Class 701, Credited to South Western Railway

South Western’s £1bn fleet to go live for passenger services in 2023

The new £1bn fleet of trains in South Western Railway’s (SWR) roster will enter services in 2023, going live three years later than originally planned.

These high-capacity Arterio trains were originally scheduled to perform passenger services in December 2019, running on the SWR routes to reading and Windsor in Berkshire. The delay was accredited to the impact of Covid-19, however there are existing reports of faults that may have contributed to this delay.

It is being reported that the Class 701 units have numerous challenges relating to software faults which are yet to be fully resolved, as noted by BBC South transport correspondent Paul Clifton.

Some of the identified problems involve issues with the door obstacle detectors that have prevented the trains from being accepted for the driver training, as addressed by the union ASLEF. Numerous other issues have been reported such as the coupling process, faulty windscreen wipers and cab doors that presented resistance when trying to open.

Speaking to Alstom representative Andrew Boyle, it has come to light that SWR has accepted 26 of 90 Aventra trains, indicating that the issues have been addressed to the operator’s satisfaction, with the DFT confirming that "mainline driver training is scheduled to commence in the new year."

Andrew furthered this information, noting that "Alstom acquired the trains' previous manufacturer Bombardier at the beginning of 2021 after the project's due completion date. Since then, Alstom has also delivered the same model of train to other customers including the Elizabeth line, London Overground and Greater Anglia which are operating very successfully."

These trains are said to carry more passengers whilst reducing journey times along the route in Berkshire and Surrey. This maximised line capacity is necessary for the continued growth within the rail sector, especially as operators are still trying to recoup losses that stemmed from the recent pandemic restrictions.

Though passenger numbers have been steadily rising, with some operators seeing usage of up to 99% of pre-pandemic levels, it is imperative to accommodate as many passenger journeys as possible to secure economic stability, especially given the damage caused by the consistent industrial action that is ravaging the sector.

The operator’s current national rail contract is set to expire on the 28th May 2023, with a potential extension of up to two years. Given this news, the introduction of these trains could represent the improvements needed to justify a further contract extension.

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