Swale Halt

The presence of a platform in the area can be traced back to just before the formation of the Southern Railway, but the present site is of more recent origin, having come into use during 1960. The original halt’s raison d’être stems from the need to implement emergency passenger facilities when, in 1922, the Isle of Sheppey became cut off from the mainland. On 17th December of that month, a ship traversing the River Swale struck the Kings Ferry Bridge of 1904, which carried both the single-track railway and a narrow road over a moveable span which pivoted upwards for passing vessels. The outgoing SE&CR’s solution to the conundrum was interesting: the company decided to open two separate halt affairs either side of the severely damaged crossing. Both were single-platform timber constructions, and the two sites received identical names: ‘’Kings Ferry Bridge Halt’’. This allowed the halts to be treated as a single station, despite their separation by the river. The platforms would appear to have been the very last to have been opened under SE&CR auspices, coming into use in December 1922. The 1st of the following month saw the formal takeover of the network by the ‘’Southern Railway’’, the company’s Board of which was dominated by ex-LSWR figures.

Whilst the bridge was repaired, passengers were ferried across the water between trains, this arrangement later being superseded by a walkway. For those travelling from Sheppey to London, a boat service between Sheerness Dockyard and Port Victoria was put into operation, thus linking the island with the ex-SER line across the Hoo Peninsula. Through train running from the mainland to Sheppey recommenced on 1st November 1923, which saw the closure of the Kings Ferry Bridge Halt platform on the island. However, the SR retained the single wooden platform on the mainland side of the Swale, despite the surrounding marshland having a population of precisely zero. The nearby Ridham Dock had, however, come into Merchant Navy use the previous year. Kings Ferry Bridge Halt was simplified to ‘’Swale Halt’’ on 3rd March 1929, but retained its existing wooden platform with timber-built shelter. The Halt’s construction was near identical to those earlier wooden fabrications which had appeared along the branch to Grain in 1906.

Under the Southern Region, substantial alterations occurred. In the late 1950s, two significant projects coincided: the Kent Coast Electrification (Phase 1) and the provision of a new, larger bridge over the Swale. Re-signalling of the Sheerness branch was completed when, on 24th May 1959, a then new ‘’power box’’ at Sittingbourne took control of the area. This was followed by the commencement of the first scheduled electric services over the branch on 15th June of the same year, coinciding with the start of the full electric timetable on the ‘’Chatham’’ main line. In the meantime, construction of the new bridge over the Swale was in full swing. It was being built on a new site parallel with the 1904 structure, to allow continued road and rail access to the island. Thus, since the replacement river crossing was on a new site to the north of the old, the railway line had to be slewed behind Swale Halt. The wooden platform remained in use whilst a replacement, prefabricated concrete affair (a product of Exmouth Junction) was erected on the northern side of newly-laid track at the rear. The concrete platform was also host to a single shelter, this being constituted of a metal frame with corrugated metal cladding – near identical examples still exist at Snowdown Halt. Also, at the Swale end of the platform was an ‘’escape lane’’, which could divert any runaway train into a layer of gravel. The last day for the wooden halt of 1922 was 9th April 1960: on the following day, the replacement concrete-constructed vertical-lifting Kings Ferry Bridge came into use for railway traffic. Upon this new structure, the railway was positioned immediately south of the road, whereas the reverse situation had been evident on the previous bridge.

20th June 2007

A view towards Sheppey reveals the single prefabricated concrete platform of 1959. The 115-foot high road bridge, opened in July 2006, now dominates the skyline, but the distinctive towers of the 1960 structure can still be seen in the distance. © David Glasspool

20th June 2007

Class 466 No. 466032 is seen on the branch line shuttle run, arriving at Swale from Queenborough. These two-vehicle ''Networkers'' replaced the Class 508 units on Sheerness services, much to the relief of passengers. © David Glasspool

20th June 2007

The non-descript entrance to the station is marked by the British Rail ''Arrows of Indecision''. In the foreground is a driveway for the replacement bus service, when operating. © David Glasspool