22 May 2009

Calling time on SWT's 'slam-doors'

As mentioned in Part 4 of the LEYTR Railrover two days ago, Stagecoach-owned South West Trains (SWT) has said that it plans to remove its MkI Class 421 electric multiple unit trains (emus) from service at some point this year, which we believe to be prior to the December timetable change.

Introduced in the late 1950s, the MkI Class 421 emus featured doors that slammed shut (hence their name) and were the backbone of services in the Southern Region. SWT was the first to withdraw all its examples from routes into/out of London in 2005, with Govia-owned Southern and Southeastern following on soon after. In 2004 two MkI slam-doors were overhauled for dedicated service on the Lymington Branch, operating along the 7 mile route between Brockenhurst-Lymington Town-Lymington Pier.

One of the pair of slam-doors operating in regular services is seen here: 421497 Freshawater.

The main reason operators removed their entire fleet of slam-doors in such a short time frame was the way in which the emus faired in collisions: very poorly. Rail safety regulations had slowly been tightened in the aftermath of the Clapham Junction crash and specifically as a result of the Ladbroke Grove disaster and the comparatively weak body shells in the slam-doors no longer conformed to the minimum safety standard. All operators had to remove their slam-doors from regular service by 30 November 2005.

However, the two slam-doors retained by SWT for operation on the Lymington Branch did so as SWT was happy that the short line posed no collision hazards and overhauled the two sets during the winter of 2003/4 so that they conformed to the rail safety regulations for services operating on self-contained lines. Specifically, the main modification that needed doing was the installation of a new central door locking system and the provision of disabled access. A decision was made to remove the trains' toilets, too.

Since May 2004 SWT has operated two Class 421 slam-door emus on the Lymington Branch: 421497 'Freshwater' and 421498 'Farringford'. 421497 wears the traditional British Rail blue and grey livery, while 421498 wears the traditional green livery of Southern.

The other Class 421 slam-door operating regular passenger services is depicted here, 421498 Farringford, wearing Southern's traditional green livery.

Each slam-door comprises two Driving Trailer Composites (DTCs) and a Motor Brake Standard Open (MBSO). For 421497 the two DTCs are 76764 & 76835 and the MBSO is numbered 62402; for 421498 the two DTCs are 76773 & 76844 and the MBSO is numbered 62411. Obviously, in each case the two DTCs are coupled either side of the MBSO.

SWT's reasoning for the removal of its last-remaining slam-doors is that they both require another overhaul and we understand that the cost of doing so cannot be justified in the current financial climate. Their removal will bring to an end half a century of slam-door operation in the Southern Region. Their replacement is likely to be a two-car Class 158; currently a Class 450 'Desiro' has operated when both slam-doors are unavailable.

It is a passing of historic proportions and we plan on attending their last-ever day in service later this year - as will thousands of other well-wishers, we're sure! (GL)