Electrification and recent developments

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

h) ELECTRIFICATION and RECENT DEVELOPMENTS: An electric railway to London was proposed in 1901, running direct from Pimlico to Furze Hill, Hove, with a scheduled journey time of 32 minutes. The L.B.S.C.R. had electrification plans of their own though, and opened their first electric line on 1 December 1909. This overhead system, from Victoria to London Bridge, proved a success and suburban electrification was subsequently progressed.
Main-line electrification was proposed in 1920, but when the Southern Railway was formed in 1923 a third-rail, 600-volt d.c. system was chosen rather than the L.B.S.C.R. overhead system. Work on electrification between Brighton and London and West Worthing commenced in 1930, and the new electric service was inaugurated on 30 December 1932 when the Lord Mayor of London travelled to Brighton for a civic dinner. Public electric services commenced on 1 January 1933 (with steam services withdrawn at the same time), and resulted in an immediate 33% increase in traffic in the first year. Colour-light signalling was also installed, with a new powered signal-box above the carriage repair shops at Brighton replacing six small mechanical boxes.
Several lines on direct routes to Brighton were closed in the 1950s and ’60s as mentioned above, while a further rationalisation in the ’70s resulted in the withdrawal of non-stop trains from May 1979; all services have subsequently stopped at East Croydon. A rebuilt London Bridge Station was formally reopened on 15 December 1978, Manchester services were re-introduced via Oxford in 1979 and via Kensington in 1986, and through routes to Bedford and Scotland in 1988.
A £45 million resignalling scheme of the whole line was undertaken in 1977-85, with just two control boxes now operating at Clapham Junction and Three Bridges. The improvement resulted in the fastest ever scheduled Victoria services by 1987, run in a time of just 51 minutes, an average speed of 60 m.p.h. including the stop at East Croydon. The record time of 38 minutes 56 seconds (78.6 m.p.h.) over the 51 miles to Victoria was set in a special journey on 16 April 1988.

j) ACCIDENTS: Just one month after the main line opened, a train derailed to the north of Haywards Heath on 2 October 1841, killing 2 people. The worst accident on the line occurred on 25 August 1861 when two trains collided in Clayton Tunnel killing 23 and injuring 175. On 23 December 1899 6 people were killed in a collision at Wivelsfield; 7 died when a train derailed at Stoat’s Nest on 29 January 1910; and on 2 October 1947 32 people were killed at South Croydon. The worst accidents of recent years, on one of the busiest lines in the world, were at Copyhold Junction on 16 December 1972 when 25 people were injured, and at Sweet Hill, Patcham, on 19 December 1978 when two trains collided killing 3 and injuring 7 passengers.

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

Comments about this page

  • The train crash in October 1841 resulted in four fatalities. The dead were: two train crew, both fireman, one from each of the two engines - Robert Marshall and Robert Field – and two passengers -Henry Palmer and Jane Watson – both servants of Dr Carpue. The source of this information is an item in The Times

    By Dave Sea (07/01/2013)
  • Hi Dave, There had been an earlier crash in this vicinity at the start of that year. As a train approached a temporary tunnel heading, the train crew failed to sufficiently lower the chimney stack, causing it to strike the roof of the tunnel. This caused a partial collapse leading to the train being partly buried. There were three people that died: James Young, James Gilbert and Joseph Mounser. Regards, Andy

    By Andy Grant (08/01/2013)

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