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Southern - Alton review 1

Alton railway station 5/7/08

5/7/08 Brookwood to Alton
TOC: South West Trains
Traction used: Class 450 EMU
Weather: Sunny and cloudy
10.23 Waterloo to Alton


The train leaves Waterloo at 10.23 and stops at Surbiton, West Byfleet, Woking and then Brookwood, which is the last station before the line leaves the Southampton mainline. Brookwood has two platforms with four tracks running through it. It has a large original red brick station building with the original canopy on the north platform. We travel down the Southampton mainline for about three miles before we turn South Westwards onto the branch line. It is now double track and we start off on an embankment with woodland on both sides. In fact it is a forest and we move into a cutting and then a tunnel, which is about half a mile in length. We emerge into a short cutting and then you can see scrubland on the left and its also quite hilly here.

We start to move downhill until we reach Ash Vale Junction. The line from Ascot joins us and then we stop at Ash Vale station. There is a wooden station building, painted in white and blue on the western platform, which contains a small cafe. The eastern platform has a small building with steps down to the station entrance as the station is on an embankment above the village. We pull away slowly and go over the Reading to Guildford line and then we are joined on the left by the line from Guildford. Next we go over the A3 and then pass wetlands on the left, being used as boating lakes. We are still only going about 30 mph.

We pass an army depot on the right, indicating that we are approaching the army town of Aldershot. We are now on an embankment with rows of houses on the left below us and wasteland on the right. We then enter another short tunnel, before emerging into the town of Aldershot. The football ground can be seen on the right and then we pass a signal box before coming into the station. It has three platforms, two of them on an island. The main station building in yellow brickwork is on platform 1. A lot of people get off here, but hardly anyone gets on. There is another train in platform 3, which is reversing on its way from Guildford to Ascot. As we leave, we pass an old siding on the left, before moving onto an embankment with houses below us.

We then pass a lake on the left and an electricity sub-power station on the right. We are now out into open countryside once with horse grazing in the fields. We slow down as we enter a cutting as the line veers sharp right and then sharp left before straightening itself out again. We go onto another embankment with trees below us on both sides. There is the odd isolated house to be seen in the distance on both sides, before we slow to go over a level crossing before we stop at Farnham station. There are yellow brick station buildings on both platforms. About twenty people get off, but no one gets on. The old goods shed on the right is now a tyre and exhaust repair centre, whilst the car park looks pretty full. There are new office buildings on the left as we leave the station, with some sidings and then a carriage shed on the right.

We now go onto a single track and pass more houses on the left as we come out into the countryside. The A31 runs parallel to us on the right as we speed up to about 60 mph. Trees surround both sides of the track, before giving way to lovely views of the Hampshire countryside. We shoot through Bentley station, which has two platforms. We pass fields with either sheep or Jersey cattle in them, with the odd farmhouse amongst them. Then it's another cutting with lots of trees on both sides. Next a large warehouse appears on the right, followed by a small oil depot with sidings.

We start to slow as we houses begin to appear on the right and then some factories on the left. We then come into Alton station, which is split into two parts - the Network Rail platforms 1 and 2 on the right and the Watercress Line platform 3 on the left. The main station building on platform 1 is the usual yellow brick type, whilst platforms 2 and 3 are on an island platform. It's a strange but nice site to arrive at Alton station and see a steam engine steaming on the platform. This is only one of a handful of interchange stations between Network Rail line and preserved lines. The Watercress line platform as expected is all decked out in old Southern Railway green, looking just like it was in the 1930's.

I then have a pleasant visit to the Mid Hants railway, including a meal in the restaurant at Alresford. My only gripe is that the MHR train is timed just to miss the departing South West train at Alton, which means a wait of around half an hour for the next one. Maybe the MHR could look at arranging their timetable to fit in with South West trains for the majority of people who visit the railway by train from London and the Southeast?

Summary: A busy line as far as Farnham, but could be busier with more interaction between the Mid Hants Railway and South West Trains. MC