Kent Rail

Hither Green Marshalling Yard


Being a strategic location of goods exchange, Hither Green Marshalling Yard was a natural target of the Luftwaffe during World War II, much damage being inflicted on stabled rolling stock and the permanent way. However, after the conflict, this continued to be an important destination for goods. Shortly before Nationalisation, the SR began experimenting at a number of their marshalling yards with high-level lighting. This involved installing 150-foot-high towers, upon which were affixed twenty individual lights. Trials of night lighting commenced at Hither Green in 1947 and experiments were continued by the Southern Region. The end result was the erection of two of the aforementioned 150-foot towers in the ‘’down’’ yard in September 1955, each equipped with twelve floodlights individually rated at 1000-watts. By this time, the marshalling yard comprised ten miles of sidings, the ‘’down’’ side alone covering an area of 1900-foot by 400-foot.

As part of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, Hither Green was selected as the location for a new Continental Freight Depot. This would handle perishable traffic, such as fruit and vegetables, imported from Mainland Europe, and replace a rather cramped affair at Southwark. Hither Green was considered an ideal site, because the imported produce could be distributed to the rest of the country by means of the adjacent marshalling yard. The Continental Freight Depot was built in the ‘’up’’ yard, being a southward-facing structure of 1003-foot by 150-foot dimensions. It had cost £1,000,000 to construct (£20,090,000 at 2013 prices), was long enough to accommodate two full-length freight trains under cover, and was fed by six reception lines. The latter were electrified by overhead wires, given that the freights from the Kent Coast were to be hauled by the E5000 series electric locomotives. These were equipped with pantographs for operating in freight sidings; overhead wires were chosen for yards, in light of the dangers to staff of exposed third rail. Catenary was also erected over sidings in the ‘’down’’ yard, and the Continental Freight Depot formally came into use on 10th October 1960. Customs clearance for imported traffic took place at Hither Green, rather than the seaport of origin.

On 4th February 1962, the Evans O’Donnell signal boxes at the yard were closed, control of the area being assumed by a ‘’power box’’ located to the north, on the ‘’down’’ side of the main line, adjacent to the engine shed entry roads.

By 1975, the overhead catenary at Hither Green and, indeed, all other sidings and yards where it was erected, had fallen into disuse. This was through a combination of a decline in freight traffic across the Southern Region and the advent of the ‘’Electro-Diesel’’ concept. The latter involved equipping locomotives that used electricity as their primary source of power, with diesel engines, to traverse non-electrified stretches of line (such as freight yards and sidings). Decline thereafter was the order of the day; the Continental Freight Depot lingered on until closure in 1987, by which time the remaining sidings at the yard accommodated little more than condemned wagons. In the meantime, the aforementioned ‘’power box’’ had closed; this was superseded by the London Bridge Panel on 6th November 1976.

There were, however, reviving fortunes for the former Hither Green Marshalling Yard site, albeit on a reduced scale. Redundant land here was earmarked for the laying of new sidings in connection with Network SouthEast’s ‘’Networker’’ programme, which was to bring new electric passenger rolling stock to South Eastern Division suburban lines. In 1991, the ‘’down’’ yard was completely overhauled: eight electrified sidings were laid, these of which could be accessed from either end and were able to accommodate twelve-vehicle formations. Running parallel with these, on their eastern side, were a further five sidings, dedicated to freight traffic and therefore not electrified. All ‘’down’’ sidings were illuminated by a series of floodlights mounted on seven gantries.

What of the ‘’up’’ yard? The former site of Continental Freight Depot was redeveloped into a mixture of residential property and a large warehouse, but the southern portion of the ‘’up’’ yard area was reused for rolling stock stabling. As per the ‘’down’’ side, eight electrified sidings were laid, although these were northward-facing terminating tracks, rather than loops. Whilst Hither Green accommodated a large proportion of the storage sidings for the Networker stock, all units were officially under the wing of Slade Green Depot. It was planned that every member of the class would be repaired and maintained at the latter for their first eight years.


Hither Green Marshalling Yard: 1970s

A close-up of the water tower showed it to be in fine condition. As the above shows, the structure gave a stunted appearance, residing upon a mound, and could be found at the southern extremity of the ''down'' yard. © Roger Goodrum


Hither Green Marshalling Yard: 1970s

A Drewry Shunter is evident in this north westward view of the ''up'' yard, which again shows the Continental Freight Depot in the background. © Roger Goodrum


Hither Green: Sulzer Type 2

Sulzer Type 2 No. 5183 (later Class 25 No. 25033) is seen arriving at Hither Green with an assorted rake of vans from, it is believed, Temple Mills. The formation is seen approaching the ''up'' yard; in the foreground is the entry line to Hither Green Depot. This view is thought to date from about 1971, because No. 5183 was transferred from London to Leeds in the following year. © Roger Goodrum


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