South Eastern Main Line

The line crossing the River Thames over Hungerford Bridge

TypeCommuter rail, heavy rail
SystemNational Rail
South East England
TerminiLondon Charing Cross
Dover Priory
OwnerNetwork Rail
Rolling stockBritish Rail Class 375 Electrostar
British Rail Class 376 Electrostar
British Rail Class 465 Networker
British Rail Class 466 Networker
British Rail Class 395 Javelin
No. of tracksVaried (Charing Cross to Waterloo East)
Six to 10 (Waterloo East to London Bridge)
12 (London Bridge to Bermondsey split)
5 to 6 (Bermondsey split to New Cross)
4 to 5 (New Cross to Orpington)
2 to 4 (Orpington - Dover)
Track gauge{{#switch:sg
|3mm=3 mm (0.118 in)
|4mm=4 mm (0.157 in)
|4.5mm=4.5 mm (0.177 in)
|4.8mm=4.8 mm (0.189 in)
|6.5mm=6.5 mm (0.256 in)
|6.53mm=6.53 mm (0.257 in)
|8mm=8 mm (0.315 in)
|8.97mm=8.97 mm (0.353 in)
|9mm=9 mm (0.354 in)
|9.42mm=9.42 mm (0.371 in)
|10.5mm=10.5 mm (0.413 in)
|11.94mm=11.94 mm (0.470 in)
|12mm=12 mm (0.472 in)
|12.7mm=12.7 mm (0.5 in)
|13mm=13 mm (0.512 in)
|13.5mm=13.5 mm (0.531 in)
|14mm=14 mm (0.551 in)
|14.125mm=14.125 mm (0.556 in)
|14.2mm=14.2 mm (0.559 in)
|14.28mm=14.28 mm (0.562 in)
|14.3mm=14.3 mm (0.563 in)
|15.76mm=15.76 mm (0.620 in)
Electrification25kV 50hz AC OHLE (High Speed 1, Ashford International)
750 V DC third rail

Template:South Eastern Main Line

The South Eastern Main Line is a long-distance major railway route serving South East England, UK. The main line itself is one of the two main routes crossing the county of Kent to reach the Coast. The other route is the Chatham Main Line, which runs along the north Kent coast to Ramsgate and Dover via Chatham.

Services Edit

File:Charing Cross stn platform 4 look northbound.JPG

Services on this line take the inland route via Sevenoaks, Ashford and Folkestone to reach Dover.

Stopping services run from London Bridge to Orpington, with other services on the route running fast over this section. Beyond Orpington, stopping services originating from Sevenoaks 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 line – join in from Redhill, while the main line to Tunbridge Wells on the Hastings Line diverges.

At Paddock Wood the Medway Valley Line diverges.

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

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

Trains on the routes are run by Southeastern.


File:Hither green TMD 1980.jpg

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 one may spot on travel on the line are oast houses, traditional farm buildings used for drying hops, whose conical roofs are tipped by distinctive cowls.

History Edit

The line was built by the South Eastern Railway (SER), who 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 takes a passenger 20-mile extra to travel to Dover by railway than coaching.

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 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 Template:Convert/cuyd of chalk, killing three men. The line was closed for two months.[1]
  • 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.[2]
  • 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.
  • 5 May 1919 - a goods train overran signals and ran into the back of another goods train at Paddock Wood. One person was killed.[4]
  • 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.[5]
  • 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.[6]
  • 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.[7]
  • 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. 1.0 1.1 Nock, O.S. (1961). The South Eastern and Chatham Railway. London: Ian Allan, p85, 154–55. ISBN 0 7110 0268 1. 
  2. Jewell, Brian (1984). Down the line to Hastings. Southborough: The Baton Press. ISBN 0 85936 223 X. 
  3. Template:Cite news
  4. Earnshaw, Alan (1993). Trains in Trouble, Volume Eight. Penryn: Atlantic, p8–9. ISBN 0-906899-52-4. 
  5. Glover, John (2001). Southern Electric. Ian Allan, 139–40. ISBN 0-7110-2807-9. 
  6. Template:Cite news
  7. Final report.pdf. Staplehurst 14/09/1996. Rail Safety & Standards Board. Retrieved on 24 March 2010.[dead link]

External links Edit

Template:Railway lines in London

de:South Eastern Main Line
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