South Western Railway
A South Western Railway Class 444 near Southampton Airport Parkway in 2021
Overview
Franchise(s)South Western
20 August 2017 – 28 May 2025
Main region(s)
Fleet size
Parent company
Reporting markSW[1]
PredecessorSouth West Trains
Other
Websitewww.southwesternrailway.com Edit this at Wikidata

South Western Railway (SWR; legal name First MTR South Western Trains Limited,[3]) is a British train operating company owned by FirstGroup (70%) and MTR Corporation (30%) that operates the South Western franchise.

On 20 August 2017, SWR took over South Western franchise operations from the previous franchisee South West Trains. SWR operates commuter services from its Central London terminus at London Waterloo to south west London. SWR provides suburban services in the counties of Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset, as well as regional services in Devon, Somerset, Berkshire and Wiltshire. Its subsidiary Island Line operates services on the Isle of Wight. Rolling stock changes have included a comprehensive refurbishment of existing units and the acquisition of new-build Class 701 units from Bombardier to replace SWR's Class 455, and Class 707 multiple units. The Class 483 fleet operated on the Island Line was also replaced by the Class 484 during 2021.

During April 2018, amid concerns of SWR's performance, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced an independent review into SWR and Network Rail. Between 2 December 2019 and 2 January 2020, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) undertook 27 days of strikes. Further industrial action by SWR's staff was undertaken in 2022. In response to the decrease in passenger travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, SWR had considerably curtailed its services by mid-2020. In January 2020, SWR announced that they were in discussions with the government regarding the future of the franchise. In December 2020, it was announced that SWR's franchise would be abolished and replaced by a shorter management contract. In February 2023, the contract was extended to May 2025.

History

During July 2015, the Department for Transport (DfT) abandoned efforts to negotiate an extension with the incumbent operator of the South Western franchise, South West Trains, (owned by British transport conglomerate Stagecoach) and announced that the South Western franchise would be retendered for in the coming years.[4][5][6]

In February 2016, the DfT announced that two companies, FirstGroup and Stagecoach, had been shortlisted to bid for the next South Western franchise.[7][8] During June 2016, MTR Corporation partnered with FirstGroup in their bid, taking a 30% shareholding in the joint venture.[9][10] During July 2016, the DfT issued the Invitation to Tender.[11][12]

During March 2017, the DfT announced that the South Western franchise had been awarded to First/MTR.[13] At the time, it was stated that its franchise period was to commence from 20 August 2017 and run through to 18 August 2024, although the deal had included an option for the DfT to extend it for a further 48 weeks.[14][15][16]

The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) held an inquiry into the awarding; during July 2017, it sought undertakings from SWR that it would not abuse its monopoly on services to the West of England, Dorset and Somerset, as FirstGroup also operated the Greater Western franchise in those regions.[17][18] FirstGroup and MTR responded with an offer to implement a cap upon unregulated fares between London and Exeter as a mitigating measure; the CMA chose to accept this concession.[19]

By April 2018, concerns had reportedly grown over SWR's performance over previous months; there had been a noted rise in both the number of delayed services and outright cancellations. Due to these concerns, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced an independent review into the performance of South Western Railway and Network Rail; the review was welcomed by Winchester's MP, Steve Brine.[20] During July 2018, reports emerged that FirstGroup/MTR were in the process of renegotiating the SWR contract, allegedly due to the operator's inability to deliver on many of its promised improvements, as well as its declining performance and industrial action by its own staff.[21]

Between 2 December 2019 and 2 January 2020, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) undertook 27 days of strikes. These were in protest to the potential introduction of DOO (driver only operation) on SWR's new fleet of Bombardier-built Class 701 multiple units, which would thereby nullify the role of the guard.[22]

In January 2020, SWR announced that they were in discussions with the government regarding the future of the franchise following a £137 million loss, with termination of the contract being a possibility.[23]

By mid-2020, SWR had considerably curtailed its services in response to the significant decline of passenger travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.[24][25] From 15 June 2020, both passengers and staff on public transport in England, including SWR services, were required to wear face coverings while travelling, and that anyone failing to do so would be liable to be refused travel or fined.[26][27]

In December 2020, it was announced that terms for the abolition of the franchise system for SWR had been agreed, and that the company would be given a management contract to run until 1 April 2023 when the ERMA (Emergency Recovery Measures Agreement) for the franchise ends in March 2021.[28] During October 2021, the contract was updated with a finish date of 28 May 2023, with an option to extend further if required by the DfT.[29] In February 2023, the contract was further extended until May 2025.[30]

SWR is one of several train operators impacted by the 2022–2024 United Kingdom railway strikes, which are the first national rail strikes in the UK for three decades.[31] Its workers are amongst those who are participating in industrial action due to a dispute over pay and working conditions.[32] SWR is capable of operating a minimal timetable on any of the planned dates for the strikes due to the number of staff involved.[33][34]

Services

South Western Railway is the main operator for western Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset, and also serves London, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon.

Most SWR services run on electrified lines using the 750 V DC third-rail system. There is a diesel fleet for services on the West of England line to Salisbury and Exeter, using the unelectrified track beyond Worting Junction just west of Basingstoke, and for Salisbury to Southampton via Romsey services which also serve Eastleigh. SWR operates almost 1,700 train services per day.[citation needed]

From London Waterloo, SWR's London terminus, long-distance trains run to southern England, including the major coastal population centres of Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth. There are also trains to Reading and Exeter, but these are not the principal fast services from London to those cities, which are operated from London Paddington by Great Western Railway. The majority of its passengers are on suburban commuter lines in inner and south-west London, Surrey, east Berkshire, and north-east Hampshire.

As with most rail companies, non-folding bicycles are banned from peak-time trains to and from London. However, these restrictions apply only to cyclists boarding or alighting in the area bounded by Hook, Alton, Guildford, Reading and Dorking, in order to maximise available passenger space on the most crowded trains.[35]

Mainline services

SWR operates regular services on four mainline routes:[36][37]

In total, there are 14 mainline trains per hour departing London Waterloo in the off-peak; this number increases in the peak hours.[37] The majority of mainline services are operated by Class 444 or Class 450 EMUs, except for the West of England Main Line which is always operated by Class 158 or Class 159 DMUs (because it is unelectrified) and the Alton Line which also sees the occasional use of Class 458 units.

Metro and Suburban services

South Western Railway also operates many suburban "Metro" services in and around London. These all run between London Waterloo and Clapham Junction, where they split into two separate routes: via Putney and via Wimbledon.[36] All services on the suburban part of the network are operated by Class 450, Class 455, Class 458 and Class 707 electric multiple units.

Via Putney

The main route via Putney is known as the Waterloo to Reading Line. It runs between London and Reading and passes through towns such as Staines-upon-Thames, Ascot and Bracknell. It operates as a fast service as far as Staines, with Reading trains only calling at Clapham Junction, Richmond, Twickenham and Feltham. Branch lines on this route include:[36][37]

A total of 12 trains per hour run between London Waterloo and Putney in the off-peak; this number increases in peak hours.[37]

Via Wimbledon

The main route via Wimbledon uses the slow tracks of the quadruple-track South West Main Line. Suburban trains run along the mainline between London and Woking. Branch lines on this route include:[36][37]

A total of 16 trains per hour run between London Waterloo and Wimbledon in the off-peak; this number increases in peak hours.[37]

Other services

Routes that do not start or terminate at London Waterloo include:[36][37]

Service table

Details of each route, including maps and timetables, are on the South Western Railway official website (see External links below). As of December 2023, its routes off-peak Monday to Friday, with frequencies in trains per hour (tph), include:[40]

South West Main Line
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Woking 2
London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via Winchester 1
London Waterloo to Poole 1
  • This route splits/merges at Bournemouth with the route to Weymouth, see below.
Winchester (and Southampton Central) to Bournemouth 1
London Waterloo to Weymouth 1
1
  • This route splits/merges at Bournemouth with the route to Poole, see above.
Portsmouth Direct line
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Haslemere 1
London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via Guildford 2
West of England line
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Salisbury 1
London Waterloo to Basingstoke 2
London Waterloo to Exeter St Davids 1
Alton line
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Alton 2
Kingston Loop line
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to London Waterloo via Kingston 2 Anticlockwise:
2 Clockwise:
Waterloo to Reading
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Reading 2
Staines to Windsor and Chertsey branch
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Riverside 2
London Waterloo to Weybridge via Hounslow and Virginia Water 2
Mole Valley line and Chessington branch
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Chessington South 2
London Waterloo to Dorking 1
London Waterloo to Guildford via Epsom 1
Shepperton and Hampton Court branches
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Shepperton 2
London Waterloo to Hampton Court 2
New Guildford line
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Guildford via Cobham & Stoke d'Abernon 2
Ascot to Guildford
Route tph Calling at
Ascot to Aldershot 2
Guildford to Farnham 2
West Coastway Line
Route tph Calling at
Portsmouth & Southsea to Southampton Central 1
Eastleigh to Romsey and Wessex Main Line
Route tph Calling at
Romsey to Salisbury 1
Lymington branch
Route tph Calling at
Brockenhurst to Lymington Pier 2 Lymington Town
Island Line
Route tph Calling at
Shanklin to Ryde Esplanade 2
  1. ^ a b c d Passengers may only board services from London. Passengers may both board and alight services to Waterloo.

Future services

Improvements promised under the 2017 contract were:[41]

As of May 2019, there is also an hourly Sunday service between Reading and Salisbury via Basingstoke (with trains running between morning and evening).[42]

In August 2021, the company announced the launch of "assisted boarding points" at all 189 stations on its network, allowing disabled or elderly passengers to ask for assistance onboard trains with as little as ten minutes' notice.[43] The scheme will include clear signage at stations, with QR codes allowing customers to send details of the assistance they require and their planned journey to staff, replacing older systems wherein assisted journeys had to be booked six hours to a day in advance.

Rolling stock

South Western Railway inherited a fleet of Classes 158, 159, 444, 450, 455, 456, 458 and 707 from South West Trains, and subsequently re-introduced Class 442 trains which had operated on Gatwick Express after earlier service with South West Trains. The current fleet for the Island Line, Class 484, entered service on 1 November 2021.[44]

During March 2020, the Class 442 fleet was withdrawn. One year later, SWR decided that they would not be returned to service and their re-introduction has been cancelled.[45] In March 2021, SWR announced it would be keeping 28 Class 458 units and will refurbish and reconfigure them to four carriages for planned deployment on the Portsmouth Direct Line instead of the Class 442.[46]

In early 2024 it was announced that the plan to use the refurbished and reconfigured Class 458s on the Portsmouth Direct Line had been dropped, and that South Western Railway has no current plans to use the 458/4s.[47][48]

Classes 455, 456 and 707 fleets will be replaced by 30 five-car and 60 ten-car Class 701 units built at Bombardier's Derby Litchurch Lane Works, financed by ROSCO Rock Rail for £1 billion,[49] for use on Reading, Windsor and London suburban services.[50][51][52]

By June 2023, 42 of the 90 trains ordered had been accepted from Alstom.[53] The trains began to be used for passengers in January 2024.[54]

Current fleet

Family Class Image Type Top speed Number Carriages Routes Built
mph km/h
South Western Railway
Sprinter 158 Express Sprinter
DMU 90 145 8[55] 2 1989–1992
159 South Western Turbo
29[56][57] 3 West of England, Heart of Wessex and Wessex Main Lines:
  • 159/0: 1992–1993
  • 159/1: converted 2006–2007
Siemens Desiro 444
EMU 100 160 45 5
2003–2004
450
127 4

Outer suburban routes:

2002–2006
BR Second Generation (Mark 3) 455
75 120 83[58] 4 Inner suburban routes: 1982–1985
Alstom Coradia Juniper 458
34[59][60] 5 Outer suburban services:
  • 2013–2016
  • (1998–2002 as 458/0)
  • (2000–2001 as 460)
Alstom Aventra 701/0 Arterio
100 160 60 10 Reading, Windsor and south west London suburban services 2019–2024[54]
701/5 Arterio 30 5
Siemens Desiro 707 Desiro City
2[61] 5 Inner suburban services: 2015–2018
Island Line
Vivarail D-Train 484
EMU 60 100 5 2 Island Line: Ryde Pier Head – Shanklin
1978–1981 (as D78 Stock)
Converted 2020–2021


Past fleet

Train types formerly operated by South Western Railway include:

Family Class Image Type Top speed Carriages Number Routes operated Built Withdrawn Notes
mph km/h
1938 tube stock 483 EMU 45 72 2 6 Island Line 1938 2020–2021 Replaced by Class 484
BR Second Generation (Mark 3) 442 Wessex Electrics 100 160 5 18 1987–1989 2020 Replaced by Class 444
455
75 120 4 9 Inner suburban routes: 1982-1985 2022 Scrapped[58]
456 2 24
  • Inner suburban services in conjunction with services operated by Class 455 units to make 10 coach trains.
1990–1991 Scrapped[65]

Depots

Nine train depots and stabling sidings are located across London and south west England for servicing and maintaining the South Western Railway fleet.[citation needed]

Bournemouth

Bournemouth depot is southwest of Bournemouth station, occupying the approach to the former Bournemouth West station. Until their withdrawal in February 2007, the depot was home to the Class 442 (5-WES) Wessex Electrics, and became so again during their reintroduction from 2019 to 2021. The branch turns off at Branksome station where trains can be seen stopping at platform 2 and reversing into the depot.[citation needed]

Farnham

Farnham Traincare Depot, in Weydon Lane, was opened by the Southern Railway at the time of the electrification of the Portsmouth and Alton lines in 1937.[66] It was refurbished for the introduction of modern units when slam-door trains were replaced circa 2005. At the same time, disused quarry and ballast dump sidings behind the carriage shed were removed and a number of outdoor sidings were laid for overnight storage and servicing of units.

Feltham

Feltham depot was completed in 2021; it is intended to provide stabling for the Class 701 units.[67]

Fratton

Fratton Traincare Depot is located on central Portsea Island, alongside Fratton station. It has a carriage washer and is the fuelling point for the 158s and 159s. The depot has a train shed with two pitted roads for maintenance of rolling stock. Class 444 and 450 units berth overnight. Stabling sidings and bay platforms at Portsmouth & Southsea station are co-ordinated from the depot.[citation needed]

Northam

Northam Traincare Facility was built by Siemens in 2002 as the home depot for the Desiro fleet as part of a 20-year maintenance contract.[68] It is located south of St Denys station and is near Southampton Football Club's St Mary's Stadium.

Ryde

Ryde Traincare Depot, alongside Ryde St John's Road on the Isle of Wight serviced the Class 483 units that used to operate on the Island Line.[69][70][71]

This has been refitted to allow the new Class 484 to be serviced.[citation needed]

Salisbury

Salisbury depot provides servicing for the South Western Railway diesel fleet.[citation needed]

Strawberry Hill

Strawberry Hill train maintenance depot in south west London, was built in 1897, is inside the triangular junction of the Shepperton Branch Line with the Kingston Loop Line, just yards from Strawberry Hill railway station.

Wimbledon

Wimbledon Traincare Depot is located between Wimbledon and Earlsfield stations, on the main line to Waterloo, next to the Wimbledon railway viaduct. It is currently the home of the Class 455, 456, 458/5 and 707 fleets, although other classes from the SWR fleet berth overnight there.[citation needed]

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Preceded bySouth West Trains Operator of South Western franchise 2017 – 2025 Succeeded byIncumbent