Brighton Main Line

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Brighton Main Line
Hassocks Station - train arriving from London - - 1169890.jpg
A Southern class 377 Electrostar at Hassocks.
Type Commuter rail, Suburban rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Greater London
South East England
Termini London Bridge
London Victoria
Opening 1841 (fully)
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Southern (Gatwick Express)
First Great Western
Depot(s) Selhurst
Rolling stock Class 165 "Turbo"
Class 166 "Turbo Express"
Class 171 "Turbostar"
Class 319
Class 377 "Electrostar"
Class 442 "Wessex Electric"
Class 455
No. of tracks 2-4
Track gauge Standard Gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Electrification 750 V DC third rail
Operating speed 100 mph (160 km/h) maximum
Brighton Main Line
South Eastern Main Line
London Victoria London Underground
London Bridge London Underground London River Services
Spa Road
Victoria carriage sidings
Southwark Park
Grosvenor Bridge
South Bermondsey-first station
Battersea Park
to North Kent Line
West London Line
to Kent Coast
SW Main Line
to Waterloo
Chatham Main Line
Inner South London Line
Latchmere Junctions
East London Line
Clapham Junction London Overground
New Cross Gate London Overground
Shepperton, Hounslow
Nunhead-Lewisham Link
Loop, Windsor Line
and Reading
Catford Loop Line
SW Main Line
Honor Oak Park
Wandsworth Common
Forest Hill
Balham London Underground
South London Line
Chatham Main Line
to Streatham Hill
to Sutton
Portsmouth Line
Penge West
to London Bridge
Streatham Common
to Birkbeck
Crystal Palace Line
Thornton Heath
Norwood Junction
Selhurst Depot
Wallington Line
to West Croydon
East Croydon sidings
East Croydon Tramlink
South Croydon
Oxted Line
Purley Oaks
Tattenham Corner Line
Caterham Line
Quarry Line
Redhill line
Coulsdon North
Coulsdon South
Merstham tunnel
Quarry tunnel
M23 motorway
M25 motorway
Merstham (L&BR)
Redhill tunnel
North Downs Line
Redhill to
Red Hill & Reigate Road
Tonbridge Line
Redhill sidings
Gatwick Airport 2
Tinsley Green
(Gatwick Airport 1)
Three Bridges
Three Bridges to
Arun Valley Line
Tunbridge Wells
Three Bridges works
Central Line
Three Bridges sidings
Three Bridges sidings
M23 motorway
Balcombe tunnel
Ouse Valley Viaduct
River Ouse
Proposed (not built)
Ouse Valley Railway
to Bluebell Railway
Ardingly aggregates
Copyhold Jn
Haywards Heath
Haywards Heath tunnel
Keymer Junction
East Coastway Line
Burgess Hill
Clayton Tunnel
Patcham Tunnel
Preston Park
Brighton depot
Cliftonville Tunnel
and carriage sidings
West Coastway Line
East Coastway Line

The Brighton Main Line is a British railway line divided in the north into two sections running from London Victoria or London Bridge to Brighton. It is about 50 miles (80 km) long, and is electrified throughout. Passenger trains are primarily operated by Southern (including Gatwick Express) though the main section has joint running rights with Thameslink and a small section is open to First Great Western, currently sole operator of the line from Gatwick Airport to Reading, Berkshire known as the North Downs Line. The many Sussex services to Central London use the line and generally its branches as do outer south London, East Surrey and Tonbridge, Kent services.

History and geography of the line[edit]

Original proposals[edit]

There were six original proposals to build a railway between London and Brighton. The London and Brighton Railway (L&BR) emerged with an Act of Parliament of 15 July 1837 after a prolonged and expensive battle, with the most direct route, from the London and Croydon Railway (L&CR) at Norwood Junction to Brighton, using the L&CR from Norwood to London Bridge. A condition required by Parliament was that the railway should share its line between Croydon and Redhill with the South Eastern Railway main line to Dover. This clause gave rise to 60 years of disputes between the two companies.

Brighton line[edit]

Land use between London and Brighton was largely rural. The line was planned to traverse the North Downs, the Wealden ridge and the South Downs while avoiding steep gradients.

Due to the difficult terrain and relatively sparse population between Croydon and Brighton, the line by-passed several towns and villages on the London-Brighton road, such as Reigate and Crawley. Even so, it required substantial earthworks, notably through the North Downs at Merstham, with one of the largest cuttings in Britain; seven tunnels (Merstham, Quarry, Redhill, Balcombe, Haywards Heath, Clayton and Patcham); and several embankments. To avoid steep gradients or detours, the 1,475-foot-long (450 m), maximum 96-foot-high (29 m) Ouse Valley Viaduct was built near Balcombe.

The line opened in two stages:

12 July 1841: Norwood Junction to Haywards Heath.
21 September 1841: to Brighton.

Branch lines[edit]

The branch line from Brighton to Shoreham-by-Sea was finished on 12 May 1840, before the main line, as it did not involve significant civil engineering works (all the materials arrived by sea). The Newhaven section did not materialise until 1846, when the Brighton - Hastings line was opened by the Brighton Lewes and Hastings Railway. A few weeks later the L&CR, the L&BR and other railways in Sussex amalgamated to form the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR).

Lines to Victoria[edit]

A branch line from Norwood to Crystal Palace was built in 1851, extending to Sydenham in 1854, Balham and Wandsworth in 1856, Battersea in 1858, and London Victoria in 1860. A cut-off line reducing the distance between Croydon and Balham opened in 1862.

Quarry line[edit]

There were frequent disputes resulting from the companies' sharing of the busy section between East Croydon and Redhill. The LB&SCR owned the section between East Croydon and Coulsdon North, and the SER (later the South Eastern and Chatham Railway) from Coulsdon South to Redhill. Eventually the LB&SCR built the "Quarry Line" between Coulsdon North and Earlswood, avoiding Redhill. It opened on 8 November 1899 (1 April 1900 for passengers).


The line was the first UK main line to be electrified throughout. The LB&SCR electrified its South London Line on 1 December 1909 using an overhead high-tension single-phase system; within three years the line from Victoria to Selhurst railway station was also converted, and in 1920, from London Bridge to South Croydon. In 1921 plans were drawn up to extend overhead electrification to Brighton.[1] However, the 1923 grouping intervened and it[clarification needed] only reached Coulsdon North since the Southern Railway decided to standardise on the third-rail system of the former London and South Western Railway. In 1928/29 the lines were converted to third-rail operation.

The decision to electrify the entire line was taken in 1929, and Coulsdon North – Three Bridges opened in July 1932, to Brighton and West Worthing on 1 January 1933.[2]

The third rail is electrified at 750 V DC, and in recent years has had its power supply upgraded ready for the introduction of Electrostar stock by Southern. Traction current supply is supervised by Lewisham, Selhurst and Brighton electrical control rooms.[3]


A Thameslink train ready for a dawn departure from Brighton

The line is four-track to Balcombe Tunnel junction, where it becomes double track as far as Preston Park. Except for a pair of platform loops at Haywards Heath, there are no passing loops.

The fastest trains from Brighton to Victoria stop only at East Croydon and Clapham Junction; some trains also stop at Gatwick Airport. Thameslink services from Brighton via London Bridge continue via Thameslink to Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras, and stations in North London and Hertfordshire, to Luton and Bedford.

Non-stop Gatwick Express trains run between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport. A train departs in both directions every 15 minutes, with a journey time of 30 minutes. Six weekday peak-hour trains are extended to or from Brighton, calling at up to five other stations south of Gatwick.

First Great Western runs trains between Gatwick Airport and Reading via Redhill and the North Downs Line.

A 24-hour service runs between Three Bridges and London Victoria and Three Bridges and Bedford via Blackfriars with a frequency of 1 train an hour on each route in the early hours of the morning.

Contingency plans[edit]

From Balcombe Tunnel junction to Preston Park the tracks reduce from quadruple to double track.[4] A train that fails in this section causes most disruption, so two provisions are in place to keep the service running.

Bi-directional signalling[edit]

Normal running and 'Bi-directional' signal outside Haywards Heath Tunnel

The line is divided into three sections of bi-directional signalling, which allows trains to cross over to the opposite line and run in the "wrong direction". These are:

  • Balcombe Tunnel junction to Copyhold Junction (just north of Haywards Heath).
  • Haywards Heath to Keymer Junction (just south of Wivelsfield).
  • Keymer Junction to Preston Park.

Diversionary route[edit]

The section from Wivelsfield to Preston Park can be bypassed by turning eastwards onto the Lewes line at Keymer Junction. At Lewes trains can reverse to head westwards to Brighton via the East Branch line, rejoining the main line at Montpelier Junction. However this diversion does not allow trains to call at Burgess Hill, Hassocks, and Preston Park.

Branching routes[edit]

A 1908 Railway Clearing House map of Brighton Main Line between South Croydon and Selhurst / Forest Hill, as well as surrounding lines.

Branches from the line to Victoria[edit]

Branches from the line to London Bridge[edit]

Branches south of East Croydon[edit]


  1. ^ Direct stopping-service branch lines
  2. ^ A semi-fast/fast through branch line
  3. ^ Semi-fast/fast branch lines
  4. ^ A direct service to Reigate on this line has long been provided, fast/semi-fast.
  5. ^ A fast/semi-fast through branch line
  6. ^ A fast/semi-fast through branch line
  7. ^ eastward, a line to East Grinstead closed in 1967
  8. ^ At Haywards Heath, the line via Ardingly and Horsted Keynes, closed in 1963: Currently Network Rail largely disused sidings to Ardingly; Horsted Keynes railway station section is now part of the Bluebell Railway between East Grinstead and Sheffield Park
  9. ^ Keymer Junction
  10. ^ A fast/semi-fast through branch line
  11. ^ A fast/semi-fast through branch line


  1. ^ Dawson (1921).
  2. ^ Bonavia (1987) 87-89.
  3. ^ Network Rail: Sectional Appendix module KSW2/LOR SO500 Sequence 010
  4. ^ "Quail Route Map 5". 


  • Bonavia, Michael R. (1987). The history of the Southern Railway London:Unwin Hyman. ISBN 0-04-385107-X.
  • Dawson, Philip, (1921) Report by Sir Philip Dawson on proposed substitution of electric for steam operation for suburban, local and mainline passenger and freight services, London Brighton and South Coast Railway.

External links[edit]