Southern closures recalled

Bramber railway station in 1964.
Published Mon, 2016-03-14 11:13

For railway enthusiasts, particularly those with a Southern or Western bias, the weekend of 5/6 March 2016 will be remembered as the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Somerset & Dorset Railway.

Photography: 

Bramber railway station in 1964. © Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License

However, this was not the only section of the Southern to lose its passenger services over that weekend.
Overshadowed by the demise of the S&D were two other significant closures: the line from Seaton Junction to Seaton in Devon and the line from Christ’s Hospital to Shoreham in Sussex. Both of these lines saw their passenger services cease as from 7 March 1966 and, apart from the section from Shoreham to the Beeding Cement works, both lines closed completely from that date.
The earlier of the two lines was that the 17-mile long secondary route from Itchingfield Junction, near Christ’s Hospital, to Shoreham, which was promoted by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. Although there had been plans from the mid-1840s for the construction of a line but it was not until the late 1850s that authorisation for the line’s construction was given. The southern section of the line, from Shoreham to Partridge Green with intermediate stations at Bramber, Steyning and Henfield, opened on 1 July 1861. The northern section to Itchingfield Junction followed on 16 September 1861 with intermediate stations at West Grinstead and Southwater.
In the summer of 1910 there were 10 down workings from Horsham to Brighton on weekdays with an additional Wednesdays only service from Henfield to Brighton that departed at 11pm. There were nine departures in the up direction from Brighton to Horsham with an additional late-night service that operated as far as Henfield. This departed from Brighton at 10.15pm on Mondays to Fridays and at 11pm on Saturdays. There were two working in each direction on Sundays, departing from Horsham at 8.55am and 8.20pm and from Brighton at 7.30am and 6.10pm. Trains were allowed about 40 minutes for a single journey from Christ’s Hospital to Shoreham.
By the summer of 1939 the service had improved considerably with 13 departures in the down direction, plus an additional two on Mondays to Fridays and four on Saturdays only from Steyning to Brighton. There were also 13 up departures over the entire line plus an additional two on Mondays to Fridays and four on Saturdays only to Steyning only. There were nine services in either direction on Sundays.
As with the rest of the LBSCR, the Steyning branch passed to the Southern Railway at Grouping and to British Railways (Southern Region) at Nationalisation. In 1946 there were proposals for the electrification of the line; these were, however, abandoned after Nationalisation. Unlike many other lines, the Steyning branch saw an increase in passenger usage during the period of BR ownership but this was not to save it once the railway industry’s finances came under close scrutiny.
The fate of the line was sealed in March 1963 when it was listed for closure in the infamous Beeching Report. The closure process began almost immediately but it was not until 7 March 1966 that, following the Transport Users Consultative Committee report, passenger services were finally withdrawn.
The withdrawal of the passenger services resulted in the complete closure of the line from Itchingfield Junction to Beeding; south of Beeding the line remained open to serve the cement works located there until this section finally closed to all traffic, on 26 March 1988.
The second line was promoted by the Seaton & Beer Railway and authorised by an Act of 13 July 1863 to construct a 4¼-mile long branch from the London & South Western Railway main line from Salisbury to Exeter to the resort of Seaton. Although a contract for the line’s construction was signed in January 1864, work on the line was slow and it was not until 16 March 1868, following two inspections by the Board of Trade, that passenger services were introduced.
Although relations were not always harmonious, the line was operated from the outset by the LSWR and intermediate stations were provided at Colyton Town (the junction station on the LSWR main line had originally been Colyton for Seaton; it was renamed Colyton Junction with the branch’s opening and Seaton Junction on 18 July 1869) and Colyford.
Following an Act of 16 August 1880, ownership of the line, which had been leased to the LSWR as from 1 January 1880, formally passed to the larger company as from 1 January 1888. As such the branch passed to the Southern Railway at Grouping in 1923 and to British Railways (Southern Region) at Nationalisation.
When opened, the service had comprised five return workings per weekday. By 1910, these had increased to eight per days, with departures from Seaton Junction at 7.55am, 10.15am, 11.15am, 1.8pm, 3.7pm, 4.22pm, 5.45pm, 7.10pm and 9.40pm. Up services departed from the branch terminus at 7.5am, 9.43am, 0.45am, 12.30pm, 2.38pm, 3.52pm, 5.5pm, 6.30pm and 8.10pm. There was no service on Sundays and the fastest trains took 15 minutes to cover the line.
By the summer of 1939 the service was much more intensive, with 13 down services on weekdays (plus a late-night service on Thursdays) and 14 on Saturdays with 13 in the up direction (plus an early-morning and late-night service on Thursdays) with 13 on Saturdays. There was also now a Sunday service, with 13 return workings.
After the war, with the growth in private car ownership and the decline in the traditional British summer holiday, traffic to Seaton declined. As a result the route was scheduled for closure in the Beeching report of March 1963 and passenger services ceased from 7 March 1966. Given that freight facilities had been withdrawn from Colyton and Seaton on 3 February 1964, the withdrawal of passenger services resulted in the complete closure of the line.
Although the Seaton branch had closed and was soon to be dismantled, it wasn’t the end of the story. From 1969 onwards the southern section of the line, from Colyton to Seaton, was converted to the 2ft 9in Seaton Tramway with initial services over the now-electrified line operating on 28 August 1970.

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Editorial