Portsmouth Direct Line

Portsmouth Direct Line

Portsmouth Direct Line
Type Suburban rail, Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Hampshire
West Sussex
South East England
Opened 1858
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) South West Trains
Rolling stock Class 450
Class 444
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Operating speed 90 mph (145 km/h) max.

Portsmouth Direct Line

South Western Main Line

Woking carriage sidings
New Guildford Line
North Downs Line
Guildford Chalk Tunnel
St Catherine's Hill Tunnel
North Downs Line
Cranleigh Line
original location
River Wey
Longmoor Military Railway
Midhurst Railways
Buriton Tunnel
Woodcroft Halt
Rowlands Castle
Havant New
West Coastway Line
Hayling Island Branch Line

West Coastway Line
to East Southsea
Portsmouth and Southsea
Portsmouth Harbour

The Portsmouth Direct Line is a railway route between Woking in Surrey and Portsmouth Harbour in Hampshire, England. It forms the principal route for passenger trains between London and Portsmouth. The name was derived unofficially, but has entered widespread use for the physical infrastructure between Woking and Portsmouth Harbour, and for the passenger train service from London over the route. The final section of line from Havant to Portsmouth is shared by other passenger routes.


First railway to Gosport

In the first decades of the nineteenth century Portsmouth was an important centre for the Royal Navy and its support activities, and for ship construction and repair; it was also an important commercial port. The London and Southampton Railway (L&SR) opened throughout from London to Southampton on 11 May 1840. The L&SR and commercial interests in Portsmouth shared an aspiration for rail connection, and a branch was proposed from Bishopstoke (later renamed Eastleigh) on the L&SR and a Parliamentary Bill was presented in 1837[note 1] for a Portsmouth Junction Railway, friendly to the L&SR to construct it. However Portsmouth Corporation considered a branch line and circuitous route to London unsatisfactory, and opposed the Bill, which failed.

Promoters in Portsmouth already planned a much more direct London route via Arundel and Horsham, and this scheme now took on new energy; but its supporters were unable to raise the capital for a long new line. The L&SR now put forward a branch from Bishopstoke to Gosport, close to Portsmouth but on the west side of Portsmouth Harbour. Requiring only 15 miles (24 km) of new line, this was a more affordable proposition. The L&SR obtained Parliamentary authorisation on 4 June 1839, and changed the Company name to the London and South Western Railway (LSWR). The Gosport line opened on 29 November 1841. Communication between Gosport and Portsmouth itself was by a newly opened ferry, referred to at the time as a floating bridge.[1][2][3]

Woking to Guildford

The London and Southampton line ran through Woking, and on 10 May 1844 the Guildford Junction Railway was authorised to construct a branch from there to the important manufacturing town of Guildford. The capital was £55,000. This was the first part of the eventual Portsmouth Direct line to be built, but at first the promoters planned to use William Prosser's patent system. This would use wooden rails and auxiliary guide rails to steer the vehicles, which would have special wheels. Quite apart from the practicality of this unproven arrangement, it would have prevented through train operation.

The Guildford Junction Railway wished to make an alliance with the LSWR but the wooden track system was an obstacle; however it was strategically important as a way to reach Portsmouth, either for the LSWR or the London and Brighton Railway (L&BR), which planned a line there. On 27 September 1844 the Guildford Junction Company agreed to sell itself to the LSWR for £75,000, on the basis that it would lay conventional track and compensate Prosser. The line opened on 1 May 1845, the first part of what became the Portsmouth Direct Line to be operational.[1][2]

Three routes proposed in 1845

The 1845 Parliamentary session saw three proposed routes to connect London and Portsmouth:

Of these three proposals only the Brighton and Chichester extension was passed, receiving the Royal Assent on 8 August 1845.[1][4]

Changing alliances in 1846

The L&BR had been obliged to rely on the L&CR for access to London, and the Croydon company had not been an easy partner, and the L&BR had sought alliances elsewhere: this included friendly relations with the LSWR, over whose line the L&BR hoped to get an alternative route to London. In exchange for facilities between Wandsworth and the LSWR London terminus, the L&BR agreed with the LSWR that the two companies would jointly build and operate the Chichester to Portsmouth line. This was ratified on 26 January, subject to Parliamentary approval.

However the L&BR and the L&CR managed to overcome their differences, and they agreed on an amalgamation: together they formed the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) on 27 July 1846.[note 2] There was no longer any difficulty about Brighton trains reaching the L&CR London terminus, and friendly relations between the L&BR and the LSWR were no more: the LBSCR decided to support the Direct London & Portsmouth line; while the negotiations for the merger were proceeding, the L&BR declined to support the Guildford Chichester Portsmouth and Fareham line in Parliament, and relations between the two companies became strained over other supposed broken undertakings.

In Parliament, the Guildford Chichester Portsmouth and Fareham proposal was considerably reduced in scope and became the Guildford Extension and Portsmouth & Fareham Railway. It had only disconnected sections from Guildford to Godalming and from Fareham to a Portsmouth terminus.

The Direct London & Portsmouth line was approved on 26 June 1846, to run from Epsom via Godalming to a Portsmouth terminus shared with the Brighton and Chichester extension.[1][2][3]

Taking stock in 1847

Parliament's modification of the LSWR plans and the shifting priorities of the new LBSCR led to uncertainty about the way forward. Nonetheless the Brighton and Chichester extension line opened as far as Havant on 15 March 1847. The LSWR had scaled back its proposed joint purchase (with the LBSCR as heir to the L&BR) of this section, and decided now to adopt a half share only of the Cosham to Portsmouth section; this agreement became effective on 9 October 1848.

The LSWR had Parliamentary authority for an independent line into Portsmouth, which it now decided to abandon, and a joint Portsmouth station was agreed.

Meanwhile, the Direct London and Portsmouth Railway was rebuffed in Parliament; it had probably never intended to build the line, but only to sell out to the highest bidder. Parliament had approved the line in the face of more commercially attractive alternatives in order to improve competition, and a proposed amalgamation with the LBSCR was rejected by Parliament in the 1847 session. The difficulty in the money markets resulting from the collapse of the Railway Mania led to serious difficulty in starting work, and in fact the Direct Portsmouth line made no further progress; it was finally wound up on 31 July 1854.

The LBSCR opened its Portsmouth line, between Chichester and Portsmouth, on 14 June 1847. Thus the second part of what became the Portsmouth Direct Line was in being, between Havant and Portsmouth. The line was joint between the LBSCR and LSWR from Portcreek Junction to Portsmouth. The north side of the triangle to Cosham Junction was owned outright by the LBSCR, apparently opened on the same day. The LSWR opened its line from Fareham to Portcreek Junction on 1 October 1848; that line was joint from Cosham station to Portcreek Junction.[note 3] The Portsmouth station was at the location that is now Portsmouth and Southsea station.[1][2][3]

Godalming reached

The short extension from Guildford to Godalming had been authorised in place of the ambitious line to Portsmouth via Chichester in 1846. It was constructed with some difficulty due to difficult ground conditions at the site of the tunnel immediately south of Guildford station, but it was finally opened on 15 October 1849; due to tunnel roof falls, the line was closed from 22 to 24 October 1849. This was the third section of the Portsmouth Direct Line to be opened.

A direct line at last

Portsmouth now had two routes from London: Waterloo to Gosport via Bishopstoke, and London Bridge to Portsmouth via Brighton. Both were obviously unsatisfactory from Portsmouth's point of view, and in 1853 a further proposal became a reality. The Portsmouth Railway was authorised on 8 July 1853 to build from just north of the Godalming terminus to Havant via Witley, Haslemere and Petersfield; it would be 32 miles (51 km) long and the capital was to be £400,000. The LSWR and LBSCR had opposed the Bill in Parliament but the logic of building it was overwhelming. It shortened the route by 20 miles (32 km).

The contractor Thomas Brassey undertook to build it for £350,000 on the basis of a single track but with earthworks for doubling. It was opened in May 1858. There was a separate station at Godalming as the alignment of the original station there was towards Chichester.

The line was routed in such a way as to be difficult operationally. It is often described as a “contour line” implying constant curvature to maintain easy gradients, but in fact the gradients are severe too.

The proprietors had no intention of operating the railway, intending to sell it to one of the established lines. Finding the LSWR reluctant to take it on, the obtained Parliamentary powers in 1854 to extend northwards to Shalford, on the South Eastern Railway's route to Redhill, with the possibility of that Company getting access to Portsmouth. In 1857 the powers were modified to simply building a south-to-east spur at Shalford Junction, agreement having been reached with the LSWR to run over their line from Godalming to the point of junction. The earthworks for the curve were built, but track was never laid on it.

During the construction of the line, it seemed at first as if it was destined to remain unadopted by a bigger network, but in 1858 the LSWR became fearful that rival lines, or an extension to the new line to Leatherhead, might prove attractive, so they agreed to lease the line for £18,000 annually. This took effect on 24 August 1858. There was now at last a viable through line from London to Portsmouth: a Portsmouth Direct Line in all but name.[note 4][1][2][3][5]

The struggle not yet over

The LSWR was now in possession of a shorter and more efficient route to Portsmouth. But the line from Havant to Portcreek Junction was over the LBSCR, and from there to Portsmouth the line was joint. There was a long-standing traffic pooling agreement with the LBSCR and worse, there was a territorial exclusivity agreement.

The LBSCR made it plain that it regarded the adoption of the Portsmouth Railway a breach of faith, and the LSWR was sufficiently alarmed that it obtained Parliamentary authority on 12 July 1858 to build a new, parallel line from Havant to Hilsea (near Portcreek Junction) and Cosham, and got running powers over the Joint line to Portsmouth; but a separate Portsmouth station would be needed.

The battle of Havant

1 January 1859 was fixed for the start of operation of the new line. However the LBSCR had refused to negotiate with the LSWR over any arrangement that would permit the operation, and declared that no Portsmouth Railway train would be allowed to pass. The LSWR decided to force the issue by running a goods train on 28 December 1858; it arrived at Havant at about 07:00 while it was still dark, with about 80 navvies on board. The LBSCR had removed the switch tongue of the Portsmouth Railway down line at the junction, so the goods train was crossed to the up line to by-pass it, but it was again stopped in Havant station by the removal of another rail section, now blocking all lines. The impasse continued until about 13:00, with LBSCR traffic being worked to the point of obstruction from either end and "getting the passengers across on foot".

The LBSCR got further reinforcements and two more engines up during the morning, and eventually the LSWR withdrew, with no promise not to repeat the attempt at any time.

Whether physical violence took place is uncertain, but with numerous employees on each side and tempers running high it is likely that scuffles broke out.[1][2][3][6][7]

The relationship worsens

The Portsmouth Railway opened to Havant only, on 1 January 1859 and the issue of through running went to an arbitrator; his award was rejected, and the LBSCR obtained an injunction, preventing the LSWR from using the joint line. However, when the injunction came before Vice Chancellor Wood on 19 January 1859 he refused the restraining order, but did not adjudicate on the terms of use of the line. Through running of Portsmouth Railway trains started on 24 January 1859, tolerated by the LBSCR without prejudice to its legal position, pending further negotiations.

The negotiations made no progress whatever, and in March 1859 the LBSCR introduced new through trains with very low fares. The LSWR soon retaliated with its own new trains and low fares.

The LBSCR had appealed against the refusal to grant its injunction, and in April 1859 reserved judgement was given in favour of the LBSCR position: LSWR trains over the direct route had to be discontinued, and LSWR trains had to be terminated before Havant, with the passengers being conveyed on to Portsmouth by road.

Even now the shareholders of the Portsmouth Railway – the line was leased to the LSWR by them – demanded an increase in the rental charge. This was declined and eventually the status quo was agreed; in fact the Portsmouth Railway was amalgamated with the LSWR by Act of 21 July 1859.[1][2][3]

Agreement at last

The hostility with the LBSCR could hardly continue indefinitely and in early August 1859 agreement was reached; a new pooling arrangement for passenger fares was agreed, as was rental for use of the joint line. Through trains over the Portsmouth Railway route resumed on 8 August 1859. On 2 January 1860 the Farlington Junction to Cosham Junction section, which had been uplifted by the LBSCR in the face of the disagreement, was reinstated and four passenger trains daily used it.

The LSWR was now able to abandon its defensive powers for a parallel line from Havant to Hilsea.[1][2][3]

Early passenger services

The Act authorising amalgamation of the LSWR and the Portsmouth Railway had included clauses specifying a minimum passenger services: six daily in summer and four daily in winter. The LSWR provided this minimum service on the Portsmouth Railway route, continuing to run good services to Gosport for the time being. There was never an express service on the route in LSWR days.[1]

Line improvements

The Portsmouth Direct Line as generally understood, was not yet quite complete. The Portsmouth station was well situated in the town, but not at all convenient for the shipping services to the Isle of Wight and Gosport, nor for the dockyard and naval facilities. Passengers for the Isle of Wight steamers travelled from the terminal station by tramway to Clarence Pier, through the congested streets of the town. There was reluctance from the Admiralty to permit any extension, but eventually this was overcome and on 2 October 1876 an extension to Portsmouth Harbour station was opened, built jointly by the LSWR and LBSCR. The Portsmouth Direct Line was now complete.[8]

Other improvements were undertaken at this period: the line between Godalming Junction and Havant was progressively doubled from 1875, being completed on 1 April 1878.

The LSWR had maintained a passenger service to its Godalming terminus station, the remnant of the early scheme to reach Chichester. This was closed to passengers on 1 May 1897.[1]


The Southern Railway, as successor to the LSWR, had embarked on a series of electrification schemes, and these had had a remarkable effect on improved business and reduced costs. After the successful implementation of such schemes between London and Brighton, and the Hastings, it was decided to electrify to Portsmouth. This was to be by far the longest route attempted.

The scheme was announced in 1935; at this time the main line from Waterloo was electrified as far as Hampton Court Junction, so the scheme was from there via Woking and Guildford to Portsmouth Harbour; included also were the line from Woking to Farnham, later extended to include Alton, and from Staines to Weybridge.

Loans at beneficial interest rates were made available by the Government, under the Railways (Agreement) Act, 1935.

Haslemere, Havant, Portsmouth & Southsea and Portsmouth Harbour stations were all greatly enlarged to give 800 feet (244 m) platform lengths to handle twelve-car trains. Resignalling was undertaken at Woking Junction (where a former scheme to provide a grade separated junction was now considered to be unnecessary) and Havant, but complete resignalling was not thought to be needed as the train service density was not so great as on the Brighton line electrification scheme. The signalling improvements were commissioned in June and July 1937, and the electric train service started on 4 July 1937.

312 new or rebuilt vehicles were provided (for the entire scheme including Alton and Staines). Fast services were operated by a new design of four-car express unit corridored throughout including corridor connections pas the driving cabs. Restaurant facilities were provided in most trains and through passage for access was required. 48 such four-car units were built of which 19 were designated 4-RES with restaurant facilities, and the remainder 4-COR. The outer vehicles in each set were motor coaches, equipped with two 225 hp (168 kW) English Electric motors, and English Electric electro-pneumatic control equipment.

For stopping trains (including the Alton line), 38 two-car units designated 2-BIL were produced; these had side corridors and lavatories, but no corridor connection between the coaches. They had one control trailer coach and one motor coach equipped with two 275 hp (205 kW) motors and Metrovick control equipment.[9]

New maintenance sheds were provided at Fratton (and also at Wimbledon and Farnham); the Fratton shed had four roads each capable of holding eight cars.

Electric trains started running to steam train timings to Guildford from 3 January 1937, and Portsmouth & Southsea station was first reached by an electric service on 8 March 1937. There was a Royal Navy Fleet Review at Portsmouth on 20 May 1937 to commemorate the coronation of HM King George VI, and twenty 12-car special electric trains ran between London and Portsmouth in connection, in addition to the ordinary steam service. On 1 July 1937 an official inaugural run took place to Portsmouth & Southsea, reached in 91 minutes, and the return run making the standard stops for the new train service with one additional stop at Surbiton accomplished the journey in 99 minutes. There had been some concern about the ability to keep time as the 12-car trains had slightly less installed power than the corresponding earlier Brighton line formations and the hilly route was more challenging, but these concerns proved unnecessary. A speed of 78 mph (126 km) was recorded descending Witley bank.

Full public services started on 4 July 1937. The standard off-peak service was one express train per hour and two stopping. The express called at Guildford, Haslemere and Portsmouth & Southsea; the stopping trains called at Surbiton and then all stations to Portsmouth & Southsea; one stopping train per hour was overtaken at Guildford by the corresponding express. Alton portions ran with the stopping trains, being detached at Woking.

The new service was a considerable success, and this was particularly so for the summer holiday traffic; the express service was modified on summer Saturdays to give good connections to the Isle of Wight and to Hayling Island.[10]

Topography of the line

The central part of the route, from Guildford to Havant, runs through relatively thinly populated country. The line was designed on the "undulating principle"; that is, successive relatively steep gradients were accepted to reduce construction cost. In the days of steam operation this made the route difficult for enginemen.

Leaving the Southampton main line at Woking, the line diverges southwards falling to Worplesden and then climbing to Guildford, using the River Wey valley. After gentle gradients, the line then climbs from Godalming for eight miles (13 km) at 1:80/1:82 to a summit near Haslemere; it then falls at 1 in 100, climbing briefly at Liphook and then falling at 1 in 80 to Liss. A second climb of three miles (5 km) follows to a summit at Buriton Tunnel, then falling at 1 in 80 and then more gently for 8 miles (13 km) to Havant.

At Havant the line turns west, joining the earlier line from Brighton, turning south at Farlington Junction to run down Portsea Island to Hilsea, Fratton, Portsmouth and Southsea station, and Portsmouth Harbour. Although the line undulates slightly, there are no significant gradients except very briefly at 1 in 61 ascending at Portsmouth & Southsea high level station.


Woking Junction to Guildford: opened by the Guildford Junction Railway 5 May 1845

Guildford to Godalming: opened by the LSWR 15 October 1849

Godalming (junction immediately north of Old station) to Havant: opened by the Portsmouth Railway 1 January 1859

Havant to Portcreek Junction: opened by the LBSCR 15 March 1847

(Farlington Junction; line to Cosham diverges)

(Portcreek Junction; line from Cosham converges)

Portcreek Junction to Portsmouth & Southsea: opened by the LBSCR 14 June 1847; joint with LSWR from 1848

Portsmouth & Southsea (junction immediately north of station) to Portsmouth Harbour: opened 2 October 1876

Present day service pattern

Four trains an hour run weekdays. Two are fast trains to Portsmouth, calling at Woking, Guildford, Haslemere, Petersfield, Havant, Fratton, Portsmouth and Southsea and Portsmouth Harbour. A third is a stopping train to Portsmouth, calling at Clapham Junction, Woking, Worplesdon, Guildford, Farncombe, Godalming, Haslemere and all stations. The final one terminates at Haslemere, calling at Clapham Junction, Woking, Guildford and all stations, though this is extended to Portsmouth close to and during the peak.

Rolling stock

Since 2007, services have been provided by Class 450 but mostly Class 444 electric multiple units. Unusually, the 450s, designed for stopping services, run certain fast services on Monday to Friday and all on Saturday.

Fratton station is the location of the stabling depot for this end of the line.

Present day station list

SW 110 M-Ch Km
Woking Junction 0-00 0
Worplesdon 2-03 3.25
Guildford 5–45 8.95
Shalford Junction 6–60 10.85
Farncombe 8–58 14.05
Godalming 9–55 15.60
Milford 11–39 18.50
Witley 13–54 22.00
Haslemere 18-17 29.30
Liphook 22-05 35.50
Liss 26–53 42.90
Petersfield 30-09 48.45
Rowlands Castle 38-36 61.90
Havant 41–53 67.05
Bedhampton 42-26 68.10
Farlington Junction 44–50 71.80
Portcreek Junction 45-15 72.70
Hilsea 45–53 73.50
Fratton 47–76 77.15
Portsmouth and Southsea 48–62 78.50
Portsmouth Harbour 49-48 79.80

See also


  1. Williams says (page 120) that the survey was made in 1836 and that the Company was dissolved in 1838
  2. Williams says 27 July 1845, but this is a mistake.
  3. According to Smith; Williams gives (page 140) Portcreek Junction and Farlington Junction to Cosham Junction on 26 July 1848 "though LSW passenger trains did not run until 1 October 1848". Williams says that the LSW line between Fareham and Cosham opened on 1 September 1848. The reference to Cosham Junction probably means Cosham station, which was the end-on "junction" between the joint line and the LSWR line; that is to say, for a five weeks Cosham was served from the east only.
  4. It was 73 miles long; Waterloo—Bishopstoke—Portsmouth was 95¾ and London Bridge—Brighton—Portsmouth was 95¼ (from Williams, page 144).


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Williams, R A (1968). The London and South Western Railway. 1. Newton Abbot: David & Charles Limited. ISBN 978-0715341889.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Gordan, Donald; Thomas, David; White, H P (1961). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. 2. OCLC 634651104.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Sekon, G A (1947). "The Direct Portsmouth Railway" (PDF). The Railway Magazine.
  4. John Howard Turner, The London Brighton and South Coast Railway: I – Origins and Formation, 1977, B T Batsford Ltd, London, ISBN 0 7134 0275X
  5. Awdry, Christopher (1990). Encyclopaedia of British Railway Companies. Wellingborough: Patrick Stephens Limited. ISBN 978-1852600495.
  6. Turner, John Howard (1978). The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. London: B T Batsford Ltd. ISBN 978-0713411980.
  7. Ellis, C Hamilton (1971). The London Brighton and South Coast Railway. Shepperton: Ian Allan Limited.
  8. Marshall, C F Dendy; Kidner, R W (1982). History of the Southern Railway (Revised ed.). Shepperton: Ian Allan Limited. ISBN 978-0711000599.
  9. Gillham, J C (1988). The Age of the Electric Train. Shepperton: Ian Allan Limited,. ISBN 978-0711013926.
  10. Brown, David (2010). Southern Electric. 2. Capital Transport Publishing. ISBN 978-185414-340-2.

Further reading

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