When South Western Railways took over the franchise for our rail line from South West Trains in 2017 a key part of their contract was to introduce a new train set built by Bombadier, now Alstom, based in Derby. These class 701 trains were originally intended to be in service by the end of 2019 but various delays, software issues, union issues, and then the effects of the pandemic, caused this date to slip. In anticipation of them hopefully coming into service during 2024 SWR staged a 'soft launch' introduction in January, consisting of a single passenger service each day between Waterloo and Windsor between January 9th and January 12th. I travelled on it on the Wednesday of that week, although it was a last minute decision as the service was not confirmed to be running until 0945.
I decided to join the train at Staines on its return journey to Waterloo which meant catching the 1103 train from my local station. There was an immediate issue in that when I arrived at the station the 1033 was still sitting there as there was a precarious tree by the line. Luckily it soon moved off and my train arrived on time and got me to Staines in good time. A few other train enthusiasts waiting, cameras ready. SWR call the train the 'Arterio', whatever that means, and the departure board highlighted this. The train arrived bang on time. Since it followed a normal Windsor to Waterloo train by just a few minutes most who boarded were enthusiasts!
The trains are very roomy with gangways going right through the ten coaches. A very chatty guard welcomed us and I learnt quite a lot about the workings of the train and the door controls, most of which is controlled by the driver. I gathered that the woman who got on was a guard herself so probably I heard rather more than I should have!
Comments from those who travelled on the service the previous day suggested that the airline type seats are quite close together and also somewhat narrow. To some extent I agreed though I still found them pretty comfortable. As well as the usual information displays which showed quite detailed information there are also displays on the side walls of the carriages showing the next stop etc, something I have not seen before. The display indicated that although our carriage was lightly loaded, the very front carriage was very busy.
So arriving at Waterloo on platform 17. On the adjacent platform 18 was another 701 ready to depart somewhere but not in passenger service.
To make a day out, and as it was lunch time, I continued to London Bridge and had a pleasant lunch at Hornimans, in the Hays Galleria, passing the strange Navigators sculpture. Then a walk along the Thames back to Waterloo passing HMS Belfast.
The City and St Pauls across the river looking splendid. Back at Waterloo there was yet another 701 sitting on platform 21, they are appearing everywhere - but seeing one in actual service is a pretty rare event! Back home on a normal train after a shortish but pleasant day out.