Rail (UK)

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”.

Bom­bardier En­gi­neer­ing

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.

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