In 1839 the London and Croydon Railway was opened, running to what is now West Croydon, and branching off from the London and Greenwich Railway near Bermondsey. In 1841 the London and Brighton Railway, constructed a line branching off in Croydon, and becoming the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1846. Branching off this in turn, at Redhill, was the Redhill to Tonbridge Line, from 1844.
However, construction was overtaken by events, namely the more direct South Eastern Main Line via Grove Park, Orpington and Sevenoaks, which later became the South Eastern Railway. Thus construction of the MKR in its original form was abandoned at New Beckenham, and a sharp kink to the west was introduced to take trains to a revised terminus at Addiscombe, near Croydon. This opened in 1864, and branches at Elmers End (to Hayes) and Woodside (to connect with the Oxted Line at Sanderstead, opening in 1885) were added. The branch from Woodside to Sanderstead was relatively unsuccessful and was finally closed by British Rail on 13 May 1983. The branch to Hayes became the main route, with the service between Elmers End and Addiscombe reduced to a shuttle service (although with some through services at peak hours).
Instead of running into the old Addiscombe station — which has been demolished, with housing being built on the former station site — trams follow the Sanderstead branch alignment as far as Addiscombe Road. While the old branch skirted around Croydon, the obvious major traffic objective in the area, Tramlink was able to make good use of this alignment by running trams up onto the Addiscombe Road in order to serve Croydon town centre. This provides the only section of Line 1 that is not on former railway lines. In addition, extra stops were added at Arena, Blackhorse Lane and Addiscombe (on the site of the former Bingham Road station on the Sanderstead branch).
Since Tramlink has taken over, a 10 minute service is provided during the day on Mondays to Saturdays and has proved unexpectedly popular. It provides a better public transport link to the previously under-served Purley Way retail area. Previously there was just the rail service, calling just at Waddon Marsh, or bus route 289, running into Croydon via a circuitous route via Thornton Road. Coincidentally, it is also the 289 that parallels Line 1 between central Croydon and Elmers End, so it is surprising that it was unaffected by London Transport's drastic bus cutbacks.
By contrast, the original contract specified a mere 30 minute service in the evenings and on Sundays. At these times route 2 was extended from Croydon town centre to Beddington Lane, to provide 4 trams per hour over this section, and this service has now been extended to Wimbledon to relieve severe overcrowding. It is intended that a more frequent evening and Sunday service will be run on route 1 once TfL take control of Tramlink later in 2008.
Both terminals have only the capacity for one tram, causing a bottleneck at the maximum service level. At both Elmers End and Wimbledon trams use the former train platforms, and in each case there is a single track into the terminus. This means that only one tram can use the stand at a time, and as there is a ten minute frequency this restricts scheduled stand time to a very tight 8 minutes. While there is physically no space at Wimbledon, a longer term plan is to build a proper twin track terminus at Elmers End, which would allow a more robust timetable to be introduced. Nevertheless there has been some fine tuning of the timetable to minimise disruption.
Route is listed from west to east. The following stops are served by all trams:
Then to East Croydon and back to Elmers End