Otford Junction

On 1st August 1859 the "Sevenoaks Railway" Act was passed:

The works which it would appear by the deposited plans to be intended to authorize the new Company to execute are a Railway, length 7 miles 76 chains, from a junction with the authorized line of the Western Extension of the East Kent Railway, in the parish of Sutton-at-Hone, to a point near Sevenoaks [Railway and Canal Bills: Session 1859]

The line was single track and capital of £120,000 was authorised in the form of £20 shares, in addition to a further £40,000 in loans. Of the Western Extension of the East Kent Railway mentioned above, this came into use on 3rd December 1860 between Strood and St Mary Cray. The Sevenoaks Railway, which joined this line at what became "Swanley Junction", was brought into use for public traffic on 2nd June 1862 and terminated on Sevenoaks’ northern periphery. A station on the outskirts of Sevenoaks was forced on the railway by local landowners, who objected to the line running over or near their land.

On 7th July 1862, the "Sevenoaks Railway" was empowered to double the route and construct a 15⅓-mile single-track line to Maidstone. As a result, the company was renamed the "Sevenoaks, Maidstone & Tunbridge Railway" and was authorised to raise capital of £825,000, in the form of £10 shares, and a further £271,000 in loans. The Maidstone line came into regular use on 1st June 1874; this branched off sharply from the Sevenoaks route one mile north of the terminus at the latter, where the London-facing Otford Junction was created. On the same day, Otford’s first station came into use at the junction, beside a farm. This comprised three platform faces, its raison d’être being to serve as an interchange point between Sevenoaks and Maidstone trains.

In the meantime, there had been changes at the southern end of the line. The South Eastern Railway arrived in Sevenoaks in 1868, opening a large station (Sevenoaks Tubs Hill) on 2nd March of that year in a much more central location than that of 1862. Originally a terminus for the line from Charing Cross/Cannon Street via Chislehurst, the route was opened to passenger services through to Tonbridge on 1st May 1868, freight having traversed the entire stretch since the previous February. This provided the necessary impetus for the original Sevenoaks Railway via Otford to be extended the extra mile southwards, connecting with the SER main line immediately north of Tubs Hill station. The connecting line came into use on 1st August 1869; the original terminus station was known thereafter as "Sevenoaks Bat & Ball", the suffix being adopted from a local pub.

Otford Junction: 1909

The sidings to the left of the Swanley to Bat & Ball line served a rubbish dump, the refuse being brought down to the site by rail from Southwark. The site was formerly host to ''St John's Brickyard'', this having ceased operation in 1897. Drawn by David Glasspool

Historic documentation reflects that the LC&DR did not start working the Swanley to Sevenoaks line until 30th June 1870, suggesting it was operated by the independent Sevenoaks, Maidstone & Tunbridge Railway until that time. This was followed by the smaller concern being vested in the LC&DR on 30th June 1879. Powers to double the Maidstone branch had previously been secured on 11th August 1875.

As part of the works to double the Maidstone line, alterations were made at Otford Junction. About 750-yards south of here, a second connection was made between the Maidstone and Sevenoaks lines, allowing direct running between these towns and creating a triangular junction in the process. This double-track loop came into use on 1st November 1880, which resulted in the closure of the interchange platform at Otford Junction and, somewhat surprisingly, the eventual lifting of the original northern part of the triangle. Thereafter, any London to Maidstone trains via Swanley called, and subsequently reversed, at Sevenoaks. Double-track working along the entire stretch of the Maidstone line commenced on 1st July 1882 and, on the 1st of the following month, a "proper" station was opened to serve the village of Otford. This was located nearly ⅔-mile north of the original Otford Junction.

In the January 1899 edition of The Railway Magazine, the reinstatement of the northern part of the triangle at Otford was announced:

The train service between Maidstone and London will also be greatly improved, as a loop line at Otford will be again opened, thereby accelerating the service between London and Maidstone by the Chatham and Dover system by as much as fifteen minutes in the case of certain trains.

Indeed, this section of line returned to use in that year, being known as the "Otford Loop", and the reinstated Otford Junction was signalled by contractor Saxby & Farmer. This company erected one of its attractive brick-built cabins with hipped slated roof, the design of which dated back to 1876, on the "up" side of the Sevenoaks line, immediately adjacent to the junction with the Maidstone branch. This became Otford Junction "A" Box; a second cabin of the same vintage, which became known as Otford Junction "B", opened at the eastern end of the triangle, where Otford Loop met the south curve from the Bat & Ball direction. At the southern end of the triangle, the point of convergence between Sevenoaks and Maidstone routes had been called "Otford Junction", the name being acquired after the closure of the original junction located 750-yards to the north. The re-opening of the Otford Loop in 1899 saw the convergence at the south renamed "Sevenoaks Junction". Contractor "Saxby & Farmer" was also used to signal the then newly-doubled Maidstone line, in addition to the subsequent extension to Ashford, this of which opened to traffic on 1st July 1884.

3rd September 2021

Class 67 No. 67001 is seen just after crossing over Otford Junction with the 11:07 London Victoria to Gillingham "British Pullman". No. 67001 had worn the all-over blue livery of "Arriva Trains Wales" since autumn 2011, although was still a "DB Cargo" (formerly EWS) locomotive. In December 2023, No. 67001 was advertised for sale by DB Cargo. In the foreground is the freight loop commissioned in March 1994, in connection with the Channel Tunnel. © Wayne Walsh

From 1st August 1912, traffic over the triangle’s southern loop ceased and Otford "B" Junction was eventually taken out of use. By this time, just a single train used the southern loop, but the two tracks were retained as sidings, accessed at their southern ends at Sevenoaks Junction. The signal box at the latter was reduced to the status of a ground frame and was renamed "Otford Loop Siding Ground Frame", a name change recorded in the South Eastern & Chatham Railway appendix for May 1922 (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 1960). This remained in use until 4th July 1932, when the sidings were closed and both tracks subsequently lifted.

Electrification to Sevenoaks, from Orpington on the ex-SER main line, and via Swanley and Otford on the "Chatham" network, was proposed by the Southern Railway Board in 1934. Coming into existence in 1923, the SR soon began to electrify ex-SE&CR suburban lines and the success of earlier schemes, such as that to Orpington in 1925, and subsequent progress on the North Kent routes in 1926, encouraged expansion of the third rail system. Public electric services to Sevenoaks on both routes commenced on 6th January 1935. The company’s last throw of the dice was further extending the electrified network to Gillingham, via both "Chatham" and North Kent Line routes, and Maidstone. The latter would take third rail eastwards from Otford Junction on the Bat & Ball line to Maidstone East, and from Gravesend Central, down the Medway Valley Line, to Maidstone West. Public electric services commenced to both Gillingham and Maidstone on all routes on 2nd July 1939. For the scheme to Maidstone East, four electricity substations were brought into use between here and Otford.

The Maidstone East to Ashford line was included in Phase II of the Kent Coast Electrification, most of the ex-LC&DR mileage having been covered in the first stage completed in June 1959. As part of the Phase II works, a loop was laid on the "up" side of the line between Otford and Otford Junction, beginning about 230-yards north of the latter and extending for about ⅓-mile. Four aspect colour lights were brought into use between Sevenoaks and Otford Junction on 4th March 1962; semaphores were retained north of the latter and a relay room was built beside the signal box. On 18th June 1962, the full accelerated electric timetable came into use over the route.

On 21st February 1971, three-aspect colour lights replaced semaphore signals between Swanley and Otford Junctions. An intermediate cabin at Shoreham was taken out of use at this time, the signal box at Swanley taking over its functions; the signal box at Otford station had closed in February of the previous year, but that at the Junction remained in use. On 5th June 1983, both Swanley and Otford Junction signal boxes were closed when the Victoria Panel at Clapham Junction took control of the area. The latter’s scope extended to Kemsing, where the control boundary was met by the signal box at Maidstone East.

In Summer 1991, Otford was identified as one of three sites where freight loops would be constructed in connection with the opening of the Channel Tunnel, the other locations being Borough Green and Headcorn. At each, single loops of about 985-yards (900-metres) in length were to be laid, their purpose being to allow freight trains to take refuge, enabling faster passenger services (diverted Eurostars and normal domestic trains) to overtake. The loop at Otford was laid on the "up" side of the Maidstone line, about 700-yards from the Junction, and was brought into use on Monday, 28th March 1994, controlled from Victoria signal box (ref: Branch Line News No. 730, Branch Line Society, 21st May 1994).

Otford Junction: 1940

A 1940 overview shows the southern part of the triangle to have been lifted, resulting in abolition of Otford ''B'' and Sevenoaks Junctions. Sevenoaks Brickworks had been established in 1928, the rail connection seen in the above diagram having come into use at that time. The brick works' line continued south to a large sand pit and rail-served building. The works ceased to have a rail connection with British Railways in 1955, but operation here continued until 1991. Drawn by David Glasspool