With their distinctive Nanking Blue livery, the Blue Pullmans were an iconic train from the early 1960s. BR marketed them as Britain’s attempt at a exclusive luxury train in the mould of the continental TEE. Just five units were built, technical problems meant that they lasted a mere thirteen years in service, and sadly none survive in preservation.
Author and bookseller Kevin Robertson is a familiar sight at railway shows up and down the country. He’s previously written books on GWR gas turbines and the ill-fated Bullied “Leader”. His latest book tells the complete history of the Blue Pullmans, from their original concept, their operations to Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff, through to their eventual decline towards withdrawal.
It’s extensively illustrated, including sixteen page colour section, which not only includes some superb colour photographs, but also a lot of the 1960 BR publicity material. There are many good black and white photos as well; one of my favourite shots in the book is of a set leaving Paddington taken from one of the high road overbridges. It manages to include a Hall class 4-6-0, a class 117 DMU and a Metropolitan line COP train all on adjacent tracks to the Pullman. It’s not just action shots of the trains in service, there are also plenty of detail shots, essential for anyone wanting to model one of these trains. The book also contains 4mm scale drawings the cars, both exterior and interior layouts.
The text is packed with historical and technical information, from details of the equipment of the trains to the catering menus. A lot of space is devoted to what may consider the Achilles heel of the trains, the rough riding of the Swiss-designed bogies. These may have worked well under Swiss EwIIs on SBB’s well-maintained track, but they proved allergic to the rough trackwork of the Midland Main Line. Robertson notes that the rough riding was nowhere nears as bad on the better maintained WR lines out of Paddington.
On operations, we’re told of the services run over the years, as well as some proposed runs that never saw the light of day, such as extending the Midland Pullman to Liverpool, or the proposals to use the Midland sets on the East Coast Line following withdrawal of the Midland Pullman. Robertson implies that the livery change in the late sixties that saw the Nanking Blue replaced by reversed BR blue/grey (the so called “Silver Pullman”) marked the beginning of the end. We’re told of the train formations in their declining years, when cars were swapped around between different sets in order to turn out enough complete trains as individual vehicles got sidelined.
Robertson concludes the story with some thoughts on their influence and legacy. He largely dismisses the popular idea that they were any kind of technical precursor to the wildly successful HST that entered service shortly after the demise of the Pullmans. He does however recognise that the Blue Pullman, despite the technical failings that contributed towards their downfall, proved the concept of the fixed-formation multiple unit for inter-city services, now the predominant form of train on today’s railway.
Overall, an excellent book, well researched and superbly illustrated.