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Network SouthEast
Main region(s)London, South East
Other region(s)East of England, South West, Thames Valley
Fleet sizeCarriages: 6,700 (1986)
Stations called at930 (1986)
Parent companyBritish Rail
Dates of operation1986–1994

Network SouthEast (NSE) was one of the three passenger sectors of British Rail created in 1982. NSE mainly operated commuter rail trains within Greater London and inter-urban services in densely populated South East England, although the network went as far west as Exeter and also covered the inner East of England. Before 1986, the sector was originally known as London & South Eastern.

During the privatisation of British Rail, it was gradually divided into a number of franchises.


Two Class 309 (AM9) units; one in NSE livery, the other in Jaffa Cake livery
Class 411 (4CEP) in modified NSE livery with rounded corners
Transitional scene from BR Blue (the train) to NSE (the signage, train label) at Farnborough North station

Before the sectorisation of British Rail (BR) in 1982 the system was split into largely autonomous regional operations: those operating around London were the London Midland Region, Southern Region, Western Region, and Eastern Region. Sectorisation of BR changed this setup by organising by the traffic type: commuter services in the south-east of England, long-distance intercity services, local services in the UK regions, parcels and freight. The aim was to introduce greater budgetary efficiency and managerial accountability by building a more market-focused and responsive business, rather than privatising BR completely. It was expected that the London and South East sector would cover most of its operating costs from revenues, in contrast to heavily subsidised rural services.[1][page needed]

Upon sectorisation, the London & South Eastern sector took over responsibility for passenger services in the south-east of England,[2] working with the existing BR business units of Regions and Functions to deliver the overall service. Day-to-day operation, staffing and timetabling continued to be delivered by the Regions – and the sector came into existence with barely thirty staff based at Waterloo.[3]

On 10 June 1986, L&SE was relaunched as Network SouthEast, along with a new red, white and blue livery.[2][4][5] The relaunch was intended to be more than a superficial rebranding and was underpinned by considerable investment in the presentation of stations and trains, as well as efforts to improve service standards.[3] This approach was largely brought about by a new director, Chris Green, who had presided over similar transformation and rebranding of ScotRail.

The relaunch was marked by the first 'Network Day', on 21 June 1986. For £3 passengers could travel anywhere within the Network. 200 extra services were provided and over 200,000 passengers took advantage of the offer. There was a second Network Day on 13 September, and others in subsequent years, though passengers for these required a Network Card to qualify.[6]

Although NSE did not originally own or maintain infrastructure, it exercised control over almost all carrier core functions. NSE set its own goals and service standards in consultation with BR, and created its own management structure and oversight. BR allowed NSE to decide about scheduling, marketing, infrastructure enhancements, and rolling stock specifications on NSE-assigned lines and services.

In April 1990, British Rail Chairman Bob Reid announced that sectorisation would be made complete, with regions disbanded by 1991–92 and the individual sectors becoming directly responsible for all operations other than a few core long-term planning and standards functions. Network SouthEast thus went from a business unit of around 300 staff to a major business operation with 38,000 staff and a £4.7 billion asset value – large enough to be ranked as the 15th-biggest business in the UK.[3]

Network SouthEast, like each other sector, was given primary responsibility for various assets (rolling stock, tracks, stations), and control resided with the primary user. Other sectors could negotiate access rights and rent facilities, using their own resources. NSE was able to exert much greater control and accountability over both its operating budget and service quality than BR could under its Regions. Relations were generally good between NSE and other sectors, although operating pressures sometimes forced staff to use equipment and assets belonging to other sectors to meet immediate needs.

On 1 April 1994, Network SouthEast was disbanded with its operations transferred to train operating units ready for privatisation.

Network Railcard

Main article: Network Railcard

Although NSE ceased to exist in 1994, the grouping of services that it defined before privatisation remain grouped by the Network Railcard,[7] which can be bought for £30 and which offers a 34% discount for adults and 60% discount for accompanying children after 10:00 on weekdays and all day at weekends (subject to a minimum weekday fare of £13). Holders of annual season tickets for journeys within the Network area, including on London Underground, are issued with a "Gold Card" which gives them similar privileges to the Network Railcard.

Rolling stock

Main article: Rolling stock of Network SouthEast


NSE was broken down into various sub-divisions.

Subdivision Main Route(s) Route Description
Chiltern Chiltern Main Line, London to Aylesbury Line London Marylebone-Aylesbury/Banbury
Great Eastern Great Eastern Main Line, Mayflower Line, Sunshine Coast Line, Shenfield–Southend line, Crouch Valley Line London Liverpool Street-Ipswich/Harwich/Clacton-on-Sea/Walton-on-the-Naze/Southminster/Southend Victoria
Great Northern East Coast Main Line, Hitchin-Cambridge Line London King's Cross-Peterborough/Cambridge (and subsequently London King's Cross-Cambridge-King's Lynn)
Island Line Island Line Ryde Pier Head-Shanklin
Kent Link North Kent Line, Bexleyheath Line, Dartford Loop Line, Greenwich Line, Mid-Kent Line, Catford Loop Line, Bromley North Line London Victoria/Charing Cross-Dartford/Gravesend/Gillingham/Orpington/Sevenoaks/Hayes, Grove Park-Bromley North
Kent Coast Chatham Main Line, Hastings Line, Sheerness Line, South East Main Line, Maidstone Line London Victoria/Charing Cross-Margate/Dover/Folkestone/Ashford/Tunbridge Wells/Hastings (and subsequently North Downs services as far as Redhill/Three Bridges)
London, Tilbury and Southend London, Tilbury and Southend line London Fenchurch Street - Tilbury - Southend Central - Shoeburyness
North Downs North Downs Line Reading-Guildford-Reigate-Gatwick Airport-Tonbridge
Northampton Line/North London Lines West Coast Main Line, Marston Vale Line, North London Line London Euston/Broad Street-Watford-Milton Keynes-Northampton-Birmingham, Bedford-Bletchley
Solent and Wessex Portsmouth Direct Line, South West Main Line London Waterloo-Guildford-Portsmouth, London Waterloo-Basingstoke-Southampton-Bournemouth-Weymouth
South London Lines South London Lines, Oxted Line, Sutton & Mole Valley Lines, Caterham Line, Tattenham Corner Line London Victoria & London Bridge to Croydon/Caterham/Tattenham Corner

London Victoria-East Grinstead/Uckfield/Sutton/Epsom Downs/Dorking/Horsham

South Western Lines Alton Line, Waterloo-Reading Line, Hounslow Loop Line, Kingston Loop Line, Shepperton branch, Staines–Windsor line, Weybridge branch, Chessington branch, Hampton Court branch, New Guildford Line London Waterloo-Alton/Reading/Windsor/Guildford/Epsom/Chessington South/Dorking/Hampton Court/Kingston Circle/Shepperton/Hounslow Circle/Weybridge
Sussex Coast Brighton Main Line, Arun Valley Line, East Coastway Line, West Coastway Line London Victoria/London Bridge-Gatwick Airport-Brighton/Eastbourne/Littlehampton, Brighton-Hastings, Brighton-Portsmouth-Southampton
Thames Great Western Main Line, Cotswold Line, Greenford branch, Windsor branch London Paddington-Slough- (-Windsor-) Reading-Oxford-Worcester/Banbury, Ealing-Greenford
Thameslink Thameslink Bedford-Luton-London-Gatwick Airport-Brighton
Waterloo & City Waterloo & City line Waterloo-Bank
West Anglia Fen Line, Lea Valley Line, Chingford branch London Liverpool Street-Harlow-Cambridge-King's Lynn (express services to Cambridge, and almost all services to King's Lynn, were subsequently transferred to the Great Northern route from London King's Cross); London Liverpool Street-Stansted Airport, and local services: Liverpool Street-Chingford, Liverpool Street-Enfield Town, Liverpool Street-Cheshunt (via Seven Sisters), and Liverpool Street-Hertford East/Broxbourne (via Tottenham Hale).
West of England West of England Main Line London Waterloo-Basingstoke-Salisbury-Exeter


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Soon after conception, Network SouthEast started to modernise parts of the network, which had become run down after years of under-investment. The most extreme example was the Chiltern Lines.[citation needed]

Chiltern Lines

The Chiltern Line ran on two railway lines (Chiltern Main Line and London to Aylesbury Line) from London Marylebone to Aylesbury and Banbury. These lines were former GWR and GCR intercity lines to Wolverhampton and Nottingham respectively. After the Beeching Axe in the 1960s, these lines became seriously run down with a lack of investment and a reduction of services.[citation needed]

By the late 1980s, the 25-year-old Class 115s needed replacement; the lines had low speed limits and were still controlled by semaphore signalling from the early 1900s; and Marylebone was served only by infrequent local trains to and from High Wycombe and Aylesbury.[citation needed]

Marylebone still with the red NSE livery for stations, around 30 years later in 2015. Marylebone was one of the stations given a facelift in the late 1980s.

Numerous plans for the lines were proposed. One serious plan was to close the line between Marylebone and South Ruislip/Harrow-on-the-Hill, and convert Marylebone into a coach station.[8] Metropolitan line trains would be extended to Aylesbury and BR services from Aylesbury would be routed to London Paddington via High Wycombe. Also the line north of Princes Risborough would close.[citation needed] However, this did not happen as Baker Street and London Paddington would not have been able to cope with the extra trains and passengers.[citation needed]

What did happen was total route modernisation. This was an ambitious plan to bring the lines into the modern era of rail travel.[citation needed] Class 115s were replaced by new Class 165s. Semaphore signals were replaced by standard colour light signals and ATP was fitted on the line and trains. Speed limits were increased to 75 mph (only 75 due to running on London Underground track between Harrow and Amersham), all remaining fast loops at stations were removed and the line between Bicester North and Aynho Junction was singled. Stations were refurbished and even reconstructed (£10 million spent on stations alone), and signal boxes and the freight depots/sidings were demolished.[citation needed] Regular services to Banbury, and a few specials to Birmingham were introduced and a new maintenance depot was built at Aylesbury. This was a massive undertaking and work began in 1988 and by 1992, the route had been completely modernised, demand for the service had grown considerably and the route had become profitable.[citation needed]

Since modernisation the route has seen further improvements (see Chiltern Main Line).

Electrification was considered but was deemed to be too expensive as the Thames Line sector would then have to be electrified as well. Another reason electrification did not take place was that some part of the line ran on underground lines, which were electrified as 4-rail 660 V DC, while British Rail preferred 25 kV AC overhead traction for lines north of London.[citation needed]

Success of the modernisation implemented by NSE has made it possible for the Chiltern Main Line to compete with the West Coast Main Line between London and Birmingham, and there are now plans to increase speeds and quadruple sections of the line,[9] returning the line to the state it was before the Beeching Axe.

New trains

See also: Rolling stock of Network SouthEast

The later style of the Network SouthEast livery

Network SouthEast started a programme of replacing old rolling stock up to privatisation.


On 1 April 1994, as part of the privatisation of British Rail, Network SouthEast was divided up into train operating units which would later become passenger franchises:

Train operating unit Route(s) Original franchisee Franchise start date
c2c London, Tilbury and Southend line LTS Rail 26 May 1996
Chiltern Lines Chiltern Main Line, London to Aylesbury Line, Princes Risborough to Aylesbury Line, Leamington to Stratford Line, Oxford to Bicester Line Chiltern Railways 21 July 1996
FirstGroup Great Eastern First Great Eastern 5 January 1997
Thames Trains Thames, North Downs (Gatwick/Redhill–Dorking/Guildford/Reading section) Thames Trains 13 October 1996
South West Trains Island Line, Isle of Wight Island Line 13 October 1996
North London Railways Northampton Line, North London Line Silverlink 2 March 1997
South Eastern Kent Coast, Kent Link, North Downs (Tonbridge–Redhill section) Connex South Eastern 13 October 1996
Network SouthCentral South London Line, Sussex Coast Line Connex South Central 26 May 1996
Thameslink Thameslink (route) Thameslink 2 March 1997
West Anglia Great Northern West Anglia Great Northern 5 January 1997
South Western Solent & Wessex Line, South West Main Line, West of England Line South West Trains 4 February 1996

One element of NSE that remained in public ownership was the Waterloo & City Line; too small to be operated as a self-contained franchise, it was not incorporated with the rest of NSE services from Waterloo into the South West Trains operation, and was instead transferred to London Underground.[10]


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NSE-era signage at Old Street station in September 2008
NSE's logo in a plaque at Kew Gardens station
NSE's logo in relief over the main entrance to London Marylebone station

Although NSE ceased to exist in 1994, its logos, livery and signage would linger well into the following decades. Southeastern, Southern and First Capital Connect trains continued to run in NSE livery until as late as 2007.[citation needed]

Underground stations on the Moorgate branch of the Great Northern route (Highbury & Islington, Essex Road, Old Street and Moorgate) used to have the NSE era colour schemes after going through 3 privatised operators (WAGN, First Capital Connect and Great Northern) until late-2018.[citation needed]

NSE signage and logos can be found across the Island Line, Isle of Wight, with particularly well-maintained examples existing at the Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin ticket offices. Kew Gardens station in London still has the NSE logo on a plaque in the booking hall marking the station's reopening by Michael Portillo in 1989. Marylebone station, also in London, was refurbished by NSE in the 1980s and still has the company's logo in the form of three parallelograms in relief over the main entrance.

The last train still in NSE livery was withdrawn on 15 September 2007 when 465193, was sent for revinyling.[11]

In 2002, the Network SouthEast Railway Society[12] was formed to keep the memories of NSE alive by re-promoting through merchandise that they make to raise money for their 4-CIG EMU No.1753 which was named 'Chris Green' at the NSE 30 event at Finmere, Oxfordshire by the ex-NSE boss himself. On 28 August 2015, the Network SouthEast Railway Society obtained the trademark of Network SouthEast's brandname, logo and typeface.[13] The group wanted to obtain the trademark to help Network SouthEast's name and legacy live on following its demise and educate about NSE.[14]

In 2017, the Railway Heritage Trust collaborated with train operator Govia Thameslink Railway to recreate the Network SouthEast image at Downham Market station as a commemorative measure. The station has been equipped with paintwork and signage that mimic the Network SouthEast branding of the late 1980s.[15]


  1. ^ Lawrence, Mark (16 May 1994). Network SouthEast - From Sectorization to Privatisation. OPC Rail Print. ISBN 9780860934943.
  2. ^ a b Thomas, David St John; Whitehouse, Patrick (1990). BR in the Eighties. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 978-0-7153-9854-8. OL 11253354M. Wikidata Q112224535.
  3. ^ a b c Green, Chris; Vincent, Mike (2014). The Network SouthEast Story. Oxford Publishing Co. ISBN 9780860936534.
  4. ^ "Network SouthEast". Jane's Railway Year. 6: 4–11.
  5. ^ "How the Network SouthEast was won". Rail Magazine. No. 747. 30 April 2014. p. 72.
  6. ^ "1986". Network SouthEast Railway Society. Retrieved 7 August 2023.
  7. ^ "Network Railcard". Archived from the original on 2 November 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2007.
  8. ^ Haywood, Russell (2016). Railways, Urban Development and Town Planning in Britain: 1948–2008. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-07164-8.
  9. ^ "Network Rail route plan for Chilterns November 2007" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 January 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  10. ^ "Waterloo & City Line". Clive's Underground Line Guides. Clive Feather. 14 December 2007. Archived from the original on 12 April 2015. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
  11. ^ "After 21 years, no more NSE". Rail Magazine. No. 575. 26 September 2007. p. 9.
  12. ^ "NSERS Website". Network SouthEast Railway Society. Archived from the original on 17 January 2021. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  13. ^ Intellectual Property Office (28 August 2015). "Trade mark number - UK00003110943". Archived from the original on 14 May 2021. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  14. ^ Shepherd, John (6 October 2016). "Network SouthEast TRADEMARK INFORMATION". Network SouthEast Railway Society. Archived from the original on 24 May 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  15. ^ Heritage makeover unveiled at Downham Market railway station Archived 23 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine Lynn News 4 May 2017

Further reading