(1986 - 1994)



Since nationalisation and the forming of British Rail, the system had been operated by regions loosely reflecting the previous "big four" railway companies. The Epsom Downs branch had thus passed from the former Southern Railway (SR) to BR's Southern Region (S.R.).

This still essentially geographical focus was changed to a more business oriented perspective with the so-called sectorisation of BR in 1982, creating separate divisions for the main BR traffic segments such as commuter services, long distance intercity services, parcels and freight.

The operation of passenger services in the South-East of England was assigned and handed over to the London & South Eastern sector. No doubt commuters from the Epsom Downs branch had already noticed the somewhat unusual L&SE livery of chocolate, orange and grey which was quickly nicknamed jaffa cake - and never to be seen on the Epsom Downs line as the immediate changes which sectorisation brought about remained extremely subtle on the branch as BR blue and grey liveried EMUs remained in charge of all services.

Change did finally come, however, when the L&SE Sector was relaunched on June 10th 1986 at Waterloo station under a new chairman (Chris Green) and a new name: Network SouthEast (NSE).


CL 455 crossing Banstead Downs in July 1987
(Adrian Wymann)

Unlike BR Provincial which operated interregional and other subsidised services, NSE was expected to cover most of its operating costs from the revenues it generated. Whilst it did did not own (or maintain) its infrastructure, NSE had ownership of its rolling stock and equipment which it painted in its own bright and multicolour livery - quickly to become a trademark token of the Sector.

Banstead station sign in July 1990
(Adrian Wymann)

  NSE also exercised control over almost all the core passenger carrying functions, set its own goals and service standards (in consultation with BR), created its own management structure, and defined its policy with regard to scheduling, marketing, infrastructure enhancements, and rolling stock specifications (Lawrence, 1994).

At the end of the day, it was all about accountability and modernisation, and the man up front - managing director Chris Green - knew that communication was a key element in this game from his previous glory days with ScotRail, and NSE brought an entirely new visual image to most of the railways of the South East almost over night.

The striking new livery made sure that each and every passenger knew straight away that something was happening here; however, it was all about far more than just colourful trains.

In the first four years of its existence, passenger income on NSE rose by nearly 20%, government support had fallen by 50%, and the age of rolling stock was reduced by five years. Over 70% of NSE’s stations were refurbished and 310 were modernised and given a complete facelift (Lawrence, 1994).
Network SouthEast arrived on the Epsom Downs branch just as quickly as it did elsewhere. In order to promote the new corporate identity, station signs sporting the strikingly different NSE design were put up soon after the official NSE launch. The most significant impact Network SouthEast had on the Epsom Downs branch, however, was the modernisation of the rolling stock.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s motive power on the branch had consisted of the classic slamdoor Electro-Pneumatic Brakes EMUs, both in the form of the four-car unit 4EPB (built between 1951 and 1957) and the two-car unit 2EPB (built between 1953 and 1956) and used in various multiple combinations.

As of the mid-1980s, the Cl 416/3 (2EPB) and Cl 415 (4EPB) units had already been in the process of steadily being replaced by modern Class 455/8 units (the first batch of which was built between 1982 and 1984), and now NSE was speeding up this changing of the guard. The Cl 455/8 EMU, sporting flashy NSE livery, thus became the most frequently used type of motive power within months of NSE's existence - and would reign supreme on the Epsom Downs branch for years to come.


Cl 455 816 pulls into Banstead with an Epsom Downs to London Victoria service in July 1988
(Adrian Wymann)

At long last, the branch could again be seen as being part of the railway's future rather than just a motley collection of its past. Critics argued that there wasn't much more to it than a few pints of paint, but bearing in mind the past thirty-odd years of the branch, just that alone was more than any other managing body had previously cared to spend on the line. The stations looked bright once again and the general atmosphere was clearly changing for the better.


However, applying the NSE concept of modernisation to the Epsom Downs Branch also brought about the most drastic possible change at the end of the line: the demolition of the original terminus station at Epsom Downs.

Whilst the Epsom Downs branch had been reduced to single track since October 1982, the station layout at its terminus - albeit reduced to one island platform and two platform sidings in use - nevertheless still reflected the spacious construction designed and built to handle the race traffic generated by the Derby. It had always been completely oversized for much of the rest of any given year, but by the mid-1980s race traffic had become virtually non-existant as rail passengers were much better served by travelling to Tattenham Corner.


The new Epsom Downs station
(Network SouthEast)

  On Monday, February 13th 1989, a new Epsom Downs platform with provisional infrastructure - set some 300 yards away from the original terminating point of the line - opened late in the evening, replacing the old platform and station building.

Only a few days later - on February 15th and 16th - the old terminus and platforms were pulled down in a par force demolition operation.

The land formerly occupied by the station and its platforms had previously been sold off by NSE for redevelopment, and a new housing estate quickly took shape and replaced the spacious serenity of the former station concourse.

The transformation this brought about was indeed unbelievable at first sight. as the newly erected station building even resembled the newly built houses in its neighbourhood; it was formally opened on September 22nd 1989 by TV personality Leslie Crowther [1]. In later years, the station building would also come to be home to a children's nursery, aptly named The Railway Children Kindergarten.

With now just one platform and a single line of track, virtually nothing remained of what once was Epsom Downs station - indeed, only the pillars supporting the valanced canopy were rescued from the old building and put to decorative use.
The reasons for building the terminus - horse racing traffic - had not been of importance to the branch for some decades, but now all traces of its past were completely eradicated.

But then again, the story of the Epsom Downs branch came full circle once more - the building of housing estates since the 1920s around the line had produced the commuters the line needed to flourish, and now the building of a housing estate meant that the vast amount of land which Epsom Downs station occupied would be needed...

From a rational point of view, all NSE had done was to adjust the terminus to its actual amount of traffic. Being able to sell almost all of the old station estate to housing developers not only meant cash for the rail operator, but also got rid of a terminus which was completely overblown for the traffic it saw and therefore had largely fallen into a state of neglect. Commuters, of course, were also more than happy to trade in an increasingly ghostly and untidy spot for a new and bright station.

Again, rumour has it that at least one private group approached NSE with plans to turn the Epsom Downs Branch into a part-time preservation line on weekends prior to the demolition of the old terminus.


An 1871 survey map of the original station layout at Epsom Downs, and the approximate position of the new station building and platform built in 1989

But regardless of whether or not such plans were actually put forward in a form which would have formed a sensible basis for a substantial review of the proposal, pulling down the entire infrastructure and selling off the highly sought after land for development was a far more lucrative step to take for NSE managment - and it also fitted in with the overall NSE logic. By reducing the station facilities at Epsom Downs to a bare minimum (and, in effect, all which was really needed), turning the branch into a modern "single line commuter shuttle system" was virtually completed. The policy of NSE was to look to the future, not to the past of rail transportation, and "preservation" could hardly have rhymed with financially sound operations in NSE's ears.





[1] NSE Railway Society (


KIRKBY J.R.W. Kirkby (1983) The Banstead and Epsom Downs Railway, Locomotion Papers Series, Oakwood Press

LAWRENCE Mark (1994) Network SouthEast - From Sectorisation to Privatisation, Oxford Publishing



Continue to Privatisation (1994 - 1996)

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page last revised 6th August 2012