The Anonymous Widower

What Do We Do With Four-Four-Two?

I’m not referring to the formation used in football, but the Class 442 trains used on the Gatwick Express from Victoria.

At nearly twenty years old they are still comfortable trains in which to travel and I’ve used them a couple of times to get to or from Gatwick Airport and Brighton from London. As far as I’m concerned, they are not my preferred way to get to the airport, as they leave from Victoria, which is not as easy to get to as London Bridge from Dalston.

But there is nothing wrong with the Class 442 as trains, especially as they are based on the legendary Mark 3 coach and they hold the speed record of 174 kph for third rail electric trains.

The fact that they are third-rail only electric trains, is one of their two main problems. The other is that they weren’t designed as airport trains and are fairly unsuited for loading and unloading heavy cases.

It should be noted, that all of the third-rail electrics trains, built in the last few years are either dual voltage trains or they have a pantograph well, so they can be easily modified, so they can work with 25kV overhead electric lines.

The renewed franchise holder for Gatwick Express is reported as going to acquire a new specialist fleet of trains for the service, which will be delivered in 2016.

So we have the problem of a set of twenty-four five coach trains, with no service for which they are suitable.

They are fast trains, which means that only the suitable lines on which they could run are from Victoria to Brighton and Waterloo to Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth and Weymouth. But they are unsuitable for the Victoria service, and they are not needed on the Hampshire services.

They are probably too old and too difficult to convert to overhead electric.  It would seem to me with my engineering hat on, that to convert trains from third rail to overhead, unless that was in mind in the original design, is not a job with a small budget.

So conversion is probably a complete no-no!

So does the scrapyard beckon?

I would think so, but then a new coach costs around £1.5million and there are 120 coaches.

On the other hand, rail engineers have been living off scraps from the government for so long, that they are not short of innovative and oddball ideas. As an example read this article about how the previous Gatwick Express trains, the Class 460, were split up and used to lengthen the Class 458.

There are only two places where the Class 442 could appear to find a home.

The first is the two Coastway lines; East and West, which run from Ashford in the East to Portsmouth and Southampton in the West, via Hastings and Brighton. It would release other trains for use elsewhere, but I doubt it would need many of the twenty-four trains.even if the frequency was increased significantly.

The only other place where they could be used is on an electrified West of England Main Line to Salisbury and Exeter. I found this letter from South West Trains on the Network Rail web site. It states a whole list of advantages of electrying fom Basingstoke to Exeter.

So could the Class 442 find a home here on a third-rail electrified railway to Exeter?

It would probably go against policy to electrify such a long line in the archaic and incompatible third-rail system, but the upgrading does come with a set of fast affordable second hand trains in good condition, with an increasing reputation for reliability.

Another factor is whether Network Rail build a new route to Plymouth, as is outlined here on the BBC. If they do, I would suspect they would electrify it with overhead wires, so to have third rail to Exeter from Basingstoke, wouldn’t be that sensible.

So I still think that the Class 442 will go to the scrapyard.

But I wouldn’t mind being shown to be wrong and that the trains find a good home on somewhere like the West of England Main Line or the Coastways.



June 26, 2014 - Posted by | Travel | , , ,

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