South Eastern Main Line

South Eastern Main Line

The South Eastern Main Line is one of two long-distance routes crossing the county of Kent, England, UK to reach to Kent Coast. The other route is the Chatham Main Line, which runs along the north Kent coast to Ramsgate and Dover via Chatham.


Services on this line take the inland route via Sevenoaks, Ashford and Folkestone to reach Dover.

Stopping services run from London Bridge to Orpington, with other services on the route running fast over this section. Beyond Orpington, stopping services originating from Sevenoaks cover the stations with other services on the rotue running fast over this section

At Tonbridge, the original main route, now the rural Redhill to Tunbridge Wells services join in from Redhill, while the main line to Tunbridge Wells on the Hastings Line diverges.

At Paddock Wood, the Medway Valley Line diverges.

At Ashford, the Swanley to Ashford (via Maidstone East) Line and High Speed 1 joins in, while several lines diverge; Ashford to Ramsgate (via Canterbury West) line, High Speed 1 and Marshlink Line (to Hastings).

Broadly speaking services divide, continuing to Margate via the Ashford to Ramsgate (via Canterbury West) line or they continue on the main line to Dover then takes the Kent Coast Line to rejoin at Ramsgate to reach Margate.

Trains on the routes are run by Southeastern.


The line was built by the South Eastern Railway (SER), who were in competition with the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR), hence the duplication of stations in Kent.

The original main line was given sanction by Act of Parliament in 1836, running from London Bridge via Croydon East and Redhill (the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway's Brighton Main Line), Tonbridge, and Ashford to Folkestone and Dover. This circuitous route was the result of insistence on the part of Parliament that only one southerly route out of the capital was necessary; forcing the SER to share the LB&SCR's Brighton Main Line. This completely ignored the fact that the main London - Dover "road" had, since ancient times, followed a much more direct route; and it ignored the fact that the other great railway building projects did take direct routes whenever feasible. A passenger to Dover had a 20-mile longer journey than by the coaching route!

The main line reached Ashford on 1 December 1842; the outskirts of Folkestone by 28 June 1843; and Dover by 7 February 1844. Their locomotive works was built in 1845 moving from New Cross in London.

Due to competition with the LCDR (who had constructed the quicker Chatham Main Line and Swanley to Ashford (via Maidstone East) Line (to Sevenoaks, Canterbury, Dover, Ramsgate, Ashford and Maidstone), the SER built a very expensive line via Sevenoaks and Orpington through the North Downs by means of summits and then long tunnels at both Knockholt and Sevenoaks. This "cut-off" line, 24 miles in length, reached Chislehurst on 1 July 1865, but took three more years to reach Orpington and Sevenoaks (opening date 2 March 1868) and Tonbridge (1 May 1868).

When the SER and LCDR merged in 1899 to form the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR) the stations and track layout at Ashford and Dover were rationalised.

The line was electrified with third rail, in many stages. Orpington was reached, via Victoria, in July 1925 as part of the "South Eastern Electrification- Stage 1" programme by the newly created Southern Railway, using its standard of 660V DC third rail. In February 1926 the lines from Charing Cross and Cannon Street via London Bridge to Orpington were electrified as part of the "North Kent Electrification" programme. In 1935 with the completion of London urban electrification, Southern expanded its focus to the "outer suburban" routes, with electrification extended to Sevenoaks in January 1935. Postwar, the newly nationalised British Rail started to implement its 1955 BR Modernisation plan. This extended electrification to the Kent Coast in two stages, with the South Eastern Main Line being subject of "Kent Coast Electrification - Stage 2" in June 1961. This was accompanied by a voltage upgrade to 750V DC across the whole the Southern Region of British Railways.

The line was largely left untouched, until the arrival of the Channel Tunnel at Cheriton, near Folkestone. Prior to construction of High Speed 1, services joined the South Eastern Main line and ran to through to Petts Wood, where the route joined the Chatham Main Line into Waterloo International. Freight services for the Channel Tunnel were routed via the Maidstone East Line. The CTRL was built alongside the line to Ashford where is joined in to gain access to the existing station. The CTRL diverges west of Ashford to pursue a separate route to its new London terminus (St Pancras). Thus a short section of the line through Ashford is also electrified at 25 kV AC.


External links

* [ SET timetables (map of line via PDF)]
* [ Video of Charing Cross to Sevenoaks]

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