IGNITING THE FLAME OF UNITY


THE HISTORY OF THE


 BRIGHTON BRANCH OF A.S.L.E.F.

  

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 Electrification of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway


Extract from the Railway Magazine June 1911


A remarkable achievement in the transformation from steam to electric traction has to be recorded in connection with the line 

of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway from Victoria to the Crystal Palace. Only nine months have elapsed since 

the directors determined to carry out the work in conjunction with the Pageant of Empire, and yet that period has sufficed to 

allow Mr. Phillip Dawson, the Company’s consulting electrical engineer, to complete the electrification of the lines from 

Victoria via Clapham Junction and Streatham Hill to the Palace, Norwood Junction and Selhurst. It was certainly a gigantic task, but exceptions were not disappointed; and when, on May 12th, the King and the Queen arrived at Sydenham Hill – 

enthusiastically cheered as they had been all the way from Buckingham Palace – they were gratified to learn simultaneously 

electric trains were, for the first time, running to the Palace. No one appreciates more thoroughly than his Majesty the 

advantages likely to be conferred by a service of trains which will perform the journey from town on half the time occupied 

with steam haulage.

The present electrification includes the equipment of 46.6 miles of single track. In the short period mentioned the overhead 

construction, cables, switchgear and bonding of the track had to be undertaken, carriage sheds erected, and sidings prepared 

between Norwood Junction and Selhurst, additional carriage sheds and sidings installed at Peckham Rye, and 90 motor 

coaches and trailers cars built. It was intended at the outset also to electrify the lines to the Crystal Palace from London 

Bridge, via Tulse Hill, but sufficient power to operate that section was not obtainable. The London Electric Supply 

Corporation, from whom the Brighton Railway Company purchase their electrical energy, have, however, arranged for 

additional plant equal to about 20,000 h.p. to be installed, and as soon as this is made available, the electric service from 

London Bridge will be started.

 

PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN  

The construction of the A.C. Carriage Sheds at Norwood Junction 

 

The present electrification includes the equipment of 46.6 miles of single track. In the short period mentioned the overhead 

construction, cables, switchgear and bonding of the track had to be undertaken, carriage sheds erected, and sidings prepared 

between Norwood Junction and Selhurst, additional carriage sheds and sidings installed at Peckham Rye, and 90 motor 

coaches and trailers cars built. It was intended at the outset also to electrify the lines to the Crystal Palace from London 

Bridge, via Tulse Hill, but sufficient power to operate that section was not obtainable. The London Electric Supply 

Corporation, from whom the Brighton Railway Company purchase their electrical energy, have, however, arranged for 

additional plant equal to about 20,000 h.p. to be installed, and as soon as this is made available, the electric service from 

London Bridge will be started.

The new rolling stock provided has had to be of the ordinary compartment type used on the Brighton line, inasmuch as the 

broad coaches which have been built for the South London line will not pass through the Crystal Palace tunnel. It has, 

therefore, been necessary to build coaches only 8ft wide, and in these circumstance it was not desirable to further curtail the 

seating room provided by putting a lateral passage, as was done in the case of the South London rolling stock. Electric trains 

can be made up in any desired units, consisting of either one motor coach and one trailer, one motor coach and two trailers, 

or any multiple of these units up to a maximum of 12 coaches. But trains of such great length will probably never be reached, 

as most of the station platforms are not long enough to accommodate so many carriages.

Opened three years ago by the Brighton Company, the new station at Victoria is both commodious and spacious. The lines 

between Victoria station and Balham Junction have been duplicated, removing the “neck” at the entrance to the terminus, and 

obviating the irritating delays that were previously so frequent. Victoria station has a circulating space of 25,000ft. There are 

nine platforms, each about 1,500 ft. in length, and accommodation is provided for 18 trains, so that large crowds can be dealt 

with expeditiously, without inconvenience to the passengers.

Crystal Palace station is a junction. The London Bridge trains use the through lines situate on the East side of the station, 

while the Croydon trains are dealt with on the West side. Enormous crowds have in the past been safely conveyed to and from 

the station; but with electric trains the delay inevitable in the case of steam trains of changing and watering engines will be 

avoided, thus admitting of a more frequent service.

The Brighton Railway Company have not only reduced the third class Crystal Palace rail and admission ticket from 1s. 9d. to 

1s 6d. from their London termini, but have concluded arrangements with the Underground and other railway companies 

whereby the 1s. 6d. ticket is issued from nearly all London stations, and made available by the Brighton Railway via London 

Bridge or Victoria. The exceptional facilities for reaching London Bridge and Victoria afforded by the quick constant service 

of electric trains on the Underground Railways and the splendid service of motor buses from all parts of London, with the 

augmented service of fast trains of the Brighton Railway between Victoria and the Crystal Palace,  are calculated to make the 

Festival of Empire and the Imperial Exhibition the centre of attraction to Londoners and many visitors to the Metropolis this 

year.

With the taking over of the tramways by the London County Council and the electrification thereof, the L.B.S.C.R. began to 

feel the very serious competition resulting ; and in 1903, having obtained Parliamentary powers, instructed Mr. Philip 

Dawson to report on the whole question of the electrification of its railways.

As a result of this report, Mr. Dawson was direct to prepare specifications and to call for tenders. These were issued in 1905, 

and after careful consideration, the contract was awarded early 196 to Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschft, of Berlin, whose 

tender was considered by the railway company to be from all points of view the most favourable. The contract let was for what 

is known as the South London line, which connects the two termini of London Bridge and Victoria, and passes through East 

Brixton, Denmark Hill and Peckham Rye.

The decision as to what system to adopt was not arrived at until after the most careful examination and consideration of all 

that had been done hitherto and of the special problems involved in the electrification of the Brighton Railway. One of the 

important points which could not be overlooked was that the very heavy traffic already existing between London and Brighton. 

It was for this reason that the single-phase system was adopted, and results have fully justified the installation of this 

principle.

In laying out the scheme for the first electrification the fact was carefully considered that the success of this portion of line 

would lead to the electrification of the whole suburban system. With this end in view, the plans were so drawn up that the first 

portion to be electrified should form an integral part of the project if and when that might be completed.

Experimental trains were run on the South London line early in 1909, the full electric service being taken up in December of 

the same year. The length of this route is 8.7 miles and this is equivalent to 20 ½  miles of electrified single line. Between 

station the average distance is 4,590 ft., while the shortest distance between any two stations is 1,386ft.

The journey (including 20-second stops at each station) is easily accomplished in 24 mins. Five platforms are electrically 

equipped at Victoria, and six platforms are similarly arranged at London Bridge. The success of the first experiment has been 

so great that in May of last year the directors, as already stated in the RAILWAY MAGAZINE, decided to extend the 

electrification, the new sections being hose portions between Peckham Rye and West Norwood, Victoria West Norwood, the 

Crystal Palace and Selhurst, thus bringing up the total amount of single track electrified to 62 miles.

The rolling stock on the South London line consists of 16 motor coaches, each equipped with four motors which give an output 

of 115 h.p. for one hour, and 57 h.p. continuously. In the middle of the day the trains are made up of two coaches one motor and 

one trailer – while morning and evening trains are run coupled together. The rolling stock for the extensions consists of 30 

motor coaches, each equipped with four motors, capable of giving 175 h.p. for one hour and 100 h.p, continuously during the 

hours of lighter traffic. One of these coaches will deal with two trailer coaches, thus making up a three-car train, while in the 

morning and afternoon six-car trains will be run. Side doors in the compartments have been used for all the stock, as the end 

door type would not have enabled the carriages to be sufficiently quickly filled and emptied at the termini; and the experience 

with this form of stock has been entirely satisfactory.

Electric energy for running the trains is purchased from the London Electric Supply Corporation station at Deptford, and is 

delivered to the railway company at two points, namely, at Queen’s Road and Peckham Rye Junction, where the current is 

metered and paid for. In consequence of the Board of Trade limiting the drop in potential in the return circuit, series booster 

transformers are located at various points along the line, and connected by booster cables to the distributing cabins at Peckham 

Rye. A so-called distributing cable is run the whole length of the electrified line, the inner being in parallel with the overhead 

conductors, and connected to them at each switch cabin, while the outer is bonded to the rails. In addition to these cables 

telephone wires run along the line connecting the various switch cabins.

Great care has been devoted to the design of overhead construction, and the results of eighteen months’ practical working 

have been entirely satisfactory. The construction adopted is of the double catenary type, the contact wire being separated from 

these every 10 feet. The contact wire itself is of copper, round in section, but with two sharp grooves – one on either side – to 

which the clips supporting the wire are fixed. The whole instulation is of porcelain, and a special form of insulator has been 

used which has given every satisfaction. The choice of the particular size and type of insulator was the result of a large 

number of most carefully conducted and practical tests, extending over nearly twelve months. No tightening device is used for 

the conductor wire, and experience has shown that , at an rate in the case of the English climate, such devices are entirely 

unnecessary. As already stated, there are four motors to each motor coach. When alive, one of the high tension circuits are 

accessible. The bow collectors are of a special design, as they have to operate at very varying heights, there being different of 

six feet between the highest and lowest working position. The boosters – supplied with aluminium strips, the deep grove of 

which is filled with grease – have given excellent results. All the wear is practically taken by them, and the friction on the 

cooper contacts after nearly 18 months’ running, is inappreciable. For the South London line car sheds and repair shops were 

erected near Peckham Rye, and it is here that the electric trains are inspected and overhauling and maintenance carried out. 

The shop is supplied with electric cranes and capstans, which greatly facilitate operations.

Fears have been expressed in the past that any overhead line might greatly interfere with the sight of the signals, but 

experience has not shown this to be the case. The normal line pressure on the contact wire is 6,700 volts, and the periodicity 

25 cycles per second. Energy consumption has been most satisfactory, and compares most favourably with what has been 

done on continuous current lines.

The acceleration obtained is also satisfactory, being equal to that obtained on most of the continuous current railways in 

Great Britain. The average acceleration from 0 to 30 miles an hour is at the rate of one mile per second. The energy 

consumption per ton mile – in which nothing is included for weight of passengers, and with no mileage allowed for empty 

running or shunting, and including the energy used for the repair shops and leakages from all sources – metered, for the first 

months, to 75.4 watt hours per train mile. And notwithstanding the fact that all trains are stopping trains, and therefore the 

line works unfavourable conditions when compared with other railways having a certain number of non-stopping fast trains.

Of a four-car train empty the total weight is 150 tons, and if this the electrical equipment, including all cables for lighting. 

Lighting fixture, motor compressor, and all electric gear boosters, etc., amounts to 18 tons in the case of the South London 

line. In the case of the new Crystal Palace extensions the weight of a three-car train is 102 tons, and the weight of the same 

equipment on the basis given is 19 tons. The energy consumption on the train during trial running on the South London line 

was 63.1 watt hours per ton mile measured on the train.

In consequence of the adoption of single-phase system for transmission, losses between the distributing room at Peckham Rye 

and the trains have been kept very low. The results obtained have fully justified the claim that the single-phase system is 

cheaper to install and cheaper to work than the continuous current system, while it possesses the additional advantage that it 

is entirely suitable to be extended as far as may be thought necessary by the railway company. It is interesting to note that the 

most eminent railway authorities of Prussia, Bavarian, Baden, Austrian, Swiss and Swedish State Railways have unanimously 

declared in favour of the single-phase system as the only suitable one for main line railway electrification, whether for 

suburban, inter-urban or long distance.

As regards maintenance, 18 months’ experience shows that there is no reason to expect this to be any greater with single-

phase than with continuous current, and notwithstanding the fact that the average distance run during the first twelve months 

by every one of the motor coaches owned, including all spares, was over 58,000 mikes. Financial results have been equally 

satisfactory. The railway company lost, on the South London line alone, in a very few years, in consequence of tramway 

competition over 5,000,000 passengers. Although very little alteration was made in the fares, virtually the whole of the lost 

traffic was recovered within the first twelve months and the numbers are increasing daily. 

The whole scheme has been designed and carried out under the supervisior of Mr. Philip Dawson, to whom great credit is due 

for the enormous and most successful work, which has been accomplished. As stated, the contractors for the equipment of the 

South London electrification, excluding coaches, was the Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschaft, of Berlin, the  coaches being 

constructed by the Metropolitan Amalgamated Carriage and Wagon Company’s works at Saltley, Birmingham. For the 

overhead line work, including feeders, switch cabins, etc., the sub-contractor with the British Thomson-Houston Company for 

switch gear, and with Messrs. Siemens Bros. and Messrs Stothert and Pitt supplied the cranes and capstans.

The contractors for the extensions completed last month as also for the electrical equipment of trains, are Messrs. the 

Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschaft, of Berlin, the Metropolitan Amalgamated Carriage and Wagon Company for the motor 

coaches and part of the trailing stock (the remaining part of the trailing stock being constructed by the Brighton Company in 

its own works at Lancing), and Messrs. R.W. Blackwell for the overhead work, feeders and distributing systems. The repair 

shops and carriage sheds at Peckham Rye, as well as the switch cabin buildings, and the new carriage sheds for electrical 

stock at Norwood Junction, were designed and erected under the supervision of Mr. Charles F. Morgan, the chief engineer of 

the Brighton Company.

 

 

Click on the icon above for

the Brighton Motive Power Depots

Click on the icon above for

the Sussex Motive Power Depots & ASLEF Branches

 

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