South Western Railway (train operating company)

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South Western Railway
444040 in SWR livery at Waterloo.jpg
Franchise(s)South Western
20 August 2017 – 28 May 2023
Main region(s)
Other region(s)
Fleet size
Parent company
Reporting markSW[1]
PredecessorSouth West Trains
Other Edit this at Wikidata
Route map
Route map

First MTR South Western Trains Limited,[2] trading as South Western Railway (SWR), is a British train operating company owned by FirstGroup (70%) and MTR Corporation (30%) that operates the South Western franchise.

During March 2017, it was announced that SWR had been awarded the South Western franchise. On 20 August 2017, it took over operations from the previous franchisee South West Trains. SWR operates commuter services from its Central London terminus at London Waterloo to South West London. SWR provides suburban services in the counties of Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset, as well as regional services in Devon, Somerset, Berkshire and Wiltshire. Its subsidiary Island Line operates services on the Isle of Wight. Rolling stock changes have included a comprehensive refurbishment of existing units and the acquisition of new-build Class 701 units from Bombardier to replace SWR's Class 455, Class 456 and Class 707 multiple units. The Class 483 fleet operated on the Island Line was also replaced by the Class 484 during 2021.

During April 2018, amid concerns of SWR's performance, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced an independent review into SWR and Network Rail. Between 2 December 2019 and 2 January 2020, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) undertook 27 days of strikes. Further industrial action by SWR's staff was undertaken in 2022. In response to the decrease in passenger travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, SWR had considerably curtailed its services by mid-2020. In January 2020, SWR announced that they were in discussions with the government regarding the future of the franchise. In December 2020, it was announced that that SWR's franchise would be abolished and replaced by a shorter management contract. During October 2021, the contract was updated with a finish date of 28 May 2023, with an option to extend further if required by the DfT.


During July 2015, the Department for Transport (DfT) abandoned efforts to negotiate an extension with the incumbent operator of the South Western franchise, South West Trains, (owned by British transport conglomerate Stagecoach) and announced that the South Western franchise would be retendered for in the coming years.[3][4][5]

In February 2016, the DfT announced that two companies, FirstGroup and Stagecoach, had been shortlisted to bid for the next South Western franchise.[6][7] During June 2016, MTR Corporation partnered with FirstGroup in their bid, taking a 30% shareholding in the joint venture.[8][9] During July 2016, the DfT issued the Invitation to Tender.[10][11]

During March 2017, the DfT announced that the South Western franchise had been awarded to First/MTR.[12] At the time, it was stated that its franchise period was to commence from 20 August 2017 and run through to 18 August 2024, although the deal had included an option for the DfT to extend it for a further 48 weeks.[13][14][15]

The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) held an inquiry into the awarding; during July 2017, it sought undertakings from SWR that it would not abuse its monopoly on services to the West of England, Dorset and Somerset, as FirstGroup also operated the Greater Western franchise in those regions.[16][17] FirstGroup and MTR responded with an offer to implement a cap upon unregulated fares between London and Exeter as a mitigating measure; the CMA chose to accept this concession.[18]

By April 2018, concerns had reportedly grown over SWR's performance over previous months; there had been a noted rise in both the number of delayed services and outright cancellations. Due to these concerns, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced an independent review into the performance of South Western Railway and Network Rail; the review was welcomed by Winchester's MP, Steve Brine.[19] During July 2018, reports emerged that FirstGroup/MTR were in the process of renegotiating the SWR contract, allegedly due to the operator's inability to deliver on many of its promised improvements, as well as its declining performance and industrial action by its own staff.[20]

Between 2 December 2019 and 2 January 2020, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) undertook 27 days of strikes. These were in protest to the potential introduction of DOO (driver only operation) on SWR's new fleet of Bombardier-built Class 701 multiple units, which would thereby nullify the role of the guard.[21]

In January 2020, SWR announced that they were in discussions with the government regarding the future of the franchise following a £137 million loss, with termination of the contract being a possibility.[22]

By mid-2020, SWR had considerably curtailed its services in response to the significant decline of passenger travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.[23][24] From 15 June 2020, both passengers and staff on public transport in England, including SWR services, were required to wear face coverings while travelling, and that anyone failing to do so would be liable to be refused travel or fined.[25][26]

In December 2020, it was announced that terms for the abolition of the franchise system for SWR had been agreed, and that the company would be given a management contract to run until 1 April 2023 when the ERMA (Emergency Recovery Measures Agreement) for the franchise ends in March 2021.[27] During October 2021, the contract was updated with a finish date of 28 May 2023, with an option to extend further if required by the DfT.[28]

SWR was one of several train operators impacted by the 2022 United Kingdom railway strike, which was the first national rail strike in the UK for three decades.[29] Its workers were amongst those who participated in industrial action due to a dispute over pay and working conditions.[30] SWR was only capable of operating a minimal timetable on any of the planned dates for the strikes due to the number of staff involved.[31][32]


South Western Railway is the main operator for western Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset, and also serves London, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon.

Most SWR services run on electrified lines using the 750 V DC third-rail system. There is a diesel fleet for services on the West of England line to Salisbury and Exeter, using the unelectrified track beyond Worting Junction just west of Basingstoke, and for Salisbury to Southampton via Romsey services which also serve Eastleigh. SWR operates almost 1,700 train services per day.

From London Waterloo, SWR's London terminus, long-distance trains run to southern England, including the major coastal population centres of Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth. There are also trains to Reading and Exeter, but these are not the principal fast services from London to those cities, which are operated from London Paddington by Great Western Railway. The majority of its passengers are on suburban commuter lines in inner and south-west London, Surrey, east Berkshire, and north-east Hampshire.

As with most rail companies, non-folding bicycles are banned from peak-time trains to and from London. However, these restrictions apply only to cyclists boarding or alighting in the area bounded by Hook, Alton, Guildford, Reading and Dorking, in order to maximise available passenger space on the most crowded trains.[33]

Mainline services[edit]

South Western Railway operates regular services on four mainline routes:[34][35]

  • The South West Main Line (SWML) runs between London (Waterloo station) and the town of Weymouth; the route passes through several large towns and cities, including Woking, Basingstoke, Winchester, Southampton, Bournemouth, Poole and Dorchester. South Western Railway operates trains along the entire length of the line. Almost all trains operated by the company start from or terminate at London Waterloo with the exception of a Winchester - Bournemouth / Poole stopping service; these include semi-fast services to/from Southampton and Poole, and express services to/from Weymouth. There are also trains to and from Portsmouth; these trains branch off the SWML at Eastleigh, then proceed via the Eastleigh to Fareham and West Coastway lines to Portsmouth Harbour station.
  • The Portsmouth Direct Line (PDL) branches off the SWML at Woking and runs to Portsmouth via Guildford, Haslemere, Petersfield and Havant. South Western Railway operates all passenger trains on this route; these include fast and semi-fast services between London and Portsmouth, and semi-fast services as far as Haslemere.
  • The West of England Main Line (WEML) is the only mainline route that is not fully electrified.[36] It leaves the SWML at Basingstoke and runs to Exeter via Andover, Salisbury, Gillingham and Yeovil. South Western Railway is the only operator on the line, with most services running between London and either Salisbury or Exeter St Davids. Some peak-time services terminate at various other destinations on the line, including Gillingham and Andover. On Summer Saturdays, there is also a daily return service to Weymouth, which leaves the WEML at Yeovil Junction and continues via the Heart of Wessex Line.
  • The Alton Line leaves the SWML at Brookwood (just after Woking) and runs to Alton via Aldershot and Farnham. It is the shortest of the four mainline routes and as such it is sometimes considered an outer suburban route instead (however for ticketing purposes, it is classed as a mainline route). Services usually run the full length of the line between London and Alton, though some services terminate at Farnham.

In total, there are 14 mainline trains per hour departing London Waterloo in the off-peak; this number increases in the peak hours.[35] The majority of mainline services are operated by Class 444 or Class 450 EMUs, except for the West of England Main Line which is always operated by Class 158 or Class 159 DMUs (because it is unelectrified) and the Alton Line which also sees the occasional use of Class 458 units.

Metro and Suburban services[edit]

South Western Railway also operates many suburban "Metro" services in and around London. These all run between London Waterloo and Clapham Junction, where they split into two separate routes: via Putney and via Wimbledon.[34] All services on the suburban part of the network are operated by Class 450, Class 455, Class 456, Class 458 and Class 707 electric multiple units.

Via Putney[edit]

The main route via Putney is known as the Waterloo to Reading Line. It runs between London and Reading and passes through towns such as Staines-upon-Thames, Ascot and Bracknell. It operates as a fast service as far as Staines, with Reading trains only calling at Clapham Junction, Richmond, Twickenham and Feltham. Branch lines on this route include:[34][35]

  • The Hounslow Loop Line, which leaves the main line at Barnes, runs via Brentford and rejoins the line between Whitton and Feltham (with junctions in both directions). Most services on the branch run either between London and Weybridge (described below), or run in a loop from Waterloo to Waterloo via Brentford, Whitton and Richmond (these services run both clockwise and anticlockwise).
  • The Kingston Loop Line, which branches off at Twickenham, runs via Kingston and joins the South West Main Line at New Malden. Most services on this line run in an anticlockwise loop, from Waterloo to Waterloo, via Putney, Strawberry Hill, Kingston and Wimbledon.
    • There is also a branch line to Shepperton, however, this is only served by Putney trains at peak times.
  • The Staines to Windsor Line, which branches off the main line at Staines-upon-Thames and runs to Windsor & Eton Riverside station. Most services run semi-fast between London and Windsor.
  • The Chertsey Branch Line, which leaves the main line at Virginia Water and runs to Weybridge. Most services on the line run between London and Weybridge via the Hounslow Loop Line; a few services are extended beyond Weybridge, to and from Woking.
  • The Ascot to Guildford Line, which is only served by through trains at peak times; these services run between London and Aldershot.

A total of 12 trains per hour run between London Waterloo and Putney in the off-peak; this number increases in peak hours.[35]

Via Wimbledon[edit]

The main route via Wimbledon uses the slow tracks of the quadruple-track South West Main Line. Suburban trains run along the mainline between London and Woking. Branch lines on this route include:[34][35]

  • The Mole Valley Line, which branches off the main line at Raynes Park and runs via Epsom to Leatherhead, where the branch line itself splits into two lines: one to Guildford and one to Horsham via Dorking. SWR runs regular services to both Guildford and Dorking; the section between Dorking and Horsham is operated by Southern.[37]
  • The Kingston Loop Line, which leaves the SWML at New Malden, runs via Kingston and joins the Waterloo to Reading line at Twickenham. Most services on this line run in a clockwise loop, from Waterloo to Waterloo, via Wimbledon, Kingston, Strawberry Hill and Putney.
    • The Shepperton Branch Line, which branches off the Kingston Loop Line at Teddington. Most services on the branch line run between Waterloo and Shepperton via Wimbledon.
  • The Hampton Court Branch Line, which leaves the main line at Surbiton and runs directly to Hampton Court.
  • The New Guildford Line, which also branches off at Surbiton, running to Guildford via Claygate. The line joins the Guildford branch of the Mole Valley Line at Effingham Junction.

A total of 16 trains per hour run between London Waterloo and Wimbledon in the off-peak; this number increases in peak hours.[35]

Other services[edit]

Routes that do not start or terminate at London Waterloo include:[34][35]

  • The Ascot to Guildford Line, which runs between Ascot and Guildford via Aldershot. Most services on the line run only between Ascot and Guildford, with no extension in either direction; however, some peak-time services do run between London and Farnham via Ascot. The shuttle services are usually operated by Class 450 units.
  • The western section of the West Coastway Line between Portsmouth and Southampton. Class 450 units are usually in operation on this route.
  • The Eastleigh to Romsey Line between Romsey and Eastleigh. Services on the line are extended beyond Eastleigh to and from Salisbury via Southampton Central and Romsey, in effect calling at Romsey twice. These services are operated using Class 158 units.
  • The Wessex Main Line between Salisbury and Southampton. Services are extended beyond Southampton via the Eastleigh to Romsey Line, as described above.
  • The Lymington Branch Line between Brockenhurst and Lymington Pier runs every 30 minutes between these two stations. This is done entirely by Class 450 units on this line.
  • The Island Line on the Isle of Wight, between Ryde Pier Head station and Shanklin. These services will be operated using former London Underground Class 484 converted from London Underground D78 stock.

Service table[edit]

Details of each route, including maps and timetables, are on the South Western Railway official website (see External links below). As of May 2022, its routes off-peak Monday to Friday, with frequencies in trains per hour (tph), include:[38]

London mainline routes (South West Main Line)
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via Winchester 1
London Waterloo to Weymouth 1
Winchester to Bournemouth 1
London mainline routes (Portsmouth Direct line)
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Haslemere 1
London Waterloo to Portsmouth & Southsea via Guildford (stopping) 1
London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via Guildford 1
London mainline routes (West of England line)
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Exeter St Davids 1
Basingstoke to Salisbury 1
  • From 5 September, this service runs via rail replacement bus.[39]
London mainline routes (Alton line)
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Basingstoke 2
London Waterloo to Alton 2
London metro and suburban routes (Windsor lines)
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Weybridge 2
London Waterloo to London Waterloo via Kingston (anticlockwise) 2
London Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Riverside 2
London Waterloo to Reading 2
London metro and suburban routes (via Wimbledon)
Route tph Calling at
London Waterloo to Chessington South 2
London Waterloo to Dorking 1
London Waterloo to Guildford via Epsom 1
London Waterloo to Shepperton 2
London Waterloo to London Waterloo via Kingston (clockwise) 2
London Waterloo to Hampton Court 2
London Waterloo to Guildford via Cobham & Stoke d'Abernon 2
London Waterloo to Woking 2
Non-London routes
Route tph Calling at
Ascot to Aldershot 2
Guildford to Farnham 2
Portsmouth & Southsea to Southampton Central 1
Romsey to Salisbury 1
Brockenhurst to Lymington Pier 2 Lymington Town
Island Line
Route tph Calling at
Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin 2

Future services[edit]

Improvements promised under the 2017 contract were:[40]

  • Refurbished trains
  • Journeys to London eight minutes faster from Southampton, nine minutes faster from Bournemouth, ten minutes faster from Exeter and 14 minutes faster from Weymouth
  • Free Wi-Fi at all stations and on mainland trains
  • 29 additional weekday and Saturday services between Portsmouth & Southsea and Southampton Central
  • Hourly direct trains from Weymouth to Portsmouth to begin before 2019
  • 35 additional weekday and Saturday services between Portsmouth & Southsea and London Waterloo
  • More Sunday services
  • Investment in stations, including improvements to Southampton Central station
  • Live information on seating availability and crowding levels via a new mobile phone app

As of May 2019, there is also an hourly Sunday service between Reading and Salisbury via Basingstoke (with trains running between 0800 and 1800).[41]

In August 2021, the company announced the launch of "assisted boarding points" at all 189 stations on its network, allowing disabled or elderly passengers to ask for assistance onboard trains with as little as ten minutes' notice.[42] The scheme will include clear signage at stations, with QR codes allowing customers to send details of the assistance they require and their planned journey to staff, replacing older systems wherein assisted journeys had to be booked six hours to a day in advance.

Rolling stock[edit]

South Western Railway inherited a fleet of Classes 158, 159, 444, 450, 455, 456, 458 and 707 from South West Trains, and subsequently re-introduced Class 442 trains which had operated on Gatwick Express after earlier service with South West Trains. The current fleet for the Island Line, Class 484, entered service on 1 November 2021.[43]

During March 2020, the Class 442 fleet was withdrawn; one year later, SWR decided that they would not be returned to service and their re-introduction has been cancelled.[44]

Current fleet[edit]

Family Class Image Type Top speed Carriages No. Routes Built
mph km/h
Sprinter 158 Express Sprinter Southampton Central - SWR 158887 Salisbury service.JPG DMU 90 145 2 10 1989–1992
Class 158 South West Trains Diagram.png
159 South Western Turbo SWR's 159014 stands at Corfe Castle on 14.07.18.jpg
New SWR livery variation.jpg
3 30 West of England, Heart of Wessex and Wessex Main Lines:
  • 159/0: 1992–1993
  • 159/1: converted 2006–2007
Class 159 South Western Diagram.pngClass 159 South West Trains Diagram.PNG
Siemens Desiro 444 SWR 444040 at Basingstoke 37871929226.jpg EMU 100 160 5 45
450 450111 at Basingstoke sunshine whole unit 40163328080.jpg 4 127
Outer suburban routes:
BR Second Generation (Mark 3) 455 455-8 at Waterloo International platforms.jpg
455713 Waterloo.jpg
75 120 4 83 Inner suburban routes: 1982–1985
Class 455 with swr branding.png
Alstom Coradia Juniper 458 458524 Richmond.jpg 5 36 Outer suburban services:
  • 2013–2016
  • (1998–2002 as 458/0)
  • (2000–2001 as 460)
Class 4585 South Western Diagram.png
Siemens Desiro 707 Desiro City Sunnymeads - SWR 707003+707025 (Stagecoach livery) up train.JPG 100 160 5 12[45] Inner suburban services: 2015–2018
Class 707 South Western Diagram.png
Isle of Wight
Vivarail D-Train 484 484001 Shanklin.jpg EMU 60 100 2 5 Island Line
1978–1981 (as D78 Stock)

converted 2020–2021

Class 484.png

Future fleet[edit]

Classes 455, 456 and 707 fleets will be replaced by 30 five-car and 60 ten-car Class 701 units built at Bombardier's Derby Litchurch Lane Works, financed by ROSCO Rock Rail for £1 billion,[46] for use on Reading, Windsor and London suburban services.[47][48][49]

Family Class Image Type Top speed Cars Number Routes operated Enter Service
mph km/h
Alstom Aventra 701/0 Arterio EMU SWR 701005 at Egham 19th August 2020.jpg 100 160 10 60 Reading, Windsor and South West London suburban services TBC[50]
701/5 Arterio 5 30

Past fleet[edit]

Train types formerly operated by South Western Railway include:

Family Class Image Type Top speed Carriages Number Routes operated Built Withdrawn Notes
mph km/h
1938 tube stock 483
483008 at Smallbrook Junction in 2020.jpg
EMU 45 72 2 6 Island Line 1938 2020–2021 Replaced by Class 484
BR Second Generation (Mark 3) 442 Wessex Electrics Basingstoke - SWR 442414 and 442406.jpg 100 160 5 18 1987–1989 2021 Replaced by Class 444
Class 456 456020 Hampton Court.jpg 75 121 2 24
  • Inner suburban services in conjunction with services operated by Class 455 units to make 10 coach trains.
1990–1991 2022 Stored or scrapped[citation needed]
Class 456 swr.png


Nine train depots and stabling sidings are located across London and South West England for servicing and maintaining the South Western Railway fleet.[citation needed]


Bournemouth depot is southwest of Bournemouth station, occupying the approach to the former Bournemouth West station. Until their withdrawal in February 2007, the depot was home to the Class 442 (5Wes) Wessex Electrics, and became so again during their reintroduction from 2019 to 2021. The branch turns off at Branksome station where trains can be seen stopping at platform 2 and reversing into the depot.[citation needed]


Farnham Traincare Depot, in Weydon Lane, was opened by the Southern Railway at the time of the electrification of the Portsmouth and Alton lines in 1937.[54] It was refurbished for the introduction of modern units when slam-door trains were replaced circa 2005. At the same time, disused quarry and ballast dump sidings behind the carriage shed were removed and a number of outdoor sidings were laid for overnight storage and servicing of units.


Feltham depot was completed in 2021; it is intended to provide stabling for the Class 701 units.[55]


Fratton Traincare Depot is located on central Portsea Island, alongside Fratton station. It has a carriage washer and is the fuelling point for the 158s and 159s. The depot has a train shed with two pitted roads for maintenance of rolling stock. Class 444 and 450 units berth overnight. Stabling sidings and bay platforms at Portsmouth & Southsea station are co-ordinated from the depot.[citation needed]


Northam Traincare Facility was built by Siemens in 2002 as the home depot for the Desiro fleet as part of a 20-year maintenance contract.[56] It is located south of St Denys station and is near Southampton Football Club's St Mary's Stadium.


Ryde Traincare Depot, alongside Ryde St John's Road on the Isle of Wight serviced the Class 483 units that used to operate on the Island Line.[57][58][59]

This has been refitted to allow the new Class 484 to be serviced.[citation needed]


Salisbury depot provides servicing for the South Western Railway diesel fleet.[citation needed]

Strawberry Hill[edit]

Strawberry Hill train maintenance depot in South West London, was built in 1897, is inside the triangular junction of the Shepperton Branch Line with the Kingston Loop Line, just yards from Strawberry Hill railway station.


Wimbledon Traincare Depot is located between Wimbledon and Earlsfield stations, on the main line to Waterloo, next to the Wimbledon railway viaduct. It is currently the home of the Class 455, 456, 458/5 and 707 fleets, although other classes from the SWR fleet berth overnight there.[citation needed]


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External links[edit]

Preceded by Operator of South Western franchise
Succeeded by