When I first started to explore Southampton I spotted the Northam Train Depot from the railway bridge near the stadium, and I really hoped that I could find a way to get around exploring the place.
Somebody must have taken my thought to mind as it was announced that the 12th of October would be an open day at the depot. This was my chance at last! Fortunately the weather was decent on that day so it was worth spending some time there looking around. I have travelled on a few of the South Western Trains in the area and they are really comfortable and the blue and red colour scheme on some of them is very handsome.
It is a short walk from where I live to the depot, although I was coming from a totally different area, but I got there about midday, and it was already bustling.
The main workshop area is spotless, and I am sure that was not because it was an open day either. A variety of trains were on the lines and most were open to inspection. There was also an inspection pit where we could see what goes on underneath.
The underside of the train is populated by a lot of equipment that is taken for granted by the passengers above, and it can include things like sensors, compressors, traction motors, gearboxes, batteries and a host of other odds and sods. As much as I wanted to take more pics and ask pointed questions there were a pile of people behind me who didn’t.
Once back at ground level I headed across to see what was happening outside, a vintage steam engine had been brought from Swanage Railway and I was hoping to at least get some footage of her before leaving. Outside a battery driven shunter was running back and forth between the workshop and the building where the wheel lathe was housed.
The wheel lathe was a much more complicated machine than that which was laying at Sanrasm North Site so long ago, but then are from two different eras altogether.This vehicle was not going to win any speed records, but I expect it is very effective at moving trains around that are not under their own power. Incidentally, the third rail power to the depot was isolated so nobody was accidentally fried by standing in the wrong place.
Returning to the workshop I really wanted to see the drivers cab of one of these trains, but finding one where somebody had not stalled completely in the way was very difficult. I am also amazed how people leave their children to just push and shove and pull anything that looks like a switch or lever. I am sure that a number of the trains there would have had to have their drivers panels reset after the panelbeating they received from junior train driver wannabes.
There is not a lot to the panel, and the view outside isn’t expansive, but with the train in motion it must be a totally different story altogether. The conductor/train manager also has a panel, although that one is much less impressive. I wonder where the recorded voice is kept, because the one on my morning train is kind of confused.
The closest we have in South Africa to these trains is the Gautrain, and back home they forget that technically the Gautrain is reasonably mundane in the UK, Commuter trains here are almost all like that, except maybe the smaller DMU sets that we have up to Salisbury.
The workshop has walkways that can access all three levels of the train, (underside, ground level, roof level), and the only thing I did not see what a washing bay, but I expect that exists as well.
There were over 1600 people at the open day, which was quite a good turn out for something like this, of course the heritage items may have proven to be a drawcard as well.
As for the steam engine… this was an M7 Class 30053, 109 years old and the only surviving member of that class. She was running between the depot and just past the Stadium close by. Had she continued down that particular line she would probably have come out in the harbour at Ocean Terminal. The queue was long to go on her so I rather went and took pics where I could.
She was pulling a very attractive brake van, which I would have loved to have had a closer look at, but the crowds really made that impossible.
My day was about over, and I was ready to head off home. It was a very interesting morning, and I am glad I took the opportunity to have a look. It is not very often that you get to see what goes on behind the scenes of a place like this. There is a huge train repair depot up at Eastleigh that looks very interesting, but the odds of getting a look around there are small.
Who knows, I may never view a class 450 in the same way ever again.