Operator: South Western Railway Headcode: 1T17 Route: WAT-PMS Class: Standard Seat: N/A Date: Saturday 12th December 2020
Departing Peterborough just after 6am, the second Saturday in December had brought an early start to allow a full day of exploring and adventuring. The Isle of Wight was my ultimate destination, but first I had two trains and two tubes to catch, as well as making my way across to the Island from Portsmouth.
Originally, I had booked an advance ticket on the 0930 South Western Railway (SWR) service from London Waterloo to Portsmouth via Guildford and the ‘Portsmouth Direct Line’. When double checking the details the day before, I noticed there were engineering works south of Petersfield and I’d therefore have to change onto a replacement bus and arrive at Portsmouth & Southsea 30 minutes later than planned. Whilst this normally wouldn’t be an issue, both the Hovercraft service from Southsea to Ryde and the Island Line were running an hourly service and so the 30-minute delay would actually mean being an hour later on the island.
After contacting SWR via twitter and receiving no help at all, I had a quick look online, and was able to book a new advanced ticket for £10 on the 0809 service to Portsmouth which ran via Basingstoke and Eastleigh, meaning I would still make my planned connections. Seemingly the fact the engineering works weren’t advertised when I purchased my ticket was the fault of the 3rd party ticket vender (RailEasy, I’m looking at you), however I wasn’t particularly impressed with SWR’s customer service via Twitter that just fobbed me off.
Having purchased a new ticket and having a smooth journey into and across London, I arrived at London Waterloo with about half an hour to spare. Grabbing some breakfast and heading to the mezzanine to people watch, you wouldn’t believe Waterloo is Britain’s busiest station. Admittedly it was before 8 on a Saturday morning and there were engineering works closing half of the station, but even with these Covid had definitely had an impact on the station that in 2018-19 handled not far off 100m passengers.
With about fifteen minutes to go before departure, my train arrived into platform 8 and I was able to see that 450088 and classmate 450108 were forming the service. SWR’s predecessor South West Trains had informally split the business into three sections: Suburban services that operated ‘red’ trains; Long distance inter-city services that operated ‘white’ trains; and middle distance semi-fast services, such as both routes to Portsmouth that operated ‘blue’ trains. The class 450s are the workhorse of these ‘blue’ services, however they are laid out in a 2-3 configuration without tables, meaning journeys to Portsmouth aren’t quite as comfortable as the ‘444s’ that run to Southampton.
Due to the time of day and low passenger numbers, there was only myself and one other passenger in the first carriage of the train, meaning I had plenty of space to spread out and didn’t have to share a bay of seats or the limited power sockets with anyone. These class 450s have two power sockets per bay of 4 or 6 seats in standard class along with free Wi-Fi throughout. I had a quick look into the first-class compartment at the very front of the train, which had two bays of four seats with tables, a plug for every seat and wireless charging.
Due to Covid SWR have currently suspended all on-board catering, however even when operating this is limited to services between Waterloo, Sailsbury, Bournemouth and Portsmouth (via the direct line). A first-class ticket will only get you a free drink and biscuit though, and even that is only included Monday-Friday before 10am. Essentially, if I’d purchased a first-class ticket for this journey, SWR would have probably only earned a single extra star at the bottom and I’d have shelled out an extra £15 for a table…
Portsmouth services stop only at Woking and Farnborough (Main) before Basingstoke, however after the call at Hampshire’s largest town, the service becomes more of a local service with an additional 11 stops between there and Portsmouth Harbour. The fourth stop on the service was at Hampshire’s county town, Winchester, which has been served by the railway since 1839, however through trains to London didn’t arrive until the following year. At it’s opening the London and South Western Railway had two sections of line, one from Waterloo to Basingstoke and the second from Winchester to Southampton due to the middle section being more difficult to construct and therefore taking an additional 10 months.
Winchester itself was a former capital city of England and was infact its first, with there being settlements in the area since pre-historic times. The Church of SS Peter and Paul was constructed in 648 becoming a cathedral in the 660s before construction of the current cathedral began under Norman rule in 1079. The city’s high street is also home to the Buttercross, a scheduled ancient monument that was originally constructed in the 15th century and features 12 statues of the various saints, the Virgin Mary and other historical figures.
The semi-familiar station of Eastleigh was our next stop, with me having used this when visiting Southampton Airport in 2019 (read about that here!). North of the station is a large goods yard that was busy with freight trains and to the south, in the apex between the Southampton and Portsmouth lines, lies Eastleigh Works, a locomotive, carriage and wagon construction, repair and overhaul facility which has been in continuous operation since its opening in 1890.
Amongst the hundreds of locomotives constructed at Eastleigh, some of the more famous ones include Merchant Navy class 35018 ‘British India Line’ which featured in my first YouTube video (here); Battle of Britain class 34081 ’92 Squadron’ which resides at the Nene Valley Railway and the first six class 72s, later examples of which haul the Caledonian Sleeper from Edinburgh into the highlands. Eastleigh is also a location where locomotives, carriages and multiple units go to end their life, being stripped of parts and eventually scrapped with both 73002 and former East Midlands Railway HST 43083 awaiting their fate.
The rest of our journey through Hampshire onto Portsea Island was uneventful, with the station and depot at Fratton marking the final station before my destination of Portsmouth & Southsea. Fratton used to be a junction station with a branch line to Southsea operating for less than 30 years between 1885 and 1914. The train care depot now located at Fratton sits on the site of the former locomotive depot which, with two roundhouses, was operated between 1891 and 1959.
The closure of the former Southsea branch line led to Portsmouth Town railway station being renamed in 1925 for the second time in its history to Portsmouth & Southsea, a name it still carries today. This station also used to be a junction station with a branch heading off from the western end of platform 1, across Victoria Park to Unicorn Gate and Portsmouth Naval Base. As well as being a through station for services to Portsmouth Harbour, a number of services also start or terminate at Portsmouth & Southsea, providing 9 trains per hour off of Portsea Island during the regular off peak.
All in all, my journey to Portsmouth with SWR was uneventful and rather forgettable. The facilities onboard were fair but not exceptional, I didn’t encounter any staff (other than the twitter team) and we arrived just a few minutes late after our 95-mile journey from London. I’d like to travel again with SWR in future, perhaps on one of the flagship Southampton services or on the South Western Turbos to Exeter to see how these compare.
Lounge 0* Seat/Facilities 3* Food 0* Service 3* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 11/25 (read about my rating system here!)