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 But by the end of 2019, they will be withdrawn.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 These units will also be withdrawn by SWR.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Southern and refurbished (at a cost), and which were to be used with the ‘455s’ to create ten-car trains, will also be withdrawn.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.”