On September 5, South Western Railway introduced new Class 707s into traffic when two five-car electric multiple units started a captive diagram running from London Waterloo to Windsor & Eton.
These were the first of 30 Siemens Desiro City units ordered by SWR’s predecessor on Government orders, in a £210 million deal as part of a High Level Output Specification (HLOS) scheme designed to boost capacity on the busy SWT/SWR network.
The ‘707s’ had been ordered in September 2014, and the first were unveiled to the press in Germany in July 2016. But by the end of 2019, they will be withdrawn.
Currently their lifespan is around two years, after which Angel Trains, which funded these EMUs, must try to find a new home for them. As they are dual-voltage, the ‘707s’ can be used on more than the third-rail network on which they are employed. Nevertheless, the route they were ordered for is not where they will eventually be used.
Another part of that HLOS plan was the modernisation of the SWT Class 455 fleet, by fitting new traction packages to improve reliability. These units will also be withdrawn by SWR.
Class 456s transferred from Southern and refurbished (at a cost), and which were to be used with the ‘455s’ to create ten-car trains, will also be withdrawn.
Meanwhile, the ‘458/5s’ that had been heavily modified to extend them from four- to five-car trains are also looking for a new home.
The ‘458/5’ modifications had been made possible by using 60 of 64 redundant Class 460 vehicles that had been displaced from Gatwick Express by Class 442s.
This project began in late 2012, and by 2013 the trade press was invited to examine the first ‘458/5s’ at Wabtec Rail, Doncaster (albeit with questions already being asked about the lateness of the project). The final rebuilt EMU was delivered last year.
Now, just a few months later, Porterbrook needs to find a home for the fleet, which had been the first delivered since privatisation in 1998. Less than 20 years old, the ‘458s’ have a decidedly uncertain future should the rolling stock company (ROSCO) be unsuccessful in finding a new home for the trains at Southeastern.
Porterbrook paid for these trains to be modified, at a cost of around £40m for the ‘455s’ and the same figure for the ‘458s’.
But by the end of 2019, a total of 592 refurbished and modernised Porterbrook vehicles are bound (at the moment) for the scrapyard. Add the ‘707s’ to that, and that makes 742 vehicles deemed surplus to requirements.
This is because First MTR, which was awarded the SWR franchise, will introduce 750 Class 701 vehicles from 2019. They are being built by Bombardier at Derby Litchurch Lane, and the reason they were ordered, simply, is that ‘money is cheap’, due to the various exchange rates. It is currently more economically sensible to buy new where possible, rather than to refurbish.
The railway stands on the cusp of a new era, with bi-mode trains and EMUs entering traffic on several routes that have not had new brand new trains since the 1960s.
Had you driven south along Queen Adelaide Way at Ely during the summer, you would have passed rows of stored Class 442 third-rail EMUs. These were the victims of the introduction of new trains, in this case 27 four-car Class 387/2s on the Gatwick Express.
This is the second time the ‘442s’ have been culled in favour of new trains. In 2007, South West Trains’ plans to axe 30 four-car Class 458s was changed to ridding itself of the ‘442s’ instead, and introducing 17 four-car Class 450s. The ‘442s’ went into store for a few months before being leased to Southern for the GatEx operations.
Fast forward almost a decade, and they are set for a return to the main line with South Western Railway on their old stamping ground on the South West Main Line, despite being older than the ‘456s’, ‘458s’ and ‘707s’ being withdrawn by SWR. Eighteen are bound for the new franchise - the remaining six are either set for use with open access operator Alliance Rail on its plans for additional SWML trains from Waterloo to Southampton, or they will be scrapped.
Meanwhile, iconic fleets such as the High Speed Trains are destined for a cascade, or maybe even scrap. Innovation is likely to be required if they are to have a future.
A recent Rail Delivery Group study showed that by 2047 a fleet increase of 89% is needed (RAIL 823), made up of largely new vehicles. Headlines around Christmas were of Britain’s ageing train fleet, yet these statistics had been released in the autumn with scant mention of the large numbers of new trains on order.
Currently the average age of the UK’s passenger railway fleet is 21.0 years, but that is predicted to drop to 16 over the next few years as older trains are withdrawn and replaced by new, modern trains. Reliability will increase, punctuality will improve and passenger satisfaction levels will be higher, we are told.
And yet… will it? Will passengers who find themselves having to stand in the new trains be pleased to know that the older trains they used will be stood in a siding somewhere, gathering dust, when perhaps they could be supplementing the new trains and providing additional seating capacity for those very same disgruntled passengers?
A RAIL investigation found that a total of 4,863 vehicles are either to be sent off-lease or are at risk of being withdrawn. Some date from the 1970s, others from this year. And it’s a mixed bag of trains - some are too good for store, while others had a new home lined up before circumstances changed.
Unveiling a refurbished Class 156 at East Kilbride on June 27, Scotland’s Minister for Islands and Transport Humza Yousaf said: “Good, high-quality refurbishment can deliver a passenger experience comparable with new rolling stock.”
However, this does not appear to tally with the desire in the rail industry to acquire new trains where possible.
Angel, Eversholt Rail Group and Porterbrook - the three original ROSCOs set up at the start of privatisation - stand to see a large number of vehicles sent off-lease as the clamour for new trains continues. The latter has already all but written off 24 two-car Class 456 EMUs, and is considering fitting diesel engines to its ‘455’ fleet in what would be another major technical investment.
Following the order for First MTR, and then confirmation from Abellio after it won the West Midlands franchise, there are now 6,898 new vehicles on order for various operators. These include trains already being delivered as part of various orders (for example - Intercity Express Programme trains, Class 700s for Thameslink). All will be in traffic by the end of 2020.
Recent franchise awards have resulted in large fleet replacements, while deals for new trains placed earlier this decade for East Coast, Great Western and Thameslink are now starting to reach fruition, releasing older trains for cascade or withdrawal.
Of the overall total of vehicles at risk, the fate of 1,186 depends upon franchise agreements. That’s a quarter of the fleets, representing a significant chunk of investment from the ROSCOs.
But it is not just the franchise bids that are affecting these businesses. Decisions surrounding major infrastructure plans and renewals are also having an impact on cascades, with the Welsh Valleys a prime example.
For a long period the Valleys were due to be electrified. But the money has still to be confirmed, and debates continue over whether heavy rail remains the most viable option or whether light rail could be used.
When the wires were first considered, one plan was to cascade the elderly Class 315s that are about to be displaced from the TfL Rail route between London Liverpool Street and Shenfield. The 44 four-car EMUs have recently undergone an internal refurbishment, including making them fit for the Persons of Reduced Mobility - Technical Specifications Interoperability (PRM-TSI) deadline of January 1 2020, a legal requirement tht threatens to end the careers of a number of older fleets.
This model of transferring older EMUs to newly electrified routes has been done before, notably on the Aire Valley when Class 308s displaced by ‘321s’ on routes from Liverpool Street were sent to Yorkshire to run under the wires to Bradford and Skipton. Patronage went through the roof, and something similar was envisaged for the Valleys.
But now there is uncertainty. For example, what trains can be sent there? Of the stock being sent off-lease, two-thirds are EMUs (3,245, of which 1,573 are 25kV overhead line electrification-powered vehicles), while a further 582 are dual-voltage trains capable of working on either OLE or from third-rail electrification.
The latter does include the Class 365s that would require some modifications for their equipment to be used again. The ‘707s’ are designed with the equipment, although again modifications would be needed. The first two delivered (707001/002) have undergone OLE testing in the UK, but the remaining 28 have yet to be fitted with all the relevant equipment.
However, the fact remains that unless the wires are erected, then about two-thirds of the off-lease trains are unlikely to be suitable for the Valleys, and that therefore only about a third of the 4,863 vehicles off-lease would be useful.
Except that is not the case - that figure would include 15 Class 90 electric locomotives, 53 Mk 3 Sleeper coaches, more than 400 HST Mk 3s, 105 Mk 3 coaches, and up to 271 Mk 4s.
In reality, there are 642 diesel multiple unit vehicles due to come off-lease, or which are at risk from impending franchise changes - including the Welsh franchise. But of those 642 vehicles, 258 are Pacer vehicles (40%). Creative options are therefore needed, which is where the likes of Porterbrook’s Flex train enter the equation.
Flex makes use of otherwise redundant Class 319 dual-voltage EMUs. Diesel engines are being fitted to an initial eight trains (319434/456 are the first two), and they will be leased initially to Northern. A further five will be used by Arriva Trains Wales from May.
Other regions are also potentially interested in the concept, which offers four-car bi-mode units capable of 90mph on diesel and 100mph on electric power. With concerns regarding the future of some electrification schemes in the UK, and even the on-time completion of some routes, Flex could offer an attractive alternative for operators seeking to boost capacity.
It is this level of innovation that could prove to be the salvation for fleets that could otherwise face a one-way trip to a scrapyard. Certainly the ‘442s’ will have been saved by the decision to fit new traction packages to the trains, albeit equipment that has yet to be confirmed.
Looking at the future of other fleets, a quarter are dependent on various future franchises for the East Midlands, West Midlands and South Eastern.
This includes figures for East Midlands Trains’ High Speed Trains (75 vehicles), which are due to be withdrawn by December 31 2019 unless fitted with accessible toilets.
London Midland’s 37 four-car Class 350/2s are also understood to be at risk, due to their 100mph maximum speed, whereas the ‘350/1s’ and ‘350/3s’ are capable of 110mph. They could be modified, but perhaps there are other places they could be sent where the infrastructure is more beneficial for them. The Midland Main Line maybe?
Elsewhere, many fleets are around 30 years old and so could be deemed life-expired. Some are even older.
ScotRail’s Class 314s, which date from the late 1970s, are due to be sent off-lease as SR takes delivery of newer trains and instigates a cascade.
Even older are the Class 313s used by Govia Thameslink Railway on its Great Northern and Southern operations. There has yet to be any official statement on the future of the Southern ‘313s’, which arrived on the Coastway routes from Brighton in 2009-11 following their cascade from London Overground. These trains have been refurbished to a good standard, but the fact remains that they date from 1976 and are the oldest members of the class in traffic. Their replacement was mentioned in the Gibb report (RAIL 830), with an internal cascade of Class 377s considered (although that was mentioned as something that should happen by mid-2017).
Sources have recently told RAIL that homes are being lined up for trains such as the Class 90s, with freight operating companies likely to be interested in the 15 Greater Anglia locomotives that have undergone considerable reliability modifications over the past decade.
Alliance Rail has confirmed its intention to use Class 91/Mk 4 sets on its West Coast Main Line operation, while GB Railfreight plans to test high-speed freight using an off-lease HST. Caledonian Sleeper is also not ruling out retaining a number of off-lease Mk 3 Sleeper vehicles for use on an expanded network to the Far North, and could even use them for palletised freight in the long term.
There is also the option for ROSCOs to export vehicles abroad, again something that is being considered.
What happens to the majority of the fleets going off-lease remains unknown. ROSCOs are busy trying to find new homes for the trains, but it is likely that while some of the older fleets are likely to experience a one-way trip to a scrap dealer, others could still be used in the battle for capacity.
This feature can be read in RAIL 836