British Rail Classes 251 and 261

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British Rail Class 251 and 261
Blue Pullman
Blue pullman 60099 - swansea - aug 1967.jpg
Blue Pullman Swansea 1967.
Interior of Pullman Motor Parlour Second (MPSL) W60646 (8322321847).jpg
Interior of Pullman Motor Parlour Second (MPSL) No.W60646
In service1960–1973
Family nameBlue Pullman
ReplacedSteam locomotives and carriages
Entered service12 September 1960
Number built5 sets (2 × 6-car; 3 × 8-car)
Number scrappedAll
Formation6 or 8 cars per set
Fleet numbers
  • DMBFL: M60090–3
  • DMBS: W60094–9
  • MSL: W60644–9
  • MFLRK: M60730–3
  • TFLRK: W60734–9
  • TFL: 60740–9
Capacity6-car sets: 132
8-car sets: 218
Operator(s)British Railways
Line(s) served6-car sets: London Midland Region (1960-1967) and Western Region (1967-1973)
8-car sets: Western Region
Car body constructionSteel
Train length395 ft (120.40 m) (MR)
545 ft 1 in (166.14 m) (WR)
Car length66 ft 5.5 in (20.26 m) (power cars)
65 ft 6 in (19.96 m) (intermediate vehicles)
Width9 ft 6 in (2.90 m)
Height12 ft 4.5 in (3.77 m)
DoorsHinged slam, centrally locked
Maximum speed90 mph (145 km/h)
Weight6-car sets: 299 long tons (335 short tons; 304 t)
8-car sets: 364 long tons (408 short tons; 370 t)
Prime mover(s)NBL/MAN V12 Supercharged (×2)
Power output1,000 hp (750 kW) (×2)
Transmissiontraction motors: 199 hp (148 kW) (×8)
AuxiliariesRolls-Royce C8NFLH @ 190bhp, under floor for air conditioning[2]
UIC classification6-car sets: 2′Bo′+Bo′2′+2′2′+2′2′+2′Bo′+Bo′2′
8-car sets: 2′Bo′+Bo′2′+2′2′+2′2′+2′2′+2′2′+2′Bo′+Bo′2′
BogiesMetro-Schlieran frictionless
Braking system(s)Westinghouse Electro-pnuematic brake featuring a high speed control
Multiple working2 sets (6-car units (1967-1973)
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)

The Blue Pullmans were high-speed luxury trains used from 1960 to 1973 by British Railways. They were the first Pullman diesel-electric multiple units, incorporating several novel features.

Named after their original Nanking blue livery, the trains were conceived under the 1955 Modernisation Plan to create luxury diesel express trains aimed at competing with the motor car and the emerging domestic air travel market. Although not entirely successful – they were seen as underpowered, unreliable, and ultimately not economically viable – they demonstrated the possibility of fixed-formation multiple-unit inter-city train services, and inspired the development of the Inter City 125, which resembles them in having an integral power car at each end of the train.

There were two versions, built by Metro Cammell in Birmingham: two first-class six-car sets for the London Midland Region (LMR), and three two-class eight-car sets for the Western Region (WR), they were initially operated by the luxury train operator the Pullman Car Company, which the British Transport Commission (BTC) had recently acquired. Shortly after their introduction, in 1962, Pullman was nationalised, and operation was incorporated into the British Railways network. Originally given the last Pullman vehicle numbers, towards the end of their operational life the trains gained the British Rail TOPS classification of Class 251 (motor cars) and Class 261 (kitchen and parlour cars), although they never carried these numbers.

The WR sets operated from London Paddington to Birmingham and Wolverhampton, and to Bristol, Cardiff, and Swansea; the LMR sets operated the Midland Pullman between London St Pancras and Manchester Central, a journey it accomplished in a record 3 hours 15 minutes with a maximum speed of 90 mph.[3] The Midland Pullman was withdrawn in 1966 following electrification of the Euston-Manchester line, which brought greatly reduced journey times with which the Midland route could not compete; the LMR sets were then transferred to the WR, where some of the first-class seating was downgraded to form two-class sets.

The sets were an advanced and luxurious design, befitting a Pullman train, although they did suffer some criticism particularly over a persistent ride quality problem. Over time it became costly to maintain such a small fleet of trains. By 1972, with the development of first-class accommodation in Mark II coaching stock, the surcharge for Blue Pullmans seemed uneconomical and unreliable to passengers and BR managers, and in 1973 the trains were withdrawn. None of them were preserved.

The sets featured in three films, one of the same name as a documentary of the design and development, and an observation of the first service. From 2006, the Blue Pullman name was revived as a charter railtour, operated by various companies.


The Midland Pullman at Cheadle Heath (Stockport) before its regular non-stop morning run to London St Pancras on 28 September 1960.


In June 1954, the BTC, which operated the railways through its British Railways subsidiary, purchased the full equity of the Pullman Car Company, a private operator of luxury carriages on the otherwise nationalised passenger network.

Under the 1955 Modernisation Plan there was a push toward diesel power to replace steam locomotives, and Pullman coaching stock was ageing; the BTC and PCC formed a committee to examine the possibility of running diesel express passenger trains using new trains. Initially proposed as the Midland Pullman, it was timed to compete on the London to Manchester route against car and air travel. After being initially rejected for operational reasons, the BTC decided to make use of the reputation of the recently acquired Pullman company to operate the new service.[citation needed] Two six-car units – all first class – were to be ordered for the LMR, and three 8-car units for the WR.[4]


Blue Pullman at Old Oak Common

The selection of Pullman caused some initial delays due to trade union staffing problems, variances in pay and conditions of the Pullman staff compared to BR train staff.[3][5] After some production delays, the first set appeared for trials in October 1959; these trials revealed that rough ride quality was a problem, and modifications were made. These mitigated the problem, but it was never entirely removed.[6]

After a demonstration run on 24 June 1960, Midland Pullman started in July 1960,[note 1] and the WR trains on 12 September, they operated Monday to Friday only.[7] Weekends were reserved for maintenance, and also allowed their occasional use on special or charter services to events such as the Grand National.

The "Midland Pullman" ran from 1960 to 1966 in the morning from Manchester Central to St Pancras calling at Cheadle Heath near Stockport, a fill-in journey from St Pancras to Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and back, and an evening return to Manchester.[3] With completion in 1966 of the electrification of the West Coast Main Line from London Euston to Manchester London Road (now Piccadilly), there was the opportunity for a faster electric-locomotive-hauled Pullman service than the diesel sets, and the Midland Pullman sets were transferred to the WR in March 1967; the introduction of new Mk1 (non-air conditioned) Pullman cars on the East Coast Main Line in 1961 had been questioned as it was believed the ER had not waited for the completion of evaluation of the Blue Pullmans. The later introduction of 2nd-class air-conditioned Mk2 coaches on these services hastened the perception that the Pullman supplement was not value for money.

The WR "Birmingham Pullman" ran in the morning Wolverhampton Low Level to London Paddington, via Birmingham Snow Hill and through High Wycombe, with a fill-in journey from Paddington to Birmingham Snow Hill and back, before the evening return to Wolverhampton; the "Bristol Pullman" from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington and back, twice in a day. The two morning services were booked to arrive at the same time at Paddington, giving the possibility of a side-by-side arrival.

From 1961, an additional morning train, the "South Wales Pullman", operated from Paddington to Cardiff and Swansea.

The withdrawal of the Midland Pullman allowed its sets to be used on a new non-stop service for Oxford, and on additional out-and-back services on the Bristol and Swansea routes; the Birmingham services were eventually withdrawn, with the last services being to South Wales. At least one South Wales Pullman set was running from Wales to Paddington in April 1974.


Towards the end of their operational life, the sets operated as three makeshift sets formed from various original cars to maintain a working service. With the imminent introduction of the InterCity 125 sets and declining reliability, the last sets were withdrawn en masse in May 1973. A farewell commemorative special journey out and back from Paddington was run by the Western Region, travelling for 12 hours via High Wycombe, Banbury, Leamington Spa, Kenilworth, Coventry, Birmingham New St, Cheltenham, Bristol Temple Meads, the Severn Tunnel, Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol Parkway, Didcot and Slough.

After service and preservation[edit]

Ten cars (6 Midland and 4 Western) had been reportedly saved from the scrapyard in July 1975 for preservation,[8] however, none have been preserved.

Some of the motor cars were retained at Bristol Temple Meads and Bath Road until mid-1974 as standby electricity generators during industrial action in the electricity and coal-mining industries.

The Irish national rail and bus operator Córas Iompair Éireann gave "serious consideration" to acquiring (and by implication, re-gauging by exchanging the standard gauge bogies with broad-gauge ones) the Blue Pullman sets but ultimately decided against it.[9]


Class 251 unit arriving at Bristol Temple Meads on 5th May 1973 (the final day of operation).

The sets had a maximum speed of 90 mph (140 km/h); the fixed couplings reduced much of the jerky movement experienced by conventionally buffered carriages and allowed smooth acceleration and stable running. The bogies had hydraulically damped helical springs, and the axles were pneumatically braked in a two-stage system, allowing highly controlled stopping.

They were air-conditioned with automatic humidity control. Motor cars had a large primary diesel engine and generator for motive power, and a secondary Rolls-Royce C8NFLH diesel engine and auxiliary 150kVA 3-phase 400V generator beneath the floor provided power for the air-conditioning, fridges and ancillary equipment.[10] A single auxiliary per set was normally sufficient. An onboard Travelling Maintenance Attendant monitored the supply of services.[11]

Seating was 2+1 armchair-type round tables with a table lamp and with steward call button; the saloons were protected from track noise by extra insulation in the bodywork and double-glazed windows with Venetian blinds between the panes.


To emphasise the new type of service, a Nanking blue livery and associated brand image replaced the traditional Pullman livery of brown and cream, and cars bore the word "PULLMAN" rather than individual names. Seating was also different from traditional first-class Pullman cars, increasing from 1+1 to 1+2.

The original livery was Nanking blue with white window surrounds and the Pullman crest on the front and sides. From mid-1966 full wrap-around yellow ends were applied to the driving cars[citation needed]. From October 1967 the sets were repainted in a reverse corporate blue and grey livery, similar to other Pullman coaches and the prototype Class 252, though some retained the Nanking blue livery into 1969.

Technical details[edit]

Power car (one at each end of set):

  • Introduced: 1960
  • Weight: 67 tons 10 cwt
  • Engine: NBL/MAN 1,000 bhp (750 kW)
  • Motors: two 199 hp (148 kW) GEC traction motors (plus two on the adjoining car)
  • Maximum tractive effort: Not known
  • Driving wheel diameter: Not known
  • Coupling code: Not known
  • Train heating: Electric, powered by 190 bhp (140 kW) Rolls-Royce underfloor engine on adjoining vehicle


The sets were formed from three basic types of car: motor car, kitchen car and parlour car; the cars were permanently coupled and hermetically sealed for maintenance of the air-conditioning settings. The sets were symmetrical with a motor car at each end, and two kitchen cars serving their respective halves of the train. In an emergency, the buffers on the front of the sets were used in conjunction with a normally concealed coupling hook.

The LMR operated two sets of six first-class cars, the WR three sets of eight cars with first- and second-class seating. Withdrawal of the Midland Pullman allowed operation of 12-car formations; the seating in the full length of the parlour cars was augmented by seated sections in the kitchen cars, and motor cars also had a passenger compartment. Kitchen cars and Midland Pullman power cars had one toilet, parlour cars two.

Formations were made up as follows:

London Midland Region
60090 60730 60740 60741 60731 60091
60092 60732 60742 60743 60733 60093
Western Region
60094 60644 60734 60744 60745 60735 60645 60095
60096 60646 60736 60746 60747 60737 60647 60097
60098 60648 60738 60748 60749 60739 60649 60099

In film[edit]

The units starred in the 1960 British Transport Film Blue Pullman directed by James Ritchie, which followed their development, preparation and a journey on the train; as with earlier British Transport films, many of the personnel, scientists, engineers, crew and passengers were featured. It won several awards, including the Technical & Industrial Information section of the Festival for Films for Television in 1961, it is particularly notable for its score, by Clifton Parker.[12]

The units were the subject of the British Transport Film Let's Go To Birmingham in 1962; this was of a run from London Paddington to Birmingham Snow Hill via Leamington Spa and was largely a sped-up "cab view" film in the style of London to Brighton in Four Minutes.[13] Sadly, the driver in the film, Ernest Morris, was killed on 15 August 1963 in the Knowle and Dorridge rail crash when his express train collided with a freight train at 20 mph (32 km/h), his train was a Birmingham Pullman hauled by a Class 52 "Western" diesel-hydraulic locomotive, a stand-in for the regular Blue Pullman set.

A WR set appears twice in the 1963 British Transport Film Snow in both a panoramic view and a passing view from an adjacent track at slow speed, and a few very short snips of close side on views of the train passing the camera.[14]

A Blue Pullman made brief appearances in the 1965 Norman Wisdom film The Early Bird, destroying Pitkin's milk cart at a level crossing.


There have been several commercial models, of varying dimensional accuracy.

Kitmaster produced an unpowered polystyrene injection-moulded model kit at 00 scale. In late 1962, the Kitmaster brand was sold by Rosebud Dolls to Airfix and it is thought the tools were destroyed in a fire, so no further kits were produced.[15]

From 1964 to 1967 Tri-ang (later Tri-ang Hornby) produced ready-to-run models of the power cars and one type of parlour car,[16][17] all of which had dimensional compromises.[citation needed]

In May 2010, Olivia's trains of Sheffield announced its intention to produce a ready-to-run model in association with Heljan models of Denmark. On Bachmann's announcement that it would be producing a model, the project was cancelled.

In July 2010 Bachmann announced two Nanking blue versions of the Midland Pullman, with and without full yellow wrap-around ends; the models were released in late 2012.[18] In June 2016, Bachmann released a collectors' edition of the Midland Pullman, which included a book about the Midland Pullman, written especially for the product by Kevin Robertson, a reproduction menu card, a print of the artwork featured on the box, as well as a set of stewards and train crew figures.[19]

Graham Farish made an N gauge model in Nanking blue, and in January 2018 announced planned production of versions of the Western Pullman in grey and blue livery.[20][21]

See also[edit]

References and Notes[edit]


  1. ^ Sources differ on the date of the first service: Heaps says 23 July, whereas Tufnell says 4 July.[7][6]


  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference Fox87-40 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ BR 33003/81 (1960), p. 2.
  3. ^ a b c Allen, G. Freeman (December 1959). "Talking of trains: The 'Midland Pullman'". Trains Illustrated. Hampton Court: Ian Allan. p. 574 ff.
  4. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 58.
  5. ^ Tufnell 1984, p. 61.
  6. ^ a b Tufnell 1984, p. 64.
  7. ^ a b Heaps 1988, pp. 66–67.
  8. ^ Fox, Peter (1980). Multiple Unit Pocket Book: 1980 Edition. Sheffield: Platform 5 Publication. ISBN 0-906579-02-3. p. 65.
  9. ^ "Córas Iompair Éireann: Not On" (PDF). Irish Railfans' News. 19 (4). November 1973. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  10. ^ BR 33003/81 (1960), pp. 2,20.
  11. ^ BR 33003/81 (1960), p. 20.
  12. ^ "Blue Pullman (1960) - BTF". Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  13. ^ "Let's Go To Birmingham (1962) - British Transport Films". Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  14. ^ BFI (13 January 2009), Snow (1963) - Geoffrey Jones | BFI National Archive, retrieved 5 May 2019
  15. ^ Knight, Stephen (1999). Let's Stick Together: An Appreciation of Kitmaster and Airfix Railway Kits. Clopthill: Irwell Press. ISBN 1-871608-90-2.
  16. ^ Tri-ang Railways - Minic Motorways Catalogue 10th Edition. Tri-ang Railways. 1964.
  17. ^ Tri-ang Hornby - Model Railways Catalogue 13th Edition. Tri-ang Hornby. 1967.
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Graham Farish 2018 New Releases". Bachmann Europe Latest News. 7 January 2018. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  21. ^ "NEWS: Graham Farish 6-car DMU Western Pullman". 21 February 2019. Retrieved 17 May 2019.


Further reading[edit]

  • Kevin Robertson (2005). Blue Pullman. Kestrel Railway Books.
  • Ian Allan ABC of British Railways Locomotives. Summer 1966.
  • Allen, Geoffrey Freeman (June 1982). "'Blue Pullman'". Rail Enthusiast. EMAP National Publications. pp. 6–11. ISSN 0262-561X. OCLC 49957965.

External links[edit]