(2001 - 2004)


After Connex had prematurely lost its South Central franchise (after four years into a seven year contract) to Govia, an early transfer was agreed upon to come into effect on August 26th 2001.
For this purpose, Govia established South Central Ltd., which operated the South Central franchise as South Central Trains (SCT) as of that date - and whilst negotiations between Govia and the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to finalise an agreement for a new franchise continued.

Winning the South Central franchise made Govia, which already operated Thames Trains and Thameslink, the biggest railway operating company in the commuter belts around London.

In July 2003, Govia and the SRA finally signed the new South Central franchise which - backdated to the formal ending date of Connex's franchise - would was set up to run from May 25th 2003 through to December 2009.

Whilst the top priority pointed out by South Central at the start of the franchise had no real meaning for the Epsom Downs branch (replacement of slam door vehicles with new trains), the initial promise that modern ticketing equipment and more information systems would be introduced and that station areas would be made brighter, cleaner and safer most certainly did.

Banstead in September 2003, with new passenger information and clearly visible security measures installed
[Adrian Wymann]

  Although somewhat later than initially promised to local authorities and residents, South Central had an assortment of customer service and safety measures installed at all the stations on the branch by September 2002: working ticket or travel permit machines, passenger information system with announcements, closed-circuit video cameras, vandal-proof platform shelter, as well as fencing and fixed coarse barbed wire to prevent access to the station premises other than through the CCTV controlled zones.

Unlike their predecessors, South Central thus brought a real and timely commitment to the line, with improvements which also contained clear messages to both passengers and - just as important, given the experiences of the recent past - vandals.

It was also a clear statement followed by action that these were the standards South Central had the intention of not only setting but also of maintaining. Not surprisingly, the general atmosphere of the stations improved dramatically over only a short period of time.

In this context, the fact that SCT initially spent very little effort and money on "de-connexing" the stations on the branch was also to be seen as a positive sign: applying little more than dark green stripes in the form of vinyl stickers to cover up the yellow band plus Connex logo on the lower edge of station signs could only be perceived as an indication that South Central management had got its priorities right - clean up first, apply the branding later.

By the time the stations had received improved levels of passenger service and security, more and more trains running onto the branch displayed South Central colours in the form of their green and white livery.


An early morning train from London Victoria leaves Banstead for the last leg of its journey on September 29th 2003 but is soon back, this time as the up train to London Victoria (far left and left)
A London Victoria train glides into Platform 3 at Sutton on September 30
th 2003 (rifght and far right)
[Adrian Wymann / click for larger images]

However, the fact that the branch had now had three different "owners" in less than a decade was manifestly evident as trains could still be seen running with Connex and even Network SouthEast liveries, sometimes even on units within the same train formation.
Along with the stations, safety precautions and traveller information were also improved on the trains themselves, which were also noted to be much cleaner than they had been in the past few years.


New safety informations on a Cl 455 London Victoria - Epsom Downs service (October 2003)
[Adrian Wymann / click for larger images]

(Left) Examples of South Central's 2003 advertising campaign

Right from the beginning, SCT was set to be replaced by the brand New Southern Railway once the franchise deal would be completed. On May 30th 2004, just over a year after signing its seven-year franchise, South Central changed its name to, simply, Southern.

The CST era - in spite of having been comparatively short and basically a transformation period for the implementation of the new franchise - was an important time in the long history of the Epsom Downs Branch. Not only had the decline of the Connex era been halted and indeed reversed, but the speedy transition from a run-down rail stub to a commuter line with improved facilities and transportation meant that the branch had a real future. Only two years earlier, this had been all but certain.



Continue to: Southern (2004 - )



Page last revised: August 13th 2012