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1901: Paris could be four hours by train


Eurostar trains at Gare du Nord, Paris, April 2014. Wikimedia public domain image.

Future of railway travelling


We shall fight them tooth and nail, so Mr William Forbes is reported to have told an interviewer who met him and questioned him with regard to the advent of the electric railway from London to Brighton. We have no doubt that the Brighton Company will fight tooth nail. We remember how strenuously and successfully the Company fought all the many schemes promoted thirty years ago for new lines from London to Lewes and Brighton.


The Beckenham Line was a splendid milch cow for the Parliamentary lawyers, solicitors, agents and news proprietors. Eventually it died. But now we have something else. There is probably no more up-to-date general manager that Mr William Forbes, who was for continental manager on the London and Chatham system, and is a son of the railway magnate, Mr James Staats Forbes.


Since he has been at the head of the London and Brighton Company he has developed the resources of the undertaking to an enormous extent. Rapid trains and luxurious carriages have been introduced, and fares have been reduced. The continental route via Newhaven and Dieppe is more popular today than ever, and its patrons are growing in numbers.


electric trains will supersede steam

Everywhere in London we see the announcement, 'Brighton in One Hour by Pullman, Limited'. Whatever a steam locomotive railway is capable of Mr Forbes can extract from it. But the steam engine can no more expect to keep out the electric engine as a competitor than the gas-lamp could the electric lamp. We have but to turn our eyes to the metropolis to the enormous strides which electric traction is making, and we cannot be blind to the fact that electricity must be reckoned with by all railway companies.


There is an indefinable charm about rapid travelling. Passengers, we know, will loiter for hours in order to travel by an express train, even though a slower one would land them at their destination a few minutes earlier. And those who have made a few trips in motor cars or omnibuses are impatient of the horse-driven vehicle.


Cuckfield rejected the railway

The Brighton Electric Railway is naturally the earliest in the field. The distance between London-on-the-Thames and London-by-the-Sea is very short, and the country through which the new line will travel seems particularly favourable. When the present line was laid out, the landowners at Cuckfield opposed the coming of the steam-engine with all their might. It was a coaching town, and the inhabitants did not risk to lose the old-time vehicles with their undoubted fascination, and the result was that the railway was deviated, and Cuckfield lost its coaching and got no railway station, a new town springing up at Hayward's Heath, where the station was built.


We almost wonder that the proposed electric railway does not take the original route via Cuckfield which, we believe, is rather shorter. But is the Brighton Company going to let a new company in? Would it not be far more to their interest to themselves introduce an electric railway?


As we understand, the land abutting on the present railway for a considerable distance belongs to the company, and the electric railway could be constructed upon it, thereby avoiding the enormous outlay which an independent company would have to incur in the purchase of land.


over 23mph is dangerous

It is not at all improbable that the new scheme is a device to reduce the value of Brighton shares, and it might be effectually killed by a bold movement such as we suggest. The maximum of speed in steamers appears to have been reached. Anything beyond twenty knots an hour has disadvantages discomforts, and dangers. But there is every reason to suppose that with electric railways on both aides of the Channel, the journey from London to Paris will be accomplished ere long in four or five hours.


NOTE: Today London to Paris on Eurostar takes 2hours 15 minutes. The news item writer had assumed the Channel would be crossed by ferry and hadn't predicted the building of the Channel Tunnel.


Folkestone Express, Sandgate, Shorncliffe & Hythe Advertiser, 16 October 1901


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

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