Alton Line

Alton Line
Type Branch line, Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale South East England
Stations 6
Services rail connection from South Western Main Line to Mid Hants Watercress Railway
Opened 1852
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) South West Trains
Depot(s) Farnham Traincare Depot
Rolling stock Class 450
Class 444
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Operating speed 60-75mph (non-commuter services).

Alton Line

South Western Main Line
to London
Basingstoke Canal


London Necropolis Rly
South StationNorth Station
South Western Main Line
to Weymouth
Pirbright Junction
Foxhills Tunnel
Ascot to Guildford Line
Ash Vale

North Camp

Basingstoke Canal

North Downs Line
Ash Green Halt

Farnham Junction
line closed 1954
River Wey
Farnham depot
Bordon Light Railway
Basingstoke and
Alton Light Railway
Meon Valley Railway
Watercress Line
to Alresford
Heritage railway

The Alton Line is an English railway line operated by South West Trains as a relatively long branch of the South Western Main Line.

Alton station serves the town of Alton, a terminus of the regular timetabled network and the railhead of the heritage Watercress Line. From 1901 until 1933 the terminus was the railhead or junction of three (inter-main line) connector lines. The branch leaves the main line at Pirbright Junction near Brookwood, Surrey and was electrified (750 V DC third rail) during the late interwar years by Southern Railway. The line alternates between Surrey and Hampshire, terminating toward the centre of north-east Hampshire.

Aside from regular electric trains, freight trains operated by EWS; and steam trains connected to the Mid Hants Watercress Railway by way of rolling stock supply or special excursion, operate on the line.


The line from Farnham to Alton opened on 28 July 1852. On 2 October 1865 the Alton, Aldershot & Winchester Railway opened between those places; Alton station moved to a new site. A section of the 1865 western continuation between Alton and Alresford is the Watercress heritage railway, which ceased its regular hours timetable by British Rail in 1973 and keeps a dedicated platform at Alton station. On 2 May 1870 the much more direct connection from Farnham to the main line as operated at present opened.[n 1] Alton became a junction station on 1 June 1901 when the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway opened, temporarily closing 1917-1924 as the track was taken up for use in France during the First World War but re-opening with local pressure. Use was light and the line closed in 1933. On 1 June 1903 the Meon Valley Railway opened from Alton to Fareham on the south coast. This line closed to passengers in 1955.[n 2]

Temporary closures

August 2006

The line closed briefly in August 2006 between Brookwood and Ash Vale due to a landslip at Foxhills Tunnel, causing most commuter journeys to be diverted via Guildford.[1]

April 2016

Heavy rainfall destabilised the embankment near Wrecclesham causing closure of the line between 13 April 2016 and 3 May 2016.[2] Network Rail undertook further work to stabilise fully the earthworks.[3]

Passenger services

The current terminus at Alton, taken in 1982

There are two trains per hour in each direction between Waterloo and Alton (Mondays to Saturdays). On Sundays, the service is hourly until the early afternoon when half-hourly. Peak time trains take between 67 and 71 minutes for the whole journey; off-peak trains take between 75 and 78 minutes for the journey and Sunday services take 79 to 85 minutes.

Passenger trains that serve this line during off-peak hours also stop at the following stations (from north to south):

Peak hour trains skip Surbiton; some peak trains also skip Clapham Junction, West Byfleet or Brookwood. On Sundays, the service also calls at Wimbledon.[n 3]

Historical timetable perspective: From 1937 to 1967 Alton trains ran fast from Waterloo to Surbiton and then ran all stations to Alton. They formed the front (country) end of an 8-car train that split at Woking with the rear 4 cars running to Portsmouth. The trains ran throughout the day and left Waterloo at 27 and 57 minutes past the hour and took exactly 80 minutes to reach Alton.[4] Additionally, there were trains in the rush hours that ran fast to Woking and then all stations - at 16:17, 18:14, and 18:17 (also stopping at Surbiton) to Farnham, and at 16:47, 17:17, 17:47 to Alton taking between 72 and 76 minutes. Trains from Waterloo to Alton from 05:25 to 08:25 left two minutes earlier than the standard departures and called at Wimbledon. All trains took the fast line from Waterloo to Surbiton. The last train in the evening was the 22:57 to Farnham - it ran to Alton on Wednesday and Saturday nights only arriving at 00:17. On Sundays there was a 23:27 that only ran to Farnham. On weekdays the 17:27 and 19:27 had connections at Bentley to Bordon with a five-minute connection at Bentley and a journey time to Bordon of 15 minutes. The diminutive army town of Bordon had a very regular service on Sunday nights from Bentley.[4]

On the upline the pattern was similar, with several departures from Farnham to Waterloo starting at 06:05 and then from Alton at 06:54, then every 30 minutes till 22:54 with three extra rush hour services in the morning. In those days the line from Farnham to Alton was double track.

In the 1980s the pattern was somewhat different - the off-peak trains ran half-hourly and stopped at Surbiton, Woking then all stations, being detached from the Bournemouth (hourly) or Basingstoke (hourly) stopping services. Around 1985 Alton lost its half-hourly service, with half the trains terminating at Farnham. Peak services were approximately every 20 minutes until 1985, half-hourly thereafter, generally going fast Waterloo to Woking, occasionally stopping at West Byfleet or Surbiton

In 1989 the service changed again with three trains an hour as far as Farnham: a fast train (Clapham Junction, Woking and all stations to Alton), a semi-fast (Surbiton, certain stations to Woking, then all to Farnham) and a slow (Clapham Junction, Wimbledon, Surbiton and all stations to Farnham).

Freight services

A daily service runs to Holybourne Oil Terminal between Alton and Bentley. As a result, the 10:23 service from Waterloo stops short at Farnham and does not continue to Alton; there is no 12:14 return service from Alton to Farnham, this train beginning its journey from Farnham instead at 12:28. This is because the line between Alton and Farnham is single, with a passing place at Bentley, and worked on the track circuit block system.[5]

Wrecclesham Traincare Depot

51°12′18″N 0°48′37″W / 51.2051°N 0.8102°W / 51.2051; -0.8102 Wrecclesham Traincare Depot, or Farnham depot, in Weydon Lane, was opened by the Southern Railway at the time of the electrification of the Portsmouth and Alton lines in 1937. It was refurbished for the introduction of modern units when slam-door trains were replaced circa 2005. At the same time, disused quarry and ballast dump sidings behind the carriage shed were removed and a number of outdoor sidings were laid for overnight storage and servicing of units.

It is between Farnham railway station, Surrey and Bentley (Hampshire) railway station close to the county border.

Types of trains stabling here

South West Trains use the depot under the five-to-ten year government franchise operated by the subsidiary. The depot houses mainly Class 450 trains, but also Class 458 and occasionally Class 444 and 456 trains as well.

See also

Notes and references

  1. "South West Trains - Landslide update: Alton line services". 17 August 2006. Archived from the original on 8 April 2009. Retrieved 13 May 2009.
  2. "Landslip rail line reopens early". Alton Herald. 2016-05-07. Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  3. "Farnham and Alton railway line to reopen after landslip". BBC. 2016-04-29. Retrieved 2016-05-02.
  4. 1 2 "British Railways Southern Region Timetable". September 1950. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  5. "Hampshire County Council - Renewal of the South Western Rail Franchise - Report of the Director of Environment". 18 January 2006. Retrieved 13 May 2009.
  1. At Pirbright Junction, between Brookwood near Woking in Surrey and Farnborough in Hampshire.
  2. on 7 February
  3. Timetables show the line as "suburban". It is in practice a regional line and for the purposes of South West Trains Passenger Charter discounts and Void Day refunds for season tickets it is a Mainline route. All journeys from Alton, Bentley and Farnham are Mainline journeys. Journeys from Aldershot and Ash Vale to London Terminals (i.e. all London stations) and Zone R1256 Zones (a journey to London with Underground included) are Mainline, the remainder suburban.

Further reading

  • Butt, R.V.J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations. Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-85260-508-1. 

External links

Coordinates: 51°9′56″N 0°57′58.48″W / 51.16556°N 0.9662444°W / 51.16556; -0.9662444

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