London to Brighton Festival: A History

Written by: TrainSim-James

As part of celebrating the release of the Gatwick Express Class 73, we are delving into the history of the classic Brighton Main Line as well as some of the most popular multiple units that run between London Victoria and Brighton.

Brighton Main Line

Plans for a London to Brighton Railway via Redhill and Haywards Heath were first surveyed in the late 1820s upon commission by The Surrey, Sussex, Hants, Wilts & Somerset Railway. A Parliamentary Act authorised a capital of £2.4 Million towards construction in 1837 with the condition that the new railway would emerge from Norwood on the London and Croydon Railway, giving trains from Brighton access to London Bridge. Another condition meant the line from Norwood to Redhill would have to be shared with the Southern Railway, this would result in a 60 year dispute between the two operators.

The route itself traversed some of the most difficult terrain in the south, requiring considerable earthworks along the line with challenging cuttings, tunnels and viaducts in the North Downs, Wealden Ridge and the South Downs including Britain’s’ largest cutting near Merstham.

The line was opened in two stages, the first from Norwood Junction to Haywards Heath in July of 1841 and the section from Haywards Heath to Brighton opened just a few months later. 5 years later, an Act of Parliament saw the formation of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and a few years beyond that brought around the Victoria Station & Pimlico Railway Company which were tasked with building the new terminus in the west end of London.

After London Victoria had opened in 1860, a line was constructed between Norwood and Balham to shorten the distance between Victoria and East Croydon. At the same time, the South London Line was being constructed to connect London Bridge and London Victoria by the LB&SCR and the LC&DR.

As the London Victoria to Brighton line became busier and busier, the South Eastern and London, Brighton Railways were constantly in dispute on sharing the cramped tracks. To solve this issue, the LB&SCR decided it would build its own railway from Coulsdon North to Earlswood. This new line avoided the old SER route and became known as the Quarry Line, both lines exist to this day.

Govia Thameslink Railway operate the Quarry Line as the fast tracks to and from Brighton and the original route via Redhill as the slow line. The entire route is electrified on the 750v DC third rail system with a top operating speed of 100mph.

A majority of the services are operated under the Southern branding, utilising various sub classes of the Class 377 on slow, semi-fast and fast services between London and Brighton. The line is also home to the Gatwick Express, operating Class 442s (soon to be replaced by Class 387/2s) between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport, at peak hours the services also extend to Brighton. The Class 442s also operate a London Bridge to Eastbourne service via the Brighton main line.

Other services include the Thameslink services that operate from Bedford to Brighton via London Bridge, these are ran by Class 319s and Class 387/1s however both are due to be replaced by Class 700s in the coming years. Great Western Railway also run along the line from Gatwick Airport to Redhill via the North Kent Line.


The railway’s main southerly terminus, Brighton, serves the namesake historic sea side town and the surrounding areas and providing a direct link to London. While traction has changed many times over the years, there is no doubt that Sussex and the South Coast would not be what they are today without the Brighton Main Line.


Situated right in-between London and the South Coast, Gatwick Airport is one of the main international connections to London. The distance from the capital keeps aircraft out of the already overcrowded skies, all while providing the surrounding area with a local major airport.


The Brighton Main Line is just one of many that protrude out of London and head south, at Battersea the line flies over from Victoria to meet up with the Main Lines out of London Waterloo. The next station is Clapham Junction, Britain’s busiest railway station.

Class 377 Electrostar

At the dawn of the 21st Century, it was becoming clear that Britain was in dire need of brand new rolling stock to replace the old and unreliable British Rail Mk1 equipment currently in use, some of which dated back to the early 1960s. The Southern region was no exception with aging 4VEP and 4CIG still running daily throughout London and Sussex.

Southern Trains turned to Bombardier’s Electrostar series for their new EMUs which had already started to prove popular in Connex South Eastern and c2c territory. To maximise flexibility, the design featuring gangway connections was selected, and in 2001 the 100 mph EMUs started production in Bombardier’s Derby Works.

While the creature comforts such as higher speeds and air conditioning were to be a major benefit for London’s commuters, the new units, classified as the Class 377, would prove troublesome to enter into service. The current 750V Third Rail could not cope with the added power consumption when compared to the older units, and an extensive upgrade program was required for the 377s to effectively operate.

Unlike previous iterations of the Electrostar family, the Class 377s were fitted with external CCTV cameras to allow for universal Driver Only Operation (DOO) in place for guards or CCTV screens on platforms, the doors are also electrically operated, a move from the air-powered systems of previous EMUs. The Class 377s were also fitted with the modern Dellner coupling system.

While all the Class 377s were built with Third Rail compatibility, the Electrostar family is built with the provision of Pantograph placement in mind, the first Class 377s to make use of the Pantograph wells was the /2 sub class. The new dual-voltage units allowed Southern to further extend their services, such as the hourly East Croydon to Milton Keynes services which run to this day.

28 of the Class 377s were not built as 377s, instead Southern acquired these units from Southeastern’s Class 375/3 roster. The 3-car units were converted and reclassified into Class 377s, receiving a coupling change from the once-used Tightlock variety and the addition of external CCTV. Southeastern also converted their Class 375s to Dellner couplings however they were not reclassified.

Southern are not the only operator of the Class 377, in 2007 a set of units were ordered for Thameslink services under First Capital connect and were given a /5 subclass, these units will continue to operate under GTR Thameslink until their replacement, the Class 700 Desiro City, is fully ready for service. The Class 377s will soon be operating along other routes in years to come; they will be replacing Class 317s and 321s under GTR Great Northern on the ECML and will also be joining alongside their sister units, the Class 375s, under Southeastern operation.


In the past decade, the Brighton Main Line has been more and more dominated by Electrostars. For now other stock is made up of older units like the Class 319, however it shall not be long before Siemens’ Desiros join their Bombardier Main Line cousins.


The Class 377 is only one example of the ever-expanding Electrostar family. They really must have proved themselves on the Brighton Main Line to become part of the most numerous series of multiple units after privatisation, with more and more companies wanting to buy into the family.


The other operator of Class 377s along the Brighton Main Line are Thameslink (formerly First Capital Connect), which link Bedford and Brighton to London. These 377s are being cascaded by much newer Class 387 Electrostars, which themselves are bound for other services in the future.

Class 442 Wessex

During the mid-1980s, British Rail were on the hunt for brand new rolling stock for use on the South Western Main Line, with the aim of replacing older Mk1 units that were not up to the required speed and capacity standards of tomorrow. BR turned to the successful Mk3 coach design that comprised the High Speed Train sets as a basis for their new multiple units.

The new EMUs would feature automatic plug style doors, comfortable seating arrangements in 5 car consists including air conditioning and for the first time, they would bring 100mph operation to the South West. The Mk3 coach design would provide unprecedented safety as standard featuring an all steel construction and a sturdy roll cage built in to the body. The new units were classified as the Class 442 and 24 were to be produced.

It was decided that the traction motors for the Class 442 were to be surrogated from the older Class 432 4REP units they were replacing. This came with the obvious complication that while the Class 442s were built in Derby, there would be less and less operational rolling stock to run in the South West. Disruption was avoided by putting a Class 442 into service as soon as a 4REP was taken out to be used, obviously some had to be taken out of service to build the first of the new units, and so the traction motors were removed and the powerless 4REP EMUs were dragged between London and Weymouth by Class 73s until they could be fully replaced.

Once the Class 442 entered service, they were everything British Rail and South Western commuters could have hoped for despite a rather chequered entry to the rails, one major achievement of the Class 442 occurred in April 1988 when a service was permitted to run between London and Weymouth at 110 mph, the 442 managed an incredible 108 mph which earned itself a place in the record books as the fastest third rail EMU in the world, a record which it still holds to this day. The record breaking run also made the trip in just under two hours, shaving some 45 mins off the standard booked services.

The Class 442s continued to operate on the South Western Main Line well into privatisation, however in 2004 South West Trains’ latest EMU, the Class 444 Desiro, had started to enter service in place of the 442s and by 2007, the entire Class 442 fleet was taken out of service and placed into storage.

Not long after being stored, it was announced that Southern were intending to bring the Class 442s back into operation on Gatwick Express services, (the Class 460s currently in use on GatEx services were scheduled to be withdrawn and merged with South West Trains’ Class 458 units to form 458/5s). Class 442s started to appear on the Brighton Main Line for test runs before being refurbished to accommodate a higher passenger capacity and space for their luggage.

In December 2008, the Class 442s entered regular service between London and Gatwick with peak hours seeing service extensions to Brighton. The Wessex Electrics proved themselves worthy on Southern tracks and also saw London Bridge to Eastbourne services in their control.

Since July 2015 Southern and Gatwick Express have been operated by under Govia Thameslink Railway (still branded as their respective regions) which in the year prior to taking over announced that they would be replacing the Class 442s with brand new Class 387/2 EMUs, the new Electrostars are due to replace the ‘Pigs’ on Gatwick Express services by the end of 2016. The fate of the Class 442s, which are owned by Angel Trains, is yet to be decided.


After entering service on the Brighton Main Line and proving to be a success, the Class 442 Wessex EMUs were also given peak-hour London Bridge to Eastbourne services via Lewes. This combined with extended services to Brighton saw ‘Gatwick’ dropped from the logo to avoid confusion.


All in all, the Class 442s and the Class 377s operate the bulk of express services out of the Southern end of London Victoria. In the not too distant future, the Class 442s will be dropped from GatEx duties and replaced by Class 387 Electrostars, and some Class 377s will also operate out of Southeastern’s platforms.


Clapham Junction sees some 2000 trains pass through its platforms everyday, that comes out to around 180 every hour. The Class 442 currently forms a number of the 117 non-stopping services each hour as the Gatwick Express, as the name suggests, stops at 0 stations between Victoria and the airport.

This is just a glimpse of the fascinating histories behind the multitude of EMUs and rolling stock that has set wheels upon the Brighton Main Line, why don’t you enter our screenshot competition where you can have the chance to win some amazing London to Brighton traction including the Gatwick Express Class 442, FCC Class 377, Southern Class 421 ‘4CIG’ and of course, the Gatwick Express Class 73!

Screenshot Competition

Send us your best screenshot on London to Brighton, along with a caption that tells us a fact about whatever locomotive is in your image, to with the subject London to Brighton Screenshot Competition. Please do NOT edit your screenshots or you entry will not be counted!

While we would love to receive all of your favourite screenshots, we would really prefer it if you chose the best one of them all, so please only send us one screenshot in your email. We will only accept one email entry per person so make sure it’s your best. Also, don’t forget to include your username so we know who to credit. Competition winners will be notified by email and their winning screenshot and caption will be published on All screenshot competition entries close at Midnight (UK Time) on Sunday 21 February.

Please find an example screenshot and caption below.

On September 11, 2005, Southern Trains ran a special express service between London Bridge and Brighton to mark the end of Slam door services in the southern Region. The service was permitted to operate at higher than usual speeds and set the London - Brighton speed record at 36 minutes and 56 seconds.

On September 11, 2005, Southern Trains ran a special express service between London Bridge and Brighton to mark the end of Slam door services in the southern Region. The service was permitted to operate at higher than usual speeds and set the London – Brighton speed record at 36 minutes and 56 seconds.

We wish you all the best of luck!



  • A well written informative article here, thanks.

  • Interesting article, hope we can see the class 700s in Train Simulator in the future, or even an old class 205 thumper, that would be great! (N.B. GWR/FGW services run along the North Downs line not the North Kent line ;))

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