Network SouthEast

Network SouthEast
Franchise(s): Not subject to franchising
Main region(s): London, South East
Other region(s): East of England, South West, West Midlands, East Midlands, Thames Valley
Fleet size: Carriages: 6700 (1986)
Stations called at: 930 (1986)
Parent company: British Rail
Two units; one in NSE livery, the other in Jaffa Cake livery
A Class 411 (4CEP) in modified NSE livery with rounded corners
Transitional scene from BR Blue (the train) to NSE (the signage, train sticker) at Farnborough North railway station

Network SouthEast (NSE) was one of the three passenger sectors of British Rail created in 1982. NSE principally operated commuter trains in the London area and inter-urban services in densely populated South East England, although the network reached as far west as Exeter. Before 1986, the sector was known as London & South Eastern.

In the privatisation of British Rail on 1 April 1994 it was gradually broken into a number of franchises.


Before the sectorisation of British Rail in 1982 the system was split into largely autonomous regional operations: those operating around London were the London Midland Region, Southern Region, Western Region and Eastern Region. Sectorisation of BR altered this setup by instead organising by the traffic type: commuter services in the south-east of England, long distance intercity services, local services in the UK regions, parcels and freight. The aim was to introduce greater budgetary efficiency and managerial accountability by building a more market-focused and responsive business, rather than privatising BR outright. It was expected that the London and South East sector would cover most of its operating costs from revenues, in contrast to heavily subsidised rural services.[1]

Upon sectorisation, the London & South Eastern sector took over responsibility for passenger services in the south-east of England,[2] working with the existing BR business units of Regions and Functions to deliver the overall service. Day-to-day operation, staffing and timetabling continued to be delivered by the Regions - and the sector came into existence with barely 30 staff based at Waterloo.[3]

On 10 June 1986, L&SE was relaunched as Network SouthEast, along with a new red, white and blue livery.[2][4] The relaunch was intended to be more than a superficial rebranding and was underpinned by considerable investment in the presentation of stations and trains, as well as efforts to improve service standards.[3] This approach was largely brought about by a new director, Chris Green, who had presided over similar transformation and rebranding of ScotRail.

Although NSE did not originally own or maintain infrastructure, it exercised control over almost all carrier core functions. NSE set its own goals and service standards in consultation with BR, and created its own management structure and oversight. BR allowed NSE to decide about scheduling, marketing, infrastructure enhancements, and rolling stock specifications on NSE-assigned lines and services.

In April 1990, British Rail Chairman Bob Reid announced that sectorisation would be made complete, with regions disbanded by 1991/2 and the individual sectors becoming directly responsible for all operations other than a few core long-term planning and standards functions. Network SouthEast thus went from a business unit of around 300 staff to a major business operation with 38,000 staff and a £4.7bn asset value - large enough to be ranked as the 15th-biggest business in the UK.[3]

Network SouthEast, like each other sector, was given primary responsibility for various assets (rolling stock, tracks, stations), and control resided with the primary user. Other sectors could negotiate access rights and rent facilities, using their own resources. NSE was able to exert much greater control and accountability over both its operating budget and service quality than BR could under its Regions. Relations were generally good between NSE and other sectors, although operating pressures sometimes forced staff to use equipment and assets belonging to other sectors to meet immediate needs.

On 1 April 1994, Network SouthEast was officially disbanded as train services passed to various train operating units ready for privatisation through a franchising process.

Network Railcard

Main article: Network Railcard

Although NSE ceased to exist in 1997, the grouping of services that it defined before privatisation remain grouped by the Network Railcard,[5] which can be bought for £30 and which offers a 34% discount for adults and 60% discount for accompanying children after 10:00 on weekdays and all day at weekends (subject to a minimum weekday fare of £13).


NSE was broken down into various sub-divisions.

Subdivision Main Route(s) Route Description
Chiltern Chiltern Main Line, London to Aylesbury Line London Marylebone-Aylesbury/Banbury
Great Eastern Great Eastern Main Line London Liverpool Street-Ipswich/Harwich/Clacton-on-Sea/Walton-on-the-Naze/Southend Victoria
Great Northern East Coast Main Line, Hitchin-Cambridge Line London King's Cross-Peterborough/Cambridge (and subsequently London King's Cross-Cambridge-King's Lynn)
Island Line Island Line Ryde-Shanklin
Kent Link North Kent Line, Bexleyheath Line, Dartford Loop Line, Mid-Kent Line, Catford Loop Line, Hayes Line London Victoria/Charing Cross-Dartford/Gravesend/Gillingham/Orpington/Sevenoaks/Hayes
Kent Coast Chatham Main Line, Hastings Line, Sheerness Line, South East Main Line London Victoria/Charing Cross-Margate/Dover/Folkestone/Ashford/Tunbridge Wells/Hastings (and subsequently North Downs services as far as Redhill/Three Bridges)
London, Tilbury and Southend LTS Line London Fenchurch Street - Tilbury - Southend Central - Shoeburyness
North Downs North Downs Line Reading-Guildford-Reigate-Gatwick Airport-Tonbridge
Northampton Line/North London Lines West Coast Main Line, Marston Vale Line, North London Line London Euston/Broad Street-Watford-Milton Keynes-Northampton-Birmingham, Bedford-Bletchley
Solent and Wessex Portsmouth Direct Line, South Western Main Line London Waterloo-Guildford-Portsmouth, London Waterloo-Basingstoke-Southampton-Bournemouth-Weymouth
South London Lines South London Lines, Oxted Line, Sutton & Mole Valley Lines London Victoria & London Bridge to Croydon

London Victoria-East Grinstead/Uckfield/Sutton/Epsom Downs/Dorking/Horsham

South Western Lines Alton Line, Waterloo-Reading Line South West London Suburban services via Wimbledon or Richmond to Chessington South/Epsom/Dorking/Effingham Junction/Guildford/Hampton Court/Woking/Weybridge/Hounslow loop/Windsor/Shepperton/Kingston loop. London Waterloo-Alton/Reading/Windsor/Guildford/Epsom/Chessington South/Dorking/Hampton Court/Kingston Circle/Shepperton/Hounslow Circle/Weybridge
Sussex Coast Brighton Main Line, Arun Valley Line, East Coastway Line, West Coastway Line London Victoria/London Bridge-Gatwick Airport-Brighton/Eastbourne/Littlehampton, Brighton-Hastings, Brighton-Portsmouth-Southampton
Thames Great Western Main Line, Cotswold Line Windsor branch London Paddington-Slough- (-Windsor-) Reading-Oxford-Worcester/Stratford
Thameslink Thameslink Bedford-Luton-London-Gatwick Airport-Brighton
Waterloo & City Waterloo & City line Waterloo-Bank
West Anglia Fen Line, Lea Valley Line London Liverpool Street-Harlow-Cambridge-King's Lynn (express services to Cambridge, and almost all services to King's Lynn, were subsequently transferred to the Great Northern route from London King's Cross); London Liverpool Street-Stansted Airport, and local services: Liverpool Street-Chingford, Liverpool Street-Enfield Town, Liverpool Street-Cheshunt (via Seven Sisters), and Liverpool Street-Hertford East/Broxbourne (via Tottenham Hale).
West of England West of England Main Line London Waterloo-Basingstoke-Salisbury-Exeter


Soon after conception, Network SouthEast started to modernise parts of the network, which had become run down after years of under-investment. The most extreme example was the Chiltern Lines.

Chiltern Lines

The Chiltern Line ran on two railway lines (Chiltern Main Line and London to Aylesbury Line) from London Marylebone to Aylesbury and Banbury. These lines were former GWR and GCR intercity lines to Wolverhampton and Nottingham respectively. After the Beeching Axe in the 1960s, these lines became seriously run down with a lack of investment and a reduction of services.

By the late 1980s, the 25-year-old Class 115s needed replacement; the lines had low speed limits and were still controlled by semaphore signalling from the early 1900s; and Marylebone was served only by infrequent local trains to and from High Wycombe and Aylesbury.

Marylebone still with the red NSE livery for stations, around 30 years later in 2015. Marylebone was one of the stations given a facelift in the late 1980s.

NSE realised that something needed to be done to these lines quickly. Numerous plans for the lines were proposed. One serious plan was to close the line between Marylebone and South Ruislip/Harrow-on-the-Hill, and convert Marylebone into a coach station. Metropolitan line trains would be extended to Aylesbury and BR services from Aylesbury would be routed to London Paddington via High Wycombe. Also the line north of Princes Risborough would close. However, this did not happen as Baker Street and London Paddington would not have been able to cope with the extra trains and passengers.

What did happen was total route modernisation. This was an ambitious plan to bring the lines into the modern era of rail travel. Class 115s were replaced by new state of the art Class 165s. Semaphore signals were replaced by standard colour light signals and ATP was fitted on the line and trains. Speed limits were increased to 75 mph (only 75 due to running on London Underground track between Harrow and Amersham), all remaining fast loops at stations were removed and the line between Bicester North and Aynho Junction was singled. Stations were refurbished and even reconstructed (£10 million spent on stations alone), and signal boxes and the freight depots/sidings were demolished. Regular services to Banbury, and a few specials to Birmingham were introduced and a new maintenance depot was built at Aylesbury. This was a massive undertaking and work began in 1988 and by 1992, the route had been completely modernised, demand for the service had grown considerably and the route had become profitable.

Since modernisation the route has seen further improvements (see Chiltern Main Line).

Electrification was considered but was deemed to be too expensive as the Thames Line sector would then have to be electrified as well. Another reason electrification did not take place was that some part of the line ran on underground lines, which were electrified as 4-rail 660 V DC, while British Rail preferred 25 kV AC overhead traction for lines north of London.

Success of the modernisation implemented by NSE has made it possible for the Chiltern Main Line to compete with the West Coast Main Line between London and Birmingham, and there are now plans to increase speeds and quadruple sections of the line,[6] returning the line to the state it was before the Beeching Axe.

New trains

The later style of the Network SouthEast livery

Network SouthEast started a programme of replacing old rolling stock up to privatisation.

Note: The British Rail Class 168s were also proposed by Network SouthEast for the Chiltern line for a planned service to Birmingham but privatisation intervened. However, new private operator Chiltern Railways ordered 5 Class 168/0 units based on the NSE designs in 1996 for its service to Birmingham Snow Hill.


During the privatisation of British Rail, NSE was divided up into several franchises:

Original franchise Route(s) Currently
LTS Rail London, Tilbury and Southend Rebranded c2c
Chiltern Railways Chiltern Main Line, London to Aylesbury Line, Princes Risborough to Aylesbury Line, Leamington to Stratford Line and the Oxford to Bicester Line Unchanged
Great Eastern Railway Great Eastern Rebranded as First Great Eastern, then merged into larger franchise operated by National Express East Anglia, then passed on to Abellio Greater Anglia in 2012
Thames Trains Thames
North Downs (Gatwick/Redhill - Dorking/Guildford/Reading section)
Franchise passed to First subsidiary First Great Western Link, later merged into larger franchise operated by First Great Western (later Great Western Railway)
Island Line Island Line Operated by Stagecoach South Western Trains, but is still called Island Line
North London Railways Northampton Line
North London Line
Rebranded as Silverlink, later split up into two franchises operated by London Midland (Northampton) and London Overground (N.London)
South Eastern Kent Coast, Kent Link, North Downs (Tonbridge- Redhill section) Rebranded by original franchisee Connex as Connex South Eastern, then passed to South Eastern Trains, then to Southeastern
Network SouthCentral South London Line
Sussex Coast
Rebranded by original franchisee Connex as Connex South Central, then passed to Southern
Thameslink Thameslink Merged into larger franchise operated by First Capital Connect, operations returned to Govia in 2014
West Anglia Great Northern Great Northern
West Anglia
Split with GN merged into First Capital Connect (now operated by Govia Great Northern) and WA merged into National Express East Anglia, then passed on to Abellio Greater Anglia. Some of the Abellio Greater Anglia lines have been passed onto TfL Rail (part of Crossrail) and London Overground
South West Trains Solent & Wessex
South Western Line
West of England Line
Operated by Stagecoach South Western Trains, but is still called South West Trains

One element of NSE that remained in public ownership was the Waterloo & City Line; too small to be operated as a self-contained franchise, it was not incorporated with the rest of NSE services from Waterloo into the South West Trains operation, and was instead transferred to London Underground.[7]


Although NSE ceased operations in 1994, its logos, livery and signage would linger well into the following decades. The Southeastern and Southern train companies still running trains painted in NSE livery as recently as 2006/2007, ten years after privatisation, and the Moorgate branch of the Great Northern route (stations: Highbury & Islington, Essex Road, Old Street and Moorgate) still has the NSE era colour schemes as of June 2016 - even though they have been through 3 new operators after privatisation (WAGN from 1994 to 2006, First Capital Connect from 2007 to 2014 and Great Northern, under Govia, from 2014).

The last passenger train still in NSE livery was lost on 15 September 2007, when a Class 465, 465193, was sent to Stewarts Lane TMD by Southeastern for revinyling into Southeastern livery.[8] However, there is still a departmental bubble car, used for route learning, in original NSE livery operating on the Chiltern Lines.

A NSE Class 317 at Harlow Town station (1990s) 
A NSE train at Marden railway station 
NSE Class 47s 47711 and 47716 
Class 465 no. 465034 at London Waterloo East 
A Waterloo & City line train in Network SouthEast livery 
Network SouthEast logo on a Waterloo & City line train 
NSE livery on a Class 483 operating on the Island Line 
NSE-era signage at Old Street station in September 2008 
London Victoria in 1996 in NSE red white and blue. 


  1. Mark Lawrence: Network SouthEast - From Sectorization to Privatisation. Sparkford, Oxford Publishing Co. 1994
  2. 1 2 Thomas, David St John; Whitehouse, Patrick (1990). BR in the Eighties. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-9854-7.
  3. 1 2 3 Green, Chris; Vincent, Mike (2014). The Network SouthEast Story. Oxford Publishing Co. ISBN 9780860936534.
  4. "Network SouthEast". Jane's Railway Year. 6: 4–11.
  5. "Network Railcard". Retrieved 2 November 2007.
  6. "Network Rail route plan for Chilterns November 2007" (PDF).
  7. "Waterloo & City Line". Clive's Underground Line Guides. Clive Feather. 14 December 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
  8. RAIL. Bauer Consumer Media (575): . 26 September 2007. ISSN 0953-4563. Missing or empty |title= (help)

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