|Type||Branch line, Heavy rail|
|Locale||South East England|
|Operator(s)||South West Trains|
|Depot(s)||Farnham Traincare Depot|
|Rolling stock||8 or 12 car 450's or 5 car 444's mon-fri. 4 car 450's weekends|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Operating speed||between Alton-Brookwood=60-75mph. Between Brookwood london=60-100mph|
The Alton Line is a railway line operated by South West Trains. Today Alton station is the terminus of a main line branch, although it was at one time the junction for three lines. The branch leaves the South Western Main Line at Pirbright Junction near Brookwood. The line was electrified (750 V DC third rail) during the interwar years by Southern Railway.
The line from Farnham to Alton was opened on 28 July 1852. On 2 October 1865 the Alton, Aldershot & Winchester Railway opened between those three places; Alton station moved to new site. The section of this line between Alton and New Alresford is now the Watercress heritage railway, having been closed to passengers by British Rail in 1973. On 2 May 1870 connection from Farnham to Pirbright Junction opened. Alton became a junction station on 1 June 1901 when the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway opened. This line was closed from 1917 as the track was taken up for use in France during the First World War. Local pressure resulted in the reopening in 1924 but traffic was light and the line closed completely in 1933. On 1 June 1903 the Meon Valley Railway opened from Alton to Fareham. This line closed to passengers on 7 Feb 1955.
The line was closed briefly in August 2006 between Brookwood and Ash Vale by a landslip at Foxhills Tunnel, causing most commuter journeys to be via Guildford. It reopened on 19 August 2006.
There are two trains per hour in each direction between Waterloo and Alton on Mondays to Saturdays. On Sundays, the service is hourly until the early afternoon when its becomes half-hourly. Peak time trains take between 67 and 71 minutes for the whole journey; off-peak trains take between 75 and 78 minutes for the journey and Sunday services take 79 to 85 minutes.
Passenger trains that serve this line during off-peak hours also stop at the following stations (from north to south):
Peak hour trains skip Surbiton; some peak trains also skip Clapham junction, West Byfleet or Brookwood. On Sundays, the service also calls at Wimbledon.
Although timetables show the line as "Suburban", it is in practice a regional line, and for the purposes of South West Trains Passenger Charter discounts and Void Day refunds for season tickets it is a Mainline route. All journeys from Alton, Bentley and Farnham are Mainline journeys. Journeys from Aldershot and Ash Vale to London Terminals (i.e. all London stations) and Zone R1256 Zones (a journey to London with Underground included) are Mainline. All other journeys from these two stations are suburban.
Historical timetable perspective: From 1937 to 1967 Alton trains ran fast from Waterloo to Surbiton and then ran all stations to Alton. They formed the front (country) end of an 8 car train that split at Woking with the rear 4 cars running to Portsmouth. The trains ran throughout the day and left Waterloo at 27 and 57 minutes past the hour and took exactly 80 minutes to reach Alton. Additionally, there were trains in the rush hours that ran fast to Woking and then all stations - at 16:17, 18:14, and 18:17 (also stopping at Surbiton) to Farnham, and at 16:47, 17:17, 17:47 to Alton taking between 72 and 76 minutes. Trains from Waterloo to Alton from 05:25 to 08:25 left two minutes earlier than the standard departures and called at Wimbledon. All trains took the fast line from Waterloo to Surbiton. The last train in the evening was the 22:57 to Farnham - it ran to Alton on Wednesday and Saturday nights only arriving at 00:17. On Sundays there was a 23:27 that only ran to Farnham. On weekdays the 17:27 and 19:27 had connections at Bentley to Bordon with a five minute connection at Bentley and a journey time to Bordon of 15 minutes. Interestingly, there was a very regular service on Sunday nights from Bentley to Bordon - presumably for servicemen returning to barracks.
On the upline the pattern was similar, with several departures from Farnham to Waterloo starting at 06:05 and then from Alton at 06:54, then every 30 minutes till 22:54 with three extra rush hour services in the morning. In those days the line from Farnham to Alton was double track.
In the 1980s the pattern was somewhat different - the off-peak trains ran half-hourly and stopped at Surbiton, Woking then all stations, being detached from the Bournemouth (hourly) or Basingstoke (hourly) stopping services. Around 1985 Alton lost its half-hourly service, with half the trains terminating at Farnham. Peak services were approximately every 20 minutes until 1985, half-hourly thereafter, generally going fast Waterloo to Woking, occasionally stopping at West Byfleet or Surbiton
In 1989 the service changed again with three trains an hour as far as Farnham: a fast train (Clapham Junction, Woking and all stations to Alton), a semi-fast (Surbiton, certain stations to Woking, then all to Farnham) and a slow (Clapham Junction, Wimbledon, Surbiton and all stations to Farnham).
A daily service runs to Holybourne Oil Terminal between Alton and Bentley. As a result the 10:23 service from Waterloo stops short at Farnham and does not continue to Alton; there is no 12:14 return service from Alton to Farnham, this train beginning its journey from Farnham instead at 12:28. This is because the line between Alton and Farnham is single, with a passing place at Bentley, and worked on the track circuit block system.
- "South West Trains - Landslide update: Alton line services". 17 August 2006. Archived from the original on 8 April 2009. Retrieved 13 May 2009.
- "British Railways Southern Region Timetable". September 1950. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
- "Hampshire County Council - Renewal of the South Western Rail Franchise - Report of the Director of Environment". 18 January 2006. Retrieved 13 May 2009.
- Butt, R.V.J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations. Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-85260-508-1.