London Waterloo sees return of unique electric train

No. 3417 ‘Gordon Pettitt’ returned to the mainline at a special event at London Waterloo last Saturday (27 January).

The Southern Electric Traction Group (SETG) and Sussex’s Bluebell Railway organised the attendance at the event, working with GB Railfreight, South Western Railway and Network Rail.

The Bluebell Railway bought this unique Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) in 2009, and since then, the SETG, led by Chief Engineer Chris Buckland, has been working to return it to its former glory, carrying out a steady and thorough mechanical and cosmetic restoration.

Credit: Bluebell Railway

The return to the mainline marks the completion of 3417’s restoration to the standard required to carry passengers, and the start of the next phase of its restoration: mainline passenger service.

The Bluebell Railway welcomed Gordon Pettitt – after whom 3417 is named – and his family, along with various guests from the railway industry, press, supporters and friends to London Waterloo to welcome 3417 back to the mainline. Gordon was the General Manager of the Southern Region of British Rail before being transferred to the ownership of The Bluebell Railway in 2009.

The Railway credits Gordon’s “passion, determination, and invaluable advice and knowledge (along with the help and support of many of Gordon’s former work colleagues and associates)” for the success of the restoration project.

Credit: Bluebell RailwayCredit: Bluebell Railway

The SETG and Bluebell Railway plan for 3417 to run passenger services this year. Although it will not yet enter mainline service, the unit will transit via the national network to visit preserved lines.

‘Gordon Pettitt’ is a Class 423 VEP (or “4-VEP”) that operated on the British railway network. The ‘4′ represents the number of coaches and ‘VEP stands for ‘Vestibule Electric Pneumatic’ because it has pneumatic brakes.  4-VEPs operated mainly in British Rail’s Southern Region and were part of the Mark 1 family of EMUs. The Class 423 units had a distinctive design, which featured compartment-style seating.

3417 was originally numbered 7717, and was part of a batch of twenty units ordered by British Rail in 1965 to replace steam traction on the Southern Region. Between 1967 and 1975, a total of 194 units were built, and operated throughout the Southern Region until their withdrawal from mainline services in 2005. They worked various commuter routes, suburban and regional services, especially around London and the South East of England.

3417 is currently stabled at Strawberry Hill depot in South West London. It will be the only surviving Class 423 VEP to regain its mainline certification.

The SETG launched an appeal to raise funds for the next stage of the unit’s restoration in December 2023. Donations can be made here.

Credit: Bluebell RailwayCredit: Bluebell Railway

Steve Upton, SETG spokesperson, said, “This is a day we’ve worked patiently towards for years. The SETG is a small group, working on a niche project that has gone largely unnoticed by the wider enthusiast community – after all, an electric unit doesn’t have the glamour of a Deltic, The Flying Scotsman or even a rake of Pullman coaches. We are restoring a small part of the working railway that went unremarked and unsung for decades. The efforts that our team have put in are beyond heroic and the project still has a massive amount yet to achieve. This is just the start for 3417’s second career.”

Paul Churchman, Chair of the Bluebell Railway, said, “It is a great day that we are seeing 3417 return to the mainline. The years of restoration undertaken by the SETG are amazing and the effort and dedication of the team is something that everyone should be proud of. There is no better way to celebrate this than by also having Gordon and his family at Waterloo on the 27th of January. Gordon’s passion and commitment to the Bluebell is still as strong as ever and his role as President provides guidance and assists in many areas.”

Claire Mann, Managing Director Of South Western Railway, added, “Together with our colleagues from across the railway family, we’re so pleased to welcome Gordon and his family to London Waterloo and to see this wonderful train back on the mainline for this special event. It has taken a huge amount of effort to get to this moment, and the volunteers of the SETG and Bluebell Railway must be very proud of their achievements.”

Recommended For You