposes as the buckeye couplings and the renewed sole bars and frames will be absorbing any forces generated while the train is in motion.
Despite the massive engineering work carried out, most passengers will only notice the sumptuous Art Deco interiors and the calm atmosphere of a First Class Coupe!
This will be assisted with the delivery of fabulously accurate new-build Pullman table lamps purchased by the Trust from Benedict Cadbury’s ‘Lampholder’ consultancy.
The Trust is hopeful of running some ‘proving’ trials of a three car train next year on the national network. The train will comprise of the two motor thirds (Cars 88 and 91) and Car 85 which was purchased from VSOE in very poor internal condition which had been stored at Stewarts Lane where the British Pullman is based. It has suffered significant water ingress but once restored, one half of the car will be kitchen, to allow rather grander meals to be prepared than were ever offered in Southern/BR service.
The golden age of travel looks to be recreated from next year. You can help buy donating to the Trust a one-off amount or take out a covenant or become a friend of The Brighton Belle.
Pullman travel is also provided by Statesman Rail and West Coast Railways around the UK but these are popular so early booking is advisable.