Operator: South Western Railway Headcode: 1T66 Route: PMH-WAT Class: Standard Seat: N/A Date: Saturday 12th December 2020
I hadn’t actually been planning on reviewing my journey back to London from Portsmouth, however the discovery of a class 444 waiting for me and improved customer service compared to my trip down was enough to differentiate it from the southbound journey (read about that here) and make it worth a short review.
After a slightly different day on the Isle of Wight to what I had planned, I arrived back at Portsmouth Harbour station having caught the Wightlink Catamaran back across The Solent. The station has a direct connection to the railway and, as with my journey via HoverTravel, my through ticket included the ferry journey with me just having to make a reservation for a particular crossing.
As with my journey south, my train back to Waterloo was affected by engineering works, although this time it just wasn’t running at all. Again, having checked ahead, I contacted the South Western Railway (SWR) Twitter team and this time got provided with a helpful response allowing me to travel on the train before or after the one I had a ticket for. The one before was a replacement bus as far as Petersfield, whilst the later one was direct and only arrived back at Waterloo 15 minutes later and so I decided to avoid the bus and head back the way I had come.
With a 45-minute connection between the ferry and the train, I expected to be waiting on the concourse for a while before being able to board. However, by the time I had discovered coffee wasn’t available at the station, the inbound train had arrived, and I was able to spend the remaining wait onboard the train.
As eluded to above, the units forming the train north weren’t class 450s like on my journey south but were class 444s which are configured for longer journeys with 2-2 seating and tables included for the bays of seats. As with the ‘450s’ there’s a plug socket for every pair of seats and SWR’s Wi-Fi is free throughout. Having spent a bit more time on the Wi-Fi’s welcome page, I discovered that it also includes onboard entertainment including films, TV shows and games, excellent for passing the time on some of SWR’s longer services (Exeter and Weymouth are both over 3 hours from Waterloo).
The calling pattern was the same as on the southbound journey with us running as a local service to Eastleigh and then running semi-fast to Woking and then Waterloo. The guard was more visible on this service, occasionally walking through the train enforcing the face mask rules and the ‘Quiet zones’. Having spent time working on some blog posts and social media, we were at Basingstoke in what felt like no time at all, and with the carriage to myself I was able to relax for the final 45-minute stretch to Waterloo.
Whilst looking forward to travelling on a ‘white train’ as opposed to a ‘blue train’ may seem slightly sad, it is surprising the difference being able to comfortably work at a table makes to the journey comfort. In fact, when SWR took over the franchise, one of the first things they looked to do was to replace the ‘blue trains’ on the Portsmouth direct line with refurbished class 442s, as the longer distance commuters complained that the ‘blue trains’ weren’t suitable for the journeys they were making.
Whilst there was still no catering onboard, and the journey wasn’t anything special, it was certainly an improvement compared to my journey earlier in the day with better customer service and a better train. It’ll still be good to give them a go post Covid to see what catering they offer and how the overall experience is when trains are busier.
Lounge 0* Seat/Facilities 4* Food 0* Service 4* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 13/25 (read about my rating system here!)