on 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 Friday 12th May 1911, 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.


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 insulation 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.

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