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The Hastings Line is a railway line in Kentmarker and East Sussexmarker linking Hastingsmarker with the main town of Tunbridge Wellsmarker, and from there into Londonmarker via Sevenoaksmarker.


The line was opened by the South Eastern Railway (SER) in main three stages:
  • Tonbridge - Tunbridge Wells railway station:
    • 19 September 1845: a temporary station while the intervening tunnel was completed. That temporary station later became the freight station;
    • 25 November 1846: Tunbridge Wells Central station opened
  • Tunbridge Wells - Robertsbridge: 1 September 1851
  • Robertsbridge - Battle: 1 January 1852
  • Battle - St Leonards (Bo-peep Junction): 1 February 1853

Construction difficulties

The Hastings Line is built over difficult terrain across the Wealdmarker. As a result there are seven tunnels constructed through the Sandstone Hastings Beds. The SER were anxious to construct the line as quickly as possible, since they were in competition with the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway to obtain entry to the south coast seaside resort of Hastings; the line, in spite of its problems, was opened from Tunbridge Wells in a year. The contractors responsible for building the tunnels cheated the SER by reducing the planned six layers of bricks through the tunnels to four.

It was only when the Wadhurst tunnel collapsed in 1862 that this was discovered. It was too expensive to re-bore the tunnels, so the SER added the two missing layers. This obviously reduced the width, and from then on, until quite recently, it has always been necessary to work the line with narrow rolling stock.

Traction and rolling stock

The first most successful locomotives built to cope with the necessary weight and loading gauge restrictions taken into account were the "Schools" class built in the 1930s; the cab roofs in particular were narrower than main line locomotives. They worked the line until 1957 when steam gave way to diesel-electric multiple units of what became British Rail Class 201, 202 and 203 (the "Hastings Diesels") took over working the route. These units were constructed of narrow rolling stock. They were delivered in six-car formations (the Class 203 including a buffet car) and two units were often operated in multiple to form twelve-car trains. In latter years some of the units were reduced to five and (later still) to four cars. Twelve Class 33 , coded 33/2, diesel locomotives were also built with narrow bodies for the Hastings line (nicknamed "Slim Jims").

The final solution on the line was to convert the most restricted of the tunnels to single-line working. This was achieved in 1986, and at the same time the line was electrified using 750 V DC third-rail.


There are eight tunnels between Tonbridge and Hastings (Ore). In order from north to south they are:

Name Length Tracks Details
Somerhill 410 yds (375 m) Single South of Tonbridge station
Wells 823 yds (752 m) Double North of Tunbridge Wells station
Grove Hill 287 yds (262 m) Double South of Tunbridge Wells station
Strawberry Hill 286 yds (261 m) Single  
Wadhurst 1205 yds (1102 m) Single South of the station
Mountfield 526 yds (481 m) Single Between Robertsbridge and Battle
Bo-Peep 1318 yds (1186 m) Double West of St Leonards Warrior Square station
Hastings 788 yds (709 m) Double East of the station
Mount Pleasant 230 yds (207 m) Double Between Hastings and Ore.

There have always been problems connected with the Tunbridge Wells-St Leonards section of the Charing Cross line. It was built in a hurry by the SER in an attempt to compete with the passenger traffic to Hastings of the LBSCR; and as a result corners were cut in its construction. Most of the section runs through the hilly Wealdmarker, necessitating seven tunnels. The contractors on the line, in an attempt to keep up with a strict timetable, saved time by putting in fewer layers of bricks than were required through the tunnels: in 1862 the Wadhurstmarker tunnel collapsed, revealing the truth. Instead of reboring the tunnels, the extra layers were laid on the inner surfaces of all seven tunnels, narrowing the bore, and thereby ensuring that specially-constructed rolling stock was required from then on; electrification of the line was also delayed for many years.. Electrification was finally completed in 1987, using standard rolling stock, and the expedient of singling the track through the narrow tunnels.

The Wadhurst and Mountfield tunnels were those causing the major problems before the changes.


All the stations south of Tunbridge Wells were built to the designs of William Tress in Italianate and Gothic styles. The station at Battlemarker is Grade II listed.

Services today

Train services on the line are provided by Southeastern, and mostly operated by Class 375 Electrostar units.

The line still sees a freight service to and from the gypsum sidings at Mountfield.

Bopeep junction

Bopeep junction
This junction was named after a local pub in Bulverhythe called The Bo Peep,which in turn came from the activities of smugglers and excise men.

Driver's view of the line

A DVD produced by Video 125 called 1066 DC provides a driver's eye view of a journey from Hastings to Charing Cross.



  1. Down the Line to Hastings Brian Jewell, The Baton Press ISBN 0 85936 223 X
  2. Network Rail : Rules of The Route
  3. The Bo-Peep
  4. Jewell, Brian (1984) Down the Line to Hastings (1984) Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Baton Press, ISBN 0 85936 223 X
  5. 1066 DC by Video 125



Image:932 Blundells Eastleigh 1948.jpg|Schools ClassImage:Hastings set 1004.jpg|Hastings Diesel-Electric Multiple UnitImage:375609 at London Victoria.jpg|Electrostar trainImage:Hastings line train interior.jpg|Interior of electrostar on Hastings lineImage:Hastings & St Leonards RJD 100 - excerpt.jpg|A 1914 Railway Clearing House map of the southern end of the Hastings Line; note the closed Bexhill West branch.

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