The Branch Line Society


Southern Class 442 Farewell
Sunday 12th March 2017

First report by Neil Greenwood

Taking 270 participants, this was the final run for the Gatwick Express Class 442 'Wessex' electrics as latterly operated between Victoria and Gatwick. The latest carriage side branding of just 'Express' since 2012 recognises that the service extended to Brighton/Eastbourne. The last public service was Friday 10 March, but Class 442s EMUs continue to run ECS (as was seen at Eastbourne on 20 March) to keep them 'warm'.


London Victoria, the old and the new; 442408 (left P14) parked next to 387211.
[© Neil Greenwood 2017]

This was the third 'farewell' train on the Gatwick Express route. In May 1984 Class 73 hauled mark 2F coaches with Class 489 Goods Luggage Van dominated the route until the introduction of class 460 Juniper EMUs from 1999 [perhaps running via Berrylands?]. Due to the unit's unreliability, the 73 hauled sets plodded on until 2005 with the 460s remaining on the service until 2012. The 442s started on the Gatwick Express in 2008. To cater for the luggage space demand on the airport services the units underwent extensive modification but this frequently fell short when a train full of holiday makers with several suitcases each used them. The 442's claim to fame is that it set the 108 mph speed record for a third rail EMU on 11 Apr 1988. There are four trains an hour between Gatwick and Victoria with two extended to Brighton.

Our Southern Class 442 Farewell tour saw two 5-car units, 442402 and 442408 bow out in style and highlighted three objectives. The first gave Southern an opportunity to pay tribute to the class with a farewell tour. The second gave enthusiasts an opportunity to travel on an Express branded 442 for the last time covering regular routes, some lines for the first time with the units, and some rare track. Finally and most importantly it gave the opportunity to raise money for two very worthy charities. Firstly 'Embrace' (Eastbourne) for special needs and disabled children; promoting inclusion, improving life skills and opportunities through clubs, outreach and advocacy. Secondly Keech Hospice, a Luton based charity providing care for adults and children with life-limiting and terminal illnesses.

The day started at a very respectable 10.30, so few had to get up in the 'middle of the night', as seems to be the norm for most tours these days. It was also a godsend for the many that had also travelled on the previous day's Pathfinder Waste Train tour to North West England providing up to 17 hours of railtouring. [Of course, the really keen were on our North Norfolk Railway tour on the Friday too.]

Departing Victoria P14 at 10.30 the train travelled to Clapham Junction via the Battersea Reversible. This line sees the occasional passenger train, most notably railtours (particularly steam-hauled) and during engineering works. There was a scheduled Victoria to Tunbridge Wells service via the Chatham lines out of Victoria that ran via Stewarts Lane and Pouparts Jn but now runs from London Bridge. Continuing through Crystal Palace station, Beckenham Junction bay P1 was reached half an hour or so after leaving Victoria - the first (and last) visit by a 442! After a leisurely turn around it retraced its tracks back towards Victoria taking in Streatham Hill South Sidings, the first sidings of the day.

Beckenham Junction P1 at the buffers.
[© Neil Greenwood 2017]

Three Bridges depot from the station looking south both sides of the layout were covered.
[© Neil Greenwood 2017]

Back at Victoria and, after a short break, the run to Brighton followed the traditional 'Gatex' route. The second lot of rare track was to be the first passenger train at Three Bridges Depot, (through Down No.1 Siding). Govia Thameslink Railway and Siemens' new purpose built facility opened in Oct 2015. It services/maintains the new Class 700 Thameslink units. Three Bridges Signalling Centre reminded some participants of an excellent Society visit there on 30 Apr last year; the ROC is on the Up side.

After a swift run Down to Brighton the two units were split with 442408 running ECS into P8 for the afternoon. A real treat was having a very smart 73202 attached to 442402 to provide motive power (diesel when leading) for a run around the Brighton/Preston Park/Hove triangle. In true BLS spirit it wasn't quite as straightforward as this though! Leaving Brighton P7 the tour crossed over onto the Up Main and set off for Preston Park. Just before the station we turned left onto the Up Loop and ran to the end of Preston Park Carriage Sidings Line 1. A reversal put us onto the Cliftonville Spur before we rolled into Hove Yard No.6 Carriage Siding and the furthest one from the running line (nice one!)

Hove Yard stables the stock but the Gatwick Express services generally use Brighton P4 and P5. There is no direct route to these platforms from the West Branch route, therefore the ECS has to run on the Cliftonville Spur in to Preston Park P1 for a reversal into the appropriate platform at Brighton station. However, we were able to use the West Branch as we pulled into P2 on return to Brighton.

Now with the 73 on the back we continued into Lovers Walk Depot using the West Carriage Road running very close to the exterior wall of the depot itself. With a reversal completed at Preston Park again, we made the very short run back to Brighton P7. Due to late running of our train on the Brighton moves, our two hour break became a 90 minute break. For most this was plenty of time to get fed (but not fed up) and 'watered'. A quick trip to the Volk's Railway found it non-operational due to a £1.65M restoration programme. It is due to ROP in summer.

At Brighton someone had made a special effort!
[© Neil Greenwood 2017]

In 10 car formation with an unusual departure towards London from Brighton P8 (the most easterly) with its quaint wooden platform, the day was far from being over. It was to Victoria via Three Bridges No1 Up Reception Road. On to Gatwick, where 442410 and 442419 were observed stabled in the yard, then East Croydon. Here we took the Up London Bridge Slow, used by the local stopping trains to London Bridge. That came to an end at Norwood Fork Jn where we forked off left to travel over the Fork Arrival Road, somewhat rare track for a passenger carrying train. On to London Bridge via New Cross Gate and then the former No1 Up Carriage Siding, (now the New Cross Up Sussex Loop). It was dark by this time, but with a big team effort and helpful commentary we plotted our way through the complicated track work to London Bridge and for the rest of the tour (especially at Stewarts Lane).

After a short break the next leg took us to Victoria again via a reversal at East Croydon; a first for many on the train was taking the new Bermondsey Diveunder, (OP 27 Dec 2016). The massive multi-million pound Thameslink project around London Bridge is largely to untangle the routes into and out of the station ultimately to make the journey through the area simpler, quicker and greatly increase capacity.

Another highlight of the day was the run into the approach of Stewarts Lane Depot, navigating the mass of lines out of Victoria to alongside Wandsworth Road station via the Battersea Reversible and Chatham Reversible where the tour (very appropriately) reversed back, underneath the lines into Waterloo, for yet another reversal onto the Washer Road. Following all this was made a lot easier with the assistance of a commentary on the exact route taken via the train PA; in fact there had been an interesting and useful commentary all day. A swift turn around had us back in Victoria nearly half an hour ahead of schedule at a very respectable 20.45!

A big 'pat on the back' to those in Southern, Network Rail and our Society who put the very interesting and enjoyable railtour together and made sure that it ran so well on the day. Considering the tour was first advertised only 10 days before it ran, it was truly remarkable to have 270 participants (with, pleasingly, many young people and 442 fans) and raise a significant sum for charity.

The route taken in detail, with thanks to Martyn Brailsford

Second report by Matthew Dodd

Plastic Pigs, Wessies - call them what you will, but the charismatic Class 442 units have certainly added interest to the Brighton Main Line over the last 8+ years. Southern and Gatwick Express originally used all 24 units, but the rundown of the class began last year with the introduction of the new Class 387/2 EMUs for Gatwick Express. The last booked Class 442 Gatwick Express was in the early hours of Sat 17 Sep 2016; since then the six remaining units have been focused between London Bridge and Eastbourne/Brighton on peak trains.

However, with Class 377s being made available from Thameslink duties and the desire to remove the need to keep a pool of spares for just six units, it was announced that the Class 442s would finish all Southern passenger work in March 2017. The final passenger working was Fri 10 Mar 2017 with 1B46, the 17.57 London Bridge to Brighton, with units 2410 & 2413. That would surely have been that, had it not been for the enthusiasm of some staff in Three Bridges Railway Operations Centre, ably led by Track Section Manager Anthony Yandell and Network Rail guru Ben Haslam who, in just four weeks, remarkably put together an ambitious farewell tour which occurred on Sun 12 Mar using units 2402 & 2408, with the Stewarts Lane 'pet' loco 73202.

Antony Yandell (left) and Matthew Dodd of GoVia Thameslink Railway (Southern) were responsible for much of the planning that went into the running of the BLS 'Southern Class 442 Farewell' tour and are here holding a commemorative cake made especially for the occasion. Both the tour and the cake went down very well!
[© Geoff Plumb 2017]

At 10.07, the ECS arrived at London Victoria from Stewarts Lane with a Passenger Information Screen message: 'Southern Class 442 Farewell December 2008 - March 2017.' The tour kicked off with 2402 running as a 5-Car formation on 1Z42 10.30 from P14. This leg was a real exploitation of route clearance, (requiring traversal of Crystal Palace P2 at 5mph) and the first passenger visit for the class to Beckenham Junction. It also provided a trip around the back of Stewarts Lane depot - a route occasionally used for Gatwick Express overnight diversions. It was quite surreal to see a mainline express unit rubbing shoulders with Croydon Tramlink units at Beckenham Junction - certainly very different from the usual Class 455s found on the route! The tour headed back to Victoria, running through Streatham Hill Up Sidings and crossing up slow to up fast at Balham to add extra interest.

2402 and 2408 then were paired up again (repaired?) and headed off to Brighton at 12.32 as 1Z44. The usual run was broken up by a trip through the new Three Bridges Down Thameslink Sidings, a much sought after addition to everyone's Baker and TRACKmaps! At Brighton P7 the EMUs were re-split; 2408 shunting for display in P8, and 73202 was attached to 2402 for the next part. This was much welcomed by most on board as the loco very rarely works passenger trains now. For all those wondering, 73202 worked solo on diesel power and in multiple with 2402 on third rail power.

Brighton P7, 73202 couples up to 442402 to depart for Preston Park, Hove and Lovers Walk Depot. 442408 is on P8 (behind and out of view). Far left a well-known steward shepherds passengers.

The combination then set off as 1Z45 for Brighton West Side via Preston Park Sidings Road 1 and Hove Yard, Road 6. Much work had been done to leave Road 6 in Hove Yard free as the 23 May 2010 Class 442 'Ruby Rover' tour had previously visited Road 5. Back at Brighton station it was off to…. Brighton via Preston Park again, taking in Lovers Walk Depot West Carriage Road. A break at the seaside town followed although sadly the weather was not conducive to ice creams on the beach!

With 2402 and 2408 re-coupled, the tour left Brighton for London Bridge - mimicking the final peak hour workings for the class. At Three Bridges, the tour ran through the Up Thameslink Depot giving passengers a chance to view the new facility for maintaining the Siemens Class 700 EMUs now being introduced on Thameslink. At Norwood Fork Jn, the train diverted again to travel along the Selhurst Depot Fork Arrival - much desired by those on board as previous tours had not traversed these roads entirely. However the diversions were not quite over for this leg, as at New Cross, the Up Sussex Loop was travelled over - despite the signalling offering the Up Main! Fortunately, staff on board caught this in time and were able to advise the driver to challenge the route; it was reset [Thank you for that!]!

The new order at East Croydon.

After a London Bridge reversal it was off to Victoria, diving under at Bermondsey and reversing at East Croydon with a rare (for the Class) Fast-Slow move at Norwood Fork. After the final unit split 2408 ran ECS to Stewarts Lane. 2402 continued as 1Z49, with an interesting reversal at Wandsworth Road behind signal VS86 then to Stewarts Lane Depot. The Carriage Washing Road was visited before running to Victoria P7, the end of the day's events. If this is to be the final Class 442 passenger working under its own power, it certainly was a fitting farewell and raised at least £13k for charity. A day that will be remembered for a very long time by all those on board. A really big thank you to all concerned.

Thanks to Jim Sellens for the mileages, and - as always - the souvenir tickets.

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