Revenue on the commuter routes between Victoria and London Bridge had been steadily falling thanks to competition from electric trams. Electric traction was the key to accelerating services. Electrification was available in various designs – 3rd & 4th rail or overhead wiring. The LB&SCR opted for an overhead system, supplied by AEG in Germany running at 6600 volts AC.
Whilst not the first system of its type in the UK the LB&SCR’s ambition for the project would have made it the largest system of its kind, stretching from London Victoria and London Bridge to Hastings, Brighton and Portsmouth on the south coast. It was marketed as the “Elevated Electric” and the first stretch – London Bridge to London Victoria via Denmark Hill – went live on 1st December 1909.
But time was not on the side of overhead wires with pressure to use a third electrified rail:
In 1926 the Southern Railway announced that, as part of a huge electrification project, all overhead lines were to be converted to third rail to bring all lines into a common system.
The last overhead electric train ran on 22 September 1929. 750v DC power ruled in the south of England unchallenged until the early 20th Century when, at last, Ashford International station in Kent was wired at 25Kv AC as part of the High Speed One route from the Channel Tunnel to London.
And Potter makes the case for being rid of the third rail:
s strongly as I feel about the enjoyment of working with 3rd rail, it’s only a power supply. The needs of the railway, the needs of the capital and the needs of our passengers cannot be put before the whims of one Anorak Motorman. The Southern Region in all it’s 750v DC splendour cannot fully serve as it is designed to do unless we commit as an industry to righting this particular historical wrong; 3rd rail has to go.
Without that acknowledgement, without that undertaking, we will throttle the growth of the commuter railway.
Make do & mend has had its day.
It’s time for a change.
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