The History of Kent
Copyright Kent Past 2010
History of Southern Railway
he Southern Railway (SR) was a railway company established in the 1923 Grouping.
It linked London with the Channel ports, South West England, South coast resorts
and Kent. The railway was formed by the amalgamation of several smaller railway companies,
the largest of which were the London & South Western Railway (LSWR), the London,
Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSC) and the South Eastern and Chatham Railway
The railway was noted for its astute use of public relations and a coherent management structure headed by Sir Herbert Walker. At 2,186 miles, the SR was the smallest of the 'Big Four' railway companies and, unlike the others, the majority of its revenue came from passengers rather than freight. It created what was, at that time, the world's largest electrified railway system and the first electrified InterCity route (London-
The SR operated a number of famous named trains, including the Brighton Belle, the Bournemouth Belle, the Golden Arrow and the Night Ferry (London -
The formation of the SR was rooted in the outbreak of the First World War, when all railway companies were taken into government control. Many members of staff joined the armed forces and it was not possible to build and maintain equipment at peacetime levels. After the war, the government considered permanent nationalisation but instead decided on a compulsory amalgamation of the railways into four large groups through the 1921 Railways Act, known as the Grouping. The resultant amalgamation of the four south coast railways to form the SR meant that several duplicate routes and management structures were inherited. The LSWR had most influence on the new company, although genuine attempts were made to integrate the services and staff after 1923. The rationalisation of the system led to the downgrading of some routes in favour of more direct lines to the channel ports, and the creation of a co-
In addition to its railway operations, the SR inherited several important port and harbour facilities along the south coast, including Southampton, Newhaven and
In 1929, the third-
The intensive commuter system located within a small geographical area made the SR a natural candidate for electrification and the LSWR and LBSCR had already introduced it in the London area before the Grouping. However, the two schemes were incompatible, as the LBSCR adopted a 6,600V AC overhead system (similar to that used by the Midland Railway for their Lancaster to Morecambe trial section), whilst the LSWR used a 660V DC third rail standard. After the Grouping, comparisons between the two systems were made and the LSWR system was adopted as standard for the whole system. This was because it had the advantage of being cheaper to install and the lack of catenary equipment meant that bridge and tunnel clearances were not affected.
Most of the area immediately south of London was converted, together with the long-
Holiday makers using the lines to the Channel ports and the West Country were replaced with troops during this period, especially with the threat of a German invasion on the south coast in 1940. Before hostilities, 75% of traffic was passenger, compared with 25% freight; during the war roughly the same number of passengers was carried, but freight grew to 60% of total traffic. A desperate shortage of freight locomotives was remedied by CME Oliver Bulleid, while the volume of military freight and soldiers moved by a primarily commuter and holidaymaker carrying railway was a breath-
When the threat of invasion receded, the area served by the Southern Railway became the marshalling area for troops preparing to invade Normandy in Operation Overlord, and once again, the railway played its part by providing a link in the logistics chain. This came at a cost, as the SR's location around London and the Channel ports meant that it was subjected to heavy bombing, whilst permanent way, locomotive, carriage and wagon maintenance was deferred until peacetime.
After a period of slow recovery in the late 1940s, the war-
Leave your email address to receive Kent Past Times free every month