Introduction

Reading has been the predominant country end destination for the 458s class for the majority of their service lives.  At Reading they are outnumbered by noisier and smellier trains, as can be seen below on June 29th 2006 with 8010 arriving at platform 4a in parallel with First Great Western Class 43 power car 43177 "University of Exeter" leading a High Speed Train formation in "Barbie" colours into platform 4.

8010 approaching platform 4a at Reading 8010 approaching platform 4a at Reading
8023 in platform 4a at Reading 8023 in platform 4a at Reading

A full detailed history of the Class 458 with South West Trains appeared in the October edition (number 212) of Live Rail, the bi-monthly members’ magazine of the Southern Electric Group. If you would like to join the SEG including to receive Live Rail, please click here for details. This is a brief overview of both the class as a whole and of each unit. These pages are being written as history unfolds and they will therefore be updated periodically. Note that the majority of this history has been compiled from contemporary reports that may not have been 100% accurate, though every effort has been made to reconcile noticed inconsistencies.

That this comparatively small class of 30 units has been embroiled in controversy throughout their short lives can only be a negative testament to the commercial and political climate of the modern railway.   That twenty eight modern EMUs no more than seven years old and only used in service between three and six years could be proposed to be withdrawn from service and placed into store defies common sense.  That a number of these units continued to run beyond South West Trains' own deadlines and then a regulatory deadline further emphasises the machinations that go on.  Then, once sufficient new class 450 Desiros are running, the class is finally withdrawn, but a new cost cutting business plan consequent upon South West Trains retaining the franchise called for these units to be restored to service with favourable new leasing terms. This is the latest twist in this tortured story.........

This batch of thirty class 458 units was South West Trains’ first move towards replacement of its Mk1 mainline EMUs and was a commitment additional to its then current franchise. Rolling stock leasing company (RoSCo) Porterbrook, which had recently been acquired by the Stagecoach Group, placed the order with Alstom, it is thought at least in part to allay both industry and political concerns of such a holding group owning interests in Train Operating Companies (TOCs) – one of which is South West Trains - and a RoSCo. Given that the leasing charges on the class 458 have been higher than those on the Desiro units which replace them, just which part of the Stagecoach Group got the better part of the deal is now a matter of historical debate! (The Stagecoach Group later sold Porterbrook.)

The class 458 is from Alstom’s Coradia/Juniper family of multiple units which also includes classes 175, 180, 334 and 460. Like Network SouthEast’s Networker "family of units" concept it was a range of British units never to flourish. The units were built at Alstom’s Washwood Heath works, formerly Metro-Cammel, which had a long established reputation for designing and building serviceable rolling stock. However the times at which Junipers were being designed and built were not the happiest at Washwood Heath and it is said that insufficient attention was paid to manufacturing quality control.

These units were also being designed and constructed at the same time as the details Railway Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR) part of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 2005 were being formulated. The licence for the class was granted on the basis that an exemption from the regulations yet to be ratified would only be granted for operation by South West Trains and for the duration of the original lease (to 28th February 2006).

The above three elements were set to seal the fate for the class.

Introduction to service was slow. This was due in part to going through the intricate process of getting type approval from (then) Railtrack – a situation slowing the introduction of all new rolling stock at the time. However, from the very start these units proved to be unacceptably unreliable. Significant problems affected the unit end gangways, software, air-conditioning, ride quality, auxiliary converters and couplers. Units spent significant periods out of service and required multiple visits to various Alstom works for modifications and rectification. Reliability did not reach a creditable level until late 2004 following a software upgrade and the computer system being made more immune from voltage drops during acceleration. It appears that the operation of unit end gangways had not been specified tightly enough. As a result they were designed for units to be semi-permanently coupled whereas South West Trains had an expectation, as with long Southern tradition, of units regularly being coupled and uncoupled in service. Not only did it take up to 30 minutes to join the gangways mechanically but also the computers had to be rebooted and establish communication with each other. As a result, having working gangways between units was quickly dropped. However, the design of the unit end resulted in water ingress to the driving cabs, a problem which even after modifications has never been entirely been eradicated.

To give some idea of the protracted timescale, the first unit, 8001, was delivered in October 1998, the first units to enter passenger service (8004+8005) did not do so until February 2000. There were not a significant number of units in service until October 2002 which is also when the final unit, 8030 was delivered. The last unit did not enter service until May 2003. Upon having its franchise renewed in 2001 South West Trains demonstrated its confidence in the British rolling stock industry by announcing that the competing German  Siemens "Desiro" range would be their bulk choice for slam door replacement stock.

Although originally intended to be operated on semi fast services in the Waterloo-Reading-Alton triangle, class 458 running was concentrated on Waterloo-Reading services. These units carried traditional Southern four digit unit numbers and wore the white and blue South West Trains colour scheme that was subsequently to be designated as the "mainline" livery, the 458s being outer-suburban units with 3+2 seating in standard class.

South West Trains ceased diagramming these units with the change to the December 2005 timetable and thereafter they ran on shadow diagrams. Their lease expired on February 28th 2006 and South West Trains continued to operate them on a pay-per-use basis having been given an extension to the DDA exemption until 31st July 2006. As the additional seventeen Class 450 units, due in part to cover the withdrawals of 458s, had not started to be delivered by the summer, South West Trains applied for a further extension to the exemption to the end of their franchise (February 2007) but this was refused. South West Trains then announced that they would cease to operate the class on June 30th but use of up to three pairs of 458s on weekdays continued throughout July. Then in a surprise development, 8020 and 8029 had new DDA compliant passenger information displays fitted, though such displays are not the only factor in which the units are non DDA compliant. South West Trains announced that three pairs of units would continue to run three diagrams (see below) until further notice.  A pool of eight units used regularly emerged during August - 8013, 8018, 8019, 8020, 8021, 8028, 8029 and 8030.  All  had been fitted with new 40mm DDA compliant passenger information displays.

WM701/702
05+05 Wimbledon Park depot - Waterloo
05.50 Waterloo - Reading
07.42 Reading - Waterloo
09+12 Waterloo - Clapham yard
14+28 Clapham yard - Waterloo
14.50 Waterloo - Reading
16.42 Reading - Waterloo
18.20 Waterloo - Reading
19+50 Reading - Clapham yard

WM703/704
05+54 Clapham yard - Waterloo
06.20 Waterloo - Reading
08.12 Reading - Waterloo
09.50 Waterloo - Reading
11.42 Reading - Waterloo
13.20 Waterloo - Reading
15.12 Reading - Waterloo
16.50 Waterloo - Reading
18.42 Reading - Waterloo
20.20 Waterloo - Reading
22.12 Reading - Waterloo
23+50 Waterloo - Wimbledon Park depot

WM705/706
06+13 Clapham yard - Waterloo
06.50 Waterloo - Reading
08.42 Reading - Waterloo
10.20 Waterloo - Reading
12.12 Reading - Waterloo
13.50 Waterloo - Reading
15.42 Reading - Waterloo
17.20 Waterloo - Reading
18.52 Reading - Ascot
19+21 Ascot - Clapham yard

These diagrams ceased to be worked by class 458 units at the end of September but resumed on October 16th.  For details of units running between August and the December 10th timetable change please click here.

South West Trains initially sent some of its 458 units to Bournemouth TM&RSD to be prepared to be returned to the leasing company, thereafter it was intended for them to be placed into secure store. However, no units returned to Porterbrook. All units at Bournemouth were transferred back to Wimbledon to be re-activated. Additionally, 8001 and 8002 sub-leased to Gatwick Express but never ran in passenger service, returned to South West Trains  on the 15th December.  As in the introduction, South West Trains has taken these units back onto lease on more favourable terms as part of a cost-cutting fleet cascade to run Waterloo-Reading and Guildford-Ascot services.   From 10th December the number of weekday diagrams worked by this class increased from six to sixteen with eighteen units in service. The number of diagrams increased to twenty two from the 2nd January 2007.

Ahead of the timetable change, in early December at least two units, 8006 and 8026, - not from the pool of eight - were noted to be back in service. By 18th December 2006 only 8001, 8002, 8004, 8007, 8008, 8009, 8010, 8011, 8014, 8017, 8022 and 8027 (i.e. 18 units in service for 16 diagrams) had not been returned to service. By 24th February 2007 only 8001, 8002, 8004, 8011 have not returned to service, however the reliability of the 26 units in service has not been to SWT's expectations and there were cancellations and short formations.

458 units have now been given an exemption until 31st December 2010 in respect of the following non-RVAR compliant items:

  • Door buttons 300mm too high
  • No door step illumination
  • Doorway handrails incorrectly positioned
  • Disability accessible lavatories the wrong shape

Two non regulatory modifications have been done.  Sanders have been fitted to all units with control from the cabs.  There is now a TMS reset button in the cab so that onboard systems can be restarted without tripping the whole unit out and back in again.   Additionally, 8005 has been noted as having a modification the internal door of its extending corridor gangway. This door now has a window whereas previously it was solid.  

On 24th November 2006 the trailer standard of unit 8011 was taken  from East Wimbledon Depot by road for experimental modifications to its universal (i.e. disability accessible) lavatory as an attempt to address a further RVAR non-compliance issue. This vehicle returned to Wimbledon on 23rd February 2007 but 8011 did not re-enter service until 1st May, the penultimate unit of the class to do so. It is believed that further members of the class will receive such a modification.

In early March 2007 gangway connections back came into use but could only be split in depot, not whilst in operational use. It is believed 8021 + 8027 were the first coupled pair. The gangway connections can also only be used by staff as the doors into the cab vestibule are not RVAR compliant, there is a step up to get into them and they are long and unlit. However, not all class 458 diagrams are for 8 cars and in April it became apparent that the fleet was being operated with a target (rather than a clearly defined sub-fleet) of eight units not semi-permanently coupled. These eight units may still be operated coupled in service but with their gangway connections out of use.

By May 1st 2007 only 8004 had not been re-introduced to service. It was first noted back running in passenger service on 19th July and it had received modifications to fit door well lights (for RVAR compliance) and CCTV. Subsequently other members of the class received these modifications.

The entire fleet of Junipers is to be "refreshed" at Bournemouth T&RSMD over a two year period. This work will feature CCTV, new seats and tables in first class, an internal repaint and on units not already modified installation of RVAR compliant lavatory and door lights. Whilst being refreshed the units will also undergo a C4 overhaul which involves removal for inspection and replacement if required of wheels, axles and suspension - the ride quality of Junipers having been criticised since new. It is expected that each unit will take a fortnight with one unit being done at a time. The pilot unit for the refreshment is 8006 went to Bournemouth on 10th December 2007 and returned to Wimbledon on 17th June 2008, so taking much longer that two weeks.

During October 2008 trials of regenerative braking were undertaken between Weymouth and Dorchester South or Wareham using 8027 as the calibration unit and at times 8002 or 8029 or Gatwick Express Juniper 460001 on passing tests, along with 3 Cig 1497 and 4Vep 3417 as static units.

 

Unit Specification:
Steel-built. Three vehicles in the formation are motored with two Alstom ONIX 800 270kW motors per car. The fourth vehicle is a trailer with the facility for a pantograph installation. Maximum speed is 100mph. They have the facility for both disc and regenerative braking. These vehicles can only work in multiple with other members of their class, thus repeating the inflexibility when class 508 units were first introduced on the Southern Region. The units are formed driving motor composite (DMC(A)), pantograph (not fitted) trailer standard (PTS), motor standard (MS) and driving motor composite (DMC(B)). The driving motor cars are 21.16 metres long and the intermediate cars 19.94. Power operated sliding doors are fitted.

8020 entering the platform at Waterloo The other end of the operation!  8020, trailed by 8023, entering platform 19 at Waterloo with the 11.42 service from Reading on 29th June 2006, 8023's last day of operation before re-introduction in December.

photograph by Colin Duff
8006 and 8020 stabled in Clapham Yard A shot which is perhaps  representative of the class for much of their lives until now, i.e. being stabled!  Here 8006 (with 8020 right) is in Clapham Yard on 19th June 2006.

photograph by Colin Duff
four 458 units at Reading A scene which was thought would not be witnessed for much longer - four 458 units in platforms 4a/b at Reading. This was captured on June 29th, which was due to be the penultimate day of service of class 458s on South West Trains.  Left 8010 (nearest camera) and 8026, right 8023 (nearest camera) and 8020.  8020/8023 will be the 15.12 departure to Waterloo (WM701/702) and 8026/8010 the 15.42 departure to Waterloo (WM703/704).  Not pictured, but the third pair of units this day were 8019 and 8018 working the WM705/706 am diagram.  

photograph by Colin Duff