The Southern Heights Light railway was a development of the earlier Tatsfield Light Railway proposal of 1898.  Although the earlier scheme had failed through the lack of ability to raise the necessary finance, the idea had not gone away.  In 1925 it was resubmitted in a modified and extended form, this time by the Southern Railway, who had been supportive of the original scheme, but ultimately had declined to commit to it financially. The Engineer in charge would again be Colonel Holman Stephens.

The line would commence just south of Orpington station, where there would be connections to both the up and down main lines.  The two spurs would combine a short distance from the station, and from that point on the line would be single track. It would initially head south  through Farnborough, Keston, Downe, Cudham and Biggin Hill to Tatsfield, then west via Titsey, Chelsham and Warlingham to Sanderstead, just south of Croydon, where it would meet the main line to London from Uckfield and East Grinstead, see map.   Through services onto the main lines at both ends were envisaged, with trains able to originate from and terminate at Charing Cross and Victoria respectively. The central section being a Light Railway would be subject to a 25mph speed limit. The line would be fully electrified for use by passenger trains, while freight services would be steam-hauled..

The land to be served was challenging, and the line would therefore inevitably involve some quite steep gradients. The bridges proposed were of a single span type, and the scheme asked for powers to install level crossings where necessary. The total cost for the land, buildings and stations was estimated to be £575,000.  Just three stations would be provided, all with goods yards, and a further five or six places would be served just by halts.

While many of the land owners and local authorities affected were not opposed to the scheme, subject to their interests being safeguarded, there were many formal objections and concern about potential depreciation of private property and agricultural land. Against these the promoters urged that the value of the land would be enhanced by having a railway, and that new business opportunities would be created.  It was also argued that the scheme would provide employment opportunities for local people, particularly during the period of construction.

At a meeting of Farnborough Parish Council in February 1926 it was agreed to support the scheme but to point out that there was no safeguard that footpaths would be kept open while construction was underway.  They considered that the provision of a station rather than a halt to serve Farnborough was an absolute necessity, and there were also detailed questions with regard to the siting of bridges and other road crossings.

The scheme received strong support from the Squadron Leader in charge of Biggin Hill Air Station on behalf of the Air Ministry, who pointed out that at the present time the nearest station was some distance away in Bromley.

At the beginning of June 1929 it was learned that the Railway Order had been given provisional approval, conditional on: satisfactory arrangements being made with the Southern Railway for operating the line; capital to be raised and land acquired within two years of granting of the final order; and the amount of the deposit to be paid being increased from £10,000 to 5% of the final construction estimate (at least £28,750). It was also stated that ongoing discussions with the various local authorities regarding roads, bridges, sewers etc. would need to be completed before the full powers could be granted.

It proved very difficult to obtain financial backing for the scheme, and Col. Stephens even endeavoured to raise the necessary money in the United States.  Unfortunately Colonel Stephens became very ill in 1931, and he died in October of that year. Without his drive the scheme lapsed. There were some half hearted attempts to revitalise it during the 1939-45 war but these came to nothing.

See also:

Colonel Stephens Museum
Colonel Stephens Society
Wikipedia -  H._F._Stephens

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