Chaos at Waterloo on the evening of Wednesday 18 July 2018 (body on the line at Clapham Junction apparently) and an invitation for passengers to take any reasonable route to get to their destination found me travelling to East Croydon and then Reigate, on my near four-hour trek home to Haslemere.
Apart from discovering that beer in the charming Prince of Wales pub is outrageously expensive (£4.70 a pint), it also reminded me what an absurd world we live in, when Reigate marks the end of the line for third rail operation – as it has for the past 85 years – and continuing west from here requires change onto one of the busy Gatwick Airport to Reading diesel-operated services.
The rail distance from Gatwick to Reading is 52¼ miles, of which 20 miles is equipped with third rail, leaving two significant gaps These are the 20-miles west from Reigate to Shalford Junction near Guildford and the 12¾ miles from Ash to Wokingham.
It seems absurd in all the talk of new investment in our railways that we now hear promises of bi-mode trains for this route, rather than the blindingly obvious solution of finally completing third rail electrification.
Not only would third rail be a cheap and environmentally-friendly solution, but it would open up new journey opportunities and end Reigate’s status as a frontier town, a status it has held since third rail arrived here in January 1933. The third rail abruptly ends in front of the signal box.
Southern services from London Bridge to Reigate could be extended into a circular service, by continuing on to Guildford and returning via Epsom – significantly increasing accessibility to the attractive North Downs Line.
Reigate’s charming 1929-vintage signal box controls the adjacent level crossing as well as the 20 route miles of the North Downs Line from here to Shalford Junction
Such a service could replace the existing Reading-Redhill stopping services and, by reducing the number of terminating points to one, would represent an extremely efficient use of rolling stock, creating an outer London equivalent to the Sutton/Wimbledon loop used by Thameslink services.