London to Exeter

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daniel3982

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As posted on the ticket forum I'm looking to get down to Cornwall for my summer hols for as cheap as possible & noticed it's only a tenner to get from London to Exeter by South West Trains using a Megatrain booking (if booked well in advance). Has anyone made this journey before and how does it compare to travelling with First Great Western or Cross Country (I'm coming from York so have a choice of direct or via London).

I know the route is ran using class 159's, are they the same as the 158s up here on Northern or a bit more suited for long distance travel? If they're only 3 coaches is it a bit of a squeeze in high summer (being as we won't have seat reservations!), and how does the route compare to the Great Western for scenery?
 
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MidnightFlyer

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You shouldn't notice any internal differences with 158s / 159s except for 1st Class in the latter. From my experience they can be quite busy trains, though some do run in 6-car formation; when I was on the 1020 from Waterloo one Saturday last summer it was full and standing in a double set from Clapham Jn, though I think it rarely gets that severe. Scenery-wise there is nothing spectacular, but, as with the Berk & Hants (FGW) line, there is plenty of tranquil rural scenery on offer for most of the journey west of Basingstoke.
 

daniel3982

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Just had a look at bookings for the weekend before I travel (the latest the booking engine will go to) and it's way way cheaper to travel this way! £13 as opposed to £42, although it's an hour longer. Might just book direct through South West Trains rather than Megatrain & pay the extra £3 as travelling down with my girlfriend & we'll both be guarenteed a seat reservation then.

Even first class is cheaper being £21 a ticket.

What is the first class of the 159's like? Is it worth paying the extra money?
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Just noticed this though on their website:

Specific seat reservations are not available on South West Trains services, customers using advance tickets should travel on the train specified and sit in any available seat in the correct class.
Does that mean even booking first class that I'm not guaranteed a seat (being as it'll be a summer Saturday & bound to be packed!)?
 

D1009

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I find the 159s less crowded than the claustrophobic FGW HSTs, and if you don't mind underfloor engines they are more comfortable. Comparing different TOC's fleets of 158s I think SWT come out top.
 

yorksrob

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I've done the journey from Waterloo to Penzance using the Salisbury route for my holidays a couple of times.

Generally I find the 159's to be very comfortable and not too busy on weekends. The fact that SWT's advanced bookings don't have a mandatory reservation is also a blessing I find, as it gives full freedom to find a nice window seat.

It's quite long (about 4 hours) but very pleasent if you want a change from the mainline.
 

daniel3982

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I find the 159s less crowded than the claustrophobic FGW HSTs, and if you don't mind underfloor engines they are more comfortable. Comparing different TOC's fleets of 158s I think SWT come out top.
I suppose as long as you're at Waterloo nice and early and prepared to run for a good seat the second the train is announced then it'll be worth it, would hate to be standing all that way though!

The money saving is just too great though so going to have to do it this way I think.

Are there any other advantages to first class other than the comfier seats? Any free drinks etc? And what are loadings like at the weekend in first?
 

Lrd

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The route down to Exeter with SWT is quite nice, I've done it plenty of times. The 159s are good trains to travel on, even if the aircon can be a bit noisy. You will more than likely have a double set from Waterloo to Salisbury with one set carrying on to Exeter, the loadings are bound to be quite good but if your able to get a Megatrain ticket then this usually means it will be one of the quieter services.

First class is only a bigger seat and quieter atmosphere, no free food or drink on SWT.
 

yorksrob

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The GW mainline does go through some impressive sweeping valleys. The scenery of the SW route seems pretty but not on such a grand scale.
 

moonrakerz

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I use the SWT Temple Meads - Waterloo 159s quite a bit. No complaints at all from me. They are always in good order, the aircon/ventilation usually works. The engine noise isn't too bad at the end of the cars, you can barely hear it over the aircon !! Usually a trolley service.

Formations can vary quite a lot, between 6 (2 X 159) and 10 (2 X 159 + 2 X 158) cars WAT to SAL, then 3 or 6 to Exeter. Some services can be pretty busy towards London. I usually go 1st on an Advance, well worth the extra few quid - much better than Std on an FGW HST.
At weekends check whether a Weekend First or and Advance First is cheapest.
 

daniel3982

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Thanks for all your help, if I can't nab a £15 direct fair with FGW this week I'll book with SWT instead and spend a few hours in Exeter on the way down.
 

BigVince76

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Sorry to hijack this thread but I have a couple of quick questions. I usually go First class on this route but on Thursday I am in standard on the 1925 WAT-EXD.

Firstly is this a 3 or 6 coach train to Exeter? I am guessing that is will be very busy to start with.
Secondly the last time I was in standard on one of these was many years ago but I vividly remember although the seat was nice and padded there was very little leg room. Is this still the case and if so do SWT have priority seats with more room, and if so where are they. Thanks.
 

junglejames

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but I vividly remember although the seat was nice and padded there was very little leg room. Is this still the case and if so do SWT have priority seats with more room, and if so where are they. Thanks.
Youve just described them perfectly!
Exactly what I thought of them when I travelled on them a year or 2 back.
Comfy, but little leg room.

Dont know about priority seats. If its busy id go for an airline seat. At 6'3 I can just survive until the train quietens down. Then go for a table seat.
 

moonrakerz

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Sorry to hijack this thread but I have a couple of quick questions. I usually go First class on this route but on Thursday I am in standard on the 1925 WAT-EXD.

Firstly is this a 3 or 6 coach train to Exeter? I am guessing that is will be very busy to start with.
Secondly the last time I was in standard on one of these was many years ago but I vividly remember although the seat was nice and padded there was very little leg room. Is this still the case and if so do SWT have priority seats with more room, and if so where are they. Thanks.
Don't you mean the 1920 ?

If you do, this train is a busy one. It is normally only 6 cars to SAL, then 3 onto Exeter. If you are quick, get into the 4th car from the back at WAT and at the "front" of this car is the wheelchair space. There is a pair of seats there with a drop down table and about 8 feet of legroom. I have NEVER seen a wheelchair on this route so the chances of you having to move from there are pretty slim.
 

vikingdriver

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Don't you mean the 1920 ?

If you do, this train is a busy one. It is normally only 6 cars to SAL, then 3 onto Exeter. If you are quick, get into the 4th car from the back at WAT and at the "front" of this car is the wheelchair space. There is a pair of seats there with a drop down table and about 8 feet of legroom. I have NEVER seen a wheelchair on this route so the chances of you having to move from there are pretty slim.
Mind you on a lot of these peak trains from Waterloo the regular passengers are already on the platform before the train arrives and is even announced to the rest of the world in order to get a head start in the hunt for the best seats!
 

moonrakerz

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Mind you on a lot of these peak trains from Waterloo the regular passengers are already on the platform before the train arrives and is even announced to the rest of the world in order to get a head start in the hunt for the best seats!

Oh yes ! self included................. It does help that there are lots of (empty) seats on the platforms as well.
 

TEW

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1920 out of Waterloo is 6 cars out of Waterloo, the front 3 go to Exeter and the rear 3 to Bristol.
 

Xavi

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The current Waterloo to Exeter service is a superb operation that sums up an awful lot of the good, the bad and the ugly of the last 50 years of the UK railway system.

The Good

Great rolling stock for secondary long-distance operations and very sensibly utilised with 3 or 6 (and a few 9) carriages west of Salisbury and 3 - 10 east of Salisbury. All of the Exeter services are at least 6 east of Salisbury.

The class 158/9 rolling stock is fantastic and very reliable, particularly as it was desiged and built 20 years or so ago. It's better than any of the later generation of diesel units with a quality interior and end doors. The first class seating really is Inter City standard; I would take the option if there are some really cheap advanced tickets available. Standard class seating is the original as-built product and has deep comfortable cushions. I don't mind the FGW HST seats, they are very good considering the 84 seats per carriage which are required to meet demand, but I prefer the SWT 158/9 ones. There are also plenty of table seats in the layout.

The splitting and joining at Salisbury enhances the service, when an eastbound service adds carriages at Salisbury those passengers joining at Salisbury are already seated in the section waiting in the platform at Salisbury thus avoiding a stampede for spare seats. The joining and splitting takes less than 1 minute (DfT please note). The end gangways enable the joining and splitting to be cost-effective (ticket checking, rolling stock utilisation and trolley access) as well as beneficial for passengers. There are the underfloor engines and trolley catering only, but we can't have everything.

The units are also lightweight and, compared to newer stock, have a sensible size of engine and tick the low carbon box. As a template for long-distance stock whether DMU, electric, hauled (!) or alternate to IEP, the 158/9 bodyshell can't be beaten by anything seen since (perhaps the 444 gives it a run). Just think of the economies if all new long-distance stock with end doors followed this blueprint.

The service is now a regular hourly pattern to Exeter and timekeeping is excellent considering the single track sections. Passenger number are very high and increasing - there are a few stock movements that appear empty at the western end of the route, but remember the 6 carriages were probably heaving when heading west into Dorset earlier. The 1820 off Waterloo between Clapham and Hampshire is the busiest service I have experienced recently on any route, and is still very busy as 6 carriages west of Salisbury.

Fares are really good value. Whenever I visit London from Exeter with the family we travel from Pinhoe at just £97 off-peak (essentially open) return for 2 adults and a child on a family railcard. It can be even cheaper with advances. I might even start using it for business from Honiton (Pinhoe is only every 2 hours) since Waterloo gives better access to the business districts.

Signalling renewal is nearly complete between Basingstoke and Exeter (Salisbury remains an island operation). A great example of how efficient in terms of operations (all controlled from Basingstoke) and maintenance (all LED signal heads) modern installations can be. Compare the O&M cost to the previous numerous small boxes on the route.

The Bad
Reducing the route (and others) to a single track for most of the route west of Salisbury was a huge mistake. It was meant to be all about reducing costs, but the saving should have come some years later through modern signalling (see above) and stripping out sidings and crossovers etc.

Just how many routes that were closed or singled would be viable today if modernised with flexible rolling stock, LED signalling controlled from a single centre and ticket vending machines? I think we'd rather have TVMs than a route closure and they are great for pre-booked ticket collection by today's internet generation. Consider the question of viable routes in conjunction with the rapidly falling car ownership in younger generations - totally unaffordable (without mum and dad help) on the average wage of a 20 year-old today.

Fares on many other similar routes are extortionate; we really could do with some consistency to UK fares. An open Exeter to Birmingham fare is something like £150 for one adult!

The Ugly
The single tracking means that fast trains cannot be added to the timetable. Exeter to Waterloo in 2.5 hours would be easy if the route was double track throughout. Linespeed could also be increased to 100mph for long sections.

Why have we procured so much poor rolling stock not suited to the markets they serve (Voyager, 185 .... IEP!) since the 158/9? Believe me, Cross Country would be way better if it had 100mph class 159 type gangwayed stock that would have cost a lot less than Voyagers. You could have run half-hourly to Plymouth with 8 carriages north of Bristol and 4 south (8 at peaks), with similar splits elsewhere. EMT has another good example of this in practice with Norwich - Nottingham - Liverpool.

Whilst electrification is becoming popular (the concept at least), will it really happen for the likes of Basingstoke to Exeter? It should be a no-brainer. The line is a real success story and is here to stay, we should do what any other country would do and invest in its long-term future. Operationally the route could continue as present with the splitting at Salisbury and the released 158/9 stock would be ideal for Cardiff - Portsmouth and a joined up Cardiff - Taunton - Exeter - Paignton / Plymouth / Penzance hourly service (joining up of existing services with rolling stock fit for length of journey).

Summary
Use it, you won't be disappointed and by splitting your booking (separate fare west of Exeter), you will get excellent value for both portions of your journey.

Finally, I should add that the FGW Exeter to London service is also very good. Shame about the density of standard class seating, but it really is needed. Many eastbound services are crammed on leaving Taunton, Exeter or even Plymouth and that's with a half-hourly service in the peaks (1600 - 1900ish from Paddington). The restaurant service available on 4 services per day is also top class. Again replacement of the excellent HSTs should come through electrification without any of this bi-mode IEP DfT rubbish. It's nonsense to say that demand on the route does not justify investment in the infrastructure - in any other country it would have happened years ago. Finally the idea I have often read about that London to the south west traffic could all be diverted via Bristol is absolute nonsense. Do the people who suggest this realise how busy the Berks & Hants services are (a few more passengers than the empty seats on a Bristol service!)? Or would they care to explain how you'd thread a fast service originating in Penzance (always the prospect of delays from further west) through the stop-start traffic on the Reading - Swindon - Bristol route? If we need HS2, we need B&H.

All you need to know about getting from London to Exeter, now and, hopefully, in the future....
 

Zoe

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Finally the idea I have often read about that London to the south west traffic could all be diverted via Bristol is absolute nonsense. Do the people who suggest this realise how busy the Berks & Hants services are (a few more passengers than the empty seats on a Bristol service!)? Or would they care to explain how you'd thread a fast service originating in Penzance (always the prospect of delays from further west) through the stop-start traffic on the Reading - Swindon - Bristol route? If we need HS2, we need B&H.
It is not nonsence, the reason trains use the Berks and Hants route now is that it's faster than going via Bristol and that's why these trains are busy compared to the trains that go via Bristol. With higher line speeds between Paddington and Bristol and between Bristol and Taunton this would no longer be the case. People travelling from Exeter to London are not going to care which route the train takes unless it takes unless journey times are signicantly extended. Bristol Temple Meads to London is going to increase to 4 tph from the new timetable and the two new services will run via Badminton so there are paths. You can't compare HS2 with the Berks and Hants line, HS2 is about connecting Britain's major conurbations with high speed rail. Exeter and Plymouth are not major connurbations in any way.
 
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wibble

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Might just book direct through South West Trains rather than Megatrain & pay the extra £3 as travelling down with my girlfriend & we'll both be guarenteed a seat reservation then.
SWT don't do seat reservations on any service but will book you onto a specific train with an Advance ticket. FGW offer seat reservations but their Advance fares are generally more expensive than SWT's.
 

yorksrob

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It is not nonsence, the reason trains use the Berks and Hants route now is that it's faster than going via Bristol and that's why these trains are busy compared to the trains that go via Bristol. With higher line speeds between Paddington and Bristol and between Bristol and Taunton this would no longer be the case. People travelling from Exeter to London are not going to care which route the train takes unless it takes unless journey times are signicantly extended. Bristol Temple Meads to London is going to increase to 4 tph from the new timetable and the two new services will run via Badminton so there are paths. You can't compare HS2 with the Berks and Hants line, HS2 is about connecting Britain's major conurbations with high speed rail. Exeter and Plymouth are not major connurbations in any way.
There is a down side, of course, that if the speed issue is solved via Bristol, passengers from the South West might suddenly find their London trains become a lot more crowded East of Taunton.
 

Zoe

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There is a down side, of course, that if the speed issue is solved via Bristol, passengers from the South West might suddenly find their London trains become a lot more crowded East of Taunton.
It would most likely go via Badminton and not stop at Bath, Chippenham, Swindon or Didcot. There will also be 4 tph from Bristol to London so even if one of these starts back from Plymouth/Penznace, there will still be three other trains each hour to use from Bristol. One reason the trains are so busy these days is due to rock bottom advance fares and the availibility of these can easily be set to encourage people closer to London to use other trains.
 
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Lrd

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At least its easy to spot and get to the 159 at Waterloo before it's announced whereas with every other service anything could turn up so you don't know which one to go for.
 

Xavi

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It is not nonsence, the reason trains use the Berks and Hants route now is that it's faster than going via Bristol and that's why these trains are busy compared to the trains that go via Bristol. With higher line speeds between Paddington and Bristol and between Bristol and Taunton this would no longer be the case.
No realistic chance of doing Exeter to London in 2 hours via Bristol whatever line speed improvements are made and try pathing in amongst the Weston and Taunton stoppers. Importing delays onto the heavily congested GWML from further west would also be a huge operational headache. Avoiding the ripple of delays is what Cotswold redoubling and to an extent, the Reading enhancements, are all about. And what would be the point in providing Brisol TM with 4 tph if half would be full with those heading further west?!
 

D1009

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It is not nonsence, the reason trains use the Berks and Hants route now is that it's faster than going via Bristol and that's why these trains are busy compared to the trains that go via Bristol. With higher line speeds between Paddington and Bristol and between Bristol and Taunton this would no longer be the case. People travelling from Exeter to London are not going to care which route the train takes unless it takes unless journey times are signicantly extended. Bristol Temple Meads to London is going to increase to 4 tph from the new timetable and the two new services will run via Badminton so there are paths. You can't compare HS2 with the Berks and Hants line, HS2 is about connecting Britain's major conurbations with high speed rail. Exeter and Plymouth are not major connurbations in any way.
It is nonsense. There is no way the Swindon route can accommodate 4 Bristol trains per hour, 2 Cardiff trains per hour, a Cheltenham every hour, the freight AND the West of England trains. They even had to reduce the West of England service when the Berks and Hants was blocked over Easter which led to severe overcrowding.
 

Zoe

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It is nonsense. There is no way the Swindon route can accommodate 4 Bristol trains per hour, 2 Cardiff trains per hour, a Cheltenham every hour, the freight AND the West of England trains. They even had to reduce the West of England service when the Berks and Hants was blocked over Easter which led to severe overcrowding.
It is not nonsense. A Plymouth/Penzance service is going to have to be pathed between Paddington and Reading regardless of route and it's not impossible to extend this through to Swindon where it would then run via Badminton. If and when Didcot power station closes there will be less freight. The line is also going to be resignalled with ETCS so there will be the opportunity for additional capacity here.
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No realistic chance of doing Exeter to London in 2 hours via Bristol whatever line speed improvements are made and try pathing in amongst the Weston and Taunton stoppers. Importing delays onto the heavily congested GWML from further west would also be a huge operational headache. Avoiding the ripple of delays is what Cotswold redoubling and to an extent, the Reading enhancements, are all about. And what would be the point in providing Brisol TM with 4 tph if half would be full with those heading further west?!
It would be possible with line speed improvements to reach Exeter in around two hours. Yes it would have to share the line with stopping services from Bristol to Taunton but the same is true on the Berks and Hants between Reading and Newbury where the train has to be pathed around freight and stoppers, it's certainly not impossible. Yes Bristol is going to get four trains per hour but only two of these are planned to be semi-fast via Box with the other two running express so won't be packed with people joining at Swindon.
 
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Xavi

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You can't compare HS2 with the Berks and Hants line, HS2 is about connecting Britain's major conurbations with high speed rail. Exeter and Plymouth are not major connurbations in any way.
The case for HS2 is more about capacity than speed, it's just that with today's high-speed capability you can relieve the pressure on WCML, ECML and MML as well as encourage modal shift with one Y-shaped scheme. No HS3 required for the west, but downgrade B&H and you increase GWML capacity issues. B&H is, on a much smaller scale, already doing for GWML what HS2 will do for WCML and later ECML, MML.

The political concept of rail being only about major conurbations died when the Serpell Report was consigned to the bin. Taunton, Tiverton Pkway, Exeter and Newton Abbot all draw traffic from the wider community. Business flows will always be the biggest prize, but the idea that you can ditch the lower revenue flows is long gone. There's a young generation who can't justify the cost of motoring and where rail is available it is their preferred option. It's not by chance that ridership is on an upward curve. We could opt for The Good Life and forget about moving people around, but there won't be much of an economy left.
 
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