A Brief History by Mark Toynbee


Compiled by Mark Toynbee.

Any additions or corrections gratefully received. It needs a little updating to cover the new franchise and the fact that Winchelsea and Three Oaks have had some services reinstated including on Sundays.

1842 South Eastern Railway arrives in Ashford.

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

1851 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 ‘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 Appledore to Lydd line opened and, for goods traffic only, to Dungeness.
1883 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 Lydd to New Romney line opened.
1895 3ft gauge Rye and Camber Tramway opened.

Ore Station opened to serve developing residential area.

1899 South Eastern Railway and rival London Chatham and Dover Railway agree to ‘working union’ and become South Eastern and Chatham Railway – the SE&CR.

Opening of Three Oaks, Doleham and Snailham Halts. (1st July)

1923 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. (1st January)
1927 Miniature Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR) opens between Hythe and New Romney. (16th July)
1928 RHDR extended from New Romney to Dungeness.
1935 Electrification of Eastbourne to Ore line.  Plans to extend electrification on to Ashford shelved on the outbreak of war in 1939.
1937 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 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 Nationalisation of Britain’s railways.  British Railways (renamed British Rail from 1968) Southern Region takes over. (1st January)
1959 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 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 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 MLAG 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 MarshLink 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