British Rail Class 444

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British Rail Class 444 Desiro
SWR 444040 at Basingstoke 37871929226.jpg
444040 at Basingstoke in 2017.
SWR Class 444 Standard Class.jpg
The interior of Standard Class aboard a Class 444
In service21 April 2004 – Current
ManufacturerSiemens Mobility
Built atVienna, Austria
Family nameDesiro
ReplacedClass 442
Class 423
Class 421
Class 411
Class 412
Number built45 trainsets
Formation5 cars per trainset
Capacity299 standard, 35 first
Operator(s)South Western Railway
Car length23 m (75 ft 5 12 in)[1]
Maximum speed100 mph (161 km/h)[1]
WeightTotal: 227 tonnes (223 long tons; 250 short tons)[1]
Traction motors(?)
Power output2,000 kW (2,680 hp)
Electric system(s)750 V DC third rail
Current collection methodcontact shoe
Braking system(s)Air, regenerative
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

Class 444 Desiro electric multiple-unit (EMU) trains were built in Austria by Siemens in 2002–2004 for use in England on express passenger services operated by South West Trains (SWT). They entered service in 2004.

The Siemens Desiro family also includes units of Classes 185, 350, 360, 380, and 450.

The 45 units passed to South Western Railway (SWR) with the South Western franchise in August 2017 and form SWR's main long-distance fleet.


At the start of the 21st century, as part of its franchise agreement, South West Trains was required to replace the old life-expired slam-door rolling stock of Classes 411, 412, 421 and 423, which did not meet modern health and safety standards, with new trains by 2005.[2] In April 2001 an order was placed with Siemens for 785 vehicles; this was originally to be split as 100 four-car Class 450/0 outer-suburban units, 32 five-car Class 450/2 inner-suburban units, and 45 five-car Class 444 express units.

The Class 444 fleet was built at Siemens' Vienna plant.[2] Before being shipped to Britain via the Channel Tunnel, the trains were extensively tested on the test-track at Wildenrath;[2] this was an attempt to reduce the time taken for new trains to enter service, by ironing out any problems beforehand. Many other designs of new train, such as the Alstom Class 458 units, had been plagued by problems and poor reliability; the Desiro fleet entered service faster than its competitors, but still suffered teething problems.

The trains are formed of five cars, and are numbered in the range 444001-045; each unit is formed of two outer driving motors, two intermediate trailers, and an intermediate buffet car. The description of this formation is DMSO+TSO+TSO+TSRMB+DMCO. Individual vehicles are numbered as follows.

  • 63851-63895 – DMCO
  • 67201-67245 – TSRMB – fitted with Pantograph Well
  • 67151-67195 – TSO
  • 67101-67145 – TSO
  • 63801-63845 – DMSO

The units have end-gangways, allowing passengers to move between units when used in multiple. Trains are limited to a 10-car length (i.e. two units), as longer trains cannot be accommodated in stations. At some stations with particularly short platforms (for example Shawford, in Hampshire), even a single unit of five cars is too long for the platform. Passengers used to have to board and alight via a single door opened by the guard, however, since the introduction of automatic selective door operation (ASDO) in early 2015, the computer system works out how many cars to release the doors on; the fleet is painted in SWT's express livery of white, with a blue window band, and red/orange swishes at the cab ends.

Each five-car unit has a first-class section taking up just over half of one car at one end. First-class seats have BS 1363 sockets providing AC power for laptops or mobile phone charges, while the car at the other end is standard-class throughout and appears ordinary but has BS 1363 sockets under the tables.

Like all new-build third-rail rolling stock in the UK, one car in each unit is fitted with a recess for a pantograph; this allows for a future conversion to AC overhead power, although at present no trains in this fleet have been so fitted.

All sets are based at the purpose-built Siemens Northam Carriage Servicing Depot at Southampton.

A new variable-stiffness hydraulic bush has been fitted to the whole Class 444 fleet so as to reduce track damage and thus infrastructure maintenance costs; this work was completed by the end of 2013.[3]


Class 444 trains have been awarded the "Golden Spanner 2010" as Britain's most reliable trains by Modern Railways. During twelve months, SWT's fleet has set a new reliability record of almost 89,000 kilometres per technical delay.[4]


The first Class 444 units entered service with SWT in early 2004; as part of the launch, unit no. 444018 was named "The Fab 444" at a ceremony at London Waterloo.

The units were introduced on services from London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via the Portsmouth Direct Line, they were also used on some services on the South Western Main Line to Southampton Central, Bournemouth, Weymouth and on limited outer suburban services to Alton and Basingstoke. This allowed the withdrawal of the final 411 units by mid-2004, and inroads were made to the 421 and 423 fleets.

It was originally hoped that the final slam-door trains would be withdrawn by the end of 2004. In the event, some were allowed to remain operational until May 2005, as the last replacement Desiros came into service. Initially, the Class 444s were used mainly on Portsmouth direct services, allowing the Class 442 units to be used on the Weymouth line; the Class 444 units were also used regularly on Sunday-only Bournemouth stopping services, Waterloo to Southampton services and the Brockenhurst to Wareham shuttle service. Previous power limitations meant that the trains were not permitted to run west of Poole; these restrictions have since been lifted.

During 2007, the Class 444 units replaced the Class 442s on the Weymouth line; some Class 442 workings were taken over by Class 444s as early as November 2006; the final Class 442 was withdrawn in February 2007. Class 444s transferred to the Weymouth line were replaced on Portsmouth services by Class 450 Desiros which became available after the reintroduction of the Class 458 units on the Waterloo to Reading line; the decision to transfer many 444s units to the Weymouth line was not popular. Portsmouth line passengers protested over the use of class 450s on some services,[5] while there were complaints that the 444s were inferior to the units they replaced on the Weymouth line.[6]

Class 444s are currently used on the following services:

  • Waterloo to Basingstoke (peak services)
  • Waterloo to Poole (shared with Class 450)
  • Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via Guildford (shared with Class 450)
  • Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via Basingstoke and Fareham (shared with Class 450)
  • Waterloo to Weymouth via Winchester and Southampton Central

SWR Refurbishment[edit]

South Western Railway have been conducting a refurbishment programme as part of their contract from 2017 onwards; as part of this work, every unit will be deep cleaned, with carpets and seat covers in Standard Class replaced. In addition, plug sockets will be provided at every pair of seats, and the buffet unit will be removed to provide extra seats. First Class will be reduced from 35 seats to 32 with the 2+1 seating to be replaced by 2+2 seating, with leather seats and new tables providing facilities for wireless charging.[7]

The interior of First Class aboard South West Trains
The interior of First Class aboard South Western Railway

Fleet details[edit]

Class Operator No. Built Year Built Cars per Set Unit nos.
Class 444 South Western Railway 45 2002–2004 5 444001 – 444045


  1. ^ a b c Desiro UK Class 444 Multiple Unit Archived 6 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine – Siemens Mobility. Page 38. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Class 444 – Southern E-Group. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  3. ^ "Desiro bushes giving a smoother ride". Rail. Peterborough. 10 August 2011. p. 9.
  4. ^ "Siemens Desiro Class 444 wins award as most reliable train". Transport Weekly. 12 January 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  5. ^ "Commuter protest over rail seats". BBC News. 22 January 2007. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  6. ^ Jolliffe, Bob (21 January 2007). "Councillor sceptical at train service changes". Bournemouth Daily Echo. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  7. ^ "SWR Refurbishment". Retrieved 29 November 2018.