Southern Region of British Railways
The Southern Region was a region of British Railways from 1948. The region ceased to be an operating unit in its own right in the 1980s and was wound up at the end of 1992. The region covered south London, southern England and the south coast, including the busy commuter belt areas of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. The region was largely based upon the former Southern Railway area.
The Southern Railway was still comparatively profit-making despite World War II, thanks to its extensive third rail DC electrification and the intensive service patterns this allowed for. However, large-scale investment was required in the infrastructure of all of the "Big 4" companies, including the Southern.
The Transport Act 1947 provided for the nationalisation of all heavy rail systems in the UK to allow for this investment and, in theory, to improve the rights of railway workers. The railway companies were amalgamated into British Railways, part of the British Transport Commission, and six geographic and administrative regions were created out of the previous four companies. The Southern Railway, being relatively self-contained and operated largely by electric traction, was incorporated almost intact as the new Southern Region.
The Southern Region also inherited some independent light railways, also nationalised at the same time, namely the East Kent Light Railway, the Kent and East Sussex Railway and the North Devon and Cornwall Junction Light Railway.
The Southern Region served southern London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, eastern Dorset, southern Wiltshire and eastern Berkshire, most of which were either already electrified or at least proposed to be so. There was also an unelectrified service to parts of Devon and north eastern Cornwall, deep in what was Western Region territory, known colloquially as "The Withered Arm".
The Region's chief stations in Central London were:
- Waterloo, the largest terminal in London
- Victoria station, in the West End
- Charing Cross
- Cannon Street
- Holborn Viaduct (later replaced by City Thameslink)
- London Bridge
Outside central London the main stations were:
- Clapham Junction, which has long claimed to be Britain's busiest railway station and one of the busiest in Europe
- Richmond in south western London
- East Croydon, Balham, Lewisham and New Cross Gate in southern London
- Brighton, Eastbourne, Three Bridges, Haywards Heath and Lewes in Sussex
- Dartford, Gillingham, Folkestone, Ashford and Dover in Kent
- Southampton, Portsmouth, Winchester and Basingstoke in Hampshire
- Guildford, Woking, Effingham Junction and Redhill in Surrey
- Salisbury in Wiltshire
- Reading (from 1965, the SR platforms of Reading General) and, Windsor and Eton Riverside in Berkshire
Line and station closures
The formerly busy Blackfriars goods yard and wharf had closed between 1935 and 1947. Freshwater on the Isle of Wight closed in 1953. The "Bluebell line" between East Grinstead and Lewes closed between 1955 and 1958. The lines in Devon and Cornwall were also transferred to Western Region in 1963; most Southern Region services west of Exeter (such as to Bude and Padstow), including the Atlantic Coast Express, ceased in the 1960s. Many "under-used" stations like Walworth Road Goods in southern London, Wilton in Wiltshire, Sheffield Park in Sussex and Kemptown in Brighton, Sussex closed. Sheffield Park became part of the Bluebell Railway preserved line.
The Beeching Axe severely cut the route mileage of most regions but the Southern Region escaped major losses in the London commuter area due to high passenger numbers on its frequent suburban services. The Axe did, however, close some country branch lines such as Tunbridge Wells Central to Three Bridges, Eridge to Polegate, Horsham to Guildford, Paddock Wood to Hawkhurst, New Romney to Appledore, the Bexhill West branch, and the Steyning Line, plus many goods yards including Deptford Wharf, Falcon Lane and Walworth Road, amongst others.
The line between Blackfriars and Farringdon was also closed in the 1960s but was reopened in the 1990s.
Holborn Viaduct in central London closed in 1990. As part of the upgrading of the reopened Blackfriars–Farringdon line it was replaced by City Thameslink station which occupies the same site, at a lower level.
As a contrast, Waterloo station had been extensively refurbished and expanded to allow for the development of the Eurostar terminal. These platforms will be turned over to domestic services as international services have moved to St Pancras railway station.
Channel Tunnel planning
The plan assumed that the main railhead for "The Chunnel" would be at Ashford Kent station. To that end, rolling stock on the London to Dover via Ashford services was refurbished and heavier rails were laid to allow for longer trains and increased freight.
The 1973 tunnel plan was cancelled in 1975. The 1986 tunnel plan, which was approved and eventually built, used the same assumptions as the 1973 plan and Ashford Kent became Ashford International. By this time the Southern Region had been abolished.
Competition with London Underground
The Southern Railway and its predecessor companies has had little competition from London Underground south of the Thames, where the subsoil was largely unsuitable for tunnelling and the mainline railways had extensive networks in place before the underground railways were developed.
The Southern Region however dealt with a different environment, marked by British Rail (BR) and London Underground (LUL) both being state-owned.
London Underground's services were advanced over Southern Region (and other) metals, either through dual-running or by ceding BR metals to LUL. The LUL service to Wimbledon for instance slowly replaced the former Southern Region service. Tramlink took over the Wimbledon to Croydon West via Mitcham line in 2000.
The Waterloo & City Line (nicknamed 'The Drain' by both staff and users), British Rail's only "Tube" service, was given over to London Underground upon privatisation BR in 1994.
The Southern Region was abolished in 1991 because British Rail had decided to move from regional management to business sectors. The Region was divided between two of the new passenger businesses: Network SouthEast and InterCity. When the British Rail passenger services were franchised in 1996 and 1997 the lines of the former region were divided between South West Trains, Thameslink, Island Line (on the Isle of Wight), Gatwick Express, and the South Central and South Eastern franchises, both initially awarded to Connex. The Connex franchise was a massive failure as countless train services were cancelled, run in short formations and were poorly managed. The Government took back control of the Connex Southeastern franchise but not as British Rail, then it was eventually given to Govia to run. The Connex Southern franchise was inherited by Govia, which operates Southern and Southeastern. As part of a general reorganisation of franchises, Island Line was merged with the much larger South West Trains franchise in 2005, Thameslink became part of First Capital Connect in 2006, and Gatwick Express was merged with Southern in 2007. The North Downs Line was run by Thames Trains and now by First Great Western primarily connecting Reading to Gatwick Airport.
Trains and rolling stock
At the time of its creation the Southern Region still had large numbers of steam locomotives It also owned three locomotive works at Ashford, Brighton, and Eastleigh, two carriage works (Eastleigh and Lancing) and a wagon works at Ashford. Most of these closed before privatisation, and the remainder have since. Unlike the other regions of British Railways, the Southern Region did not rush to withdraw its steam locomotives, using them right up to the completion of largescale electrification. Consequently, the Southern Region was the last region in Britain to regularly use steam on high speed expresses, and also the last region to have a steam operated branch line. Steam traction over the region finally ended in July 1967, to be replaced by a combination of Electric multiple units, Diesel-electric multiple units, diesel and electro-diesel locomotives.
The region had ordered large fleets of slam-door electric rolling stock with Mark I bodies in the 1950s and 1960s, but some Southern Railway-style units survived until the mid-1990s.
Since much of the Southern Region slam door fleet reached the end of its design life of 35–40 years in the 1990s, it was replaced by sliding door stock, much of it after privatisation, although BR started to replace inner suburban trains from the later 1970s.
BR also built a fleet of electric units for service between Waterloo and Bournemouth in the 1980s, with Mark III bodies and plug, rather than sliding, doors. These Class 442 units have now been transferred to the Brighton Main Line, and since 14 December 2008 have been used on some Gatwick Express services from Victoria, which are run by the Southern franchise.
The last slam door units ran in late 2005. New safety regulations which prohibited the use of trains with slam doors (unless equipped with secondary or "central" locking) were postponed by a year until the last examples could be withdrawn. Exceptionally, some slam door units were allowed to stay in service for another couple of years by special derogation on the Lymington Harbour "heritage" branch.
Some Mark I units have been preserved by South West Trains after being withdrawn in 2005. Diesel trains ran on the Exeter route and a small fleet of Diesel-electric multiple units, known by enthusiasts as "thumpers" because of their distinctive engines, ran on the remaining non-electrified routes: the "Oxted" line to Uckfield and the Ashford–Hastings line.
The lines in the Isle of Wight used elderly steam engines cascaded from the mainland for many years, but in 1966 the Southern Region acquired some redundant "Standard" tube stock from London Transport. Most lines in the island had been closed in the 1950s and early 1960s, but the remaining route from Ryde to Shanklin was electrified to normal Southern Region third rail specification, and the "Standard" tube stock converted (from the LT standard of third and fourth rail) so that it could be run on the line. In the 1980s these trains were replaced by more redundant LT tube stock, this time dating from 1938.
On 2 December 1955, 11 passengers died and 41 were injured when an electric passenger train from Waterloo to Windsor and Chertsey (dividing at Staines) collided with the rear of a steam hauled goods train. The accident occurred in thick fog and was caused by irregular block instrument operation by the signalman at Barnes Junction. See Barnes rail crash for more information.
On 4 December 1957, 90 passengers died and 173 were injured in a collision in thick fog near Lewisham in south London, which also caused the collapse of an overhead rail bridge on to the wreckage below. The number of deaths was the third highest ever in a British railway accident. See Lewisham rail crash for more information.
On 5 November 1967, a train from Hastings to Charing Cross was derailed by a track defect outside Hither Green station, killing 49 passengers and injuring 78. Among the survivors was Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. See Hither Green rail crash for more information.
On 12 December 1988, three trains collided near Clapham Junction because a signal circuit had been wrongly wired. Thirty-five people died and more than 100 were injured. See Clapham Junction rail crash for more information.
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