SWR’s new Bombardier Class 701 fleet delayed again
The first of South Western Railway’s fleet of 90 Class 701 trains will not enter service in December, as planned.
SWR sources have confirmed that the first passenger train will not run until the New Year. The reasons are a combination of continuing technical glitches, and the challenge of training sufficient drivers and guards during the pandemic.
The operator took delivery of its first set from Bombardier in June. It was tested initially from Eastleigh before moving to Wimbledon, where the fleet will be maintained.
In August, an event was held at the south London depot to announce the fleet name of Arterio, when entry into service on the Reading to Waterloo line was promised “by December” ( RAIL 913). However, like all previous variants of the Aventra model on Crossrail, London Overground and Greater Anglia, there have been software issues.
A separate company source told RAIL that “a massive number of faults” remained, and that the ‘701s’ would work reliably “at the end of the next Ice Age”.
Director Christian Roth had previously admitted: “The biggest cause of delay was the software development.
“These trains are very complex - they have a lot of new features, with the integration of new signalling technology as well.”
The Arterio trains are designed for the doors to be opened and closed by the driver, as are the doors on near-identical TfL Crossrail services from Reading to Paddington, which operate without a guard. However, the SWR trains are at the core of two years of strike action by guards in the RMT union, who object to Driver Controlled Operation. RMT’s mandate for further strikes lapsed during the lockdown.
The lines from Berkshire to Waterloo are among the most crowded in the country. But the pandemic has eased the pressure to introduce the new high-capacity trains quickly, with fewer than 30% of pre-pandemic passenger numbers.
A total of 750 carriages are on order, worth almost £1 billion. Delivery is expected to continue throughout 2021 and a new stabling facility at Feltham is nearing completion.
No revised start date for the trains has been given.