In the late 1980s, there were plans to turn the empty hulk of Battersea Power Station into a huge theme park, and it was to come with its own high-speed rail link – the Battersea Bullet. It wasn’t what you might think of as a high-speed rail link though, as trips would take just over three minutes, and it was a shuttle between Victoria station and Battersea Park station.
While the trains were standard British Rail, the idea was that they wouldn’t come with windows, and instead, inside videos would play that show a high-speed journey. So the train would be an extension of the theme park, offering a sort of theme park illusion of high speed.
The idea was that trains actually travelling at 35mph would appear to be travelling at 150mph.
With the total project estimated to cost £12 million to cover the cost of refurbishing the platforms at Victoria and Battersea, in September 1988, Derby-based British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) was awarded a £7 million contract to build the new trains.
The train design was first shown off in February 1989. The concept image shows the trains with windows, but that’s presumed to be before the idea of replacing them with video screens was thought of.
The train design got to the point where they were given a designation of Class 447, and with three sets of 4-carriage trains expected to be built, British Rail allocated carriage numbers 99469-99481 (from the private owner carriage series) for the individual vehicles. The plan was for two trains to be in regular use, with a third as spare, or on occasions to be coupled to another to create an 8-carriage set on busy days.
The theme park developer and former Alton Towers director, John Broome said that: “The Battersea Bullet, manned by British Rail drivers and Guards in special branded uniforms, will leave at eight-minute intervals for the three and a half minute journey. Windowless trains with wrap-around video screens will give passengers the illusion of travelling at supersonic speed. Personal touch-screen display units, installed in every seat-back, will enable visitors to call up the daily programme of events and a description of the rides and restaurants, to help them plan their day at The Battersea”.
It was estimated that over half of the predicted 5.7 million annual visitors to the Battersea theme park would arrive by Battersea Bullet.
In the end, the early 1990s recession spelt the end of the Battersea project. The entertainment complex was never built, nor were the trains.
Weirdly though, the Battersea Bullet had a short second life – as a shuttle service between Battersea Park and Kennington station, although in this case rather than a supposedly high-speed train, it was a fleet of minibuses. Opened in February 2018, it closed down less than a year later, in January 2019.