The Anonymous Widower

GWR Announces Plans To Replace Class 332s As It Takes Over Heathrow Express Service

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Global Rail News.

In some ways, I was surprised that Heathrow Airport are handing over the running of Heathrow Express to Great Western Railway (GWR).


  • It seems, that the main problem, in that HS2 want their depot for construction of their new line.
  • GWR will use twelve Class 387 trains to run the service as opposed to the the current fourteen Class 332 trains.
  • The new trains will be updated with First Class, high speed wi-fi and more luggage space.
  • The deal seems to run to 2028.

I do think, that the main reason could be, that this gives FirstGroup or MTR Corporation a say in all the railways, serving or going near Heathrow Airport.

  • GWR is owned by FirstGroup.
  • Crossrail is operated by MTR on begalf of Transport for London.
  • South Western Railway is a joint venture between FirstGroup and MTR.

The operation of Heathrow Express by GWR completes the set.

My post; MTR Vying To Join Heathrow Southern Rail Bid, could link MTR to the proposed Heathrow Southern Railway, who are hoping to create a link into Heathrow Airport from the South.

One of the plans of Heathrow Southern Railway is to create a new Basingstoke/Guildford – Woking – Heathrow – Paddington service.

  • This would have a frequency of two trains per hour (tph) between Paddington and  both Basingstoke and Guildford.
  • This would mean there would be a four tph Frequency between Paddington and Woking via Heathrow Terminal 5, Heathrow Terminal 2/3 and Old Oak Common.
  • Creating the new service by extending Heathrow Express, means that the new service can take-over the paths used  by  Heathrow Express, to and from Paddington.
  • It is also worth noting that the Class 387 trains, that GWR are proposing to use on Heathrow Express are dual-voltage and can run on tracks with third-rail electrification.

Heathrow Express will become a double-ended service,  in much the same way that Gatwick Express takes passengers from both London and Brighton to the airport.

GWR taking over Heathrow Express must make the operation of trains to and from Heathrow Airport easier.

Why Change The Trains?

I think there are various reasons.

Operation And Maintenance

Obviously, if GWR uses only Class 387 trains on their shorter electrified routes from Paddington, this gives advantages in terms of operation, maintenance and staff utilisation and training.

I suspect too, that GWR have the depot space and sidings, to accommodate all the Class 387 trains they need.

Increasing Fleet Size

There are two published plans y to increase rail services to Heathrow.

  • Heathrow Southern Railway would like to extend Heathrow Express to Woking and ultimately to Basingstoke and Guildford.
  • Western access to Heathrow could also be a route for Heathrow Express to perhaps Reading and Oxford.

In the future there could be other services.

  • Developments could mean that a Heathrow-Gatwick service could be possible and worthwhile.
  • There is speculation in the media, about a direct service between Heathrow and Southampton.

Any expansion of services would probably need more trains.

If they need more Class 387 trains in the future, there are two operators, who have small fleets of Class 387 trains.

Some of these might become available, as the operators consolidate and update their fleets.

Acquiring more Class 332 trains could be problematical.

The Class 387 trains route, means that Heathrow Express will remain a  fleet of identical trains.

Operation On Routes With Third Rail Electrification

Any expansion of Heathrow Express to the Western side of Terminal 5 could connect to the extensive network of third-rail electrification.

For this reason, a Heathrow Express fleet without the capability to use third-rail electrification, would be limited in its market.

The Class 387 trains have been designed as dual voltage units and could work on third-rail networks by adding third-rail shoes.

Can Class 332 trains work on third-rail routes?

Operating Speed

The Class 387 trains are also 110 mph trains, whereas the operating speed of the Class 332 trains is 100 mph.

The faster operating speed must help operation on the busy fast lines to and from Paddington, where the Class 800 trains are 125 mph capable.

Train Length Issues


  • The current Class 332 trains, run as nine-car trains, consisting of one four-car and one five-car trainset.
  • Class 387 trains are basically a four-car trainset, which can run as four, eight or twelve-car trains.
  • To complicate matters, Crossrail, which will use the same platforms at Heathrow are planning to nine-car Class 345 trains, but these could be lengthened to ten or even eleven cars.

These probably cause no problems with the current service, as running eight-car Class 387 trains would probably provide enough capacity.

Would a twelve-car Class 387 train need some platforms to be lengthened?

A four-car Class 387 unit is 80.77 metres long, so a twelve-car train would be 243 metres long.

This compares with the following.

  • Heathrow Express Class 332 – Nine cars – 206 metres.
  • Crossrail Class 345 – Nine cars – 205 metres
  • High Speed Train running with eight carriages – 220 metres
  • Inter-City 225 running with nine carriages – 246 metres
  • Two five-car Class 444 trains running togeyther – 230 metres
  • Two five-car Class 800 trains running together – 260 metres

A twelve-car Class 387 train is long, but not wildly out of line.

As the pairs of Class 800 trains work into Paddington,, I suspect twelve-car Class 387 trains can do the same.

If there is a problem, it will be in the Hathrow stations.

Alternatively, could some extra cars be built by Bombardier to create five-car trains, that would work as ten-car units, which would be around two hundred metres long?

Joining And Splitting Of Trains

Could Heathrow Express benefit from trains with the ability to split and join?

When there are more than one route to the West from Terminal 5, there may be advantages for trains to split and join in Terminal 5 station, to serve more than one destination to the West of the airport.

This picture was taken, as I watched two Class 387 trains joining together.

Note the driver in the cab on the right, controlling the process.

There is also a gangway between the two Class 387 trains, which the Class 332 trains don’t have.

Updating The Trains

The production of Class 387 trains has only just finished at Derby, but the Class 332 trains were built twenty years ago.

So could it be, that creating a modern fleet with all the features needed is easier with the later trains?

Suitability For Use With Heathrow Southern Railway Proposal

There are various issues here.

These concern fleet size and capacity

  • Any extensions to the South and West will need more trains.
  • If express services between Basingstoke, Guildford and Woking, and Paddington via Heathrow are successful, this could lead to calls for more services and other destinations, which could need more trains.
  • If five-car units were needed, then Bombardier could probably oblige.
  • There may be a need to lengthen platforms at the Heathrow stations.

Expanding a Class 387 train fleet would be easier.

There are also line speed issues.

  • What would be the design operating speed of Heathrow Southern Railway’s tracks alongside the M25? – 90, 100 or even 125 mph!
  • Could the operating speed of the Chertsey Branch Line be increased to the same speed, as there are only two stations; Chertsey and Addlestone?

The 110 mph maximum speed of a Class 387 could be a serious advantage, as speed sells!

How Many Trains Would Need To Be Converted?

Currently, there are fourteen Class 332 trains working Heathrow Express services.

They usually work in pairs, so there are seven trains.

If these are replaced by twelve-car Class 387 formations, that means up to twenty-one trains will be needed for the airport services from their current fleet of forty-five trains.

Eight-car formations would need fourteen trains.


It appears to me, that it is good decision to change the fleet for Class 387 trains.

Overall Conclusion

It’s all coming together for Heathrow Southern Railway.

March 28, 2018 - Posted by | Transport | , , , , , ,


  1. How would Heathrow Western and Heathrow Southern railways work together? Would the western services terminate at Heathrow with the southern services taking the paths into Paddington? Could that work at Heathrow? You talk about longer term expansion of Heathrow Southern services, but would that not cause congestion at Paddington, and limit the growth of “genuine” GWR services?

    Will the new Heathrow Express trains be maintained at Reading? Could there be some kind of implication in this announcement therefore that Western access is more likely to get its funding?

    Comment by Reading-On-Thames | April 3, 2018 | Reply

    • I think that both services will work together.

      Heathrow Southern Railway will have four trains per hour (tph) between Paddington and Woking via Old Oak Common and Heathrow, that will extend to Basingstoke and Guilford.

      There is space for two other platforms in Terminal 5, which could certainly handle 4 tph and possiby 6 tph, which would terminate in the Airport.

      It looks like they could be long enough for a 12-car Class 387 train or a ten-car Class 800 train. As the services from Heathrow Southern Railway and Reading expand, there would probably be up to 12 tph.

      As to where the new Heathrow Express trains will be services, I have no idea. But surely, servicing them all together would be sensible.

      Comment by AnonW | April 3, 2018 | Reply

      • They want 4 tph to Waterloo too. Can that be supported without impacting Reading to Waterloo? I guess they’d steal some Windsor services, which perhaps explains the rival Windsor Link solution proposal.

        Comment by Reading-On-Thames | April 3, 2018

  2. According to the article in Modern Railways of December 2016, Network Rail have checked it out and say it’s possible.

    It may even increase capacity, as part of the plan is to extend Crossrail from Heathrow Terminal 5 to a new platform at Staines. They are saying that a large proportion of Staines to London passengers would use this route.

    Comment by AnonW | April 3, 2018 | Reply

  3. […] I wrote about this in GWR Announces Plans To Replace Class 332s As It Takes Over Heathrow Express Service. […]

    Pingback by Nineteen Tri-Mode Flex Class 769s For GWR « The Anonymous Widower | April 22, 2018 | Reply

  4. your point about dual-voltage trains is a good one. I recently emailed HSR to ask what they plan as regards power source. Their service opportunities page ignores this issue. If they want to extend Waterloo-Staines to LHR, they’ll need 3rd rail in their tunnel; if they want to extend Pad-LHR to Staines, they’ll need overhead. If they want through services to/from Woking, they’ll need dual-mode.

    Comment by Peter Robins | August 16, 2018 | Reply

    • I think most trains produced at Derby and York for the UK since at least the 319s have been capable of dual-voltage operation, even if only one version was built!

      Comment by AnonW | August 16, 2018 | Reply

  5. > There is speculation in the media, about a direct service between Heathrow and Southampton.

    since you wrote this, items have appeared on the HSR site quoting the CEO: 3 trains/hr from Weymouth/Bournemouth/Southampton, also linking with HS2 at OOC. Quite a large population, particularly Bmth/Poole and Soton, so an attractive market HSR will be keen to cater for.

    Comment by Peter Robins | August 16, 2018 | Reply

  6. Between OOC and Terminal 5, the capacity is probably 24 tph by the mid-2020s using ERTMS/ETCS. I feel that twelve tph between Terminal 5 and Paddington will be possible.

    3 tph to Basingstoke
    3 tph to Woking
    3 tph to Guildford
    3 tph to Poole/Southampton

    Pay your money and take your choice.

    Comment by AnonW | August 16, 2018 | Reply

    • their site says “Trains would operate every half hour from Basingstoke, Farnborough, and Guildford, and every 15 minutes from Woking”, though this doesn’t really tie in with 3/hr from Soton, assuming they would all stop at B. Not sure there would be any need for terminus at Woking, would there? And Guildford trains would presumably extend to Portsmouth – another large catchment area. We will see 🙂

      Comment by Peter Robins | August 16, 2018 | Reply

      • one possible use for terminus at Woking and other local stations would be early am/late pm services for the Heathrow workforce

        Comment by Peter Robins | August 17, 2018

  7. Thinking further about this, because Paddington won’t be terminating any local trains, as these will go on Crossrail, I think that Heathrow Southern Railway could have four platforms at Paddington, which could handle sixteen tph.

    The remaining nine platforms could be used by GWR to handle over thirty tph.

    Modern signalling should be able to handle thye trains between Paddington and Heathrow.

    Comment by AnonW | August 16, 2018 | Reply

  8. This is a poorly researched article. Or poor thinking has gone into it. If you’d done your research you’d know:
    a) 12 car 387’s already operate into Paddington.
    b) The platforms at all Heathrow stations are already long enough to cope with future train length increases.
    c) That HEx run trains in various formations from 4, 5, 8 (rarely) and 9 car depending on time of day.

    You speculate too much without doing real homework.

    Comment by Andrew Bruton | June 14, 2020 | Reply

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