The Anonymous Widower

Will First MTR Drop The Class 707 Trains?

To avoid confusion, before starting the post, I will say these two sentences about the train operating companies that operate from London to the South West, out of Waterloo station.

The current train operating company is South West Trains, which is owned by the Stagecoach Group.

From the 20th of August, 2017, the train operating company will be South Western Trains, which is a joint venture of First Group and MTR Corporation. Some articles refer to the joint venture as First MTR, which I will use as appropriate.

There are reports, that the new franchise, wants to drop the new fleet of Class 707 trains, which are just being delivered.

This article in Rail Technology Magazine is entitled RMT slams ‘crazy’ First MTR decision to drop new £200m SWT trains.

This is said.

The company, which is a partnership between FirstGroup and Hong Kong firm MTR, was awarded the South Western franchise on Monday, but now has allegedly dropped plans for 150 carriages that were ordered in 2014 from Siemens and is instead commissioning new trains on a cheaper annual lease.

First MTR hopes that the new carriages will be rolled out onto the network from 2019.

The operator must deliver 90 new trains and 750 new carriages for the franchise – which it takes over from Stagecoach on 20 August – by the end of 2020.

Note that the article uses First MTR.

Whether it is a crazy decision, I will not speculate about, but when First MTR bid for this franchise, they knew that the Class 707 trains were on order,

So they must have had a plan about how they would be running or not running these trains for some time.

In Increasing Capacity On Waterloo Suburban Services, I looked at what I stated in the title.

This was one of my conclusions.

This calculation shows that you can sometimes replace a large number of 75 mph trains with a significantly smaller number of 100 mph units and still attain the same service frequency.

It sounds like a case of getting something for nothing, but it’s all about the mathematics.

Newton would have come to the same conclusion,  if he’d worked out how many horses were needed to get passengers from London to Cambridge.

Services to Windsor and Eton Riverside

To illustrate this saving of trains, I’ll look at the services between Waterloo and Windsor and Eton Riverside stations.

Services currently take 54 minutes. This would be a typical round trip.

  • Leave Waterloo at 08:58
  • Arrive Windsor at 09:52
  • Leave Windsor at 10:23
  • Arrive Waterloo at 11:19
  • Leave Waterloo at 11:28

As trains leave Waterloo at XX:28 and XX:58, this means that trains must start their diagrams at 08:58, 09:28, 09:58, 10:28 and 10:58 to provide two tph.

So five ten-car trains will be needed to provide the service, or as the 75 mph Class 458/5 trains, typically used on the line are five-cars, ten five-car trains will be needed.

South West Trains have talked about introducing the new Class 707 trains on Windsor services.


  • Class 458/5 trains take two hours thirty minutes for the round trip.
  • The trains make twelves stops in each direction.
  • Class 707 trains are 100 mph trains, probably with better acceleration and braking.
  • Class 707 trains can probably reduce station dwell time by a minute or so.
  • Waterloo is getting five new long platforms, that are probably signalled to turn a train fast.

With the reduced station dwell time, the faster train speed and quicker turn rounds at both ends of the route, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that a Class 707 train could do the round trip in under two hours.

If trains were to leave Waterloo and Windsor at XX:28 and XX:58, this means that trains must start their diagrams at 08:58, 09:28, 09:58 and 10:28 to provide two tph.

So four ten-car or eight five-car Class 707 trains will be needed to provide the service..

The Waterloo to Windsor service could become.

  • 2 tph starting at say XX:28 and XX:58 at both Waterloo and Windsor.
  • A faster service.
  • There might be space in the schedule to add some extra stops or open a new station.

It would be realised with two trains fewer.

How Many Other Trains Could Be Saved On The Network?

These suburban termini have out and back services from Waterloo.

The times are for a typical one-way journey from Waterloo, which usually has a frequency of two trains per hour (tph).

I feel that a modern 100 mph train like a Class 707 train could go out and back from Waterloo to Chessington South, Epsom and Hampton Court comfortably within an hour. Thus only two trains would be needed for a 2 tph service.

It’s The Slow Trains That Are The Problem

In the simple Windsor example, the replacement of 75 mph trains with modern 100 mph trains gives positive benefits for passengers, train operating companies and Network Rail.

But the train operator has the downside, that the schedules for 100 mph trains can’t be worked by 75 mph trains.

So for optimal operation, the 75 mph trains must only be used on routes, where they are as efficient as a 100 mph train.

Currently South West Trains have the following 75 mph trains.

This is a total of 592 vehicles and which could be sorted into about sixty ten-car trains.

So possibly the best solution is to go for a fleet, where all trains are modern 100 mph five-car trains.

The quoted 750 new vehicles works out as 75 new ten-car trains.

As they will be introducing ninety new trains, it looks like they need another fifteen trains.

Uprating The Class 458/5 Trains

As First MTR will be introducing ninety new trains, it looks like they need another fifteen trains.

These are some facts about the Class 458/5 trains.

  • They were manufactured as four-car Class 458/0 and eight-car Class 460  trains.
  • Both trains had a 100 mph capability.
  • They were rebuilt as five-car trains.
  • The rebuilt trains were geared to 75 mph to avoid overheating.
  • They are owned by Porterbrook, who have form in innovative train deals involving a certain amount of rebuilding.

So could engineers have found a way to remanufacture these trains as 100 mph units, so they can do a useful job for the new franchise?

The original order for Class 458 trains was for thirty trains, which as they are now five-car units, gives the required 150 coaches.

I suspect that First MTR have found a way to gear these formerly Class 458/0 trains back to 100 mph units and avoid the overheating.

Perhaps though those with cabs donated from Class 460 trains will go into store.



Replacing The Class 455 And Class 456 Trains

This would mean that First MTR just need a replacement for the Class 455 and Class 456 trains, that meets the requirements of their franchise commitments.

  • 150 Five-car or seventy-five ten-car trains.
  • 100 mph capability.
  • Short dwell-times at stations.
  • Wi-fi and power points.
  • Toilets.

So why drop the Class 707 trains?

The Specification Is Not Good Enough

The trains don’t have the following.

  • Wi-fi and power points.
  • Toilets.

As these requirements are in the franchise specification, perhaps First MTR feel that it might be less hassle and more profitable to let the trains go after a couple of years.

They would be an adequate stop-gap, but new trains designed specifically for the franchise would be better.

The Class 700 Trains Have A Bad Reputation

You rarely read any good passenger reports of the Class 700 trains running on Thameslink.

But you do get reports about, hard seats, no tables etc.

I was in a Class 700 train yesterday and compared to the Class 158 train, I rode on Sunday to and from Ilkeston, they were inferior in ride and seat quality.

So perhaps First MTR feel that the Class 707 trains are best avoided.

Is There A Better Train?

MTR are going to be the operator of Crossrail, with its Class 345 trains, which are Aventras built by Bombardier in Derby.

I can’t believe that MTR are not privy to all the performance and customer feedback data from Class 345 testing and as there is nothing in the media, we’ll have to wait until the first Aventras enter service on Crossrail in May.

So have MTR decided that the Aventra is a much better train than the Class 707 train?

I’ll look at how a fleet of Aventras might fit First MTR’s needs.

  • If you look at Greater Anglia’s order for Aventras it is for 22 ten-car and 89 five-car trains, which is the same as First MTR appear to need.
  • Greater Anglia’s Aventras are at least 100 mph trains geared to short dwell-times at stations.
  • With new trains, First MTR can specify any interior they want, so toilets, wi-fi, 4G and power points are no problem.
  • Aventras are designed around a power system, that easily allows dual-voltage trains, as on the London Overground.

But I believe Aventras have another big advantage.

I have been told by Bombardier, that all Aventras will be wired ready for onboard energy storage and I believe that energy storage will have major uses on the trains, if it is installed.

  • Handling regenerative braking energy on the train in an efficient way.
  • Ability to move trains short distances without electrification.
  • Allowing remote warming up of trains.
  • Next station recovery, when the power fails.
  • Safer depots without electrification.
  • Longer electrically dead sections at level crossings.
  • Stations without electrification.
  • New short branch lines could be developed without electrification.
  • Ability to divert over lines without electrification.

Onboard energy storage may not give spectacular advantages like running from Basingstoke to Exeter without electrification, but it gives all manner of small advantages, that cut the cost of operating the trains.

Consider the line between Windsor and Staines, which is about ten miles long and has three intermediate stations and two level crossings. If the trains to Windsor have the capability to run from Staines to Windsor and back using onboard energy, then the electrification could be removed, thus increasing safety and reducing maintenance costs and track charges to the operator. If a train was made up of two five-car units working as a ten-car train, then all electrical systems are duplicated for reliability.

Third-rail electrification, which is often perceived as dangerous by Health and Safety bodies.

But once all electric trains on a route, use onboard energy storage for efficiency and operational reasons, will we see innovative track and station design, that is more affordable to build and maintain, and a whole lot safer?

It should also be noted that First Group have stakes in both First MTR and GWR.

So they could have a common sub-fleet with the following characteristics.

  • Dual-voltage.
  • Onboard energy storage for sections without electrification.

These could run routes like.

  • Reading to Gatwick Airport.
  • Westbury to Swindon.
  • Southampton to Salisbury

At about £7.5million a five-car train, this order for 150 five-car trains would be in the order of a billion pounds.

In this section, I’ve used the Aventra as an example, but what’s to stop another manufacturer coming up with a better train than the Class 707 train?


In The Interim

It will be unlikely, that replacement trains for the Class 455 and Class 456 trains will arrive before 2019-2020.

Before the end of 2020, when First MTR are mandated to introduce the new trains, the following will happen.

  • They will receive thirty 100 mph Class 707 trains.
  • They could reorganise the Class 458 trains into another thirty 100 mph trains.
  • The remodelling of Waterloo will be complete and this will decrease train turnround times.
  • Some level crossings will have been removed.
  • Other bottlenecks could have been eased.

This might enable services to be improved on selective routes, where congestion is worst.



As soon as First MTR can pass the Class 707 trains to another operator they will.

I also think, that as First MTR’s need for new trains is very similar to that of Greater Anglia, that Aventras are in the front of the race to supply the company with new trains.








April 3, 2017 - Posted by | Travel | , , , ,


  1. Err… I think you’re missing out some key aspects here. It’s been established that the Class 707s were built on the cheap, and since the OJEU was issued back in 2013, there’s been some significant changes to the South Western ‘metro’ service specification. Most notably, none of the existing units are suitable for the kind of ultra-high density operation that is now required. Since the Class 455/456 fleet is going to be replaced, it makes sense to tack on a few more units rather than going through the whole saga of rebuilding modern electric units again.

    Comment by David | April 3, 2017 | Reply

  2. I take your points.

    I believe that with modern units with a 100 mph capability and very short dwell times at stations, a lot of services out of Waterloo could go to four trains per hour, if the business was there.

    But to run the service efficiently, you have to get rid of all the 75 mph trains. The 707s and rebuilt 458s could act as a stop-gap until the new trains are delivered.

    I’m going to Windsor today and will add more comments to this post.

    Over the weekend, I went to Ilkeston and on the last part of the journey, I was in a Class 158 diesel. Yesteday, I rode across London in a Class 700. The ride quality and seayts in the 700 don’t stand up against the Mark 3-based 158.

    But then the 700s were designed by the Department of Transport, aided by the Treasury, just like the awful 185s on TransPennine.

    Comment by AnonW | April 4, 2017 | Reply

  3. I’m slightly puzzled by your focus on 100mph trains. Where, on the SW main line suburban routes, is a train ever going to get the opportunity to travel at that speed? Maximum line speed on the Guildford New Line, for example, is 70mph, but in many places well below that because of numerous curves and frequent station stops, so a 100mph capability is an unnecessary extravagance.

    The early SR units used on the Guildford New Line from the 1920s to the 1960s had a nominal top speed of about 60mph (though exceeded on occasions, I believe) yet managed to maintain 20-minute interval services up to 10 minutes faster overall than managed by the 455s today – and all with mechanical signalling and sharing tracks with slow goods trains.

    The critical limits on capacity are acceleration – always miserably poor in Britain compared with France, Germany and Switzerland – and station dwell times. The latter are determined by the time lost between the train coming to a halt and the door lock released, and between the doors being closed and the train moving off. That is down to both door operator (driver or guard) and the mechanical set-up – the 450s are particularly time-wasting in this respect.

    In the (ever-extending) peak hours, the other limit is the time it takes passengers to leave and board. At Clapham Junction and other busy stations trains can stand at the platform for up to two minutes as people try to squeeze through just two exits per carriage side.

    Suburban train design is still stuck in the 1970s, when it was assumed that passenger numbers would continue to decline and therefore there was little interest in increasing capacity. While today we have more space around the exits and full-width corridor connections, which do help, there are still only two doors per side. Having three or four exits per side, faster reaction times that ensure doors open immediately the train comes to a halt, and much faster acceleration away from stations would enable many minutes to be saved on all lines.

    In my view, reduced dwell time and faster acceleration are far more important for high-density suburban services than a high but unachievable top speed (and, for that matter, fripperies like onboard ‘infotainment’).

    Comment by Stephen Spark | April 11, 2017 | Reply

    • The 100 mph speed in itself is not the important thing, but the fast acceleration and braking that comes with it.It’s all about quick stops as you say. Many of the stations too need to have wider platforms and stairs.

      I live on the Overground at Dalston and it’s interesting to compare the behaviour of passengers at cramped stations like Dalston Kingsland with spacious stations like Canonbury.

      Certainly, the Overground is an endorsement to walk-through trains.

      Comment by AnonW | April 12, 2017 | Reply

  4. Putting health an safety aside, I think the old 4 VEP slam door trains were best for dwell time. They had 8 doors on each side of each coach. I know we’ve got to move forwards but these trains were designed for a purpose. There was a saying by Citroen’s publicist in the 1930s – “All progress implies continuity. One cannot steer a forward course without the occasional glance in the rear view mirror.” It just seems such a waste of new trains with these 707s.

    Comment by Tim Wright | April 13, 2017 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.