Twenty years ago today (on 28th August 1989) saw the official centenary celebrations of the ‘New Essex Lines’, the railway from Shenfield to Southend Victoria and branch from Wickford to Southminster. Bank Holiday Monday crowds could buy a ‘Rover’ ticket and have freedom to travel the branches as well as view trains and rolling stock at Southend Victoria station. I was there.
Kelly’s Directory of 1890 refers to Shenfield having “a station on the main line of the Great Eastern railway, which is also the junction for the branch of that company to Southend, Southminster and Maldon completed in 1889. The road to Billericay, Rochford and Southend branches off here”.
Shenfield Station opened on 1st January 1887 marking the beginning of the project. A goods service began to Wickford initially in November 1888 followed by the first passenger service on 1st January 1889. The single line from Wickford to Southminster was opened to passenger traffic on 1st July 1889, then to Southend Victoria on 1st October that same year. Originally the line from Wickford to Southend was single track. The line was equipped with public sidings which survived until the Dr Beeching’s axe in the 1960s. Railway stations en route were as they are now: Billericay, Wickford, Rayleigh, Hockley, Rochford, Prittlewell and Southend.
After nationalisation British Rail was keen to withdraw steam in the whole of the Eastern Region in favour of diesel or electric power. The four track line between London Liverpool Street and Shenfield was electrified in the late 1940s – a scheme already planned before the outbreak of the Second World War - with the first of the new electric trains running in September 1949. In 1953 it was announced that the line from Shenfield via Ingatestone to Chelmsford and from Shenfield to Southend would be electrified. The new service to Southend began on 31st December 1956. Diesel multiple units took over the conveyance of the Wickford to Southminster branch. The arrival of new electric trains and an improved service heralded a boom in housing building along the route.
Kelly’s Directory 1890
Phillips, Charles. The Shenfield to Southend Line (Oakwood Press, 1984)