Work is well underway at Eastleigh on a major refurbishment of the first four Class 442 “Plastic Pigs”, which are due to be reintroduced onto the Portsmouth Direct Line next month, almost 12 years after their withdrawal in February 2007 by former franchisee South West Trains.
As part of its new franchise commitment, South Western Railway (SWR) has taken 18 of the 24-strong fleet of Wessex Electrics units and pledged to use them alongside its existing Class 444 units on fast services from Portsmouth Harbour to London Waterloo.
The Class 442 units, nicknamed for their appearance and the curious snuffling sound of their original traction motors, were built by British Rail Engineering at Derby and introduced in 1988 to coincide with electrification from Bournemouth to Weymouth.
Since leaving the South Western franchise in 2007 they have seen service between London, Gatwick Airport, Brighton and Eastbourne, but were stood down from Gatwick Express duties in 2016 and in March 2017 from peak-time Brighton and Eastbourne services.
Their imminent return to the Portsmouth line marks a remarkable triumph for the “No 450” campaign, which attracted signatures from more than 1,600 commuters between 2006 and 2012 in its efforts to prevent use of the higher density (3+2 seating) Class 450 units on fast Portsmouth Line services.
“I’m absolutely delighted to see the popular Class 442 units returning to the Portsmouth Line,” said No 450 campaign founder David Habershon (pictured left), “at last we are going to be seeing the return of suitable main-line rolling stock with 2+2 seating on what is a major inter-city route.
Paying a visit to Eastleigh Works, courtesy of the Haslemere Rail User Group and South Western Railway’s media relations team, SWR Engineering Director Neil Drury explains that the £45 million refurbishment programme encompasses major C6 overhaul of the selected 18 five-car units and complete internal re-fitting, with the units eventually being equipped with new traction equipment and braking.
In Eastleigh Works on 2 November were units 442403/8/17/19, of which only 442408 had so far received its full SWR livery. All were undergoing extensive internal refurbishment that will include re-location of First Class and installation of 2+2 seating identical to the First Class accommodation in Class 444 units, new upholstery in standard class, the provision of new cycle storage space and USB charging points at every seat.
Wessex Electric units are due to begin scheduled services on the Portsmouth line in December but, after the timetable change hiatus, introduction of the full fleet and its re-equipment with new traction motors will take another 12 months, and is not expected to be completed until December 2019.
The revived Class 442 fleet is being re-painted and will be maintained at Bournemouth depot, with most units being stabled overnight at Fratton and one pair at Clapham Yard. Future timetable plans will require 16 of the units to be in service at any time, always being operated in pairs, and with a 10-car 442 formation providing the same amount of seating as a pair of Class 444 units.
SWR is currently awaiting gauge clearance certification from Network Rail before test running on the Portsmouth line can begin in the next few weeks.
This follows preparatory work at a number of stations along the route, notably at Witley, where platform coping slabs had to be moved back to provide adequate clearance for 442 units passing through the station and its curved platforms at speed.
My thanks to Martin Odell of Haslemere Rail User Group for organising our visit, to Jason Petersen, Kiepe Electric’s Depot Manager at Eastleigh, and to Neil Drury and Clive Bull of SWR for hosting the visit.