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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

Railways in Dover - A Brief History

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Dover’s first rail connection with London was established by  the South Eastern Railway (SER) on 7 February 1844, when it  opened (from Folkestone) the final section of its main line to  Dover Town Station. One of the main reasons for building the  line to Dover was to link with the cross-Channel steamers  plying from the harbour. In 1862 the SER opened an  extension from the Town Station to connect with rails laid by  the Admiralty on the Admiralty Pier. This allowed trains to be  run onto the pier alongside the steamers, which had been  docking there since 1851. On 22 July 1861 Dover got its second rail link with London  when the London, Chatham & Dover Railway (LCDR) opened a  temporary terminus at Dover Priory Station. Between the  Priory Station and the harbour it was necessary to drive a  685-yard tunnel under the Western Heights. This was  completed a few months later and the Harbour Station was  opened on 1 November 1861. Arrangements were made in  1862 to build a junction with the Admiralty Pier line and from  30 August 1864 boat trains of both companies used the pier. For seven years a substantial advantage in distance lay with  the LCDR but the opening of the new SER main line via  Sevenoaks secured equality, the LCDR 78 miles from London  Victoria to Dover Harbour, via the Medway Towns and  Canterbury, being matched by the SER 76½ from Charing  Cross to Dover Town. On 15 June 1881 a direct link between the SER Town and  LCDR Harbour Stations was opened. This was a joint line of  the two companies, built as part of the Dover and Deal Joint  Railway, which connected the existing SER terminus at Deal  with the LCDR main line at Buckland Junction.   The two competing companies could never agree to a  complete merger but in 1899 economic necessity forced them  into a ‘Working Union’. In this union the companies retained  their separate existence but for operating purposes their lines  were managed as one railway. The new grouping went by the  name South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SECR) but it was  never a company in its own right. In 1909 work began on the new Marine Station, was nearing  completion when the First World War broke out, and from 2  January 1915 it was used for ambulance and other military  traffic. Most of this traffic approached from the LCDR route,  as a landslide between Folkestone and Dover in December  1915 closed the SER route until August 1919. Public use of  the Marine Station (for Continental traffic) began in January  1920 with full domestic passenger services introduced by  1922.  In January 1923 the SER and LCDR were grouped, along with  other railway companies in the South of England, to form the  Southern Railway. After the grouping the railway layout of  Dover was simplified, passenger traffic for Dover itself was  concentrated on the Priory Station. The old Harbour Station  closed (the Town Station had closed to civilian passengers in  October 1914), and the approach lines to the Marine Station  were remodelled. The old engine sheds at Dover Priory and  Dover Town were closed and consolidated into the new sheds  built near the site of the old Town Station. In 1936 a new  Train Ferry Dock was opened, enabling a sleeping car service  between London and Paris, the ‘Night Ferry’, to be introduced. During the Second World War Dover’s railways played and  important role and suffered much damage. The Marine  Station saw heavy traffic during the evacuation of Dunkirk,  handling hundreds of special troop and ambulance trains.  Both the Marine and Priory Stations were damaged by  bombing and shelling during the war.   After the war services got back to normal with luxury services like the ‘Night Ferry and the ‘Golden Arrow’ being  reintroduced and cross-Channel traffic increasing. In 1961 the lines around Dover were electrified as part of the final phase  of Kent Coast electrification and steam haulage came to an  end. The one exception to this was on the Promenade Railway  where use of third-rail electrification would not have been  safe. Passenger traffic for Dover is now handled exclusively  by the Priory Station after the Marine Station closed in 1994. In December 2009 high-speed trains started running from  Dover Priory to London St Pancras. From Ashford  International the new Javelin trains use the high-speed line  built for the Eurostar Channel Tunnel services.  Passengers  are now able to reach London in 1 hour 6 minutes, saving at  least 30 minutes on the previous quickest journey time.  
A South Eastern Railway train c.1844.  Until the 1920s the line between Dover Town Station and Shakespeare Cliff tunnel was carried on a low timber trestle. A South Eastern and Chatham Railway train on the timber viaduct c.1904. A Southern Railway boat train c.1930.  The train is running on the solid embankment that replaced the wooden trestle in the 1920s. A Southern Railway 'Schools' class locomotive at Dover Priory March 1933.  Some pupils from Dover College pose for a photograph with the brand new locomotive that bears the school's name. Dover Priory, 1961.  One of the new electric trains arriving at platform 1. One of the new Javelin high-speed trains at Dover Priory, 2013.