Night Ferry - Train Ferry

Train Ferry

A train ferry was used between Dover and Dunkirk to convey passengers as they slept. The train used one of the three Southern Railway train ferries SS Hampton Ferry, SS Twickenham Ferry and SS Shepperton Ferry, built in the mid-1930s by Swan Hunter in Newcastle. Two ships were normally in service with the third as a spare. After the loss of the MV Princess Victoria car ferry in 1953 on the voyage from Stranraer Harbour to Larne Harbour it was normal for the Hampton Ferry to go to Stranraer each summer to provide a drive on/off car ferry service, and the annual ship overhauls were scheduled in the winter when it would return to relieve the other two in turn. This arrangement ended in 1961. There was also a French-owned train ferry, the St. Germain, built in 1951, and some of the car ferries built later also had rail tracks and were used on the service; the original ships having been withdrawn over the years 1969–1974 (before the end of the Night Ferry).

At Port of Dover and Dunkirk special enclosed docks with sea locks were built so that the train ferry could be kept at a reasonably constant level relative to the railway tracks on the land. It was not possible for railway vehicles to ascend the steep gradient that road vehicles would sometimes have to use crossing a car ferry linkspan when the tide is at its fullest extent. At high tide the ship could steam directly in or out of the dock, but at low tide the water had to be let out first before departure, like a canal lock, and on arrival water had to be pumped in to bring the ship up to track level. There was a pumphouse alongside each dock to perform this rather long-winded process. In contrast the train ferries which used to link parts of Denmark and Scandinavia did not have such problems, as the tidal range in the Baltic Sea is far less than at the Strait of Dover.

Two ships were required for the service each night. They passed in mid-Channel, the voyage taking about three hours. The ships usually returned in the daytime, carrying only freight wagons. On some crossings road vehicles were also carried alongside the trains, the decks of the ships being level with the embedded rail tracks.

The coaches were chained to four parallel tracks on the decks. The train was not a good timekeeper because of the complexity of loading and offloading coaches. It was the only service of the Southern Railway to be regularly double-headed, with a Bulleid Pacific and E1 or L class 4-4-0 locomotives.

Following electrification of the railway between Tonbridge and Dover Marine in the late 1950s, the train was usually hauled within England by British Rail Class 71 electric locomotives. In its final years Class 33 diesels or Class 73 electro-diesels were often used.

Along with the removal of much of the old railway infrastructure at Dover Marine (renamed Dover Western Docks in 1979), the Night Ferry enclosed dock at Dover has been filled in and is now used as an aggregates terminal.

The Second World War stopped services, but they resumed on 15 December 1947. A service to and from Brussels was added in the 1950s.

In the winter sports seasons of 1967-68 and 1968-69 the train carried a daily through sleeping car to and from Basle, Switzerland, where onward connections to skiing resorts were provided.

Read more about this topic:  Night Ferry

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