The south of England’s pioneering third-rail electrified railway system has served the country well for more than a century, and after a long pause could yet be extended. EVAN GREEN-HUGHES looks at the history of this innovative and important system.
Today, electrification is seen as a way that the railway can reduce its carbon footprint, yet a hundred years ago the reason for its introduction was quite different, with a major factor being a desire to compete effectively with other forms of transport.
In the very early 1900s railway companies operating commuter services into London were beginning to be badly affected by intense competition from newly-built electric tramways. The new trams were cleaner and quieter than steam railways and offered better end-to-end timings, with the result that they were taking an ever-increasing share of passengers. As a result of this a number of railways began to actively look at electrification as an alternative to steam.