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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

5 Is Such An Odd Number

I grew up in a very even world. Train coaches only came in pairs or quartets where I lived in Kent, so a train formation could be anything from 2 - 12 coaches, but always an even number. It was a sheltered upbringing it must be said. I was 16 before I realised that coaches could come in odd numbers when I started college in the West of the County with the old 3 car thumpers on the Tonbridge - Eridge/Ukfield line, and even more impressively the old Hastings Diesels that came in 6 and 5 car formations.

But they are/were diesels and as such were a different breed to the EMUs I was used to. In the early 1990's Connex decided to convert a few CEP's to 3 car for use on the Medway Valley Line and Sheerness branch, and to be honest they looked a bit, well, short. The other thing that's short is the number of pics of them out there - searched for ages to no avail so here is a 4 coach version of my comfort zone on my local line in Kent

Class 411 EMU 1562 at Maidsotne West Station
So with a few 3 coach units floating around the odd number started to become more common. 7 and 11 coach formations became common, and we even had one regular working from Ramsgate that was a 9 car made up of 3x3 car units. The acceleration on that was something else as it had the power of a 12 car but not the weight.

However still no 5 car trains, as the 3 car 411's units were not compatible with the 2 car 465 Networkers. It was all the more suprising that 5 car units weren't around as the vast majority of the platforms on the Kent suburban routes were 10 coaches in length, so a maximum length train would be 4+4+2. And so it remianed until 2002 when the new class 375 Electrostars entered service, gradually spelling the end for the old slam door stock. But still no 5 car units as the 375's came in 3 and 4 car formations. Then one Saturday I arived at Margate to take over my train and thought I was seeing things. 375604 had gained a coach and glory be at last I had seen a 5 coach EMU! Sadly though not many other people must have seen it as there are no pics around of the short time it spent as a 5 car.

Then in 2004, just as work was carried out on surburban stations to make them able to accommodate 12 coach trains, Southeastern decided to invest in more Electrostars specifically for the surburban routes. So naturally they were 5 car units. In the Electrostar world these are unique in that you cannot walk between units when 2 are connected. You might also notice the flat design of the front/rear of the train with not even any buffers to speak of. This was to deter the yoofs of SE London from train surfing, but at last the 5 coach EMU was born.

5 cr unit 376008 at New Cross
Fast forward 10 years and you find me yesterday at East Croydon Station en route to East Grinstead for an eye appointment, and killing time doing some serious anoraking. One thing I always do is listen to announcements and my ears pricked up like an Alsatian's when I heard the announcement that the delayed 1110 to Milton Keyens Central would be formed of 5 coaches. News to me as I wasn't aware that Southern had any 5 car units. But they do now! In trundled 377701, which has been in service for around a month.

5 car unit 377701 leaves East croydon for Milton Keynes yesterday
Now as you know this blog prides itself on not only using its own pics whenever possible, but also riding and reviewing whatever it photos. So by taking this pic I had set a challenge to find one later and ride it. I failed. Well sort of. After consulting a couple of seasoned anoraks at Clapham Junction I discovered that my ignorance was complete and Southern have had a batch of 5 car units for about a year now, the 377 6 Series.  There are 26 units for Pete's sake and I hadn't seen one of them! How I had never noticed one is a complete mystery - I guess that's why I'm always on the way to eye hospital whenever I'm down that neck of the woods! But I have now, and ridden one. They are perfectly acceptable for surburban routes. The seats could be better but let's face it they are nothing as bad as Scania bus seats, The acceleration was good but not as good as the Siemens Class 360's we have on Eastern Region. You could tell although clean, the quality of the interior wasn't really to the same standard as a mainline 377, and the door alerts, which are quite subtle and unobtrusive on older models positively screamed at you. I will have to go on a longer journey to reach a full judgement on them, but they are leagues better than the horrible 2 car 456's they repaced.

5 car unit 377606 at Anorak Central (Clapham Junction) yesterday
Interior of 2nd coach of 377608
And there we have it - a history and update of the 5 car EMU. I don't get enough opportunity to do many train based posts so it was good, if time consuming to do something a bit different.

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