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Blue Pullman

In 1954, the British Pullman Car Company was taken over by the British Transport Commission and the following year its chairman, Sir Brian Robertson, announced a £1.2 billion modernisation plan for British Railways.

One of its principal aims was the replacement of steam by diesel services, in particular the introduction of three new Pullman services – one for the London Midland Region and two for the Western region. These were to be the most luxurious rail services at a time of growing competition from both the expanding motorway network and domestic airlines.

The new diesel multiple-unit Pullman cars built by Metro Cammell demonstrated a touch of class in their striking Nanking Blue livery with white window surrounds. The nose of each motor car was adorned with the Pullman crest, resembling a coat-of-arms. Full air conditioning was used for the first time, along with double-glazed windows to insulate passengers from disturbing sound and vibration.

In First Class, the armchair seats were deeply padded and could be reclined. Table service including specially designed menus and wine lists were provided by smartly-dressed attendants in matching blue uniforms. Attention to detail extended to diffused fluorescent lighting, magazine racks, silver plate and glassware bearing the Pullman insignia.

The streamlined power cars at each end of the train were equipped with 1,000hp engines driving electric transmission with a top speed of 90mph. The initial test run of a complete six-car Blue Pullman set took place on 1 February 1960. Bedford was passed at 80mph and later in the journey, the train reached 105mph.

But the Pullmans struggled to maintain the high speeds. The power units were worked close to their limits just to maintain timetable schedules and the engines lasted a relatively short time compared to their Class 47 diesel locomotive substitutes.

From the mid-1960s, in line with new safety requirements, wraparound yellow ends were applied to the motor cars. Then British Rail’s corporate livery resulted in the Pullmans being repainted grey with a blue band. Both diminished the uniform styling and appearance of the brand.

The Midland Pullman was withdrawn in 1966 following the electrification of the West Coast Main Line between Manchester and London. The Birmingham Pullman was withdrawn in 1967, and with the introduction of InterCity 125 units in the Western region, all Blue Pullman services were finally withdrawn in 1973.

Yugoslav Railways expressed an interest in purchasing the entire stock but this plan was eventually dropped and none of the Blue Pullman cars has been preserved.