HISTORY OF LINE

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ASHFORD – HASTINGS LINE.

Compiled by Mark Toynbee.  Updated 25 March 2009.

Any additions or corrections gratefully received.  Email mark@mlag.org.uk

year date event
1842 1 December South Eastern Railway arrives in Ashford.
1846 27 June

London Brighton and South Coast Railway opens line from Lewes to Bulverhythe, west of St Leonards.

1851 13 February Ashford to Hastings ‘branch’ opened by South Eastern Railway with stations at Ham Street, Appledore, Rye and Winchelsea.  The proposed route inland via Tenterden was dropped for defence reasons in favour of the present route via Appledore which was seen by the Ministry for War as ‘more strategic’ to the defence of the realm.  This line completes 2 sides of the Tonbridge / Ashford / Hastings railway triangle.

 

Tunnel and link opened between South Eastern Railway (SER) at Hastings and London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) at St Leonards, with the latter company begrudgingly granted access to Hastings Station.  SER halted LBSCR trains the following day leading to 2 weeks of farcical behaviour by both companies, ultimately resolved in a Court Order.

1852 1 February ‘Direct’ route from London to Hastings via Tunbridge Wells opened by South Eastern Railway, saving trains from the coast to London running via Rye and Ashford and completing the triangle which exists to this day.  Ashford to Hastings line settles down to a leisurely but useful role as a cross-country by-way.
1854   Rye Harbour line opened for goods traffic to a terminus near the Rye Harbour Coastguard Station where Tram Road exists to this day.  There were plans to introduce a ferry service to France.
1881 7 December Appledore to Lydd line opened and, for goods traffic only, to Dungeness.
1883 1 April Lydd to Dungeness line opens for passengers as part of a grand scheme to provide a new route between London and Paris via a deep-water port planned for Dungeness.  The plans came to nothing!
1884 19 June Lydd to New Romney line opened.
1895 13 July 3ft gauge Rye and Camber Tramway opened.
1888 1 January Ore Station opened to serve developing residential area.
1899 1 August South Eastern Railway and rival London Chatham and Dover Railway agree to ‘working union’ and become South Eastern and Chatham Railway – the SE&CR.
1907 1 July Opening of Three Oaks, Doleham and Snailham Halts.
1923 1 January Amalgamation of 126 independent railway companies into the ‘Big Four’ – Great Western Railway, London and North Eastern Railway, London Midland and Scottish Railway and the Southern Railway.  SE&CR becomes part of the Southern Railway.
1927 16 July Miniature Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR) opens between Hythe and New Romney.
1928 August RHDR extended from New Romney to Dungeness.
1935 7 July Electrification of Eastbourne to Ore line.  Plans to extend electrification on to Ashford shelved on the outbreak of war in 1939.
1937 4 July Following the development of holiday camps and homes in the area, Southern Railway diverts Lydd to New Romney line to a new route nearer the coast with halts at Lydd-on-Sea (for Dungeness) and Greatstone-on-Sea.

 

Lydd Town to Dungeness branch closed.  The track was not lifted until 1952.

1939 4 September Rye & Camber Tramway suspended services at the outbreak of war when numerous military supply dumps were built in the area.  Trains never resumed and the track, locomotives and rolling stock were sold for scrap in 1946.
1948 1 January Nationalisation of Britain’s railways.  British Railways (renamed British Rail from 1968) Southern Region takes over.
1959 2 February Closure of remote Snailham Halt, between Doleham and Winchelsea.  The nearest dwelling was ½ mile away and the little-used halt was approached on an unsurfaced track.
1960 29 January Closure of goods-only Rye Harbour branch.
1962   Diesel trains (the ‘thumpers’) introduced on both Ashford – Hastings and Appledore – New Romney services, replacing steam trains.
1963   Publication of the ‘Beeching Report’ proposing closure of Ashford – Hastings and Appledore – New Romney lines.
1965   Dungeness ‘A’ Nuclear Power Station opens.  A section of the Lydd to Dungeness line relaid to convey spent nuclear waste for reprocessing at Sellafield.
1967 6 March Closure to passengers of Appledore to New Romney line.  Goods traffic continued to Lydd and Dungeness for nuclear and gravel trains.
1969   Transport Minister, Richard Marsh, grants permission to close Ashford to Hastings line in 1970 once a replacement bus service has been established.

 

Campaign group formed to fight closure.

1970   Line given a 2 year stay of execution while cost savings are investigated.  Replacement of staffed level crossings with automatic barriers, reduction in station staffing, lower line speeds and plans to reduce the line to single track produces sufficient savings and leads to a permanent reprieve.
1979 1 October Line singled between Appledore and Ore with a passing loop at Rye.  This short-sighted economy has since hampered the development of the line and the reinstatement of double track is a key Action Group objective.  Line speed reduced from 85mph to 60mph.
1986 27 April Commencement of electric trains between Tonbridge and Hastings.  Plans to include electrification of Ashford – Hastings line dropped (for the third time) and the line becomes the only diesel service in the area.
1996   Privatisation of South Central franchise, including Ashford – Hastings line.  A French company, Connex, takes over.
2000 October Following years of sub-standard operation, Connex stripped of South Central franchise.  Govia takes over, rebranding the franchise ‘Southern’, an echo of the erstwhile Southern Railway of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.  Less fortunate passengers on the South Eastern franchise had to wait until 2003 before Connex was sacked from this franchise.  The unloved company pulled out of all of its other UK transport operations.
2002   Marsh Link Action Group formed to represent the interests of the line’s passengers and to campaign for much-needed improvements.
2003   The new class 170 ‘Turbostars’ introduced to replace 40 year old slam-door ‘thumpers’ and, after initial teething problems, settled down to prove both reliable and comfortable.
2005 11 December New Ashford, Hastings, Eastbourne to Brighton direct service introduced.
2005   Trains serving Appledore severely reduced and those to Winchelsea, Doleham and Three Oaks reduced to just 3 a day on the instructions of the Strategic Rail Authority, a devastating blow to these communities.  Campaigning begins to get this retrograde step reversed.

2006

11 June Full service restored to Appledore.  Campaigning continues to get service restored to Winchelsea, Doleham and Three Oaks.

2009

September

Southern Granted new franchise

2014 NEW FRANCHISE TO BE GRANTED

BIBLIOGRAPHY

TITLE AUTHOR PUBLISHER ISBN
South Coast Railways – Hastings to Ashford Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith Middleton Press  0 906520 37 1
South Coast Railways – Eastbourne to Hastings Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith Middleton Press  0 906520 27 4
Southern Mail Lines – Tonbridge to Hastings Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith Middleton Press  0 906520 44 4
Railways of Britain – Kent and Sussex Colin and David McCarthy Ian Allan Publishing  0 7110 3222X
A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain – Volume 2 Southern England H.P. White David and Charles  0 7153 8365 5
Down the Line to Hastings Brian Jewell The Baton Press  0 85936 223X
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