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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 Londonmarker, 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.


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 Southern Region also inherited some independent light railways, also nationalised at the same time, namely the East Kent Light Railway, the Kent and East Sussex Railway and the North Devon and Cornwall Junction Light Railway.

The region

The Southern Region served southern Londonmarker, Kentmarker, Surreymarker, Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wightmarker, eastern Dorsetmarker, southern Wiltshiremarker and eastern Berkshire most of which which were either already electrified or at least proposed to be so. There was also an unelectrified service to parts of Devonmarker and north eastern Cornwallmarker, deep in what was Western Region territory, known colloquially as "The Withered Arm".

Central London

The Region's chief stations in Central London were:

Outside London

Outside central London the main stations were:

Southern Region and Western Region had important interchanges at Readingmarker in Berkshire and at Exeter St Davids railway stationmarker in Devonmarker.

Line and station closures

The formerly busy Blackfriars goods yard and wharf had closed between 1935 and 1947. Freshwatermarker on the Isle of Wightmarker closed between 1947 and 1955. The "Bluebell line"marker between East Grinsteadmarker and Lewesmarker closed between 1955 and 1958. The lines in Devonmarker and Cornwallmarker were also transferred to Western Region between 1955 and 1970; most Southern Region services west of Exeter (such as to Budemarker and Padstowmarker), including the Atlantic Coast Express, ceased in the 1960s. Many "under-used" stations like Walworth Road goods in southern London, Wiltonmarker in Wiltshiremarker, Sheffield Parkmarker in Sussex and Kemptownmarker in Brighton, Sussex closed. Sheffield Park became part of the Bluebell Railwaymarker 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 stationmarker in the 1990s along with the junction. This station is obsolete under Thameslink 2000 plans and will be replaced another, bigger, station.

Holborn Viaductmarker 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 stationmarker 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 stationmarker.

Channel Tunnel planning

The 1973 plan to build a tunnel under the English Channelmarker also included plans to upgrade the infrastructure of the Southern Region between London and the Kentmarker 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 was 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 Internationalmarker. By this time the Southern Region 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 tunnelling and the mainline railways had extensive networks in place before the underground railways were developed.

The Southern Region however dealt with a different environment, marked by British Rail (BR) and London Underground (LUL) both being state-owned.

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

The Waterloo & City Line (nicknamed 'The Drain' by both staff and users), British Rail's only "Tube" service, was given over to London Underground upon privatisation BR in 1994.


The Southern Region was abolished in 1989 because British Rail had decided to move from regional management to business sectors. The Region was divided between two of the new passenger businesses: Network SouthEast and InterCity. When the British Rail passenger services were franchised in 1996 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. Later the Connex franchises were inherited by Govia, which operates Southern and Southeastern. As part of a general reorganisation of franchises, Island Line was merged with the much larger South West Trains franchise in 2005, Thameslink became part of First Capital Connect in 2006, and Gatwick Express was merged with Southern in 2007.

Trains and rolling stock

At the time of its creation the Southern Region still had large numbers of steam locomotives It also owned three locomotive works at Ashfordmarker, Brightonmarker, and Eastleigh railway works|Eastleigh]], two carriage works (Eastleigh and Lancingmarker)and a wagon works at Ashford. Most of these closed before privatisation, and the remainder have since. Steam traction over the region was abolished by 1967 to be replaced by a combination of Electric multiple units, Diesel-electric multiple units, diesel and electro-diesel locomotives.

The region had ordered large fleets of slam-door electric rolling stock with Mark I bodies in the 1950s and 1960s, but some Southern Railway-style units built before 1950 also survived, particularly on the "Kent Link" routes from Blackfriars, until the early 1980s.

Since much of the Southern Region slam door fleet reached the end of its design life of 35-40 years in the 1990s, it was replaced by sliding door stock, much of it after privatisation, although BR started to replace inner suburban trains from the later 1970s.

BR also built a fleet of electric units for service between Waterloo and Bournemouth in the 1980s, with Mark III bodies and plug, rather than sliding, doors. These Class 442 units have now been transferred to the Brighton Main Line, and since 14 December 2008 have been used on some Gatwick Express services from Victoria, which are run by the Southern franchise.

The last slam door units ran in late 2005. New safety regulations which prohibited the use of trains with slam doors (unless equipped with secondary or "central" locking) were postponed by a year until the last examples could be withdrawn. Exceptionally, some slam door units were allowed to stay in service for another couple of years by special derogation on the Lymington Harbour "heritage" branch.

Some Mark I units have been preserved by South West Trains after being withdrawn in 2005. Diesel trains ran on the Exeter route and a small fleet of Diesel-electric multiple units, known by enthusiasts as "thumpers" because of their distinctive engines, ran on the remaining non-electrified routes: the "Oxted" line to Uckfield and the Ashford–Hastings line.

The lines in the Isle of Wight used elderly steam engines cascaded from the mainland for many years, but in 1966 the Southern Region acquired some redundant "Standard" tube stock from London Transport. Most lines in the island had been closed in the 1950s and early 1960s, but the remaining route from Ryde to Shanklin was electrified to normal Southern Region third rail specification, and the "Standard" tube stock converted (from the LT standard of third and fourth rail) so that it could be run on the line. In the 1980s these trains were replaced by more redundant LT tube stock, this time dating from 1938.

Major accidents

Four serious accidents occurred on the Southern Region.

On 4 December 1957 90 passengers died and 173 were injured in a collision in thick fog near Lewisham in south London, which also caused the collapse of an overhead rail bridge on to the wreckage below. The number of deaths was the third highest ever in a British railway accident. See Lewisham rail crashmarker for more information.

On 5 November 1967 a train from Hastingsmarker to Charing Cross was derailed by a track defect outside Hither Green station, killing 49 passengers and injuring 78. Among the survivors was Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. See Hither Green rail crashmarker for more information.

On 12 December 1988 three trains collided near Clapham Junction because a signal circuit had been wrongly wired. Thirty-five people died and more than 100 were injured. See Clapham Junction rail crashmarker for more information.

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


  • 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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