Living The Dream Aboard The Extraordinary Sunset Steam Express

Living The Dream Aboard The Extraordinary Sunset Steam Express

Simon Wittenberg takes to the railway with The Steam Dreams Co.’s Sunset Steam Express to watch the sun go down over the scenic Surrey Hills.

The Steam Dreams Co. was founded in 1999 by the steam train enthusiast Marcus Robertson, whose mother, Elizabeth Beresford, wrote The Wombles – the popular children’s television programme. His idea was to bring back the age of luxury steam travel to paying guests, and since the inception of the business 24 years ago, which is now in the hands of the Locomotive Services Group, more than 20,000 journeys have been completed.

Amongst the offerings of The Steam Dreams Co. are the summer steam train itineraries, which fall under the “Steam Express” brand, launched in 2019, and the subject of our review. On several dates between 22nd June and the end of August 2023, the three-and-a-half-hour circular trip being offered is a Tuesday evening tour through the Surrey Hills, one of the areas classified in England as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), departing from Platform 2 at London Victoria railway station.

A green steam train travelling through the countryside pulling red and cream carriages

Hauling the beautiful cream and crimson vintage carriages for this rail excursion is the 19BR Standard Class 7 70000 Britannia steam locomotive. Built by British Railways in Crewe, Cheshire, and completed in 1951, it was the first of 55 locomotives in the Britannia class and is now owned by the Royal Scot Locomotive and General Trust.

Steeped in history, it pulled the carriages carrying the coffin of King George VI from Sandringham in Norfolk to London’s King’s Cross in 1952 and hauled The Royal Train from Preston to Wakefield on 24 January 2012, taking the Prince of Wales (now King Charles III) for a renaming ceremony to commemorate 70000 Britannia’s return to service after being refurbished.

At around 21 metres in length and capable of reaching 100 mph despite weighing in at a considerable 95 tonnes, Britannia sports an elegant full black exterior and was pulling around ten cream and crimson red carriages for our southern counties’ excursion.

The railway-themed marquetry in one of the carriages

There are three classes of ticket offered on the Sunset Steam Express ranging in price, starting with Standard (from £69 per person) – where you can enjoy complimentary tea and coffee and your own picnic around a table of four in open carriages, and First Class (costing from £99 per person for the month of August) where guests are seated in the ornate and vintage carriages, and are treated to sparkling wine and a savoury snack box (you can also bring your own food on board).

Two couples making a toast with glasses of champagne

The top-end package is Pullman Style Dining (starting from £155 per person), where guests are automatically hosted at tables of four in the plush and uber-comfortable deep armchair-style seating, also in the vintage carriages, unless a £50 per head supplement has been paid for a two-seater table.

As well as being able to enjoy an authentic setting which harks back to the 1950s, the other main advantage of opting for Pullman Style Dining is the fact that you are treated to a chilled and generous coupe of Hautbois in-house champagne after climbing aboard, followed by a nicely paced three-course meal, where dietary requirements can be accommodated on the premise of sufficient notice being given.

With the Sunset Steam Express, water on tables is included, but there is also the possibility to purchase additional soft drinks and alcoholic beverages if you wish, such as wine, Port and whisky, which seemed reasonably priced.

A young female of staff with a broad smile, eager to help guests on the train

On this summer route, there are five carriages dedicated to Pullman Style Dining, with three very friendly, hospitable staff working tirelessly in each one to deliver what is an exceptional standard of service to around 200 guests on this moving workstation.

Sitting by the large window amongst light wood panelling at the top end of Carriage A, we were greeted with an immaculately presented table dressed with a crisp white tablecloth on which sat a beautifully arranged set of white bone china crockery, silver tableware, and a fresh, colourful floral arrangement.

A male passenger looking at one of the many piece of literature provided by the company for guests

What is nice about the Steam Dreams Co. also, is that you are provided with several pieces of literature, namely a hard copy menu, plus a detailed explanation of the route and steam locomotive, a timetable with key points along the way, as well as a map to follow the circular route as the journey progresses.

The steam locomotive arrives into London Victoria front-in amongst much fanfare and excitement, and of course, a plethora of smartphones, thanks to its iconic train whistle and smoke pouring out the front as it stops near the buffers.

The first miles of the journey to Kensington Olympia, which essentially follows the London Overground line in a westerly direction, sees the carriages hauled by a diesel locomotive, which is also attached should the 70-year-old workhorse run out of steam (excuse the pun), as this charter train graces busy rush hour routes in and out of the capital.

The pause at this point, in front of the famed arched exhibition centre, is for around 15 minutes whilst the necessary adjustments are made for diesel to be swapped for coal. It was also a stationary moment used by our hosts to serve warm crispy brown and white olive bread rolls, as well as our opening course.

A photograph of a goats cheese dish on one of the carriages dining tables

For myself, this took the form of a delicious tartlet of goat’s cheese with caramelised red onion, heritage tomato and candied walnuts, garnished with an olive dressing and a sprinkling of wild rocket. My other half equally raved about her red pepper hummus and courgette dish, also culminating with a clean plate.

An example of the high quality food passengers can expect to receive

With a few clicks and clacks, and amidst the many gazes of the day’s rush hour commuters, the train swapped direction, and Britannia fired into action. With thick smoke lingering under bridges as the locomotive gathered pace, there was something magical about experiencing a coal-fired train and the iconic “chug chug” sound that accompanies this form of rail travel.

What you also find out pretty quickly is that, at slower speeds, the ride isn’t as smooth as diesel power, so if you haven’t finished your coupe of champagne, the meniscus starts swaying from side to side and goes quickly over the edge of the glass if you’re not quick enough to catch it before it hits the white table cloth – a similar challenge that also greets guests for the post-dinner tea and coffee.

After passing through Chelsea Harbour, football fans are treated to a glimpse of the homes of Chelsea and Brentford FC before the surreal experience of flying through a bustling Clapham Junction and following the Heathrow flight path before getting up to a decent pace after whistling through Feltham with a claxon or two.

An hour into the voyage (about 19:30) is also when mains are served – for myself, a tasty and beautifully cooked fillet of sea bream on a bed of mange tout, green beans, and a smooth buttery sauce, with chopped pieces of tomato, spring onion and asparagus for a spot of garnish. My wife had an equally impressive chicken dish with snow peas and gravy, whilst we both shared a side of boiled potatoes.

A glass of champagne being filled at the table

After going through Staines and Virginia Water, and about an hour and a half into our journey, we then arrived in Chertsey, where the train paused momentarily for a “water stop”, as steam locomotives consume a significant amount over the course of a journey for its propulsion, plumbing, and food preparation. This is where Gary and his water tanker travel by road to greet the train at various points along the way – something he has got down to a fine art.

Trainspotters, who lined the entire route, were in for the best show of all, rather than a “blink and you miss it photo opportunity”, as they had 15 minutes to gaze at the engineering marvel, which goes by the name of Britannia. There’s, unfortunately, no time to stretch your legs at this point, but these few minutes are used instead by the hospitable crew to clear tables and re-group ahead of the start of the circuit back to London Victoria.

With a predominantly-urban route up until this point, Woking is reached just before sunset and is where dessert is served – a delightful summer berry and vanilla cheesecake with a sizeable biscuit crisp to round off a superb evening meal, whilst my wife tucked into a dairy-free lemon tart.

A happy couple enjoying the journey

It’s then a matter of sitting back and relaxing as Britannia pauses in Guildford and sets off once again to be truly in its element – reaching 60 mph on the day of travel in open and picturesque Surrey countryside as dusk becomes night for the final hour or so.

This creates a more cosy ambience for the gradual meander back to the capital whilst accentuating the many ornate features of the vintage carriage. With a second visit of the day to Clapham Junction, an illuminated Battersea Power Station greets Britannia before it crosses over Grosvenor Railway Bridge and heads back into London Victoria to draw this journey to a close.

With guests able to leave the carriage at a leisurely pace, what the Sunset Steam Express does well is that the locomotive will stay at the platform for around half an hour after arrival. This gives individuals the opportunity to take more photos and climb the steep steps into the cab, where the thick black coal, which can be seen on the summit of the locomotive, is shovelled into the firebox to ensure a constant fuel supply.

Two female passengers being served via the silver service food trolley

In summary…
The Sunset Steam Express offers an experience where, for a few hours, you can experience the magic of travelling in the 1950s, when steam ruled Britannia. It must be said that there’s something quite special and romantic about venturing out onto the railway in this way at a time when we are so used to electric or diesel propulsion.

The Sunset Steam Express really is an ideal means to celebrate a special occasion or merely to cap off a nice summer’s day with a scenic ride through some of England’s finest countryside.

What is also particularly noticeable is just how much pleasure is brought to those who have voluntarily taken the time to come out to line platforms – young and old, to wave, greet, smile and appreciate Britannia as it passes through several stations.

It’s no wonder that, with a locomotive as beautiful and majestic as it is, the famed railway enthusiast Francis Bourgeois gets so excited when he sees one because it is a stunning piece of history that creates long-lasting memories.

Head to Chichester and the Goodwood Revival in September
For one day only, on Sunday, 10th September, 70000 Britannia will be treating passengers to a return trip from London Paddington to Chichester – the ideal way to venture to and from this year’s Goodwood Revival meeting at the historic circuit. Premium Standard tickets are available from £109 per person.

For more information, visit

The Steam Dreams Rail Co. – Where and How?

The Steam Dreams Rail. Co is offering a special First Class fare of £99 per person aboard the popular Sunset Steam Express throughout August 2023.

The Sunset Steam Express is departing London Victoria Station on the next three Tuesdays (on the 15th, 22nd, and 29th of August, respectively). For more information or to make a reservation, call 01483 209888 or visit

See video highlights and pictures from our trip on the Sunset Steam Express on the Luxurious Magazine Instagram page.

Photo credit: The Steam Dreams Co. / Mike Rogers (Britannia).

Read more travel features and hospitality industry news here.

The brightly coloured patterned seating inside one of the carriagesLiving The Dream Aboard The Extraordinary Sunset Steam Express 2

Simon Wittenberg

Senior Editorial Contributor

Born in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and now based in London, Simon Wittenberg is the senior editorial contributor to Luxurious Magazine® reporting directly to Paul Godbold. A specialist in the automotive sector, he has now expanded his repertoire to encompass all aspects relating to luxury and lifestyle. Simon has worked with some of the world’s most iconic marques such as Lotus Cars, Ferrari and Tesla Motors. His passions include luxury goods, motorsport, fine dining and travel.

error: Copying this content is prohibited by Luxurious Magazine®