South Eastern Main Line

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South Eastern Main Line
Hungerford Bridge from Victoria Embankment.JPG
The line crossing the River Thames over Hungerford Bridge
Type Commuter rail, heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Greater London
South East England
Termini London Charing Cross
London Cannon Street
Dover Priory
Opening 1844
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Southeastern
Rolling stock Class 375 "Electrostar"
Class 376 "Electrostar"
Class 395
Class 465 "Networker"
Class 466 "Networker"
No. of tracks 5 (across Hungerford Bridge )
4 (Charing Cross to Borough Market)
2 (Borough Market to London Bridge)
12 (London Bridge to Bermondsey split including Brighton lines)
5 to 6 (Bermondsey split to New Cross)
4 (New Cross to Orpington)
2 (Orpington - Dover)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 25kV 50Hz AC OHLE (Ashford International)
750 V DC third rail
South Eastern Main Line
Charing Cross London Underground
Hungerford Bridge
River Thames
London Waterloo London Underground London River Services
Waterloo East
South Western Main Line
(London Underground Southwark)
Blackfriars Road
from Thameslink,
to Blackfriars
Chatham and Brighton Main Lines
and Thameslink line
Ewer Street Depot
Borough Market Junction
Cannon Street London Underground
London Bridge London Underground London River Services
River Thames
Spa Road
Southwark Park
South London Line
to London Victoria
Brighton Main Line
Bricklayers' Arms
East London Line
to Queens Road Peckham
Silwood Triangle Train Sidings
East London Line to
Highbury & Islington London Underground
New Cross Gate TMD
Greenwich Line to Greenwich
East London Line
to New Cross Gate
and North Kent Line
New Cross London Overground
New Cross Road (A2)
St Johns
Nunhead to Lewisham link
Greenwich Park branch
DLR to Docklands and the City
Lewisham Docklands Light Railway
Ladywell Loop
North Kent and Bexleyheath Lines
Mid-Kent Line
to Dartford
to Beckenham Junction
Hither Green
Dartford Loop Line
to Dartford and North Kent Lines
Hither Green TMD
Dartford Loop Line
to Dartford and North Kent Lines
Grove Park Carriage Sidings & Depot
Baring Road (A2212)
Grove Park
Bromley North Line
Elmstead Woods Tunnel
Elmstead Woods
Chislehurst Junction
Chatham Main Line
to London Victoria etc
Chatham Main line to Kent Coast
Petts Wood
Orpington Carriage Sidings
Chelsfield Tunnel 597 yds
Polhill Tunnel 1 Mile 851 yds
M25 motorway
M26 motorway
Dunton Green
Westerham Branch
Swanley via Bat & Ball Line
Formerly Tubs Hill
Sevenoaks Tunnel 1 Mile 1693 yds
to Redhill (old main line)
River Medway
Tonbridge West Yard
Redhill to Tonbridge Line
Hastings Line
Tonbridge RES Depot
Paddock Wood
Medway Valley Line
Hawkhurst Branch Line
Headcorn & Maidstone Jcn Rly (not built)
Kent and East Sussex Railway
Junction as originally constructed
Chart Leacon Depot
Maidstone East Line
High Speed 1
Ashford International
Marshlink Line
Ashford Depot
Ashford Carriage Sidings
Ashford to Ramsgate
(via Canterbury West)
High Speed 1
Merstham Tunnel
Folkestone Racecourse
Sandling Tunnel
Hythe and Sandgate Branch
High Speed 1
Saltwood Tunnel
Dollands Moor
Channel Tunnel
Elham Valley Line
Cheriton Halt
Folkestone West
Folkestone Central
Folkestone Harbour
Folkestone Harbour
Folkestone East
Martello Tunnel 533 yds
Folkestone Warren Halt
Abbotscliffe Tunnel 1 Mile 182 yds
Shakespeare Cliff Halt
Shakespeare Tunnels 1387 yds
Dover Marine
Admiralty Pier
Dover Town
Dover Harbour
Limekiln Street (A20)
Dover Harbour Tunnel 684 yds
Dover Priory
Kent Coast Line
to Ramsgate
Chatham Main Line
Dover Branch

The South Eastern Main Line is a long-distance major railway route in South East England, UK, one of the two main routes crossing the county of Kent, via Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Ashford and Folkestone to Dover. The other route is the Chatham Main Line, which runs along the north Kent coast to Ramsgate and Dover via Chatham.


London Charing Cross

Stopping services run from Charing Cross or Cannon Street to Orpington or Sevenoaks, with other services on the route running fast over this section. Beyond Sevenoaks, stopping services originating from Tunbridge Wells, just off the main line, cover the stations with other services on the route running fast over this section

At Tonbridge services from the original main route – now the rural Redhill to Tonbridge Line – join from Redhill, while the main line to Hastings via Tunbridge Wells diverges.

At Paddock Wood the Medway Valley Line diverges.

At Ashford the Maidstone East Line (from Swanley) and High Speed 1 joins in, while several lines diverge: the Canterbury West line (to Ramsgate and beyond), High Speed 1 and Marshlink Line (to Hastings).

Broadly speaking services divide, proceeding to Margate via the Canterbury West line or continuing on the main line to Dover then taking the Kent Coast Line to rejoin at Ramsgate to reach Margate.

Rolling Stock[edit]

Services are formed using Southeastern's fleet of Class 375 and Class 376 Electrostars and older Class 465 and Class 466 Networker units. Previously Class 377 or Class 455 trains operated by Southern (train operating company) ran on this line between the London terminus and London Bridge.


The major rail depots, visible near Hither Green, are the Hither Green Traction Maintenance Depot (TMD) and the nearby Grove Park Traction and Rolling Stock Maintenance Depot.

A picturesque and unfamiliar (to visitors) sight on the line are oast houses, traditional farm buildings used for drying hops, whose conical roofs are tipped by distinctive cowls.


Hither Green depot

The line was built by the South Eastern Railway (SER), which were in competition with the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR), hence the duplication of stations in Kent.

The original main line was given sanction by Act of Parliament in 1836, running from London Bridge via Croydon East and Redhill (the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway's Brighton Main Line), Tunbridge, and Ashford to Folkestone and Dover. This circuitous route was the result of insistence on the part of Parliament that only one southerly route out of the capital was necessary; forcing the SER to share the LB&SCR's Brighton Main Line. This completely ignored the fact that the main London - Dover road had, since ancient times, followed a much more direct route; and it ignored the fact that the other great railway building projects did take direct routes whenever feasible. Under the plan, it took a passenger 20 miles (32 km) extra to travel to Dover by railway than coaching.[1]

The main line reached Ashford on 1 December 1842; the outskirts of Folkestone by 28 June 1843; and Dover by 7 February 1844. Their locomotive works was built in 1845 moving from New Cross in London.

Due to competition with the LCDR (who had constructed the quicker Chatham Main Line and Swanley to Ashford (via Maidstone East) Line (to Sevenoaks, Canterbury, Dover, Ramsgate, Ashford and Maidstone), the SER built a very expensive line via Sevenoaks and Orpington through the North Downs by means of summits and then long tunnels at both Knockholt and Sevenoaks. This "cut-off" line, 24 miles (39 km) in length, reached Chislehurst on 1 July 1865, but took three more years to reach Orpington and Sevenoaks (opening date 2 March 1868) and Tunbridge (1 May 1868).

When the SER and LCDR merged in 1899 to form the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR) the stations and track layout at Ashford and Dover were rationalised.

The line was electrified with third rail, in many stages. Orpington was reached, via Victoria, in July 1925 as part of the "South Eastern Electrification - Stage 1" programme by the newly created Southern Railway, using its standard of 660V DC third rail. In February 1926 the lines from Charing Cross and Cannon Street via London Bridge to Orpington were electrified as part of the "North Kent Electrification" programme. In 1935 with the completion of London urban electrification, Southern expanded its focus to the "outer suburban" routes, with electrification extended to Sevenoaks in January 1935. Postwar, the newly nationalised British Rail started to implement its 1955 Modernisation Plan. This extended electrification to the Kent Coast in two stages, with the South Eastern Main Line being subject of "Kent Coast Electrification - Stage 2" in June 1961. This was accompanied by a voltage upgrade to 750V DC across the whole the Southern Region of British Railways.

The line was largely left untouched, until the arrival of the Channel Tunnel at Cheriton, near Folkestone. Prior to construction of High Speed 1, services joined the South Eastern Main line and ran to through to Petts Wood, where the route joined the Chatham Main Line into Waterloo International. Freight services for the Channel Tunnel were routed via the Maidstone East Line. The CTRL was built alongside the line to Ashford where is joined in to gain access to the existing station. The CTRL diverges west of Ashford to pursue a separate route to its new London terminus (St Pancras). Thus a short section of the line through Ashford is also electrified at 25 kV AC.


Over the years, a number of accidents have occurred at various locations on the South Eastern Main Line.

  • 9 June 1865 - the Staplehurst rail crash. An error by trackworkers resulted in the deaths of ten people when a train crossed a bridge from which the rails had been removed. A further 40 people were injured, including Charles Dickens.
  • January 1877 - a landslip at the eastern end of Martello Tunnel brought down some 60,000 cubic yards (46,000 m3) of chalk, killing three men. The line was closed for two months.[2]
  • 7 June 1884 - A double-headed freight train ran into the rear of another freight train at Tub's Hill station, Sevenoaks. Both crew of the first train were killed. the Hildenborough signalman was charged with causing their deaths. The trains were being worked under the time interval system.[3]
  • 5 December 1905 - the Charing Cross roof collapse. Structural failure of the overall roof at Charing Cross station led to the death of six people.
  • 19 December 1915 - a landslip between Martello Tunnel and Abbotscliff Tunnel derailed a passenger train hauled by a D class locomotive. Nearly 2 miles (3.22 km) of line was affected. At Folkestone Warren Halt the line had been pushed 53 yards (48 m) towards the sea.[2]
  • 5 May 1919 - a goods train overran signals and ran into the back of another goods train at Paddock Wood. One person was killed.[5]
  • 4 December 1957 - the Lewisham rail crash. A train hauled by Battle of Britain class steam locomotive 34066 Spitfire ran into the rear of a train comprising two four-coach electric multiple units and one two-coach electric multiple unit, having passed a signal at danger. The accident happened under a bridge carrying the Greenwich Park Branch Line. The bridge collapsed onto the wreckage of the two trains, killing 90 people and injuring 173.
  • 12 August 1958 - the 06:52 Sanderstead to Cannon Street train derailed at Borough Market Junction, completely blocking all lines into Charing Cross. The cause was worn trackwork at Borough Market Junction.[6]
  • 8 December 1961 - at 02:02, a goods train was setting back at Paddock Wood when the 00:20 goods from Hoo Junction to Tonbridge overran signals and collided with it. The wreckage from the accident piled up under the bridge carrying the B2160 Maidstone Road. The line was blocked for 12 hours.[7]
  • 14 September 1996 - a wagon in a freight train hauled by 47 360 and 47 033 derailed near Staplehurst due to the train being driven at a speed in excess of the wagon's speed limit and the wagon probably being loaded unevenly.[8]
  • 8 January 1999 - the Spa Road Junction rail crash. An eight-coach train comprising a 4CEP and a 4VEP electric multiple unit collided with an eight-coach train comprising two Class 319 electric multiple units after the former train passed a signal at danger. Four people were injured.


  1. ^ O. S. Nock (1961), pp 11-13 notes that the SER at this point was short of cash. The long term benefits of a fast, direct railway to Folkestone and Dover were obvious but, in the short term, there were no business interests at the coast to finance the investment. If the company had had more money and more confidence, it might have proposed its own direct route to Maidstone or Tonbridge and on to the coast. This might have persuaded Parliament to make an exception to its dictum and allow them to create this new route. The company would have been in a strong position and the nation would have found itself with a continental connection to be proud of.
  2. ^ a b Nock, O.S. (1961). The South Eastern and Chatham Railway. London: Ian Allan. p. p85, 154–55. ISBN 0-7110-0268-1. 
  3. ^ Jewell, Brian (1984). Down the line to Hastings. Southborough: The Baton Press. ISBN 0-85936-223-X. 
  4. ^ Chapman, Frank (6 March 2009). "Rail crash publicity huge as quick thinking saves King and Queen". Kent and Sussex Courier (Courier Group Newspapers). 
  5. ^ Earnshaw, Alan (1993). Trains in Trouble, Volume Eight. Penryn: Atlantic. pp. p8–9. ISBN 0-906899-52-4. 
  6. ^ Glover, John (2001). Southern Electric. Ian Allan. pp. 139–40. ISBN 0-7110-2807-9. 
  7. ^ "Rail Crash: Inquiry begins". Tonbridge Free Press. 15 December 1961. pp. p1, 10. 
  8. ^ Final report.pdf. "Staplehurst 14/09/1996" (PDF). Rail Safety & Standards Board. Retrieved 24 March 2010. [dead link]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°10′21″N 0°32′9″E / 51.17250°N 0.53583°E / 51.17250; 0.53583