EIGHTY years ago 300 Southern Railway men raced through the night to complete a dramatic transformation.

In the glare of acetylene flares, the former Southampton West station became Southampton Central. From the tunnel end of Southampton West station to Millbrook there was feverish activity from midnight one Saturday to 10am the next morning.

Permanent way men, electricians, carpenters and labourers were brought in from miles around to carry out the alterations to the tracks because of the reconstruction of the stations. In ten hours the gangs moved into position 200 tons of rails and 2,500 sleepers while teams of electricians were busy wiring the new signal box.

“Blackness of the night and torrential rain added to the drama,” said a Daily Echo report of the time. “Engineers in oilskins and waders superintended the work which was carried through without a hitch.

“The night Hamworthy goods train had been advanced two hours, and rumbled over the tracks at the West at 12.17am instead of her normal time, 2.13am.

“As soon as the 1.15am mail train from the Terminus had been cleared the speed-up men had the permanent way to themselves until the 5.30am newspaper train from London steamed in, and by that time the down line had been changed over and was ready for use.

“Although drenched to the skin, the men worked with a will and carried on cheerfully”

Before dawn the temporary booking office on the down platform had been demolished and the site made into a new section of platform.

“By 10am the new permanent way bordered the new platforms at both stations, and one of the biggest changeovers in recent years had been effected without inconvenience to a single traveller,” said the Daily Echo. “It was a triumph of engineering, and a piece of work upon which everybody, from the resident engineers to the youngest labourer, must be congratulated.”

Just a few weeks after the work had been undertaken, the former Southampton West station boasted its new name Southampton Central. A through station of the Southampton to Dorchester line was opened in 1847 as Blechynden and became Southampton (West End) in 1858. It was replaced by a new station that was named Southampton West until 1935 when the word Central first appeared.

The station, that at one time had a landmark clock tower, figured strongly in the lives and memories of many Southampton people. In 1976 a reader wrote to the Daily Echo, recalling: “Southampton railway station always brings back many pleasant memories of those days when horse drawn cabs plied their trade and horse-drawn buses were operated by hotels.

“Opposite the station were two regency houses of pleasing design that had been converted into hotels, the Grosvenor and the York. Both were lost in the Blitz of 1940.”