The Chessington Branch Line, it’s history, it’s future & why it ends the way it does!

chessmap-02
The original extension of the Chessington Branch circa 1940
The Chessington branch line which serves Chessington North and Chessington South was the very last line to be built of what was the Southern Railway. The line was opened on the 28th of May 1938 and originally designed to connect London in to Tolworth and Malden Manor. A year later on the 28th of May 1939 the line was opened through to Chessington and was intended to continue to Leatherhead; serving housing and the industries in the area.

Due to the Second World War construction of the line was halted with only a small amount of work being carried out as part of an exercise by the Royal Engineers. The plan was to open a station at Malden Rushett, through Ashtead Common with it’s own station and on to Leatherhead.

Post Second World War the Green Belt Legislation was introduced, protecting much of the land south of Chessington and preventing the planned expansion to Leatherhead.

The extended line, from Chessington South is still visible today and from the 1960’s to the 1980’s it was used as a coal yard. Chessington North station was originally planned to be called Chessington Court and Chessington South was planned to be called Chessington Grange.

Southern Railway were one of the “Big Four” railway companies, operating from 1923 to 1947 and prided itself on operating an electrified network. This was achieved by retro fitting a third rail carrying the electric current, this allowed it to operate under low bridges of the South East which would have been impossible with overhead wires.

Chessington_South_stn_abandoned_south
The extended line to the south of Chessington can still be see but trains no longer pass the end of the station.
At the time of opening the Chessington branch operated at 660V at high current, this was later increased to 750V in line with the rest of the network.

Chessington South and Chessington North are distinctive in their art deco architecture, having been designed by James Robb Scott. The entire line was laid with double track but due to the termination of the line at Chessington South the “north bound” or “up” line in the station has only been  used in exceptional circumstances and still has the original 1939 track.

The line has remain relatively static in terms of passenger numbers, with Chessington South seeing a slight decline in 2015 – 2016.

Chessington South Passenger Numbers

2011–12 0.518 million
2012–13 0.493 million
2013–14 0.524 million
2014–15 0.551 million
2015–16 0.432 million

South West Trains currently operate the line with First MTR taking over the franchise in August 2017. The transfer of the franchise takes place at a critical time when the line is closed due to capacity expansion to 10 carriages from Chessington South to Waterloo. Additionally, the Chessington Branch is under consideration as a potential regional branch of Crossrail 2, this would increase train frequency from on train every 30 minute to one every 15 minutes, 225% of today’s capacity. The proposed Crossrail 2 map can be seen here.

The line currently has one train every 30 minutes in to London and is operated using 35 year old Class 455 trains, these would be replaced under the plans for Crossrail 2.

By @paulcdale

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