IMG 9968 - Heathrow disconnects its Class 360s

The train services which were known as the ‘Heathrow Connect’ operation ended in September 2020. The units on these services, the Class 360s, bowed out over the weekend of 12/13 September 2020 – fifteen years and three months after they first began work on the Paddington to Heathrow line. The Heathrow Connect services began services on 12th June 2005 and on 20th May 2018 these services were transferred to TfL in readiness for the Elizabeth Line. Fortunately despite that line’s very late opening (and no sign of when it will open in fact) if one was a Class 360 enthusiast at least the delay gave people a much longer window for following the five Heathrow Class 360s than had originally been envisaged!

Ironically at the time of publishing this the Heathrow Express Class 332s too have so far overrun their final days by more than a year although its been repeatedly said it’ll be any time now with some thinking it’ll be the end of December or the early weeks of 2021 when it does happen. The introduction of the Class 387s has been considerably delayed due to many factors and approval of their use was finally given on the 14th December 2020 (link to authorisation document.) I think there’s another slight problem with getting them into service and its because GWR have a shortage of train drivers due to the coronavirus pandemic which means there’s probably not enough drivers to bring the 387s up from Reading to Paddington at the start and end of services each day because GWR drivers with that specific route knowledge are needed.

The introduction of the one initial Class 345 from Paddington to Heathrow on 30 July 2020 clearly signalled the end for the Heathrow 360s. It was just a matter of time when the 360s would actually end and it was up to TfL/Bombardier to decide what point a full Class 345 service could begin. That depended on an almost 100% reliability of the 345s – and until that was achieved TfL no doubt depended on the 360s to continue their sterling service.

The last Class 360/2s to operate were 301 and 305 – quite appropriate as they signified the first and last numbered units of the five trains. 305 worked the penultimate train into Paddington and left for Old Oak depot eighteen and half minutes before its actual timetabled spot. 301 of course worked the final train from the airport into Paddington and it left for Old Oak five and half minutes before its timetabled move. These units shared the final day of services along with a Class 345 which proved to be quite temperamental compared to the very reliable service the 360s gave!

That sterling service on the last day was important especially when that one Heathrow 345 duty threw its tantrum twice during the day! In the morning it was taken out of service at Heathrow T2/T3 with door issues. In the afternoon the errant 345 was back on duty although it was observed more than twelve minutes late at Ealing Broadway towards T5 at 17.53 instead of 17.41 – an indicator it still wasn’t doing as well as the 360s!

From the 14th September 2020 the Heathrow stopping services were for the first time entirely 345 operated – some two years after that was first envisaged. Of course since then the 345’s have continued to provide a mixed sort of service with some days being an almost total mish mash but otherwise generally fair.

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Southall live train times between 14.20 and 15.50pm on the first day of full 345 services to the airport – the four T5 trains shown are clearly 345’s as they’re nine car lengths. What’s sobering is all the Reading services were at the time, and still are at the time of writing due to reliability problems, seven car lengths!

As many will know the Heathrow rail services (as well as the airport itself) are faring very badly at the moment and it seems Terminal 4 wont reopen for another year, maybe two. In fact what the pandemic did in terms of the final months of the Class 360s was to ensure they finished their last days of services on the T5 route instead of the usual T4 route. The only time the 350s had previously served T5 on a regular basis was a short period in 2016 when they took up Heathrow Express duties due to the 332s being unavailable.

Though the 360s were withdrawn in September 2020 timetabled ghost moves utilising these trains were conducted a few times a week, which shows TfL were keeping these on tabs for the foreseeable future should anything go amiss with the 345s. As I write the 360s are still to be found at Old Oak Common, their days so far uncertain.

tfl360sept2020 - Heathrow disconnects its Class 360s

The above timetable shows those empty Class 360s operations between Old Oak and Heathrow. That timetable was here – as per RTT policy it was removed after the one week grace period.

Let’s take a brief look at the fifteen years the Siemens Desiro 360s trains have been in service. As mentioned earlier Heathrow Connect (at the time part of the Heathrow Express empire) began on 12 June 2005. The trains had a livery which was grey with orange lining, the latter to reflect the ‘Connect’ branding and the orange banding stayed on the trains throughout their Heathrow lives – apart from 345005 which was later given a make over that reflected the premium Heathrow Express brand.

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The first ever webpage for Heathrow Connect in 2005. Source: Internet Archive

As mentioned earlier the biggest change in terms of the operation of the Class 360s was when they were requisitioned to work the Heathrow Express services. This occurred over a number of weeks in 2016 when a potential underframe problem was found in the Class 322s – the full stable of 322s was urgently withdrawn whilst an investigation was conducted into potential cracking of the trains’ subframes – thus for a short period the 360’s could be seen utilising their maximum speeds over the length of the GWR main line between Paddington and Airport Junction.

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360203 at Hayes in its original Heathrow Connect livery. Source: Wikipedia

The other seismic event involving the Class 360s is when TfL took over the stopping services to Heathrow as part of the steps towards developing the full Elizabeth Line network. The trains retained their old liveries but instead gained a TfL roundel in place of the Heathrow Connect logo. I wrote about the introduction of TfL’s western services here.

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TfL’s announcement it would take over the ‘Connect’ services. Source: Twitter

As ‘Heathrow Connect’ TfL fares were valid only to Hayes and Harlington, however when TfL took over the services (20 May 2018) fares became available though to Heathrow which was a boon as previously one could only travel the Piccadilly Line to the airport on one of the many travel cards or travel passes. It now meant passengers had a choice of either tube or main line to Heathrow rather than the Heathrow Connect service being another sort of exclusive service.

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Announcement TfL would take over the services from 20 May 2018 – and how fares availability to Heathrow would change. Source: Internet Archive

The next big step that should have occurred but never did was the change of route identity which means the Class 360s missed out on that phase altogether. The service would have become the Elizabeth Line from December 2018 – clearly there was every intent the services from Paddington main line to Heathrow as well as Reading – would at that time be branded as the Elizabeth Line.

Had this happened the Class 360s would have been withdrawn in December 2018 and the full services operated by Class 345s out of Paddington main line station. As things stand it now looks like being 2022 before we see full introduction of the Elizabeth Line services. At least TfL’s Reading services began on time in a perverse sort of way – those services were actually meant to be coming from Abbey Wood or Shenfield, not Paddington main line station! See my post on the launch of the Reading services.

Heathrow Class 360 Gallery

Here’s a gallery of 360 photographs including those I took as the class bowed out in mid September 2020.

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A great shot of 360 205 at Heathrow Terminal 5 on the penultimate day of operations.

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360 202 at Old Oak with an unidentified 332 alongside. June 2020.

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360 201 arriving at Paddington during a dramatic sunset 1st September 2020

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360 205 again – this time at Paddington on 12th September 2020 with the 18.02 to Heathrow.

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The driver’s console of 360 204 as seen on the final day of Heathrow Connect services 19th May 2018.

The end of public services for the 360s on 13th September 2020:
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360 205 has arrived at Paddington at 00.10am approximately – and it left the London terminus for the final time at 00.16am.

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Unit 201 on arrival at Paddington – practically bang on 00.30am as the station clock shows after its last in service run from Heathrow.

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A study of 360 201 in the few moments of pause at Paddington before it begins its final trip from the station. The final four or so passengers to use it can be seen walking up the platform.

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360 201 leaves Paddington for the last time at 00.37am on 14th September 2020.

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