Southern Region of British Railways


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.

History

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 into the new Southern Region.

The region

The Southern Region served southern London, Kent, Surrey, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Sussex, eastern Dorset, southern Wiltshire and eastern Berkshire, and, unelectrified, a service to parts of Devon and north eastern Cornwall, deep in Western Region territory, known colloquially by staff as "The Withered Arm".

Central London

The Region's chief stations in Central London were:
*Victoria station, in the West End.
*Charing Cross
*Blackfriars
*Cannon Street
*Holborn Viaduct (later replaced by City Thameslink)
*London Bridge
*Clapham Junction, which has long claimed to be Britain's busiest railway station
*Waterloo

Outside London

Outside central London, the main stations were:
*Richmond in south western London
*East Croydon, Balham, Lewisham and New Cross Gate in southern London
*Brighton and Haywards Heath in Sussex
*Dartford, Gillingham, Ashford and Dover in Kent
*Southampton 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

Southern Region and Western Region had important interchanges at Reading in Berkshire and at Exeter in Devon.

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 between 1947 and 1955. Its lines in Devon and Cornwall were also transferred to Western Region between 1955 and 1970. 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. However, the Southern Region escaped major losses due to maintaining passenger numbers on the high intensity services. The Axe did close the goods yards at Deptford Wharf, Falcon Lane and Walworth Road, amongst others.

The line to Farringdon via West Street was also closed, but was replaced by City Thameslink station in the 1990s along with the junction. This station is obsolete under Thameslink 2000 plans and will be replaced another, bigger, station.

Holborn Viaduct in central London closed in 1990, partially because the value of the land it stood upon was greater than the profits of the station and its services.

As a contrast, Waterloo station has been extensively refurbished and expanded to allow for the development of the Eurostar terminal. These platforms will be turned over to domestic services now that international services have moved to St Pancras railway station.

Channel Tunnel planning

The 1973 plan to build a tunnel under the English Channel also included plans to upgrade the infrastructure of the Southern Region between London and the Kent coast.

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 were 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, and indeed British Rail itself, had been abolished.

Until 1980, the Southern Region operated the Night Ferry sleeper train (jointly with SNCF) from London Victoria to Paris and Brussels.

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 tunneling and the mainline railways had extensive networks in place before the underground railways were developed.

Nevertheless, the Southern Region dealt with a different environment, marked by British Rail (BR) and London Underground (LUL) both being state-owned and both being under the direction of London Transport in the Greater London area.

London Underground's services were advanced over Southern Region (and other) metals, either by the services dual-running or by ceding BR metals to LUL. For instance, the LUL service to Wimbledon slowly replaced the former Southern Region service. Tramlink took over the Wimbledon to Croydon West via Mitcham line in 1999.

The Waterloo & City Line (nicknamed 'The Drain' by LUL staff), British Rail's only "Tube" service, was given over to London Underground upon privatisation BR in 1996.

Privatisation

The Southern Region was abolished in the 1980s when British Rail was compelled to move from regions to business sectors. The Region was divided between Network SouthEast and Regional Railways. When British Rail was privatised between 1995 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.

More recently, with the collapse of Railtrack and the revoking of the Connex franchises, the service patterns and regional boundaries of the former Southern Region have been redrawn. The South Eastern franchise became state-owned for a period. However, the Labour government have since privatised the South Eastern operations again.

Trains and Rolling stock

The region regularly used early 1960s Mark-I third rail slam-door electric rolling stock, with the occasional appearance of late 1950s prototype units, British Rail having been forbidden from replacing most commuter stock due to the costs involved. Upon privatisation, Government funding was made available and these units were gradually scrapped.

Some newer trains with air-operated sliding doors were introduced in the 1970s for commuter routes running from London through Surrey and Kent. They were later supplemented by others of their kind during the 1980s, with the arrival of Network South East. Some Mark-I units have been preserved by South West Trains after their final removal in 2005. Diesel trains ran on the Exeter route and a small fleet of Diesel-electric multiple units, known colloquially as "thumpers", ran on the Oxted line in Kent.

The Isle of Wight lines had several sections that were unable to accept heavy rail services. The Southern Railway and later the Southern Region used cascaded London Underground stock on these lines.

Major accidents

Four "major" accidents occurred during the Southern Region's tenure.

On 4 December 1957, 90 passengers died and 173 were injured in collisions in thick fog near Lewisham in south London, which also led to the collapse of a rail bridge onto wreckage below. The death toll was the third highest ever experienced on Britain's railways. See Lewisham rail crash for more information. On 5 November 1967, an express train from Hastings to Charing Cross derailed 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 at Clapham Junction due to a miswired signal. Thirty-five people died and more than 100 were injured. See Clapham Junction rail crash for more information.

On 4 March 1989, two trains collided at Purley railway station when one passed a red signal. Six died and 94 were injured. See Purley Station rail crash for more information.

References

* Ball, MG. "British Railways" Atlas Ian Allan Publishing 2004.
* "London Railway Atlas" Railway Clearing House, London 1935
* Dudley, G. "Why Does Policy Change? - Lessons from British Transport Policy 1945-99" Routledge 2001
* Daniels, G and Dench, LA. "Passengers No More" 2nd edition; Ian Allan Publishing 1973
*Hoyle,R "The Atmospheric Southern" Corhampton Kevin Robertson 2007 ISBN 095541105X


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