Queen Elizabeth II Terminal

Southampton Docks

As far as your author is aware, this station has never formally closed, even though it has not seen passenger boat trains for several years. It sits at the end of a 1¾-mile long branch line, comprising a mixture of single and double-track sections, which diverges from the Waterloo main line at Northam Junction. Of the latter, this is positioned one mile east of Southampton Central, about 1,500 yards south of St Denys, and is in the shadow of a large depot which looks after the route’s Siemens electric multiple unit fleet.

Southampton Docks had been in railway ownership since 1892, when the LSWR purchased the "Southampton Dock Company" on 1st November of that year for £1,181,000 (£136,600,000 at 2021 prices). Heavy investment followed this acquisition, as the LSWR developed the area into a major port. Passing to its successor, the Southern Railway, in 1923, the port was greatly expanded by the opening of Western Docks in 1934. The docks were heavily bombed during World War II, but after the end of the conflict in 1945 measures were quickly taken to restart commercial passenger traffic. These began with the overhaul and refurbishment of Transatlantic liner RMS Queen Elizabeth for Cunard White Star, which was sponsored by the British Government to boost post-war morale. The vessel departed Southampton Docks on its Maiden Voyage to New York City on 16th October 1946.

In 1948, to further the revitalisation of ocean travel to the United States, construction started on a purpose-built passenger terminal to serve Cunard White Star’s Transatlantic route. Of Art Deco design and located in the Eastern Docks beside berths 43 and 44, this building was christened the "Ocean Terminal" when formally opened by Prime Minister Clement Attlee on 31st July 1950. The structure was 1,297-feet-long, three-storeys-high, flanked on both sides by a series of railway tracks, and passenger platforms were provided, which meant that boat trains from Waterloo could come right up next to the liners.

As part of the Transport Act, 1962, the management of Southampton Docks passed from British Railways to the then new "British Transport Docks Board". In 1965, construction began on a then new Transatlantic liner to replace Cunard’s incumbent Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship, the Queen Mary. In preparation for the new vessel, the building of a second passenger and freight terminal got underway within Southampton’s Eastern Docks, at berths 38 and 39, in the same year. This was a gigantic structure, measuring about 270-yards long by 55-yards wide, which had a 30-foot-wide canopy attached to its eastern elevation running the entire length of the building. The canopy provided shelter for two parallel-running railway tracks, one of which served a platform used by liner passengers. The structure was formally opened on 15th July 1966 by Queen Elizabeth II and, appropriately, was named the "Queen Elizabeth II Terminal". Cunard operated the then new terminal in parallel with the "Ocean Terminal" of 1950.

The route mileage from Waterloo to Southampton’s QEII Terminal via Basingstoke is approximately 80-miles. No fixed timetable existed for boat trains; they ran on an as-required basis, depending on whether or not there was a sailing. Trains between Waterloo and Eastern Docks typically showed headcode 95; Western Docks was headcode 96; those to Weymouth Quay wore headcode 90.

Based on your author’s research, Southampton’s Ocean Terminal of 1950 served its last liners exactly thirty years later and, thereafter, boat traffic in Eastern Docks was focused on the QEII Terminal of 1966. In the 6th March 1981 edition of the Liverpool Echo newspaper, it was remarked that Ocean Terminal had been surveyed by Television South — then due to be the Southern Television (ITV) franchise-holder from January of the following year — for conversion into studios. Alas, it was not to be, and the structure was demolished in 1983. Exactly twenty years later, a refurbishment of the QEII Terminal was completed.

When did the last trains serve the QEII Terminal? Based on your author’s best research efforts, the last genuine boat train appears to have run on 16th October 2012; this was a working from Glasgow Central operated by "Direct Rail Services", formed of the "Blue Pullman" BR Mk 2 air-conditioned stock and hauled by Class 47 Nos. 47828 and 47818. As for the last train in general to pull up alongside the QEII Terminal’s platform, this would appear to have been the "Andover Fist" rail tour, which ran a return trip on 8th April 2017 from Waterloo to Southampton Eastern Docks.

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

29th January 2000

Electro-Diesel No. 73108 is seen at the QEII Terminal fronting Hertfordshire Rail Tours' "The Southampton Docker", which was a circular working from Victoria, via Virginia Water and Basingstoke. The structure ascending from left to right in this southward view is a covered walkway; that section on the left, passing over the double-track, had been removed by 2011, and the cranes in the background had gone for scrap. The terminal building, including the platform canopy, was shortened at its southern end by about 120-feet in 2019. The abbreviation "ABP" on the sign stands for "Associated British Ports". © David Glasspool Collection


A northward view shows that end of the QE11 Terminal which was demolished in 2019. The platform canopy can just be seen on the far right, behind which are the huge silos of Southampton Grain Terminal. The bridge-like structure running along the sides of the terminal was an elevated walkway, the staircase of which can be seen on the right. © David Glasspool Collection