The Arterio 701 arrives!

The Arterio 701 arrives!

The Aventra Class 701 (described by SWR as Arterio) has finally made it to public service! The first ever in service outing for the long delayed class took place on 9th January 2023 with a one a day Waterloo to Windsor duty. Its four years since the new trains first arrived and the ensuing period has seen many pitfalls, not least COVID which delayed driver training, but also problems with entire units which were completed and a large number were found to have significant defects which had to be rectified at considerable expense. software bugs and agreements with the unions for acceptance and for working the trains. Issues included problematic door obstacle detectors faulty windscreen wipers, cab door that wouldn’t open, and train couplers that wouldn’t work properly. Its said the production train cabs were also different from what the unions had understood would be built – thus the bulkhead between the driver’s cab and the passenger compartment has had to be modified.

The introduction of the 701s no doubt had their fair share of issues – and many were wondering if the class would ever make it into public service. After many false starts SWR has asserted these new trains would be in service by the end of 2023. Well nearly! 2023 hadn’t been gone more than a week when SWR finally got their first ever 701 into service.

Its just a handful of units that are available for public service at the moment. Many of the units are still awaiting important software upgrades however SWR currently expects the full fleet of 90 units to be in service later in 2024.

What is the 701 like compared to the 707? Well they’re similar, the 701 is newer of course and it has more mod cons. The internal colours are considerably different, this being SWR colours. The 707s actually came with their internals in South West Trains colours, hence the red livery and the red/orange hues of the interior matched well. The 701s have blue interiors to match the blue external livery – its pretty much the modus these days – the internal appearance compliments the external decor. The seating is the same type of ‘ironboard’ as its frequently called! It was quite comfortable however and there were small tables in the four seat bays. USB charging points too. The interiors had a quite nice ambience and that’s possibly the subtle blue colour scheme which helped.

The Class 701s have strap hangers to help passengers in crowded conditions. There's only a few on each train. The colour scheme for these is blue.

Strap hangers on the Class 701s!

The Class 701s come complete with strap-hangers – a total rarity on the main line! Its something the Class 707s didn’t even have! Its a subtle touch for these are in the train’s largest vestibules hence just a handful of the ten carriages sport strap hangers. The Class 378s and 710s on the Overground and the Class 345s on the Elizabeth line are of course other examples on the main line, however that’s because their operator (TfL) has specific requirements eg metro style services. Hence its unusual for a national rail operator to devise a train complete with strap hangers. In the past there’s been other main line trains with strap hangers too – Class 502 on Merseyside, class 506 Manchester-Hadfield, Tyneside’s third rail EMUs and the Eastern’s Class 306. Its not a compulsory requirement however the RDG do suggest in certain conditions straps or additional grab rails are used. its possible the RDG’s guidance has been taken on board in view of any possible future SWR metro services.

The Class 710 on London Overground have the same style strap hangers as SWR's. The colour scheme for the LO trains is orange.

SWR uses the same style straphangers as found on the London Overground Class 710s!

The cab of the 701 is perhaps the biggest difference in train appearance. So many similar train fronts (707s, 720s, 345s etc) hence its refreshing to see a different design and its one unique to the 701s. Its clear Bombardier built a totally new cab front for the 701s, yet the unique look is due to a requirement to maintain consistency in terms of train layouts – whether its five or ten cars in use. Meaning a pair of five car 701s will make a consist exactly the same length as the ten car units. It means whether its a 2×5 or 1×10 the train doors will always be in the same exact location. This will help both train and platform staff enormously as well as the passenger in terms of boarding or alighting the trains. No doubt compromises in cab layout had to be made – and as mentioned earlier that was a point of contention with the unions.

The one huge downside perhaps to the new trains is the lack of level boarding. Certainly the 701s, like many new trains, are very level throughout internally, but getting on to these is a different matter. A lot of disabled people have expressed regret the examples used at Greater Anglia and Merseyrail have not been extended to SWR. The problem is the southern network has a multiplicity of different situations with varying platform heights and track cants which are not found on other systems, its evident for example a 701 with an extensible boarding ramp could not ever use Clapham Junction’s Victoria side platforms. Thus major engineering work is needed. In an ideal world trains should have level boarding enabled and the UK should have a standard platform height, but with these various intricacies in the way, its sadly evident expectations of level boarding are only going to be realised in part over the next decade. Much like the Elizabeth line and HS2 at Old Oak its a matter of continually abrogating desired standards that would have gone a long way towards providing more consistency across the system.

Rail Express’ editor Richard Clinnick’s picture of two Arterios at Waterloo on the return from Windsor. 037 (on the left) was the unit in passenger service on 11th January 2024.

Anyway the first public service Arterio took to the rails on 9th January 2024 as the 10.25 to Windsor and Eton Riverside. These are extra workings on top of the normal timetable. The announcement about the introduction into public service was very short hence it was just a few well informed participants (Paul, Clifton, Modern Railways for example) were able to sample the new train. Others such as Richard Clinnick and Geoff Marshall were spotted on the train I took – the 10.25 from Waterloo on 11 January 2024.

As with a lot of other firsts, one’s actual experience in attaining the actual first event is something of a misnomer. It simply means that one’s initial experience of something has already passed, thus if one does it at a later date, well in a sense the experience can be said to be more fresher! Ironically it was the railways that ‘concreted’ time (and its subsequent iterations) yet we humans can never even grasp the very moments such as riding a new Class 701 – and that is where photographs and videos come in for these serve as reminders that we had experienced the new trains at some point in time.

I rode the 701 as far as Richmond – not a lot by the standards of others who will have no doubt travelled through to Windsor and back! At least there’ll be more opportunities as one of the rail staff informed me services would be doubled from 16 January – eg the 10.25 to Windsor and back and then an additional 12.53 to Windsor and back. Clearly there’s no worry one will miss the new train services somehow! Also more and more of the Class 701s will come into use and soon it’ll be as if they’ve always been about!

A quick gallery of pics from the journey on 11th January 2024!

The station clock says 10.09 and the detail for the 10.25 to Windsor and Eton Riverside has just come up on the display boards.

Timekeeping at Platform 19, Waterloo!

Class 701 037 arrives at Waterloo having worked up from Wimbledon depot. Some enthusiasts can be seen photographing the train.

L’arrivée du dépôt de Wimbledon à Londres Waterloo!

Geoff Marshall is spotted photographing the new Class 701 by the buffers at Waterloo station!

I know that guy! His hair style is what’s known as hydraulic bouffant. Its a sort of buffering up I think!

Guy photographing the train display boards as the unit progresses from Waterloo to Vauxhall. The morning sun was streaming through the windows and causing some interesting light effects!

En route to Vauxhall – and yes – some people will photograph anything!

Backlit display board says: South Western Railway. 11 January 2024 10:35. Service to Windsor & Eton Riverside Next station: Putney.

Displays inside the train show train status, stations being served, carriage loadings, and also these nice ones announcing the time and the next stop to be served.

Quite a few passengers rode the train, many having got on at Clapham Junction. Some are seen getting off at Putney station.

Quite a few alighted at Putney even though the train was an extra. First 701 ride for many unsuspecting passengers too!

The class 701 at Richmond as it is about to head off through the 'tunnel' towards the crossing over the Thames. The board denoting eight or ten car trains stop at this point, however other trains eg five car units will stop further back.

Ten car stop at Richmond. The five car units will have to stop further back unless its 2×5.