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Bournemouth Central

Welcome to Bournemouth

photograph by Colin Duff

Today the fact that such a prosperous resort and major urban conurbation as Bournemouth should be bypassed initially by the railway seems remarkable. However the Southampton and Dorchester Railway pursued a circuitous route which took in the then major areas of habitation of Ringwood, Wimborne and Poole, at that time Bournemouth was scarcely a village, more a cluster of dwellings around the inlet of the Bourne stream. Its population in 1840 was merely 200. When the line between Southampton and Dorchester opened - albeit hesitantly due to problems with the tunnel through Southampton - on 1st June 1847 Bournemouth residents had to make do with a horse drawn omnibus to the nearest railhead at Hamworthy. However the luxuriant surroundings and mild micro-climate of the location was not overlooked and its rapid expansion as an exclusive prosperous resort commenced without the benefit of direct rail access. Indeed this exclusivity led to many residents pursuing a contrary relationship with the railway. Whilst they welcomed the prosperity the railway would - and spectacularly did - bring to the area they did not want any of the less desirable aspects it could also bring. Thus when the railway did arrive it was confined to the very outskirts of the town and subsequent proposals to bring it nearer to the heart of activities were rejected. So the legacy is that even though the town expanded well beyond the tracks today the station is still a brisk 20 minute walk the town centre.

The first station, called Bournemouth East, was sited at the other side of Holdenhurst Road to the current station. Finished on 14th March 1870 this was at the end of an extension of an existing branch from Ringwood to Christchurch which originally opened on 13th November 1862. The facilities offered by this station were very basic and not befitting of a wealthy town which by 1871 had reached 5900 inhabitants. The second station in the town, Bournemouth West, opened on 20th July 1874 and this was a far more substantial affair at the end of a new branch from Poole. It was served initially only by the Somerset and Dorset Railway with trains connecting with the LSWR at Wimborne. As in many other British towns the coming of the railway led to a step change in development and expansion. By 1881 the population was 16,800. Despite still wanting to keep the railway at arms length the town was nevertheless frustrated by both the circuitous and slow routes serving it and the dilapidated East station. Thus it actively encouraged competition from the LSWR's rivals. This prompted the LSWR into providing a more direct route to Southampton via Christchurch and Brockenhurst which opened in stages, the full route being completed on 6th March 1888. Before this completion the town's two stations and the branch to Poole were linked by a new line opened on 28th September 1886 with a triangular junction into Bournemouth West. Thereafter the West station became the terminus for most LSWR Bournemouth services from Waterloo and remained so for Somerset and Dorset services.

A new Bournemouth East Station opened on the other side of the Holdenhurst Road on 20th July 1885. Designed by William Jacob, the company's Chief Engineer, this station was a far grander affair designed to resemble a winter garden and has been described as the most impressive overall roofed station west of Waterloo. With fine brick station buildings on both sides topped by a second story wall with airy windows the effect was completed with a high glass canopy (40ft up, 350ft long and 100ft wide) and glazed ends. In addition to the two main platform roads through the station there were two through roads and both the up and down sides had small bay platforms, on the down side towards Poole (and in the very early days also towards Southampton), on the up side towards Southampton. A locomotive depot was built at the western end of the up side of the station. The area of the former east station was then used for goods traffic. About the same time Bournemouth West station was enlarged. The new East station was renamed Bournemouth Central (even if it wasn't and still isn't) on 1st May 1899. The station was not provided with much in the way of coach berthing facilities as this was dealt with at Bournemouth West station where most services terminated. However early accounts note that the central roads were used for stabling coaches. When free the central roads were mostly used for passing goods services. The down western bay was used for local Weymouth services but until comparatively recent times the up bay was mainly only used for goods/parcels stock and holding locomotives.

Despite not being the terminus for most services the Central station was a hive of activity with down trains being split into Bournemouth West and Weymouth portions on the down side and similarly joined on the up side. Curiously throughout steam days it was always the tradition that the Weymouth portion would be at the head of the train in both directions, this requiring the sets to be re-marshalled in Clapham Yard at the London end before they returned west. In LSWR days up trains would be joined in the following sequence. The Bournemouth West portion would be the first to arrive hauled by the main train engine. This locomotive would then uncouple and hold east. The Weymouth portion would then arrive on the through line and be reversed onto the portion standing in the platform. The Weymouth locomotive would then uncouple and depart and the main train engine be coupled back on. By BR days this sequence had changed to a more involved operation. The Bournemouth West portion, containing the catering cars, would again be the first to arrive and the station pilot locomotive, usually a M7, would couple up to the rear. The loco bringing the train from Bournemouth West would uncouple and depart. When passengers had joined the train the pilot would pull the train back into a long siding adjacent to the locomotive depot. The Weymouth portion hauled by the main train engine would then arrive and the station pilot would then propel the Bournemouth West portion back onto the end. The coupling operation would frequently be bumpy and noisy with the coaches' buckeye couplings not always engaging on the first attempt due to the curved track through the station.

The station was slightly rebuilt in 1928. The down bay platform was abandoned in December 1927 and the "B" signal box closed on 8th July 1928 so that the down platform could be extended to take two 12 coach trains. This happened at pretty much the same time as the up platform at Exeter Central was similarly extended. A new 60 lever signal box "Bournemouth Central" above the new canopy was provided and this remains in operation today. There was a scissors crossover to the down through road adjacent to the box so that a connecting Weymouth local could be held in the down extension whilst a full length Bournemouth West service was handled in the main platform which then overtook the local via the scissors crossover. This platform extension became a boon to railway enthusiasts as it offered a covered, almost "grandstand", view of activities in the busy locomotive depot opposite.

With the Southern Railway having a close working relationship with the British Pullman Car Company having a prestigious resort such as Bournemouth as the destination of a premium service was a clear business prospect. Previously the LSWR included Pullman coaches in Bournemouth trains between 1890 and 1910. The all-Pullman Bournemouth Belle was introduced on 5th July 1931. Initially it ran at weekends throughout the year and weekdays during the summer, from 1936 it ran daily. Bournemouth West was the terminus for the Belle though it made a call at Central to drop off passengers in the down direction and pick up on up services. Normal services to the resort were also favoured. From the 1938 summer timetable the Bournemouth Limited service introduced two 11 coach trains of refurbished Maunsell stock, this stock also saw the introduction of Bulleid's bright malachite livery with sunshine lettering. One train formed the Bournmouth Limited, dep Bournmouth West 8:20am, return dep Waterloo 4:30pm whilst the other set formed an un-named train dep Waterloo 12:30pm, return dep Bournmouth West 5:37pm.

The next major change to the station and its services came with the end of steam operation on 9th July 1967. It had long been the Southern's ambition to extend its electrified system to Bournemouth and this was finally achieved under British Railways in 1967. Prior to this Bournemouth West station closed on 4th October 1965. An EMU depot was built on the former approaches to the West station though the leg of the triangle towards Central was removed requiring a reversing movement to gain access. The site of Bournemouth West station was occupied by a ring road development. The through roads at Central were also removed in 1966. The end of steam operation also saw the last Bournemouth Belle service on Sunday 9th July 1967, however this had been diesel hauled by the Southern's borrowed Brush type 4s (subsequently class 47) for the final months. However this was not the first time that the Belle had been diesel hauled since the service had use of the SR's experimental diesel locomotives between 1952 and 1954. The locomotive depot closed and was razed to provide a car park. The site of this depot and also the down platform extension have subsequently become dissected by a road overbridge. The Central suffix was dropped from the station's name from 10th July 1967 although to many who were bought up in the steam age it will forever be Bournemouth Central.

It was not financially viable in the 1960s to extend the electrification to Weymouth. This resulted in a quandary of how to maintain through services and the solution devised was novel. Tests in the mid 1960s had proved that high speed main line push-pull operation was both feasible and safe. The result was to have a high powered EMU (4-Rep) at the London end pushing trailer units (4-TC) to Bournemouth where the trailers would be detached and the pulled to Weymouth by a push-pull equipped diesel electric locomotive (class 33). The operation in the up direction was would be the reverse. The down platform extension (platform 4) was often used to hold the diesel loco between workings. Thus dividing of trains in Central station continued into its electric age. Electrification saw a significant acceleration of the service from Waterloo and clock face operation. Slow services were operated by 4-Vep EMUs and for the first time the up bay platform came into regular operation for such services to terminate in the station. After a period of interim operation using some interesting combinations of TCs and Electro Diesel (class 73 & class 74) locomotives due to the non availability of 4-Rep units (some of which had been delivered from York works to the Southern without traction equipment which then had to be fitted locally) the full electrified service commenced on 10th July 1967. However due to continuing availability problems, including late delivery of the 4-Veps from York, the electric timetable was not fully effective until well into 1968.

Bournemouth had long been a destination for trains from places further north than London. Such services terminated at Bournemouth West and reached the town either by the Somerset and Dorset route or the GWR/WR via Basingstoke and Oxford. From 1st July 1910 the LSWR collaborated with the GWR to run a Bournemouth - Birkenhead service which at times contained coaches for Manchester. A well known long distance named train was the Pines Express between Bournemouth and Manchester (at times with coaches for Liverpool and Sheffield) via the Somerset and Dorset route. When Bournemouth West station closed such (by then termed) inter regional services were terminated at Central station. The last Pines Express via the S&D was on 8 September 1962 and thereafter it was routed via Oxford. From 4th October 1965 the Pines started from Poole however the whole service was discontinued on 4th March 1967. However many long distance services, indeed as far as Edinburgh, have survived - today they are operated by Virgin Cross Country.

In the mid 1980s the need came to replace the Reps and TCs and new low cost technology now permitted the line between Bournemouth and Weymouth to be electrified - albeit with compromises. Twenty four 5 car units of 23 metre Mk3 hauled coach stock design (but with power operated swing plug doors) were selected, publicised as "Wessex Electrics" and designated class 442. However despite the new body shells the long Southern tradition of re-using equipment prevailed since the 4-Rep traction motor and control equipment was far from life-expired. This required Reps to be withdrawn before the 442s became available and led to again to interesting temporary formations being used. Full electric services to Weymouth commenced on 16th May 1988. Because of the restricted power supply between Bournemouth and Weymouth (caused by the low cost nature of the electrification scheme) only one unit could work this end of the line. Thus dividing and joining of trains in the station is still common. The mid 1980s also saw a short term revival of the Bournemouth Belle using VSOE stock. This premium rate service ran on Saturdays between May and September in 1985 and 1986.

The extensive glass canopy and end panels were expensive to maintain and led to the removal of glass from the central sections by the early 1960s. The station buildings were allowed to dilapidate to an alarming degree resulting in proposals for the station to be demolished and be replaced by a more functional structure. Such plans were thwarted by the local authority and by 2000 the station and canopy had been gratefully restored to magnificent effect. Today the station continues to be a busy place with a mix of London, local, regional south coast and long distance services. A visit merely to view the stunningly restored buildings and canopy is highly recommended.

West end of station

This atmospheric photograph taken on 12th August 1964 illustrates the western end of the station from almost the end of platform 4.; This clearly shows how the down platform extension, when not occupied by a train, provided a grandstand view (and protection from the weather) of the MPD for enthusiasts. Although the picture is not clear the coaches in the platform look like Pullmans so it is probably the Bournemouth Belle awaiting departure to Bournemouth West station.

photograph by Alan Robinson


Standard Class 5 73086 The Green Knight in the platform on 21st June 1966.

photograph by Ray Soper


Here is the beloved grandstand view of the MPD from the down platform extension taken on 18th April 1963. The modified Bulleid MN class Pacific is Nº35020 Bibby Line.

photograph by Alan Robinson


Nº35013 Blue Funnel Certum Pete Finem waits for the right away at the western end of the station.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

East end of station

A view captured by many photographers over the years, that of the eastern end of the station looking west, seen here (as on all the current day photographs on these pages) on 28th April 2001.

photograph by Colin Duff

Looking west

Looking in the reverse direction towards Southampton. A Connex coastway service is leaving platform 1. The B&Q store beyond the over-bridge now occupies part of the site which was once Bournemouth East station and then goods facilities.

photograph by Colin Duff

Up side buildings

These are the up side buildings seen from the forecourt. Under the canopy is the entrance to the main booking hall.  It is a matter of personal opinion but many think the down side of the station is more imposing and the main entrance.

photograph by Colin Duff

Down side buildings

The down side buildings which are on the town side of the station - hence the common misunderstanding that they are the main entrance. This side of the station is also the location of the bus stops serving the station, not to forget the car park entrance to the ASDA superstore.

photograph by Colin Duff

Bay platform 1

The interior of the up bay platform 1, looking east, which has only come into regular use for passenger services since electrification.

photograph by Colin Duff

Down platform extension

The signal box dating from 1928 high above the down platform extension (platform 4) on 28th April 2001 together with another view of the down platform extension. The ground on the right occupied by the station car park was formerly the MPD.  An April shower - well more of torrential storm - had just passed!.

photograph by Colin Duff

Road bridge

Today the trackwork is very different at this end of the station and the view is interrupted by the over-bridge carrying the ring road.

photograph by Colin Duff


Today the "grandstand" - dissected by the road bridge - is used as protection for bicycles rather than shelter for railway enthusiasts. The view now is only of the car park.

photograph by Colin Duff

Train shed roof

A clear view of the recently magnificently restored train shed roof and station buildings taken in a rare quiet moment between trains.  Note the use of potted palms - reinforcing the Winter Garden theme of the building - in sleeper boxes decorating the area formerly occupied the the through roads.

photograph by Colin Duff

Wessex electrics

Two of the Mk3 design Class 442 Wessex Electrics which now rule the Bournemouth road. A 10 car up service has been formed of one unit reversing in the station and another joining on the rear from Weymouth. A single unit is in the down platform.

photograph by Colin Duff


On 25th May 2005 Class 59 59005 "Kenneth J Painter" passes through the station with a train of bogie aggregate wagons.

photograph by Nick Beck

Virgin Voyager

Inter-regional trains - now under the auspices of Virgin Cross Country - are still part of the Bournemouth scene. A four car Class 220 Voyager arrives from Edinburgh.  As can be seen, the palms have given way to weeds and scattered rubbish, with the station often being criticised in the local press as a result!

photograph by Nick Beck

This page was last updated 16 May 2009

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