An October 2019 visit to Bognor Regis and Littlehampton had reminded me that the South Coast currently plays host to our oldest mainline EMUs – the fleet of 19 Class 313 units, which transferred from London Overground to Southern almost a decade ago (May 2010) and dates from 1976-7.
Having seen the interest their departure from Great Northern services had attracted, it seemed high time to spend a day travelling on Class 313 “Coastway” services to photograph the vintage units in action, and in the hope of coming across celebrity unit 313201 in its BR corporate blue and white livery.
I had noted from a helpful forum posting that 16 of the 19 units (313201-17 and 313219-20) are scheduled to be in service each day, so my journey from Havant to Seaford and back on Saturday (4 January 2020) would hopefully allow me to see the bulk of the fleet, including (with luck) 313201.
313213 passes Barnham Signalling Centre with the 12.55 Littlehampton-Portsmouth
As the oldest unit in the fleet, and originally numbered 313001, this unit is destined for preservation at York when it is finally retired from service with Southern, probably at the end of 2021. It was repainted in its original BR blue livery two years ago (December 2017) as part of a general overhaul, although its doors were painted all-white to meet current accessibility legislation.
313202 departs Brighton with the 08.51 to West Worthing
Working out that the cheapest way of doing the trip from Haslemere was a day return to Brighton (£16.75 with railcard), then a Brighton-Seaford day return (£3.45), my plan was to head directly to Seaford, before making numerous photo-stops on the return, remembering there is no restriction on break of journey with the return portion of a day return ticket.
For those unfamiliar with the complex pattern of Coastway services, Brighton is the dividing line between West Coastway services towards Bognor Regis, Littlehampton and Portsmouth, and those heading east towards Seaford, Eastbourne and Hastings.
Most of the Class 313 turns are on the western section, comprising local services from Brighton to Hove and West Worthing, stopping services from Brighton to Portsmouth and services between Portsmouth and Littlehampton, which also form short workings to Bognor Regis and Barnham.
313202 at West Worthing after arrival with the 11.51 service from Brighton
On the eastern section of the Coastway route, Class 313 operation is confined to half-hourly services between Brighton and Seaford and half-hourly stopping services between Brighton and Lewes. Substitution of newer Class 377 units for 313s seems fairly regular, so it is something of a gamble as to how many units will actually run on any particular day.
Beginning my Coastway day-out in darkness on the Class 377-worked 07.46 from Havant to Brighton, it did not take long to spot 313201, which my train passed between Chichester and Barnham. So knowing that it was working a Portsmouth-Littlehampton diagram spurred me on to get back rapidly to this section of the route.
Football special: 377105/474 head for Newhaven with the 09.53 Seaford-Brighton
Heading eastwards from Brighton I was rather surprised to see my Seaford branch train being worked by not one, but a pair of Class 377 units in place of the hoped-for Class 313 unit, and I saw only one Class 313 working between Brighton and Lewes.
What I had failed to allow for was Brighton & Hove Albion’s home FA Cup Third Round tie against Sheffield Wednesday (Brighton lost 0-1) which, as on other match days, means longer trains being provided on services passing the Amex Stadium, adjacent to Falmer station, and the Class 313s displaced.
Despite realising I was unlikely to see any Class 313 action on the Seaford branch, I was still keen to travel the line again and, in particular, to alight at Bishopstone, the only intermediate stop on the now-singled section between Newhaven Harbour and Seaford.
This Grade II listed Art Deco style station opened in September 1938 and was built in anticipation of a major housing development that was aborted due to the war. Having been unstaffed for more than 30 years, it is on the English Heritage “at risk” Register.
Bishopstone station is a quite remarkable survival, with this pair of British Rail posters from the late 1970s still on the wall in the former ticket hall. The station footbridge also offers an excellent vantage point looking towards Newhaven.
I had intended alighting next at Newhaven Harbour, a station I had last visited on an evening in May 2017 to photograph the “ghost train” that ran past the recently-closed signal box and into nearby Newhaven Marine station. A link to the piece I wrote can now be found on the Wikipedia entry for Newhaven Marine.
313215 departs Hove with the 11.09 service to Brighton
Instead I pressed on in the quest for 313 action, heading directly to Brighton and then taking the five-minute hop to Hove. This is a busy three-platform station, also served by fast services from London to Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that take the west curve to avoid Brighton and Class 313 shuttles to and from Brighton.
313209 on the Hove-Brighton shuttle service
From Hove I moved on to Shoreham-by-Sea, where its power station provides a backdrop to photos of trains departing in the Brighton direction, as seen below. I then paused at West Worthing, where Class 313-worked stopping services from Brighton terminate, heading to a siding west of the station and then returning to the station to form a Brighton-bound service.313216 departs Shoreham-by-Sea with the 11.56 service to Brighton
Having then travelled to Littlehampton, and on to the junction at Barnham, my first proper sighting of 313201 was when I retraced my steps one stop to Ford, getting some shots of the BR blue-and-white liveried unit arriving here at 13.47 with the 12.57 Portsmouth & Southsea-Littlehampton.313201 at Ford with the 12.57 Portsmouth & Southsea-Littlehampton
I then returned to Barnham to photograph the celebrity unit’s arrival, before travelling on it to Bognor Regis, where there was an opportunity to capture it passing the station’s famous semaphore signals on its return to Littlehampton (bottom photo).313201 arrives at Barnham with the 14.10 Littlehampton-Bognor Regis
I had thought that this would be a final sight of the celebrity unit but, as my journey back to Havant fell victim to disruption caused by earlier trespassing and signalling issues, passengers were told to get off a Portsmouth-bound service when it was terminated at Chichester. Several dozen of us were then rescued by the following stopping train, formed (of course) by 313201!
My October 2019 visit to Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, which featured Class 313 operations, is here: https://railwayworld.net/2019/10/28/sun-and-semaphores-on-the-south-coast/#more-3272
A link to my May 2017 article on Newhaven Marine, also featuring a Class 313 unit, is here:
My new book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is out now, and is available from publishers Pen & Sword, from good transport bookshops and from many online retailers.