GALLERY: Kent commuters see carriages swapped for luxury Belmond British Pullman on 7am service to London
PUBLISHED: 10:27 17 November 2016 | UPDATED: 11:20 17 November 2016
Passengers enjoyed a three-course breakfast aboard the vintage carriage, which replaced a Southeastern train from Kent to London this morning
Dozens of Kent commuters were given a surprise upgrade on their journey to work with a trip on a luxury train this week.
They described the journey as a once-in-a-lifetime experience after turning up at Ashford International station expecting to catch their usual Southeastern train to London.
The commuters spotted the vintage Belmond British Pullman train on platform six shortly after 7am on Thursday and were invited on board for an ultra-first class experience.
Travel firm Belmond said it laid on the service to remind people “just how wonderful train travel can be”.
After taking their seats in the spacious carriages, some of which date back to the 1920s, the passengers were served a three-course breakfast and entertained by a vocal harmony group.
The train, the sister of the Venice Simplon-Orient Express, is normally used to whisk leisure travellers away on trips to historic cities, major sporting fixtures and special events, such as afternoon tea hosted by TV’s Mary Berry.
But Belmond chartered it to treat commuters on a 90-minute journey passing through Charing, Maidstone, Otford and Swanley to London Victoria.
There was a lively atmosphere on board as passengers made the most of the experience, with conditions vastly different from those on many regular rush-hour services.
Latest Department for Transport figures show that 30 per cent of travellers were forced to stand because there were not enough seats on trains in and out of Victoria during the morning rush-hour on a typical autumn weekday last year - up from 25 per cent in 2011.
Passengers on Southern services have suffered months of disruption caused by strikes over changes to the role of conductors and high levels of staff sickness.
The travellers who took the special train from Ashford International were a combination of people recruited on the day and those who had registered for a surprise journey after seeing a social media campaign run by Belmond.
Tamsin Crook, 41, was among those who arrived at Ashford expecting to catch her usual train to work.
“I turn up every day, stand in the same spot and wait for the same train,” she said.
“The standard experience is fight for a seat and then put your head down and read. Here it’s like something out of an amazing film. It’s opulent. It feels like we’re going on holiday, not to work.”
She added: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
Nathan Charlton, 25, and his fiancee, Alicia Ray, 26, described the trip as a “nice luxury treat” after getting engaged last week.
As he was being served by the smartly dressed stewards, Mr Charlton said: “We were running a few minutes late for our train to St Pancras and then we saw this train from the car park.
“We spoke to the staff and they said, ‘You’re more than welcome to come on board’. The only problem is we’ll want to do this every day.”
Gary Franklin, a managing director at Belmond, said: “We felt commuters have had a rough ride recently, so we wanted to sprinkle some magic on the rails and do something that reminded people just how wonderful train travel can be when you have the luxury of time.”