Seaford branch Class 313 swansong

Time is almost up for the remaining 18 Class 313 units, currently our oldest mainline EMUs in passenger service, with a reduction in their use on Southern’s Coastway services on the cards in the 11 December 2022 timetable change and the whole fleet due to be withdrawn by May 2023.

Having not visited the area for almost three years, a forecast of some welcome winter sunshine on 1 December 2022 seemed like the perfect excuse to take a trip on the fascinating nine-mile long Seaford branch, to experience and capture some Class 313 action before it finally disappears.

With Newhaven in the distance 313209 approaches Bishopstone with 2C26 from Brighton (11.41)

For those unfamiliar with Coastway services, Brighton is the dividing line between West Coastway services towards Bognor Regis, Littlehampton and Portsmouth, and those heading east towards Seaford, Eastbourne and Hastings. Class 313 use is now confined to Brighton-Lewes-Seaford services.

313219 approaches Newhaven Town with 2C98 from Brighton (12.11) to Newhaven Harbour

Remaining Class 313 turns on the western section comprise local services from Brighton to Hove (due to become Class 377-worked) and West Worthing, stopping services from Brighton to Portsmouth and services between Portsmouth and Littlehampton, which also form Littlehampton-Bognor Regis shuttle services.

313219 departs Southease with 2C33 from Newhaven Harbour (12.58) to Brighton

After unit 313217 was put into store a few weeks ago, the 18 working units – dating from 1976/7 – comprise 313201-16 and 313219-20. Celebrity unit 313201 is destined for preservation at the National Railway Museum and was repainted in its original BR blue livery five years ago (December 2017) as part of a general overhaul, although its doors were painted all-white to meet current accessibility legislation. 

My previous visit on a Saturday in January 2020 had coincided with a home match for Brigthon & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium next to Falmer Station when, in order to provided extra capacity, there were no 313 workings to Seaford that day, with all services being formed by pairs of Class 377 units.

Platforms of the closed Bishopstone Beach Halt can be seen on the curve beyond 313209

 On this occasion, my plan was to travel out to Seaford, then walk back to the remarkable listed station at Bishopstone, only intermediate stop on the 2½-mile section of route east of Newhaven Harbour that was singled in 1975, before heading to Newhaven to capture the curious lunch-time working that terminates at Newhaven Harbour.

313209 arrives at Lewes with 2C38 from Brighton (14.41) to Seaford

From there I planned to take the train from Newhaven Harbour – now only served at peak-times apart from this lunch-time curiosity – and spend an hour at Southease, the remote halt midway between Newhaven and Lewes that stands on the route of the South Downs Way and is only served by one of the twice-hourly Seaford branch services. 

313215 nears journey’s end at Seaford with 2C24 from Brighton (11.11)

Beginning my westward walk from Seaford, a first disappointment was high parapets on a road bridge that made photography impossible. But that was more than compensated for by a side-on view of a 313 looking across an area of open land called The Old Brickfield (photo above), then panoramic views looking towards Newhaven from Bishopstone.

313215 accelerates away from Bishopstone with 2C29 from Seaford (11.53) to Brighton

Bishopstone is a Grade II listed Art Deco-style station, which has been unstaffed for over 30 years, is on the English Heritage “at risk” Register and still displays a pair of BR 1970s posters in its disused ticket hall. It replaced the nearby Bishopstone Beach Halt at Tide Mills – whose platforms are still visible – and was built in anticipation of a major housing development that was aborted due to the outbreak of war.

313219 shunts into the sidings at the former Newhaven Marine station after arrival from Brighton

 There have been a few changes at Newhaven Harbour since my evening visit in May 2017 to photograph the famous “ghost train”. This had continued to serve Newhaven Marine station for more than a decade after the station had seen its last passengers, and was signalled out of Newhaven Marine by the last remaining semaphore in the area.

313219 emerges from the sidings to form 2C33 from Newhaven Harbour (12.58) to Brighton

Newhaven Marine was finally “closed” in October 2020 but during resignalling of the area that included closure of Newhaven Harbour Signal Box, new sidings were laid principally for freight use, but these are also visited by the twice-daily passenger services that terminate at Newhaven Harbour, the only off-peak trains to call at this station. 

313209 passes the closed signal box at Lewes with 2C38 from Brighton (14.41) to Seaford)

After becoming the only passenger to board the 12.58 departure from Newhaven Harbour I then alighted six minutes later at what was known in my younger trainspotting days as Southease & Rodmell Halt. Here there was a great view looking north, and a break from the Class 313 action when DB 66112 roared past with a trainload of aggregates wagons from Neasden to Newhaven Marine. 

DB 66112 passes Southease with aggregates wagons from Neasden to Newhaven Marine

To see my May 2017 article on Newhaven Marine, which features a Class 313 unit, go to https://railwayworld.net/2017/05/25/ghost-train-to-newhaven-marine/#more-580

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