Almost four years after my visit to the works here to see work well underway on SWR’s ill-fated £25m plan to refurbish Class 442 units (“Plastic Pigs are go” – November 2018) for use on the Portsmouth Direct Line, it is time to spend a few hours witnessing the busy railway scene at Eastleigh.
While not able to visit the works this time (27 September 2022) there is plenty of action to see and photograph from the station platforms, as well as from Campbell Road over-bridge, leading to the works south of the station.
Eastleigh’s Grade II Listed station stands 73 miles – and about 80 minutes running time – from London Waterloo and remains an important railway junction, despite not being served by fast Waterloo-Weymouth services, which pass non-stop, along with the two-hourly Cross-Country (XC) services between Bournemouth and the north.
Its basic pattern of stopping services comprises two SWR trains an hour to Winchester or Waterloo, one each to Bournemouth or Poole and Portsmouth Harbour and the Class 158-worked “figure of six” route from Salisbury to Romsey, via Southampton Central, Eastleigh and Chandlers Ford. There are also occasional calls by Southern and GWR services.
What really adds to the interest at Eastleigh is the extensive freight yards to the east of the station, the large volume of freight traffic passing through on its way to or from Southampton Docks, and continuing rail activity in the railway works.
Eastleigh is the last true “railway town” in the south of England, having had a close association with locomotive construction and repair since the London & South Western Railway (LSWR) selected it in preference to Andover as its principal locomotive works.
For 40 years from its opening in 1910 until West Country Class locomotive 34104 Bere Alston became the final locomotive to be built at Eastleigh (April 1950), the works constructed a total of 320 steam locos, notably the revolutionary Merchant Navy Class locos and six of the smaller West Country class, both designed by locomotive engineer O.V.S. Bulleid.
Once locomotive building had ceased at Eastleigh, the works embarked on a huge programme of re-building 60 of the West Country and Battle of Britain Class locos to remove the original air-smoothed casing, with the final loco to be out-shopped remarkably being 34104 Bere Alston in May 1961.
On 3 October 1966, Battle of Britain Class loco 34089 602 Squadron became the last ever steam loco to be out-shopped from Eastleigh Works, less than a year before the end of steam on the Southern Region in July 1967.
The decades that followed have seen the site’s privatisation, and it being put to a variety of uses, including storage and maintenance of EMUs. In September 2012 the site was old again, this time to Arlington Fleet Group, which undertakes repair, maintenance and painting work, and undertook the ill-fated Class 442 refurbishment for SWR.
A reminder of that project stands outside the works, with four cars of Class 442 unit 2412 that are still in their previous Gatwick Express livery (photo above) and are presumably waiting to be towed away for scrap, unless there is any prospect of preservation.
For rail photography at Eastleigh it is hard to beat the view looking north from the Campbell Road bridge, from where there is a great view of trains heading south from platforms 2 and 3 as well as non-stop workings on the up and down fast lines.
Proving the value of enthusiasts to the operational railway, I did something that I have not previously done when, sitting on platform 2 waiting for a 14.47 departure to take me back to Woking, 66716 passed the platform hauling a departmental working to Westbury (6V41) with its final wagon making a deafening clunking sound that shook the entire platform.
I thought someone should be told before it became more serious, so rang the Network Rail emergency number and gave the train ID to the call handler, who must have acted on what I told him, because the train was later halted at Millbrook and was held for just over an hour before resuming its journey.
For a spot of refreshment after a few hours of rail photography, I can highly recommend the Wetherspoon-owned Wagon Works pub, immediately opposite the station entrance, where a couple of pints of Cameron’s Strongarm (4% and just £1.99 a pint) went down rather well.
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