Brighton main line

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The Brighton Main Line (also known as the South Central Main Line) is a British railway line divided in the north into two sections running from London Victoria and London Bridge to Brighton. It is about 51 miles (81 km) long, and is electrified throughout. Nearly all passenger trains are provided by Govia Thameslink Railway which operates the Southern, Gatwick Express and Thameslink brands. A small section has Great Western Railway services, currently sole operator of the line from Gatwick Airport to Reading, Berkshire known as the North Downs Line. The many Sussex services to Central London use the line and generally its branches as do south London, East Surrey and Tonbridge, Kent services.

Brighton Main Line
Hassocks Station - train arriving from London - - 1169890.jpg
Southern Class 377 No. 377 448 Electrostar at Hassocks.
TypeCommuter rail, Suburban rail
SystemNational Rail
LocaleGreater London
South East England
TerminiLondon Bridge
London Victoria
OwnerNetwork Rail
Operator(s)Southern Thameslink
Great Western Railway
London Overground
Brighton Lovers Walk
Stewarts Lane
Rolling stockClass 165 "Turbo"
Class 166 "Turbo Express"
Class 171 "Turbostar"
Class 377 "Electrostar"
Class 378 "Capitalstar"
Class 387 "Electrostar"
Class 455
Class 700 "Desiro City"
Number of tracks2-4
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification750 V DC third rail
Operating speed90 miles per hour (140 kilometres per hour) maximum
Brighton main line
London Underground London Victoria
London Bridge London Underground London River Services
Spa Road
Southwark Park
South Bermondsey
Battersea Park
Latchmere Junctions
London Overground Clapham Junction
New Cross Gate London Overground
Honor Oak Park
Wandsworth Common
Forest Hill
London Underground Balham
Penge West
Streatham Common
Thornton Heath
Norwood Junction
Selhurst Depot
East Croydon sidings
East Croydon Tramlink
South Croydon
Purley Oaks
Purley North Junction
Quarry line
Redhill line
Coulsdon North
Coulsdon South
Red Hill & Reigate Road
Gatwick Airport
Tinsley Green/
Gatwick Airport
Three Bridges
Three Bridges works
Three Bridges sidings
Authorised (unbuilt)
Ouse Valley Railway
Copyhold Junction
Haywards Heath
Keymer Junction
Burgess Hill
Preston Park
Cliftonville Tunnel

History and geography of the lineEdit

Original proposalsEdit

There were six original proposals to build a railway between London and Brighton. The London and Brighton Railway (L&BR) emerged with an Act of Parliament of 15 July 1837 after a prolonged and expensive battle, with the most direct route, from the London and Croydon Railway (L&CR) at Norwood Junction to Brighton, using the L&CR from Norwood to London Bridge. A condition required by Parliament was that the railway should share its line between Croydon and Redhill with the South Eastern Railway main line to Dover. This clause gave rise to 60 years of disputes between the two companies.

Brighton lineEdit

Land use between London and Brighton was largely rural. The line was planned to traverse the North Downs, the Wealden ridge and the South Downs while avoiding steep gradients.

Due to the difficult terrain and relatively sparse population between Croydon and Brighton, the line by-passed several towns and villages on the London-Brighton road, such as Reigate and Crawley. Even so, it required substantial earthworks, notably through the North Downs at Merstham, with one of the largest cuttings in Britain; seven tunnels (Merstham, Balcombe, Haywards Heath, Clayton and Patcham initially, then Quarry and Redhill which were constructed later); and several embankments. To avoid steep gradients or detours, the 1,475-foot-long (450 m), maximum 96-foot-high (29 m) Ouse Valley Viaduct was built near Balcombe.

The line opened in two stages:

12 July 1841: Norwood Junction to Haywards Heath.
21 September 1841: to Brighton.

Branch linesEdit

The branch line from Brighton to Shoreham-by-Sea was finished on 12 May 1840, before the main line, as it did not involve significant civil engineering works (all the materials arrived by sea from mainland Europe). The Newhaven section did not materialise until 1846, when the Brighton - Hastings line was opened by the Brighton Lewes and Hastings Railway. A few weeks later the L&CR, the L&BR and other railways in Sussex amalgamated to form the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR).

Lines to VictoriaEdit

A branch line from Norwood to Crystal Palace was built in 1851, extending to Sydenham in 1854, Balham and Wandsworth in 1856, Battersea in 1858, and London Victoria in 1860. A cut-off line reducing the distance between East Croydon and Balham opened in 1862.

Quarry lineEdit

There were frequent disputes resulting from the companies' sharing of the busy section between East Croydon and Redhill. The LB&SCR owned the section between East Croydon and Coulsdon North, and the SER (later the South Eastern and Chatham Railway) from Coulsdon South to Redhill. Eventually the LB&SCR built the "Quarry Line", a by-pass for express trains between Coulsdon North and Earlswood, avoiding Redhill. It opened on 8 November 1899 (1 April 1900 for passengers trains).


The line was the first UK main line to be electrified throughout. The LB&SCR electrified its South London Line on 1 December 1909 using an overhead high-tension single-phase system; within three years the line from Victoria to Selhurst railway station was also converted. In 1921 plans were drawn up to extend overhead electrification to Brighton,.[1] In 1925[2] it was extended toward the edge of today's Greater London at Coulsdon North, before being scrapped by the amalgamated operator under the 1923 grouping: Southern Railway which decided to standardise on the third-rail system of the former London and South Western Railway. In 1928/29 the lines began conversion to third-rail operation.

The change to third rail electrification was in place southward to Coulsdon North by 1929[3] – to Three Bridges in the north of Sussex in July 1932, then reaching Brighton and West Worthing on the coast on 1 January 1933.[4]

The third rail is electrified at 750 V DC, and in the early part of the 21st century had its power supply upgraded for the introduction of Electrostar stock by Southern. Traction current supply is supervised by Lewisham, Selhurst and Brighton electrical control rooms which will be superseded by the Three Bridges ROC.[5]



The Brighton main line goes past London Gatwick Airport

The line is four-track to Balcombe Tunnel junction, where it becomes double track as far as Preston Park. Except for a pair of platform loops at Haywards Heath, there are no passing loops.

The fastest trains from Brighton to Victoria stop only at Gatwick Airport; some trains also stop at Hassocks, Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath, Three Bridges, Horley, East Croydon and Clapham Junction. Thameslink services from Brighton via East Croydon continue to London Bridge, Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras, and stations in North London and Hertfordshire, to Luton and Bedford.

Non-stop Gatwick Express trains run between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport. A train departs in both directions every 15 minutes, with a journey time of 30 minutes. Great Western Railway run trains between Gatwick Airport and Reading via Redhill and the North Downs Line.

A 24-hour service (no service on Sunday between the 00:30 and the 6:00) runs between Three Bridges and Bedford via London Blackfriars with a frequency of one train per hour route throughout the night (two trains per hour route between London St Pancras International and Bedford).

Bi-directional signallingEdit

Normal-running and 'bi-directional' signals outside Haywards Heath tunnel

Between Balcombe Tunnel Junction (just north of Balcombe tunnel itself) and Preston Park, the line reduces from four tracks to two, with only a short quadruple-tack passing loop between Copyhold Junction and Haywards Heath South Junction (through Haywards Heath station).[8] A broken-down train in this section causes the most disruption; therefore, to minimise the effects, the line is divided into four sections of bi-directional signalling, which allows trains to cross over and run on the right-hand track (i.e. "the wrong way"). These are:[9][10]

  • Balcombe Tunnel Junction to Copyhold Junction;
  • Copyhold Junction to Haywards Heath South Junction (outer tracks only);
  • Haywards Heath South Junction to Keymer Junction;
  • Keymer Junction to Preston Park station.

At the passing loop through Haywards Heath, the two inner tracks are only signalled bi-directionally south of Haywards Heath station itself, which allows trains to reverse at the station to/from the south. North of the station these tracks can only be used in their respective directions.[9][10]

Branching routesEdit

A 1908 Railway Clearing House map of Brighton Main Line between South Croydon and Selhurst / Forest Hill, as well as surrounding lines.

Branches from the line to VictoriaEdit

Until 2012, at Battersea Park, the South London Line to London Bridge. This was replaced by Overground services from Clapham Junction to Dalston Junction.

Branches from the line to London BridgeEdit

Branches south of East CroydonEdit


  1. ^ Direct stopping-service branch lines
  2. ^ A semi-fast/fast through branch line
  3. ^ Semi-fast/fast branch lines
  4. ^ A direct service to Reigate on this line has long been provided, fast/semi-fast.
  5. ^ A fast/semi-fast through branch line
  6. ^ A fast/semi-fast through branch line
  7. ^ eastward, a line to East Grinstead closed in 1967
  8. ^ At Haywards Heath, the line via Ardingly and Horsted Keynes, closed in 1963: Currently Network Rail largely disused sidings to Ardingly; Horsted Keynes railway station section is now part of the Bluebell Railway between East Grinstead and Sheffield Park
  9. ^ Keymer Junction
  10. ^ A fast/semi-fast through branch line
  11. ^ A fast/semi-fast through branch line


  1. ^ Dawson (1921)
  2. ^ Southern Electric fourth edition by G.T.Moody page 23
  3. ^ "Disused Stations: Coulsdon North Station".
  4. ^ Bonavia (1987) 87-89.
  5. ^ Network Rail: Sectional Appetndix module KSW2/LOR SO500 Sequence 010
  6. ^ Moody (1979) p163
  7. ^ Moody (1979) p219
  8. ^ "Quail Route Map 5". Archived from the original on 20 April 2009.
  9. ^ a b "Three Bridges to Brighton on YouTube
  10. ^ a b "Brighton to Gatwick (Airport)" on YouTube


  • Bonavia, Michael R. (1987). The history of the Southern Railway London:Unwin Hyman. ISBN 0-04-385107-X.
  • Dawson, Philip, (1921) Report by Sir Philip Dawson on proposed substitution of electric for steam operation for suburban, local and mainline passenger and freight services, London Brighton and South Coast Railway.
  • Moody, G. T. (1979) [1957]. Southern Electric 1909-1979 (Fifth ed.). Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0 7110 0924 4.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit