Category:Southern Railway

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The Southern Railway, "SR", (1923-1948) was one of Britain's "Big Four" railway companies until the four were merged after World War Two to create British Railways (BR). After the merger, the operating subnetwork was known as "Southern Region".

Southern operated in the area between between London and the South Coast, and although the railway had less track-mileage than its competitors, its ownership of the routes between London's large population and the nearest section of coastline made Southern very profitable, with most of its profits coming from passenger services.

Southern built on its ability to shuttle passengers quickly to the southern seaside resorts by creating and promoting a fleet of named Pullman train services, the "Belles" and by mounting high-profile advertising campaigns. The company also benefited from their southern location by being able to run connecting services such as the Golden Arrow, which took holidaymakers to the coast, and then to a ferry service that connected to a European train service that could then take them to even sunnier places like the South of France.


Southern was created in 1923 merging of a number of smaller southern railway companies, primarily the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) which had the London-to-Brighton route, the London and South Western Railway (LSWR), and the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR).

1923 overview

The Southern Railway (see map), smallest of the "Big Four", occupies, as will be seen, a compact territory in the South of England, only penetrated in the Western half by the Great Western Railway, and not itself encroaching upon the spheres of its neighbours. It is composed of three partners, of which the biggest, the London and South Western, was approximately equal in extent to both the others, the South Eastern and Chatham and Brighton railways. The total route mileage of the Southern system is 2,200 miles. Primarily, the Southern railway is a passenger-carrying system, serving all the holiday resorts of the Kent and South coasts and the Isle of Wight, as well as, in conjunction with the Great Western, Devon and Cornwall ; but it owns an important dock system, especially in Southampton docks, and has close connexions with the continent and with the Channel Islands. Doubtless the South Eastern portion will grow in importance with industrial developments in Kent, apart from the question of the construction of the Channel Tunnel. A great portion of this system lends itself to electrical working, and schemes are already in hand for the electrification of the whole of the Brighton line and of considerable portions of the South Eastern and South Western sections.

In addition to Southampton, there are docking and wharfing facilities at Bideford, Plymouth, Littlehampton, Newhaven, Folkestone, Dover, on the Thames and at Gravesend, Port Victoria and Queenborough. The Company owns wholly and jointly 17 turbine vessels; 21 other steamers and a number of smaller boats. The locomotive, carriage and wagon works are at Eastleigh (near Southampton), Brighton, Lancing, and Ashford (Kent).

Leading statistics are as follows : —
The total capital of the Company is about £145,000.000. For 1921, the gross receipts from railway operation only were £33,000,000, the total expenditure on railway working £28,500,000, and the net receipts, including all items, £5,500,000. The total passenger traffic for the year, excluding that represented by season tickets, was 171,470,000. The equivalent annual season tickets issued numbered 167,000, naturally heavy in proportion to the mileage in view of the residential character of a large part of the system. The freight traffic included general merchandise, 4,000,000 tons ; coal, coke and other fuel, 950,000 tons; other minerals, 2,100,000 tons ; and live stock 1,100,000 head.

The rolling stock owned by the Company includes 2,390 steam locomotives, 10,800 coaching vehicles, 37,500 freight vehicles and 2,280 motor vehicles. There are at present 460 electric motor and trailer coaches, but doubtless this number will soon be increased. In 1921, the total engine miles run, including shunting, was 54,000,000 miles.

The principal headquarters of the Company are at Waterloo, a commodious and magnificent station recently rebuilt, but this company is notable for the number of its metropolitan termini.


With a large passenger clientèle and comparatively short routes, Southern was able to pioneer the (expensive) modernisation of British main-line track to support electric locomotives, with the electrified London to Brighton line running distinctive all-green "EMU"s ("Electrical Multiple Units") and the prestigious brown-and-cream Brighton Belle service, with the world's only electric Pullman train.

THE opening on 1st January of the Southern Railway's electrified extension to Brighton and Worthing was an event of outstanding importance in British Railway history. In the various electrification schemes carried out previously only local suburban lines had been dealt with; now a great leap forward has been taken and main line express electric services have been put into operation. The event is important in itself and also in the influence it will have in promoting other schemes of main line electrification.


Truly we are living in a wonderful age, and the Southern Railway and its able officers and staff are in the very forefront of progress. In a difficult time they have dared to go forward with this colossal scheme, which has cost close to £3,000,000. They have inaugurated a new era in railway transport.

— , "Observer", , London-Brighton Electric Expresses: New Era in Railway Travel, , Meccano Magazine, , February 1933


Although all four major railway companies invested in high-quality "artistic" poster artwork, Southern in particular was able to mount a high-profile campaign aimed at encouraging potential holidaymakers to see the South Coast as Britain's sunniest seaside resorts, with their "Sunny South Sam" character extolling the joys of a day out to the seaside.

Southern also took the unusual step of creating a proper public relations department, and their poster campaign explaining to customers that the disruptions caused by electrification work were in the long-term interests of travellers was surprisingly effective.

World War Two

Again, due to its location, Southern Railway played a major part in the mobilisation of troops and equipment for the D-Day landings toward the end of the Second World War.

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