A wry smile at CITY BEAM

Saturday 4th December 2021

When I heard the news First Group and MTR Corporation had won the South Western Railway (SWR) franchise back in March 2017 I did a double take on hearing the deal included scrapping the fleet of thirty brand new five car Siemens Class 707 trains Stagecoach had only ordered a couple of years earlier and had yet to even put into service on the then current South West Trains routes..

The rail industry has a habit of delivering up surprises with its Byzantine decision making, but that really did take the buffers.

Getting rid of a fleet of brand new trains even before they’d had any introductory PR hype about how much they’ll improve the passenger travel experience being “lighter, with open, accessible interiors including two wheelchair spaces every five carriages, plus bigger windows flooding the train with light” just seemed totally bizarre.

I’m certainly no expert on train procurement and leasing finance but those that are were absolutely convinced it made total sense for SWR to buy yet more new trains – Bombardier’s Aventra Class 701s – which would be cheaper to finance with lower interest rates than the 707s and help SWR move sooner towards achieving a standardised fleet.

So it came to pass Angel Trains who actually owned the fleet had to find another home for them even as the first trains entered service with South West Trains on 17 August 2017 just three days before the franchise passed over to First/MTR’s SWR. In the ensuing months the entire fleet entered service and it was eventually announced in April 2020 a new home had been found for them with Southeastern.

As we know these things take time, so it was no surprise that although the first trains moved from SWR to Southeastern back in January of this year (despite no new Bombardier 701s yet in service), and they’d been in operation every day with that company, they hadn’t entered service and turned a wheel with their new owner until a few weeks ago.

At SWR they’d been used on the Waterloo to Windsor and Eton Riverside route as well as Weybridge via Hounslow journeys but Southeastern are using them on its Metro style services from Charing Cross and Cannon Street on the lines to Dartford, Sevenoaks and Hayes (shown in green on the map below).

Since the end of September Southeastern are running a few trains each weekday on what’s called a “preview service” before a bigger roll out of the fleet by next Spring.

Those trains in service are mainly being used on peak hour journeys but I managed to catch one on Wednesday for a ride and see what if anything has changed since their debut with SWR four years ago.

Southeastern’s PR hype has kicked into gear and christened the fleet with a “CITY BEAM” brand name, for reasons I can’t quite make out. They explain the trains are “lighter, with open, accessible interiors including two wheelchair spaces every five carriages, plus bigger windows flooding the train with light”.

It wouldn’t do to have red coloured trains running services to the south east of London, even though you have been able to travel on bright red trains north of London and on the line to Reading for the past eighteen months (spare Gatwick Express trains) nor on white trains in Berkshire (c2c trains on loan) but I assume any thoughts of a Great British Rail common branding is far too much in the future, (latest estimate for GBR is now 2027) so hey, why not, let’s change all the trains over from red to blue.

And a complete interior re-trim too.

On the positive side, these toiletless trains with their ‘standing room aplenty’ commuter-friendly layout will be an improvement for passengers on busy trains on the Metro style lines.

After all, there is talk in the long term of extending the Bakerloo line to Hayes, (a very long term in view of TfL’s current financial woes), so those trains wouldn’t come with toilets either, and they’d have longitudinal seating like the Overground.

Given the choice between an ironing board style seat facing forwards or backwards and a longitudinal seat facing into the gangway, I’d choose the former any day.

And there’s some seats where you can actually stretch your legs out too, if there’s no-one sitting opposite you.

And there’s lots of space by the doors.

And there’s a plug socket you can share with your neighbour.

They’re all one class, with no first class tables in the front and rear section which us Thameslink Class 700 fans now fight over in the rear declassified bit.

There’s also not a seat back tray table to be found and no retrofitting as the 700s have benefitted from, so nowhere for coffee cups to be placed, lodge tablet devices while watching a film or a handy place to leave the Metro or Evening Standard for commuters in south east London.

Because the trains come in five coach sets, unlike Thameslink sister Class 700s which are in eight or twelve coach formations, Southeastern will almost certainly be using these in dual formation to make for ten coaches, but obviously with no connection for passengers to make their way through the two units. But this seems to increasingly becoming the way on new trains these days.

There are seven diagrams currently being operated with “CITY BEAM”trains. If you want to track one down you can get an allocation list automatically by texting #CityBeam to Southeastern’s WhatsApp account on 07866 002690.

The trains will see off some of Southeastern’s large fleet of ‘Networker” trains. It will be sad to see them go, as they’ve been great workhorses, but who doesn’t like a bigger window flooding the train with light?

Roger French

Next blog: Monday 6th December 2021



21 thoughts on “A wry smile at CITY BEAM

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  1. The wry twist of fate with the 707s is, as you mention, their introduction to service days before SWT became SWR, whilst their introduction to service on Southeastern came approximately one day before Southeastern under Govia was guillotined by the government for perceived financial wrongdoings.


  2. Quite poorly designed trains in some ways. In a ten car set, the wasted space due to unused cabs was close to half a carriage. And with no loos they were completely unsuitable for longer journeys out to Windsor. Ironically, their new routes are actually better suited to them.


    1. It’s also a bit ironic that South Eastern are placing trains in store as a result but SWR are shortening trains as no 701s in service yet. Good job passenger numbers are down but you can’t lose that sort of capacity for too long.
      At least the 707s have found a home and not languishing in a siding somewhere!


  3. Note to self: when buying a pre-owned (AKA second hand) bus remember to invoice DfT for the paint job and re-upholstering that it doesn’t need. Then park in Yard for 6 months for it to acclimatize to its new operating environment.

    Or alternatively put my bus on rails!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It certainly exposes the farce of privatisation for what it is – a way of leeching public money into the hands of the ROSCOs.
    Absolutely nuts that these trains were deemed redundant before they had turned a wheel in service, although a positive note for SW is that they are getting enough new units to scrap the 455s, 456s and 458s (and yes, I know the 458s are too new to justify scrapping, but they are also too shite to justify keeping them).
    Also absolutely nuts that trains that were bought with the intention of running them in multiple were built without end-gangways. And when I say “nuts”, what I mean is “unacceptable”. Just like Northern’s Civity units, South Western and Anglia’s Aventras, and the genius-in-disguise idea of running two 5-car IETs coupled together.

    When the news of SouthEastern taking on the 707s first broke, I thought the line was that they were going to be additional to the Networkers, to provide extra capacity. Has that plan now been dropped, if they are looking to scrap some Networkers? And rather than scrap them, could they cascade them to Southern to replace some of their even more elderly units?


    1. The Class 465 are unlikely to find an operator as they do not meet PSVAR regulations. Unless Southern wants to go through the effort of refurbishing them, they’re more likely to bring in SWR’s 455s to run alongside their own 455s, displacing the 377s to replace the ancient 313s.

      Meanwhile, considering that the 442s have now been scrapped, SWR extended the lease on the 458s so they would be refurbished and retractioned to 100mph mainline operation, all while being shortened to 4 cars. And I don’t think the 458s are what you put them across as, I think there’s something unique about their quirkiness.


  5. I think that the running of two IETs together is possibly more stupid than running two suburban EMUs together, because of the need to check tickets and provide a trolley or buffet service. Conversely – as LT decided back in the 40s – having extra “dead” cabs in the middle of a packed train is pretty barmy too. (And, speaking of the IETs, they have particularly long noses!)

    I occasionally travel on the 465s and during Covid have been thankful for the opening windows. I know they’re not new. but they seem to go well – indeed, they seem in better “nick” than 30 years ago! Of course the fitters who maintain them may see a different picture. The one thing I don’t like about them is the little step underneath the doors which I find awkward and a trip hazard.


  6. “Why an earth would you want toilets on trains to Windsor. They take up space and add to costs”. Obviously Bob has yet to reach the age where the availability of toilet facilities becomes of greater significance.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The queue for the toilets at Windsor has been known to last the full 30 minutes until the next train arrives during tourist season. People often seem to forget it’s not just that individual journey that may be toilet less but also connecting services etc


  7. Class B2 returns to London

    C lass B2 will leave London Victoria on the 13th 14th and 19th 22nd December at 6.50pm. Returning to Victoria at 9.50pm


  8. Meanwhile over in SWR land we’re suffering short formed trains in consequence. 4 or 5 car trains in place of the previous 10. Many of these are the early 80’s built class 455 which are practically falling apart inside as their last refresh was pretty much 20 years ago. All this while South Eastern do a needless repaint on the 707 fleet and their much newer Networkers languish in sidings.

    Bearing in mind that the timetable has been reduced this still means that despite lower passenger numbers trains are now full and standing at times. There are even complaints that passengers can’t even get on in the peak at certain stations. Whoever is responsible for this farce at the Department for Transport should hang their head in shame.


  9. DfT is requiring ther Railways to cut costs by 10%

    In my view that should be possible. Demand for rail is down so it should be possible to make slight reductions at peaks and peak services are very expensive to opearate. Not sure if Tfl rsil comes into this not sure how they are funded

    TfL of course have their own finacial problems. It will be interesting to see how well used Crossrail will be and how much impact it has on revenues of the other lines as passengers migrate to Crossrail

    Farringdon station when Crossrail opens will have direct access to 4 of Londons airports. Heathrow, Gatwick. London City and Luton


  10. The problem was that the 707s didn’t meet the DfT’s spec for the new SWR franchise. They might have been able to be modified to meet the spec but the leasing cost was also higher than a brand new replacement fleet.


  11. Appalling trains!! One step forward and two steps back!! Hard uncomfortable seats, roasting hot on board and you can’t open the windows!!! The final unacceptable sin is having no toilets!!! Absolute joke! The old 30 year pieces of cr*p are better than these things!!!! Will be trying to avoid getting on one these like the plague!


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