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Former 5BEL carriage, 284 "Vera" at London Victoria on 15th August 2003. This car was previously in unit 3052, and is now owned and operated by VSOE

The Brighton Belle was a named train which ran on the Southern Railway from Victoria Station in London to Brighton on the Sussex coast. The first electric all-Pullman service in the world, it is almost certainly the best-known electric train in the UK. This Pullman service ran from 29 June 1934 until its unpopular withdrawal on 30 April 1972.


The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway began using Pullman cars in their express trains from 1875, and in December 1881 they introduced the first all-Pullman train in the UK. It was known as the Pullman Limited and ran between London and Brighton via Horsham. Subsequently ordinary rolling stock was added to this service. In 1888 a second all-Pullman service was instituted, using carriages lit by electric lighting and designed by William Stroudley[3].

The L.B. & S.C.R. was also the origin of the familiar British umber and cream Pullman livery. In 1903 Billinton changed the colour of the ordinary L.B. & S.C.R. coaches to umber brown with white or cream upper panels, and in 1906 this colour scheme was also adopted by the Pullman Car Co., with the name of the car in large gilt letters on the lower panel flanked on each side by a coloured transfer of the Pullman Company's crest.

5BEL Trust Trustee, Denis Dunstone, stands in front of Brighton Belle Car 91 shortly before it was transported by road to Derby for deep restoration.

Another all-Pullman service was introduced in 1908 under the name of the Southern Belle. Contemporary advertising by the L.B. & S.C.R. claimed that this was "... the most luxurious train in the world...". In 1908 this could be had for a special London Victoria to Brighton day return fare of 12 shillings, a premium rate at a time when average earnings were around £1 per week. The Southern Belle was steam hauled until 1933 when electric units were introduced. With the arrival of the mid-day Victoria to Brighton service at Brighton Station on 29 June 1934 the Mayor of Brighton, Miss M. Hardy, renamed the Southern Belle the Brighton Belle and it ran with this title until withdrawal.

Three five-car all-Pullman electric multiple units designated 5BEL were built for the service and ran throughout the train's life, usually in trains with two sets. The service was scheduled to take 60 minutes for the 51-mile non-stop journey. During the Second World War the service was suspended and the carriages were put into store, but the train was re-instated in 1946.

The 'spare' multiple unit set was used for a Sunday Pullman service from Eastbourne, known as the Eastbourne Pullman for much of the 1950s, but this service was discontinued in 1957.

The trains were refurbished in 1955, but by 1972 the stock was old and rode poorly by contemporary standards. Despite public protests[4] the decision was taken not to replace the rolling stock and the service was withdrawn on 30 April 1972. Nearly every carriage was preserved: some, beautifully preserved, are used on the Venice Simplon Orient Express; others became static restaurants, in various states of repair and permanently exposed to the elements. In 1972, one carriage became part of a public house in Winsford, Cheshire - it was removed in 1998 because of the high cost of refurbishment[5].

Bringing Back The Brighton Belle

The umbrella organisation for heritage transport preservation in the UK - The Transport Trust - has been concerned about the general plight of electric train preservation in Britain, the need to raise the profile of the type and a pressing imperative to deal with the issues of financial support and covered accommodation.

Under its patronage, a campaign[6] to return the Brighton Belle to mainline service was launched by the 5BEL Trust[5] in 2008. This charitable trust assembled a five-car set in early 2009[7] and has set in place agreements to cover refurbishment of the cars to an exacting effect, raising the bar for the restoration of electric trains. Restoration of the first driving car, Car 88, began at Pullman restoration specialists, Rampart of Derby, in February 2009 and was largely completed, awaiting motors, by September 2009. In that month, the second driving car, Car 91, was delivered to Derby for restoration. It is anticpated that a third carriage will commence restoration before the end of 2009.

Driving Cars 88 and 91 were coupled together for the very first time when the latter arrived at Rampart of Derby for restoration in September 2009

The aim is to operate the train as push-pull until the complete 5BEL set is restored to full operating condition, with a return to the mainline a clear goal. Despite the high cost of restoration, the programme is seen as an investment for future generations and a torch bearer for the preservation of electric trains. Progress with the restoration of the Brighton Belle to mainline use will depend on the level of public donations, but the Trust has given a commitment to have the train operational in time for the London 2012 Olympics.[8]


  1. ^ Frye, Charles, British Pullman Trains: A Tribute to All Britain's Steam, Diesel and Electric Pullman Services, Silver Link Publishing, ISBN 0947971785 (1992)
  2. ^ Preserved 5BEL Pullman Units[1], Southern Electric Group
  3. ^ Owen, Nicholas, The Brighton Belle, Southern Electric Group (1972), p9
  4. ^ Dunstone, Denis, For the Love of Trains, Ian Allan, ISBN 0711033013 (2007)
  5. ^ "Farewell to the Belle"[1]. This is Cheshire. Retrieved on 2009-01-04
  6. ^ Coupe News (Journal of Pullman Car Services) No. 66, pp 24-25[2]
  7. ^ Southern Electric Group: Preserved Pullmans[3]
  8. ^ 5BEL Trust[4]


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