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Network SouthCentral (abbreviated NSC) was a shadow franchise (an independent train operating company) that existed from 4 February 1994 to 13 October 1996, when Connex Rail took over the running of the franchise, which became Connex South Central. The franchise is now operated by Southern. As with all shadow franchises, Network SouthCentral was a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Railways Board.
During the privatisation of British Rail under John Major's Conservative Government in the early to mid 1990s, a series of "shadow franchises" were created. These were independent and officially known as train operating companies, but were designed to be replaced by new franchisees (in NSC's case, Connex). Network SouthCentral officially came into being on 4 February 1994, superseding Network SouthEast over the central part of southern England.
Network SouthCentral covered most of Sussex, and parts of Eastern Surrey in the "commuter belt". The core of NSC's operations was the London Victoria-East Croydon-Brighton express route, with most other NSC mainline services utilising some part of this alignment. The rough boundaries of the Network SouthCentral operations were from Hastings in the east to Portsmouth in the west, although services operated by the company did extend further on both sides- to Southampton along the Solent line in the west, and as the sole operator of the Marshlink Line from Hastings to Ashford via Rye.
In London, the company served two major mainline terminals- London Victoria and Charing Cross. Network SouthCentral's suburban services concentrated on the area directly to the south of these two stations, with routes serving most of south London, including Clapham, Peckham, Tattenham Corner, Croydon, Caterham, Sutton and Crystal Palace.
The main former Network SouthEast "sub-sectors" that came under the jurisdiction of Network SouthCentral were the Sussex Coast, Oxted Lines, South London Lines and Marshlink lines.
During the short time in which Network SouthCentral existed as an active train operating company, the company ordered no new rolling stock, nor received any new trains that had been ordered, though not delivered, before Network SouthEast handed over operations to Network SouthCentral. However, the company operated the following types of locomotive, EMU and DEMU:
Network SouthCentral branding was standard Network SouthEast lettering and design, but with the word "SouthCentral" in dark blue replacing the word "SouthEast" on leaflets, platforms and stock. The Network SouthEast "rhombus" red, blue and grey logo remained part of NSC's corporate image. Not all stock received NSC branding—the chief units to receive such treatment were Network SouthCentral's express units—the Class 319s, 421s and 422s in the main being treated. As under NSE, the main corporate colour of Network SouthCentral was red, which was applied to all manner of things from rubbish bins to lamp-posts.
The Cowden rail accident
The only major accident that occurred on the Network SouthCentral network was the Cowden collision when, on 15 October 1994, the driver of an NSC Class 205 DEMU failed to see a red signal (this was believed to have been caused by fog), and drove the unit on to a single track section of the Oxted-Uckfield line, where it collided with a train travelling in the opposite direction. Five people, including the erroneous driver were killed, and thirteen more were severely injured.
Following the announcement that Connex Rail, Ltd., had won the South Central franchise, it only remained a matter of time before Network SouthCentral finally ceased to exist. The end came on 13 October 1996, when Connex took over the South Central franchise. The first unit to lose its NSC/NSE colours was British Rail Class 456, 456024, which officially launched the then new Connex South Central franchise.