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The project to restore the Brighton Belle to the British mainline is the largest and most complex heritage rail restoration project underway in the UK.
It was launched by the 5BEL Trust, a registered UK charity, in June 2009.
The Brighton Belle was the most famous electric train in the world, running each day between London and Brighton between 1933 and 1972. The quality of the accommodation puts today’s First Class carriages in the shade, with each car individually designed by a different leading British design house. It was – and will be again – the leading icon of the Art Deco period. The aim is to have this impressive train running on the main line for many years so that future generations can enjoy an authentic 1930’s travel experience.
When withdrawn in April 1972, not one of the unique carriages were allowed to go for scrap. Some became pubs or restaurants, or were used on heritage railways, with some of the first class cars even being sumptuously restored to service in the Venice, Simplon, Orient Express, British Pullman.
Alas, after the turn of the century it was clear that some cars had been discarded, and were likely to be scrapped. A group of people decided to restore a Brighton Belle train.
Careful thought revealed that to be effective, and to allow people to appreciate the manifestation of Art Deco that had was present, the goal should be to return the Brighton Belle to the main line as the unique electric Pullman in the world.
Here the challenge really began, as in the years since the train was retired, the railways south of the Thames have become real people-moving machines, with new, efficient, fast and safe third rail multiple-unit trains, running at up to 100mph, controlled by modern signalling – would Brighton Belle be allowed to enter the dense flow of this 90mph intricately timetabled and vital transport system?
If the team had known then what we know now, they may never have embarked on the restoration. However the determination of the backers and the team, led by Denis Dunstone, was that this train’s value is best appreciated running on the main line – and that was what it was built for.
To do otherwise would be to consign it to a life of being dragged up and down a heritage line unpowered. The electric train has been taken almost entirely for granted – bearing in mind its generous gift to humanity, so restoring the Queen of Electric Trains is a worthy goal.
Nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world. The great luxury of the train, together with wonderful Pullman service, is the flexibility of being able to go anywhere on the third-rail network, get in and out of terminal stations quickly, and if required, to go off the third-rail network altogether. This made it both exciting and desirable as a project. Besides it’s a proper train – and that’s rare in preservation.
Returning the Belle to the main line was expected to be costly and difficult. None anticipated the complexity of the works needed to achieve the standards now required. It can and will be done, and the successful finish of the restoration is now within sight.
A major obstacle was the upgrade of requirements needed to serve ‘today’s’ railway. Things had changed radically since 1932; even more so since 1972 when the train was withdrawn. The Brighton Line, for example, was by now a 750V DC powered railway with powerful trains with full electronic traction control and computer-supervised, on-board systems.
The objective of faster starting and stopping units is to increase line capacity without less station stops. There was no room for a 70mph, 1932 vintage old-timer to waft a gentle way, disrupting today’s business. So there was no prospect at all of using the original, 1932, traction and braking system: the control gear brought line voltage into the cab; the bogies, that had been changed, still gave a bad ride, which is not good for a dining train.
BR Mk6 motor bogies have been chosen, giving reliability, excellent power and a good ride. The lifting shoegear, will allow the Brighton Belle to work off the third rail, to be push-pull by a Class 73 or fitted Class 33. This is an extremely flexible train!
BR Mk6 motor bogies (2x250hp traction motors per bogie) and B5 bogies for the saloons. A number of ‘scrap’ units were purchased for the purpose as donors – ironic, as it was these that caused the Belle’s demise in 1972!
The practical way of fitting the recovered bogies was to detach part of the VEP sub frame, including the bogie spigots, and integrate this as a part-underframe, fore and aft under the monocoque body – improving strength considerably.
Extra strengthening members to be added to the motor car cabs.
The EP braking system to be transferred, with the air and electrical systems (pumps, motor generator, motor alternator, fuses, resistors, control gear etc.)
Buckeye couplers to be fitted throughout, with 400 type gangway buffing bars on the front, with OLEO buffers, and drawhook. SR 27-way jumpers and ETS leads to be fitted. Two-tone horn to be roof mounted, new bright lights to be fitted, new pattern windscreen wipers to be fitted. Old indicator box to be refitted, but sealed, together with the front windows. Driver’s doors to be sealed; new exit arranged via the brakevan double-door. Adapted driver’s desk, with new radio and TPWS OTMR, and GSM radio to be installed. New driver’s seats to be installed. Computerised train control system to be installed.
Sanding gear, retractable shoegear to be installed, push-pull compatible (no wheelslip detection or protection fitted).
The expense has been massive (+£6m) and the timescale much extended, yet the team have been constantly encouraged to plough on, and have done so. A ‘testable’ train was chosen as a starting stage – and that accounts for why the first iteration will be four cars long.
The carriages that make up the train were both given, and bought – some at generous prices, and one for a very large sum. It was clear that those now discarded remaining carriages that hadn't been restored, that had been ‘saved’ since its 1972 demise, had doubtful futures.
The lack of space across the former 3rd class vehicles was unfavourable to dining – the true advantage of Pullman. Thus extra work has gone in to following Pullman Car. Co practice, and converting them 2+2 to 2+1 seating.
At the end of it all a 6 Car train will be available that is capable of 90 mph top speed, that can accelerate as fast as modern trains, is fitted with all the necessary safety updates, and for the first time, will give the Brighton Belle a decent, smooth ride..
The original, glorious Art Deco interior has been restored; the beautiful umber and cream paintwork is being reinstated. The comfort level has soared, fitting the train for superb dining as well as making it a delight to the eye. Half-a-saloon is now a kitchen, in combination with that in the First Class Car Doris.
Soon the pleasure of seeing the Brighton Belle whining elegantly through the Sussex countryside will return, and it will be available for charter and days out across the whole third-rail system.
There is a substantial demand for pleasant days out by rail; the Pullman comfort of Brighton Belle certainly enables that. The kitchens and the staff on board will offer top-quality dining, whilst the train glides smoothly through the Garden of Kent, the Sussex Weald or the glories of Thanet, taking the guests for a memorable visit to one of a huge variety of venues.
It is a feature of this train that it can reverse direction within moments; it will fit neatly in to almost any station. Although it takes its power from the third rail, it is also able to be pushed or pulled by a locomotive, and so excursions to anywhere on the system are practical.
A range of Pullman days out will be offered, with the emphasis on relaxation, comfort and fine dining. The train may also be chartered – and what a superb private event this unique and elegant conveyance will make. Today people value luxury days out, and it is something about the quality of comfort and traditional service that we shall offer that will allow this train to come back to a big welcome when it is placed in service – hopefully in 2019-20.
The eventual train capacity will be over 170, but initially the train will be launched with 4 cars and just under 100 places. All the wide, thick velvet seats have deep, sprung cushions, with the Car Doris offering individual armchairs of great comfort. When you see this superb train glide past in stately fashion, with its gleaming umber and cream Pullman livery, there can be only one result – you will just have to go for a day out on the Brighton Belle – the Queen of Electric Trains.
For details on how to donate to the Brighton Belle project click here.
For details about launch dates and future operation of the train click here.
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This article first appeared on www.focustransport.org
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