This week will mark the 30th anniversary of Networker trains entering service across south east London and Kent.
Press runs had been undertaken before, and official ceremonies would be held later, but the 13th October was the first public running date.
It hadn’t been an easy start with delays. And so a quiet introduction was launched on October 13th 1992 when the first service for the public was made without much fanfare.
Boyz II Men were number one with End of the Road (still a classic) as the first train ran towards central London.
Class 465 and 466 trains were a huge change from previous slam-door stock, and would gradually be introduced becoming the entire Metro fleet within a few years.
They were built by two manufacturers – British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL)/ABB and Metro-Cammell.
For the average passenger there’s little to tell them apart. Probably the most visible sign are air-vents near the luggage rack.
Some trains have them (BREL examples) while others don’t.
Thirty years on they still remain the bulk of the fleet, with very few internal changes ever being made.
Gone were the old slam door trains dating from the 1950s with huge seats you’d sink into with rather dingy lighting.
In their place were modern wonders such as electric opening doors including between carriages, information displays and toilets. I vaguely recall stylised imagery of areas served by trains at the end of carriages and in the toilet.
Advertising panels now cover these up in carriages.
Trains were designed to run in lengths up to 12 carriages, with platform extensions undertaken in the early 1990s.
This never happened until the late 2010s owing to cut backs in overall stock ordered. A handful of 12-car trains now run though they are still restricted on routes and where they can stop.
I happened to see a 12-car train at Lewisham this week. One of the first I’ve been on 30 years after they started arriving.
It’s pretty rare for a train to enter it’s fourth decade without any substantial internal upgrades, though the long-running mess of changing franchises with short term extensions at Southeastern have acted to prevent many improvements.
They did see disabled toilets installed in recent years when it became a legal requirement that any train with a toilet must have at least one that is accessible.
This was a bare-bones upgrade out of legal necessity rather than a fully fledged attempt to improve the tired interiors.
While the trains havn’t changed much in 30 years, areas they serve certainly have. Kidbrooke is an obvious example:
As of course is Lewisham:
The same can be seen at Abbey Wood, though they have their Elizabeth line cousins now joining them.
Other smaller fleets have partly replaced and enhanced services such as Class 376 in 2006 and City Beam Class 707 last year, but both total a fraction of Networkers still offering the backbone of the Metro fleet.
In the recent past a few have been taken to long term storage. It’s debateable whether they will ever return.
With the financial constraints seen on the railway how long they remain in service remains to be seen.
They’ve never had the best reliability and running a number of fleets isn’t great for Southeastern, but the process of ordering a delivering stock is hardly quick even if there’s the will and money to do so.
See the Class 701 saga at South Western Railway.
Could Networkers make it to 40 years of age?