DARTFORD AND THE RAILWAY
Dartford was extremely well served with trains with a choice of three railway lines (and four routes) linking Dartford with London, and regular services to the Medway towns and the Channel ports and resorts beyond. The town got its first station with the opening of the North Kent Line in 1849. The station originally operated using just two platforms. A third platform was constructed c.1897, and a fourth in 1973. The original station buildings were in the Italianate style. They included timber-clad offices and a brick-built station house. Most of these old buildings survived until 1972 when an extensive modernisation programme was introduced.
Steam trains operated on the North Kent Line for almost seventy years. The trains' distinctive livery of green and red with yellow lining was replaced in 1914-18 by a dull grey livery, providing a less visible target for German Zeppelins and aeroplanes.
THE COMING OF ELECTRIC TRAINS TO DARTFORD
The introduction of electric trains on 6 June 1926 was a major step forward towards modernisation. The route's main function was to serve the extensive commuter business as commuter suburbs developed between Dartford and London. Approximately seventy trains operated in each direction each day with more trains operating in the busy peak periods. The electric trains were not always as reliable as their steam counterparts because they could not cope well with the problems of winter weather. The first trains had just four coaches with the two end ones motored. At peak hours two extra trailer coaches were formed between two three coach sets, giving a total of eight coaches.
The outbreak of war in 1939 initially brought about a heavy reduction in the number of passenger services. Railway lines were comandeered for the movement of freight, troops and military hardware. However, as things settled down, the regularity of passenger services improved. Trains were delayed and cancelled during air raids and as a result of bomb damage to tracks and rolling-stock.
In the hard winters of 1944 and 1946 there were considerable delays as
points and tracks froze. There were no de-icing trains at this time. When
the war ended and proper passenger services were reinstated, the railway
authorities examined different ways of increasing the number of passengers
carried by rush hour trains. In 1948, a pair of double-decker trains were
introduced to the London-Dartford route; more double-decker trains were
added in the early 1950s. These trains were very unpopular with commuters.
Access to the top deck was via a short stairway. In reality, these experimental
trains were a failure. Delays were caused because the top deck of the
train could not be cleared quickly enough at stations.
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At the station a new platform was added, a footbridge and luggage lifts were installed, and electric indicator boards fitted to provide passengers with detailed information about train services.
POOR SERVICE AND POOR FACILITIES AT DARTFORD STATION
The quality, punctuality and convenience of train services to and from Dartford was a constant source of local debate throughout the twentieth century. As early as 1900, Dartford Urban District Council drew attention to the poor state of the waiting room at Dartford Station and the dangerous overcrowding of the up-platform, particularly on a Saturday. There were regular complaints about the punctuality of services. In 1902 the Dartford UDC recommended that the general manager of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway be asked to issue cheap tickets to Dartford from stations between Plumstead and Dartford on Saturdays for people going to Dartford Market.
Criticisms about unpunctual trains and Dartford's third-rate station appeared regularly in the local press from 1900 until the early 1970s. Dartford Station was described as 'dangerous, bleak, ramshackle and in a sorry state'. Modernisation of the station in the 1970s led to some improvements but did not fulfil the expectations of local commuters or politicians. The architect of the newly modernised station was described as a 'madman'; it was stated in the local press that a 10 year old child with a box of lego bricks could have produced a more functional design. With British Rail in recession and commuter lines hit by strikes and disruption there was little hope of additional improvements until the 1990s.
In 1997 Railtrack spent more than £580,000 refurbishing the station and upgrading security facilities after a group of passengers on a London-Dartford train were robbed at gunpoint. Dartford's growing reputation as a magnet for vandals, thugs and criminals led to the introduction of security patrols on evening trains and the installation of closed circuit television.
Commuters were once again disappointed with the refurbishment; Dartford
station, with its poor access, lack of comfortable waiting rooms, toilets,
and basic facilities still, in the opinion of many local travellers, remained
third-rate. The only glimmer of improvement for local commuters was the
introduction of the new Networker trains. These trains had bright, clean
interiors with the emphasis on safety and ease of cleaning. Comfortable
high backed seats and attractive decor combined to provide a pleasant
travelling environment. The Networkers replaced rolling stock which was
forty years out-of-date.