Published: 17th September
When British Rail electrified the West Coast main Line (WCML) in 1965, they built a couple of Pullman trains to run between London, Manchester and Liverpool. Half a century on, the Manchester Pullman set has just been reintroduced to service following an extensive luxury refurbishment.
There are many Pullman services advertised by private companies such as the Orient Express but in reality, even this consists of rebuilt carriages - of which many were not originally Pullman built and designed carriages.
The completely refurbishes train will operate under the brand name of ‘Spirit of The Lakes’ and is able to operate at up to 100mph across the UK rail network.
It was to be introduced to service on Ryder Cup luxury specials but there were no train paths available so a short notice low-key launch was arranged instead. Its first outing was on September 13 on a trip from Stevenage at 530am when the headboard was first displayed on the train which went on to Ludlow for the annual food festival.
The train entered service in 1966 and consists of BR Mark 2 carriages and a Kitchen car. Today’s train consists of six genuine Pullman cars and when the train is complete in 2015, will consist of nine carriages carrying a maximum of 246 passengers.
The train has been internally restored to as-new condition at the Carnforth workshops of the West Coast Railway Company. Every seat has been hand stitched and the maquetry has also been refreshed.
The train carries a full silver service crew staffed by Grave Train catering whose staff have decades of on-train experience to call on with several having worked on the actual carriages in the 1960s and 70s. The staff well recall taking Manchester unites teams to away games – including to Wembley but refused to recall all the memories of those heady days to rail.co.uk.
The aptly named Gravy Train Catering Company employs 20 fully qualified staff with a combined 300 years plus of serving silver service on trains. Their speciality recreates a lost luxury available until 20 years ago, the full dining experience while on the move.
The food range starts with a full English breakfast followed by a light or traditional roast lunch, afternoon tea and a full evening dinner depending what time the train is operating.
The train is aimed at the luxury end of the charter market to be used by well-known charter train promoters and also for private hire. This could be weddings, corporate travel and yes, for football clubs who want their own service with plenty of legroom.
The train will from 2015, carry its own branded tableware and merchandise and it has several upcoming public outings. These are on October 4 from Bridlington and stations in East Yorkshire via Brough and Doncaster to Windsor and return.
Several winter trips have been arranged such as on December 6 from stations between Doncaster and St. Neots to Canterbury for the Christmas Market and February 21 from the same stations to Portsmouth for the Dockyard and Isle of Wight.
The same stations on the East Coast Main Line are served on May 15 with a trip to Edinburgh via the Settle & Carlisle line returning via Berwick and the Northumberland north sea coast.
Virgin retained one set of Mark 3 carriages to support their Pendolino fleet which was introduced 10 years ago. This was used for some time on a Friday evening relief train from Euston to Preston via the West Midlands, but with longer Pendolinos and at last, better availability, the requirement for a spare train is no longer there.
The carriages carry a pseudo Pendolino livery, hence the nickname, ‘Pretendolino’, are owned by Porterbrook and their future is currently uncertain when the lease ends. Similar carriages are used by Greater Anglia and Chiltern Trains in daily service so could potentially end up there. The train underwent refurbishment in 2009 at Wabtec in Doncaster but did not have wi-fi facilities installed.
The Virgin set was also available for charters and was only sporadically used but curiously, a new contract for them was only recently signed along with a Class 90 No. 90034 hired from DRS to pull the train. This will go back to DRS when the contract is cancelled which is expected to be within the next month or so. The train may be used on one final charter service taking in a coastal route watch this space for details.
It all seems to be part of Virgin cost cutting as they have announced internally that many backroom jobs will be going soon as well.