South Western Main Line
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|South Western Main Line|
South West Trains Class 444 at Poole
|Type||Commuter rail, Suburban rail|
South East England
South West England
|Operator(s)||South West Trains
|Rolling stock||Class 444 "Desiro"
Class 450 "Desiro"
Class 220 "Voyager"
Class 221 "Super Voyager"
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Electrification||750 V DC third rail|
|Operating speed||100 mph (160 km/h) maximum|
The South Western Main Line (SWML) is a major British railway route between London Waterloo and Weymouth on the south coast of England. It serves many important commuter areas, as well as the conurbations based on Southampton and Bournemouth. It runs through Greater London, Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset.
It has many branches, including the lines to Windsor and Reading (the "Windsor lines"), Dorking, Guildford, Portsmouth, Kingston upon Thames and the West of England Main Line, which shares the route between London and Basingstoke. Together with these, it forms part of the network built by the London and South Western Railway, today mostly operated by South West Trains. Network Rail refers to it as the South West Mainline.
Much of the line is relatively high-speed, with large stretches cleared for 100 mph (160 km/h) running. The London end of the line has as many as eight tracks, but this narrows to four through most of the suburbs and continues this way until Worting Junction near Basingstoke, from which point most of the line is two tracks. A couple of miles from the Waterloo terminus, the line runs briefly alongside the Brighton Main Line out of London Victoria, and both routes pass through Clapham Junction - the busiest station in Europe by railway traffic.
Several companies had proposed building a faster link from London to the South Coast around Southampton, which would have provided not only a route for transport but an important link in the event of war. At the time, Southampton was smaller than the nearby port of Portsmouth, but since Portsmouth's harbour was already used due to naval operations, Southampton was chosen as it had plenty of space for development.
An engineer had proposed the building a canal, but this was turned down due to being far too expensive. In 1831, the Southampton, London & Branch Railway and Docks Company was formed, a precursor to the London and South Western Railway. The company planned to build a railway line to Southampton, but were also interested in building a line from halfway down their route towards Bristol via Newbury and Devizes.
The chosen route to Southampton was far from direct, as the route had been directed through Basingstoke, then a small market town, which was where the Bristol line would have diverged from. The route missed major towns such as Guildford and Alton which would have been major revenue sources if the route had been more direct, with Winchester being the only major town on the route in between. In addition, the railway was also forced to bypass the town of Kingston-upon-Thames due to local fears that the railway would damage the town's importance for stagecoaches.
The Great Western Railway then proposed a more direct route to Bristol, which passed through several major towns. The GWR received approval first, with the Southampton railway receiving approval shortly afterwards. Despite the Bristol plan being made redundant, the company kept the planned route, though changed its name to the London and Southampton Railway, and later the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR). Throughout the 19th century, the L&SWR and Great Western Railway were often in competition with each other over serving destinations and frequently built railways into each other's territory.
The remainder of the main line followed over the next two years:
- Woking to Winchfield (Shapley Heath): 24 September 1838
- Winchester to Southampton: 10 June 1839
- Winchfield to Basingstoke: 10 June 1839
- Basingstoke to Winchester: 11 May 1840. This last section was the most difficult on the route with an initial climb to Litchfield Tunnel and a ten-mile down-grade to Winchester.
Branches and extensions 
To Portsmouth 
Following the success of the initial route, the London and South Western Railway began building branch lines. The first branch line was built from Bishopstoke (now Eastleigh) to Fareham and Gosport, in order to serve Portsmouth. In 1848, the railway was extended from the Nine Elms terminus to the new station at Waterloo in the centre of London.
In 1865, another line was built from Guildford to Portsmouth which was more direct than the existing route.
The Mid Hants Railway 
A secondary route had been planned via Guildford, Farnham and Alton from Woking to Winchester, which was more direct and served some other towns. This was built around the 1850s. The current route of the line from Brookwood to Farnham via Aldershot was built in 1870. The Guildford route was later closed.
The railway was often nicknamed 'The Watercress Line' due to the fact many communities on the line grew watercress. Today, National Rail services only operate as far as Alton, while the section between Alton and Alresford has been preserved as a heritage railway called the Mid Hants Watercress Line. The final section between Alresford and Winchester remains closed, and is unlikely to re-open as housing and the M3 motorway have been built across the trackbed.
To Salisbury and Devon 
A line was built from Bishopstoke (now Eastleigh) to Salisbury, then another was built from Basingstoke via Andover and became the first part of the West of England Main Line. The line ran via Yeovil to Exeter, then onwards via the north of Dartmoor to Plymouth (the GWR ran on the opposite side of Dartmoor). The Exeter to Plymouth railway of the LSWR provided a vital inland line to Plymouth.
The South Western Railway often contested with the Great Western Railway over trains to Devon, although the Great Western Railway's line from Reading to Taunton was later preferred by British Railways over the West of England Main Line.
The Southampton and Dorchester Railway 
The Southampton and Dorchester Railway was also formed and built a line from 1845 to 1847 from Southampton to Dorchester. It avoided Bournemouth, then barely a village, and ran via towns such as Ringwood before reaching Dorchester. The winding route, which followed the easiest-to-construct links rather than linking main settlements in a straight line, was known as 'Castleman's Corkscrew' after Edward Castleman, a major figure in the enterprise. The line was originally planned to continue towards Exeter, but this never came into effect. In 1865 the railway was extended south to Weymouth, the current terminus of the line. Later, as Bournemouth was developed as a seaside resort, a line was built to run via Bournemouth, which became the main line. The Ringwood line was later closed by the Beeching Axe.
Rival and long distance Lines 
The L&SWR's biggest rival was the Great Western Railway (GWR) who had originally cut the L&SWR's plans by building the line to Bristol. Both companies built several railways from their own networks into each other's territory.
In 1848, the GWR built a branch from Reading to Basingstoke. At first this was a fairly quiet railway which terminated at a separate terminus to the L&SWR's mainline station. However, when the rival company adopted standard gauge, a link was constructed between the two lines. This later became used for a freight route from Southampton to the Midlands via Oxford. Following the closure of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, this route became used by long-distance services from Bournemouth to the Midlands.
Another line was built in 1873 (from Didcot and Newbury to Southampton). Originally, L&SWR ruled out allowing the line to use its own track. After the DN&SR fell into financial difficulties, it ended up joining the main line south of Winchester. The company also proposed building a line from Reading to Portsmouth via Basingstoke and Alton but the L&SWR found a cheaper solution for building the first stretch from Basingstoke to Alton by using a light railway. The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway stopped the Portsmouth line from being built at the expense of being unprofitable and short-lived.
Major settlements on route 
The main towns served by the route, starting from London, are:
Between London Waterloo and Clapham Junction, the line has as many as eight tracks, with four pairs of tracks. It crosses beneath the Chatham Main Line where the Brighton Main Line runs alongside it on the southern side. At Clapham Junction, some of these tracks leave on the Waterloo to Reading Line and the remaining tracks are reduced to four. The Brighton Line, which also has four tracks, separates from it shortly afterwards.
The four tracks initially have a pair of "slow" tracks to the east with the two "fast" tracks on the western side. This arrangement continues to north of Wimbledon where a flyover transfers the northbound slow line across the fast lines, leaving the inner tracks being used for the fast services and the stopping services using the outer tracks. This arrangement continues to Worting Junction, just after Basingstoke. Many stations on this section had island platforms which have since been removed - this is evident with wide gaps between station platforms as stations such as Winchfield. The island platforms survive at Esher and Walton-on-Thames, with the latter now covered in weeds.
The line continues as double-track to Winchester but expands to three tracks through Shawford station with one up platform and fast and slow down platforms. There are four tracks from Shawford to Eastleigh. The line from Romsey via Chandler's Ford trails in just north of Eastleigh which is also the junction for the Fareham line. The line returns to double track until St Denys where the West Coastway Line trails in. At Northam the original route to Southampton Terminus carries on south towards Eastern Docks and the main route curves west to enter a tunnel through to Southampton Central station.
The suburban portion of the line, as far as the Pirbright Junction (for Alton), was electrified (750v DC third rail) by the London & South Western Railway and its successor, the Southern Railway, prior to World War II.
The main portion of the line to Southampton and Bournemouth was electrified in 1967. From then until 1988, trains on the Bournemouth to Weymouth section operated a push-pull system. One or two Class 438 4-TC units would be propelled from London to Bournemouth by a Class 432 4-REP unit, controlled from the leading cab of the Class 438 4-TC unit. At Bournemouth, one or both of the Class 438 4-TCs would continue over the unelectrified line to Weymouth hauled by a Class 33/1 diesel locomotive. Trains from Weymouth would follow the same procedure in reverse.
Electrification was extended to Weymouth in 1988 and saw the introduction of the new Class 442 5-WES Wessex Electric trains. These were withdrawn by February 2007; Class 444 5-DES, Class 450 4-DES and Class 455 trains are now used.
The majority of passenger services are currently operated by South West Trains.
Intercity services run as follows (Monday-Saturday off-peak):
- Two trains per hour from Waterloo to Weymouth, with:
- One calling at Woking, Winchester, Southampton Airport Parkway, Southampton Central, Brockenhurst, Bournemouth, all stations to Hamworthy, Wareham, Dorchester South and Weymouth. This is the only scheduled service which passes through Basingstoke without stopping.
- One calling at Clapham Junction, Basingstoke, Winchester, Southampton Airport Parkway, Southampton Central, Brockenhurst, New Milton, Christchurch, all stations to Bournemouth, Poole and all stations to Weymouth.
- Two CrossCountry trains per hour, most calling at Basingstoke, Winchester, Southampton Airport Parkway, Southampton Central, Brockenhurst and Bournemouth:
- One between Southampton Central and Newcastle via Birmingham
- One between Bournemouth and Manchester via Birmingham
- Two trains per hour between Basingstoke and Waterloo, calling at Clapham Junction (alternate trains only) and Woking; these trains continue to serve the West of England Main Line.
- The rail service with the most scheduled stops on the National Rail network runs on weekday mornings from Waterloo to Weymouth. It leaves Waterloo at 6:12 and arrives in Weymouth at 10:09, a journey of just under four hours. Including origin and destination it stops at 43 stations.
- One train per hour to Poole, calling at Clapham Junction, Farnborough Main, Fleet, Basingstoke, Winchester, Shawford, Eastleigh, Southampton Airport Parkway, Southampton Central, Totton, Ashurst New Forest, Brockenhurst and all stations to Poole.
- One train per hour to Portsmouth Harbour, calling at Woking, Farnborough Main, Basingstoke, Micheldever, Winchester and Eastleigh, before branching off to serve the Eastleigh to Fareham line.
Outer suburban 
- Two trains per hour between Waterloo and the Alton Line, calling at Clapham Junction (alternate trains only), Surbiton, West Byfleet, Woking and Brookwood before continuing down the Alton Line.
- Two trains per hour between Waterloo and Basingstoke, calling at Clapham Junction (alternate trains only), Surbiton, Walton-on-Thames, Weybridge, Woking and all stations to Basingstoke.
- One train per hour between Romsey and Salisbury via Southampton, using the Eastleigh to Romsey Line and part of the Wessex Main Line. Travelling in a 'figure of six' route, trains from Salisbury go to Romsey, then call at Redbridge and all stations to Eastleigh, where the train leaves the SWML to return to Romsey.
There are also many commuter services serving London. Those of note are:
- Two trains per hour between Waterloo and Woking, calling at Vauxhall, Clapham Junction, Earlsfield, Wimbledon, Surbiton and all stations to Woking.
- Two trains per hour between Waterloo and Hampton Court, calling at Vauxhall, Clapham Junction and all stations to Surbiton before continuing down the Hampton Court Branch Line.
- Two trains per hour between Waterloo and Guildford, calling at Vauxhall, Clapham Junction, Earlsfield, Wimbledon, Surbiton and all stations to Guildford via the New Guildford Line.
Future development 
In July 2011, Network Rail in its London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) recommended adding a fifth track to the four-track stretch of line between Clapham Junction and Surbiton. This was found to be feasible within the existing rail corridor, and was seen as the most practicable way of providing more capacity on the route. It would permit up to eight additional trains to run in the peak hour, for a total of 32 trains per hour on the SWML. The scheme would also involve remodelling the approaches to Waterloo to convert one Windsor Line track for use by mainline trains. Options rejected in the RUS as not viable included double-deck trains, building a flyover at Woking, and introducing 12- or 16-car trains.
See also 
Chelsea-Hackney line (possible route of proposed cross-London line to relieve congestion on SWML)
- Railways South East
- Bournemouth Railway History, Lawrence Popplewell
- "Route plans 2008 Route plan 3 South West Main Line". 2008. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
- "National Rail most stops". Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- "Waterloo to Weymouth, leaving at 06:12 - Accessible UK Train Timetables". Retrieved 2011-12-28.
- Broadbent, Steve (10 August 2011). "London RUS suggests fifth track on South West line". Rail (Peterborough). p. 8.
- Basingstoke's Railway History
- Network Rail's Route Utilisation Strategy for the South West Main Line
- Butt, R.V.J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-85260-508-1.
- Lucking, J.H. (1968). Railways of Dorset. Railway Correspondence and Travel Society.
- Mitchell, Vic; Smith, Keith (1992). Branch Lines Around Wimborne. Middleton Press. ISBN 0-906520-97-5.
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