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Out-n-About - Salfords, Surrey, United Kingdom
Author: John Oxlade, Salfords, Surrey, United Kingdom (email: )
Regular visitors to WorldRailFans will know that this is my home town. To find Salfords on a map, go due south from London and it is almost exactly half way to Brighton. Don't be surprised if you can't find it, its only a small town (say around 2000 people, although that's a guess), but it you find Redhill, and then Gatwick airport, it's just in between. If Salfords has a claim to fame, I haven't discovered it yet. Railway items of interest though are a bit better.
Salfords sits on the mainline from London to Brighton, and being a busy route, is 4-track for much of its length (including through Salfords) - it goes to two-track south of Gatwick. The 2 "fast lines" have no platforms at Salfords, all stopping services using the "slow lines". Salfords is in the heart of the old "Southern Electric" network - third rail electrification at nominally 650/750 volts DC. The station itself is pretty basic, but there used to be a small stone unloading facility for supplying the road construction industry but the facility closed in 2002. About twice a week Foster Yeoman stone trains used to unload at Salfords in the morning. This was one of the last haunts of the class 33 diesels, but was latterly frequented by one of the new EW&S class 66s (GM built). I have also seen the distinctive Foster Yeoman silver and blue class 59s (also GM built), 58s and 60s on these services.
Train services are quite good for such a small place with an hourly off-peak service during weekdays and Saturdays,
but there is no service at all on a Sunday during the "winter
timetable". Off-peak trains that stop are services from Horsham up to London
during the rush hour services are more frequent, and later in the evening, trains run to London Victoria. Unfortunately
there isn't much variety in the trains that stop at Salfords, but there's no shortage of trains on the line. One Saturday morning I
spent about one and a half hours on the platform and counted 108 trains - all passenger.
The only services that stop at Salfords are operated by South Central and mostly consist of ageing 4-car electric multiple units (EMUs). These are largely of the "slam door" type which many people associate with being "typically British". As of late 2003 new 375 and 377 sliding-door EMUs have been tested on services stopping at Salfords with a view to bringing them in to full service in early 2004.
Alongside the South Central services, there are Gatwick Express shuttle services between the airport and London Victoria. These are now mostly operated by the purpose-built 8-car EMUs, however it is still possible to see the occasional class 73 electro-diesel (i.e. dual system) on one of the older loco-hauled sets. There are 4 Gatwick Express services an hour, each way, so 8 in total. Virgin Trains run cross country services from Brighton to Manchester a couple of times a day, the class 47s have now been replaced by new "Virgin Voyager" sets. ThamesLink run 319s from Brighton to Bedford, and fortunately the terrible, dull grey livery in the photo on the right has been replaced with a deep blue with yellow lining. Thames Trains run their fast Gatwick Reading services through Salfords which reverse direction at Redhill. The Thames Turbo units (see the photo lower right) are actually rather nice.
Salfords is one of the few places in the area where it is possible to get above track level to takes photos (thanks to a conveniently located footbridge), as much of the line is on an embankment or there is heavy bush and tree growth blocking views of the line. It is not unusual to see people with cameras on the bridge. This is also a regular vantage point for Salfords' "train spotting dog". A woman walks her collie dog every day over the bridge and always takes a 5 minute break for the dog to watch trains. The dog, normally as mild mannered and friendly as they come, goes absolutely crazy at the first sign of a fast train, but almost totally ignores stopping services. It is recommended to stay well out of his way when there's a train about as he'd probably knock you over in his excitement.
The more interesting place of nearby railway interest is Redhill. Situated about 4 miles north of Salfords, it is a fairly important junction. Originally built as a 2-track mainline, in 1900 an additional 2-track "avoiding" line was built to the east of the town for fast trains that didn't need to stop at the station. Redhill is a three-way junction. Heading out of the station going south, you can go due south towards Brighton, east towards Tonbridge, or west towards Guildford. The line from Redhill to Tonbridge carries some of the Channel Tunnel traffic, but has a fairly basic passenger service, whereas the line to Guildford is a useful cross-country route. Redhill was an important railway junction during WWII, and there are several well known photographs taken during the evacuation of Dunkirk at the beginning of the war with many trains and troops swarming all over the platforms.
There used to be both a goods yard and locomotive depot at Redhill, but these have now gone the way of many others, and now only has about 3 sidings for stabling the odd loco or multiple unit, but nothing more.
For watching trains, both Salfords and Redhill have their advantages. At Salfords you have both the fast and slow lines, so virtually every train from London to Hastings, Brighton, Portsmouth and Southampton that has come via East Croydon will pass through - which is quite a lot. However there's not much freight nor variety in train types. Redhill on the other hand, has all of the traffic on the Guildford/Reading and Tonbridge lines, but you don't see the fast trains that have gone down the fast, avoiding lines. To be honest, neither is fantastic. Further afield there are a few places of interest.
Clapham Junction is about 20 miles to the north and just outside London. It is claimed that Clapham Junction is the busiest railway station in Great Britain with around 2000 trains in any 24 hour period. If this is so, then it may well be one of the busiest stations in the world.
The line from Redhill via Reigate and Dorking to Guildford is in my opinion one of the most scenic in the south east of England. It runs along the face of the North Downs, a low ridge of hills stretching across the south east of England. Fairly accessible by road, there are quite a lot of photographic locations on the line, and with a couple of trains an hour each way, a reasonable service. Both Thames Trains and Virgin Cross-Country use this route with classes 165 and 166 and Virgin Voyager units in daily use.
One oddity on this line is an example of topiary (a bush trimmed to a specific shape, in this case a bird). The story goes that a track worker was killed near this location and as a memorial his colleagues keep the bush trimmed neatly. If you don't know its there, it can be very difficult to see from the train, and it is situated about a 10 minute ramble from the nearest road (which itself is rather off the beaten track). The bush is about 6' or 2m in diameter with a bird of about the same size from beak to tail on top. Its easy enough to take a picture of the bird, but although its right alongside the line, its not easy to get a train in the same shot. In the photo on the right of the Thames Turbo, "the bird bush" is located about 100 yards/metres down the line behind the photographer.
Well, that's about it. Now you know pretty much all there is to know about the railways in my immediate area.
Photograph of class 319 courtesy of Robert Brütting of www.trainpics.de and used with permission.
[ last updated 31st Dec 2003 ]