The first of 30 new trains to move from South Western Railway to Southeastern are set to arrive next week.
While new to Southeastern, the stock has been in operation with South Western Railway since 2017. Yet even before turning a wheel in service they were deemed surplus to requirements by the then-new franchise holder. Southeastern are to now take over the lease. The new trains are very similar in external appearance to Thameslink stock working the Woolwich line. It’s worth pointing out again here that no franchise (the railway’s ownership was messy before – and is now changing yet again) owns the trains they operate – and approval for new stock and changes is almost always reliant on approval from central Government.
The first trains to move will assist with training and won’t be in passenger use or some time. What their eventual role will be remains unknown – with the pandemic throwing an additional spanner in the works. It’s unlikely to mean any net addition of carriages but replace some older Networkers which could be sent to scrap or reconfigured into use elsewhere in the country.
The 30 new Class 707 trains will bring much-welcome air con, though do lack toilets. They have fewer seats than Networkers though will many miss the awkward middle seat in a row of three in particular?
Passenger use has of course plummeted since March 2020. Many will ask whether extra capacity is even needed (ignoring the reliability factor of procuring newer trains). Well, if we take a broader view over a mid to long time-span the answer is likely to be yes. As regular readers will know I frequently cover new developments across south east London alongside overall plans and strategies such as the London Plan which establishes “opportunity areas”.
Many areas served by Southeastern are in line for major housebuilding – which follows large-scale plans already underway. Pass through Dartford, Kidbrooke, Lewisham and others for a glimpse of what’s happening now – let alone in five years.
I’m not including the Greenwich line here as Crossrail will assist. If we did, plans such as 1,750 homes near Plumstead station approved last month could be factored in. That development is far closer to the Southeastern line than Crossrail.
Most new developments are car-free and future residents will be reliant on public transport not just for work but also leisure journeys. While the peak crunch may be alleviated in the short term, in time it should grow again alongside off-peak travel.
With that in mind these new trains will help, but in 10 years may hit the limit of usefulness. They are a maximum of 10-carriages on a network built for 12. Network Rail have spent tens of millions enabling 12-car trains over the past decade. New 10-car trains do not make full use of new longer platforms.
But capacity constraints look to be something for the future, and with so many unknowns at least passengers have modern stock to look forward to. Stifling carriages in July may be go, though you may not have a seat to enjoy the cool.