Analysis: Discussions continue but Class 707s face uncertain future

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Photo: Rail Engineer.

FirstGroup and MTR have today confirmed an order with Bombardier for 90 new Aventra EMUs. Their arrival in the middle of 2019 will bring an end to the Class 707’s short spell on the South Western main line.

The First/MTR joint venture announced its intention to replace the Class 707s earlier this year – the first train hasn’t yet entered service.

South West Trains, under Stagecoach’s stewardship, plans to complete the roll-out of the new third-rail EMUs by the end of the year. Within just a couple of years, they will be replaced by the Aventra units.

“The Class 707s are good trains that we will make use of,” said a spokesperson for FirstGroup, during an exchange of e-mails about the logistics of introducing the new fleet. FirstGroup and MTR want a homogenous fleet and clearly see a commercial benefit in procuring a completely new set of trains rather than adding more 707s.

First and MTR say their approach represents a good deal for passengers and the government, but, with more than £200 million invested in the 30 five-car Siemens trains, finding a new owner is essential. The sight of nearly new trains sat in sidings indefinitely is something the Department for Transport (DfT) will want to avoid.

The same spokesperson said First did expect the Class 707s would be cascaded to other parts of the network and was confident that they would find a future elsewhere. Angel Trains, which financed the 707 fleet, said it too was continuing to explore opportunities to secure the long-term future of the trains.

The big issue for the 707s is that they have been designed for the South West’s 750 V DC electrification system – although Siemens has said the they can be adapted to 25 kV AC.

For some, however, this could actually represent an opportunity. Open-access operator Alliance Rail Holdings is awaiting a decision from the ORR on a track access application to run a new passenger service between London Waterloo and Southampton from 2018.

Alliance has said it plans to use Class 442s, but it’s an interesting thought. What if the 707s ended up competing head to head with the very trains that replaced them?

Written by Marc Johnson