North Downs Line

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North Downs Line
NDLmap.png
North Downs Line
Overview
Type Suburban rail, Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey
Termini

Reading
Redhill

Gatwick Airport
Operation
Opening 1849
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) First Great Western
Southern
South West Trains
CrossCountry
Depot(s) Reading TMD
Rolling stock Class 165
Class 166
Class 377
Class 456
Class 458
Class 450
Class 220
Class 221
Technical
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 3rd rail, 750 V DC (Reading to Wokingham - Aldershot South Junction to Shalford Junction - Redhill to Reigate)
Operating speed 70 mph (110 km/h) (maximum)

The North Downs Line is the name of the passenger train service linking Reading on the Great Western Main Line, with Gatwick Airport on the Brighton Main Line. It is also the name used to refer to the line over which these services run between Reading and Redhill.[1]

The route[edit]

Between Redhill and Ash the line runs roughly parallel with the North Downs. Between Reigate and Gomshall the line runs along the foot of the North Downs escarpment in the Vale of Holmesdale. At Guildford it passes through the gap in the Downs formed by the River Wey, with a short tunnel just south of Guildford station, and further west between Guildford and Ash the line runs to the north of the Hog's Back. It then follows the Blackwater valley as far as Sandhurst, before continuing to Reading.

History of the line's construction[edit]

The line was authorised by Acts of Parliament in 1846 and 1847 and most of it was constructed by the Reading, Guildford and Reigate Railway Company (RG&RRC), opening in 1849. (A central section of the line near Guildford was built by a predecessor of the LSWR.) The stated objective of the company was to

"secure through traffic passing between the West, North and Midlands and the Channel Ports avoiding the congestion of London and thus saving time, distance and expense."[2]

Although the company had some independent shareholders, it was closely associated with the South Eastern Railway (SER). The original intention was for the SER to build part of the line itself, but this proposal was rejected by Parliament. The independence of the company was only a formality to satisfy Parliament. The two companies had some common directors; a SER engineer controlled the construction of the line. As intended at outset, the line was leased to the SER in 1850, and the two companies finally merged in 1852. The company's relationship with the GWR is described as "enigmatic". The GWR initially offered the company the use of its facilities at Reading station but terms could not be agreed and a separate station was built.[3]

The SER operated the line from its opening, and ran passenger services on it from Reading to London Charing Cross via Redhill. Even today, the distances along the line are measured from the terminus of the former SER.

Technical information[edit]

North Downs Line
ReadingGreat Western Main Line
Reading Southern(1849–1965)
River Kennet
Earley
River Loddon
Winnersh Triangle
Winnersh
UK-Motorway-M4.svg
Wokingham
 B3349  Wokingham level crossing
Reading to Waterloo Line
Crowthorne
Sandhurst
Blackwater
UK-Motorway-M3.svg
Farnborough North
Farnborough (Main)
South Western Main Line
Farnborough Airport
North Camp
Alton Line
Ash Lock
Basingstoke Canal
Aldershot
Aldershot South Junction | Ash
Tongham (
1856
1937
) | UK road A323.PNG Ash level crossing
Ash Green Halt
Ash Junctionlink closed December 1960
Wanborough
Portsmouth Direct Line
New Guildford Line
Guildford
Portsmouth Direct Line
River Wey
Shalford
UK road A248.PNG Tangley AHB level crossing
 Sampleoak Lane 
Chilworth CCTV
level crossing
Chilworth
 New Road 
Brook AHB
level crossing
Shere Heath(1849–50)
 Queen Street 
Burrows Lane AHB
level crossing
Gomshall
Westcott Range Halt
Dorking West
Dorking Deepdene
Mole Valley Line
Dorking
spur closed 1946
River Mole
Brockham level crossing
Betchworth Quarry
Betchworth
 B2032  Betchworth level crossing
UK road A217.PNG Reigate level crossing
Reigate
RedhillBrighton Main Line
Tonbridge Line

The line is two track throughout and is designated W6 gauge. Overnight engineering possessions of up to 4.5 hours are available.[1]

  • Reading to Wokingham is electrified (3rd rail, 750 V DC) and signalled under the track circuit block system from Wokingham Signal Box. Signalling headways are 3 minutes for fast services and 3.5 minutes for stopping services. The line speed is 70 mph (110 km/h), except for two 30 mph (48 km/h) restrictions (on the approach to Reading and through Wokingham station).
  • Wokingham to North Camp is also under the control of Wokingham Signal Box, however long distances between signals increase headways to 6 minutes and 11 minutes for fast and stopping services respectively (the longest headways on the line). This section is not electrified and the line speed is 70 mph. It is currently planned to transfer the control of Wokingham Signal Box to the new Rail Operating Centre in Basingstoke in 2017/18.
  • North Camp to Shalford Junction is controlled from Guildford (TCB). Signalling headways are 2 minutes with an additional 1 minute added for stopping services. This section is electrified (3rd rail, 750 V DC) from Aldershot South Junction. The line speed is 70 mph, except for a 40 mph (64 km/h) restriction at Ash Junction (between Ash and Wanborough) where the line curves sharply, and a 30 mph restriction on the approaches to Guildford station. Resignalling in October 1999 enabled reversible working on the down line through both tunnels between Guildford and Shalford Junction.[1]
  • Shalford Junction to Reigate The route leaves the Portsmouth Direct Line at Shalford Junction and there is a 20 mph restriction. From here to Reigate the line is not electrified. It is controlled by Guildford from Shalford Junction to Gomshall and by Reigate Signal Box (TCB) from Gomshall to Redhill. Signalling headways are 5 minutes for fast trains and 7 minutes for stopping services. The line speed varies from 30 mph (on the approach to Shalford junction) to 70 mph.
  • Redhill to Reigate is electrified (3rd rail, 750 V DC). The approach to Redhill is controlled by Three Bridges Signalling Centre and has a 30 mph speed restriction.

The major capacity constraints are the platform capacities of Reading, Redhill and Gatwick Airport stations.[4][5][6]

At Reading, North Downs Line services normally terminate at platforms 4, 5 and 6 on the south side of the station, although access to other platforms is possible via Reading Spur Junction with the Great Western Main Line (see map, right). Trains may access the north side of Reading station via a single track underpass. Previously, the access to platforms 4 and 5 (formerly 4a and 4b) was via a short single track section, which severely limited capacity. As part of the 2012 Reading resignalling scheme, an additional platform has been provided for North Downs Line services; platforms have consequentially been re-numbered as 4 (former 4a), 5 (former 4b) and 6 (new).[7]

Capacity issues at Redhill will also be improved by the creation of a new platform and improvements to track work south of the station as part of the Solum Regeneration project.[8] A new platform at Gatwick Airport was officially opened in February 2014. The new platform at Redhill is planned to open in 2019 from which time additional services are planned to travel through to Gatwick Airport.[9]

Network SouthEast originally planned to electrify the whole route, with a completion date of 1993 being published, but these plans were dropped.[10]

Current passenger services and rolling stock[edit]

First Great Western Class 165 at Guildford station

The main services on the line are provided by First Great Western using Class 165 and Class 166 Network Turbo diesel multiple units. Hourly semi-fast services run from Reading to Gatwick Airport and there is an hourly stopping service between Reading and Redhill. At Redhill the Gatwick Airport services reverse to head south along the Brighton Main Line.[4] Until 1994 the stopping services continued to Tonbridge, but the line between Redhill and Tonbridge was electrified in 1993 to provide an additional diversionary route for Eurostar trains to continental Europe. Services on this line now run to London Bridge and are operated by Thameslink Southern & Great Northern.[11]

Additional services on the North Downs Line are provided by South West Trains between Reading and Wokingham (trains to/from London Waterloo) and between Ash and Guildford (trains to/from Alton or Ascot).Thameslink Southern & Great Northern operate services between Reigate and Redhill and onwards to London.[11]

There is also 1 train per day in each direction between Reading and Guildford operated by CrossCountry. These trains run to and from Newcastle.

Passenger services and rolling stock before privatisation[edit]

Class 206 3R unit at Guildford station, June 1979

Steam traction was replaced by 3R (Class 206) DEMUs on 4 January 1965. The new trains consisted of two 6S (class 201) coaches from the Hastings Line coupled to adapted 2EPB driving trailer units. As a result of the visible difference in width between the narrow Hastings Line stock and the standard width Hampshire trailer, the units were nicknamed Tadpoles.[12] Additional peak time services were hauled by class 33 diesel locomotives until May 1977.[2]
The express service from Reading to Gatwick Airport was launched on 12 May 1980 using three-car class 119 DMUs, based on the Western region. The trains were especially modified for this service to create extra luggage space: the buffet counter in the centre coach was removed. Class 101 three-car units were later used on the route as well.[13]
All of the stations between Shalford and Betchworth inclusive, were recommended for closure in the 1963 Reshaping of British Railways report.[14] The report recommended that the whole of the North Downs Line should be developed as a trunk route.[15]

Freight services and rolling stock[edit]

As of 2007 there are no scheduled freight services which use the line.[4] The Travelling Post Office train from Dover to Manchester Piccadilly via Tonbridge, Redhill, Guildford and Reading was routed along the line from May 1988 until 2004.[2] The Network Rail 2008 Strategic Business Plan recommended that an enhancement project for the line should be pursued to enable freight traffic from the Channel Tunnel to use the line.[16]

Electrification proposals[edit]

Electrification had been shelved prior to World War II as it was felt that little traffic would be generated. Non-electrified parts of the North Downs Line included Wokingham to Ash (Aldershot South Junction) and Shalford Junction to Reigate. In August 1981 Modern Railways magazine studied an electrification strategy for the then Southern Region of British Railways. The article saw potential on the route with the area having developed rapidly, and also with the prospect of Channel Tunnel traffic; cross-country passenger and freight workings might also be diverted along the route. Subsequently some of the routes considered were electrified, including South CroydonOxtedEast Grinstead (1987) BournemouthWeymouth (1988), Hilsea and Farlington Junction – St Denys and Eastleigh (1990) and Redhill – Tonbridge (1994). Until then, North Downs Line services continued from Redhill to Tonbridge.

Hurst Green and Tunbridge Wells to Eridge and Uckfield were also included in the same proposals, but remain unelectrified today. The Tunbridge Wells – Eridge section closed to BR passenger traffic in 1985.

According to internet sources[clarification needed], electrification of these sections of the North Downs Line was again discussed as part of the Blackwater Valley Rail Survey, in 1991. Motive power from the outset would have been the BR Mark 1-based electric stock classes, but the idea was set aside when the existing diesel multiple units on the region began to be replaced by the current Class 165/166 'Turbos'.

After the privatisation of British Rail, Railtrack electrified a siding on the line at Wokingham.

Lineside features[edit]

Chilworth Railway Station

On the south side of the line between Chilworth and Gomshall a box hedge topiary known as Jessie's Seat has been cut in the shape of a pheasant perched on the back of a seat. It is a memorial to South Eastern Railway guard Henry Wicks who was killed in an accident here in 1892.

Network Rail routes[edit]

The service uses all or part of the following Network Rail routes:[17]

Typical off-peak journey times from Reading[edit]

A 1909 Railway Clearing House map of western end of the North Downs Line.
A 1912 Railway Clearing House map of the central section of the North Downs Line.
A 1905 Railway Clearing House map of the eastern end of the North Downs Line.

Based on the December 2006 - May 2007 timetable. Stations in italics are served in peak hours only.

Destination Semi-fast services
(minutes)
Stopping services
(minutes)
Frequency
(trains per hour)
Change for
Winnersh 7
Wokingham 9 9 2 London Waterloo via Bracknell and Staines
Crowthorne 14 1
Sandhurst 18 1
Blackwater 14 21 2
Farnborough North 26 1
North Camp 23 30 2
Ash 34 1 Aldershot, Farnham, Alton and Ascot
Wanborough 38
Guildford 34 45 2 London Waterloo and Portsmouth Harbour
Shalford 49 1
Chilworth 53 0.5
Gomshall 59 0.5
Dorking West 62 0.5
Dorking Deepdene 52 64 2 London Waterloo, London Victoria and Horsham from Dorking
Betchworth 69 0.5
Reigate 60 74 2
Redhill 64 81 2 London Victoria, London Bridge and Tonbridge
Gatwick Airport 76 1 Eastbourne, Brighton and Littlehampton

Between Guildford and Redhill the off-peak stopping service pattern alternates every hour, giving Shalford an hourly service and Chilworth, Gomshall, Dorking West and Betchworth one train every two hours.

Hour 1 Guildford Shalford Chilworth Gomshall Dorking Deepdene Reigate Redhill
Hour 2 Guildford Shalford Dorking West Dorking Deepdene Betchworth Reigate Redhill

At peak hours the stopping service between Guildford and Redhill serves all stations.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Business Plan 2006 - Route 3: South West Main Line" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  2. ^ a b c Jackson 1988, p. not cited
  3. ^ Course, Edwin, ed. (1987). Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Reading, Guildford and Reigate Railway Company. ISBN 0-902978-08-X. 
  4. ^ a b c Network Rail: Reading to Gatwick Airport - Congested Infrastructure Capacity Analysis (2007) http://www.networkrail.co.uk/documents/4091_Reading%20to%20Gatwick%20Capacty%20Analysis.pdf
  5. ^ "36470 RUS SWML 80pp.indd" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  6. ^ "Network Rail Route Plan 2004 (Page 42) (9.4mb PDF)" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  7. ^ "Microsoft Word - Inf Note - Network Rail Business Plan.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  8. ^ http://www.redhillforward.co.uk/plan.aspx
  9. ^ http://www.mediacentre.gatwickairport.com/News/Gatwick-Airport-rail-station-opens-a-new-platform-signalling-improved-experience-and-reliability-fo-8ac.aspx
  10. ^ Brown & Jackson 1990, p. 20.
  11. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  12. ^ "3R (Class 206) "Tadpole" DEMUs". Semgonline.com. Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  13. ^ Brown & Jackson 1990, p. not cited.
  14. ^ Beeching, Richard (1963). The Reshaping of British Railways. London. 
  15. ^ Beeching, Richard (1965). Development of the major railway trunk routes. London. 
  16. ^ "Strategic Business Plan Update" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  17. ^ Network Rail: Rules of the Plan (Southern) (2007 Timetable) http://www.networkrail.co.uk/browse%20documents/Rules%20Of%20The%20Route/Outrotp7/so07p.pdf

Sources and further reading[edit]

  • Brown, David; Jackson, Alan A. (1990). Network SouthEast Handbook. Harrow Weald: Capital Transport Publishing. ISBN 1-85414-129-5. 
  • Butt, R.V.J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-85260-508-1. 
  • Jackson, A.A. (1988). Dorking's Railways. Dorking: Dorking Local History Group. ISBN 1-870912-01-2.