DfT says ‘adventurous’ Brighton Main Line 2 could be delayed

vast spare capacity

 

With neighbouring Brighton and Tonbridge main lines full to capacity, this route with vast amounts of spare capacity needs urgent investment to create BML2.

 

 

It hasn’t been a good month for the proposed High Speed 2 project. Quite aside from powerful opposition from Conservative shires over its impact, we have growing jitters from Labour about spiralling costs – and even threats to cancel it. There is no interest whatsoever from private financiers, whilst questions over the need for such a gargantuan sum spent on just one single transport corridor are now being raised. The latest is Transport for London upsetting the apple cart by insisting on major design changes.

 

We have no strong feelings about HS2, other than being seriously worried that it will inevitably suck funding away from projects which are vital to the nation.

 

From our perspective we see politicians and ministers becoming so besotted with such a glamorous high profile project that the everyday railway, which is crying out for more capacity, will suffer as a result.

 

The Department for Transport doesn’t understand Brighton Main Line 2. Only recently its ‘Rail Operations Advisor’ reiterated his department’s intransigent position (expressed also to local MPs) saying: “- it looks very difficult to construct a value for money case to re-open a railway line which, because there is no spare capacity through either Croydon or Tonbridge, could only be of use at off-peak times or when blockages occur on the Brighton Main Line.”

 

Had they studied BML2, they might understand that it doesn’t propose routing more trains from the Sussex Coast through Tonbridge. Relief of the Tonbridge Main Line (TML) is critically important – but Network Rail has no solutions of its own – other than suggesting train operators should price people off the busy high peak services to stifle demand.

 

BML2, by reopening Tunbridge Wells’ other main line to London, would provide new peak hour services and take thousands of commuters more conveniently to their place of work, thus markedly reducing congestion on the TML. It is a scandalous waste of national assets that this route is allowed to remain closed whilst the surrounding network increasingly groans under an enormous strain.  

 

In regard to Croydon, Network Rail is in a similar quandary and, whatever piecemeal ‘interventions’ (as they call them nowadays) are eventually implemented in the 2020s, the rapid pace of growth in the next few years will have already nullified them.

 

Serious money needs to be spent in the south. It should be broadcast loud and clear – the south desperately needs a new main line because its major arteries – the BML and the TML are already clogged and urgently need bypass surgery – to use Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s phraseology in his political defence of High Speed 2.

 

Last year Network Rail said once they’ve sorted out East Croydon, then reopening the Uckfield line “makes perfect sense”. Well, it clearly makes perfect sense now because an additional main line between Croydon and Brighton can’t come soon enough to cater for all those chaotic emergencies which persistently plague the BML – and people’s lives.

 

At a time when fifty billion pounds is being blithely talked about as though it was easy money, we are dismayed to hear the DfT say: “The Government has to concentrate the limited funds available on measures that will provide immediate crowding relief.”

 

Limited funds? Now why would that be?

 

Tinkering around with a bit of train lengthening here and there, or hoping that the new Thameslink trains (which will have reduced seating and increased standing room) will solve matters is a slap in the face for everyone who makes the daily slog into London.

 

In regard to BML2’s London Phase, the DfT’s advisor goes on to say: “The more adventurous aspects of the BML2 project amount, in essence, to Crossrail 3, but without the benefits that the Crossrail 1 and 2 schemes bring because BML2 does not aspire to serve central London.”

 

This misses the whole concept, because BML2 trains (from Brighton, Lewes, Tunbridge Wells etc) could serve central London if train paths were allocated or exchanged. Instead, we have a situation where thousands of daily commuters are forced into central London only to make connections elsewhere, such as Canary Wharf and the City.

 

As a spokesman for London City Airport said last week – “everyone knows that London is moving to the East”. But perhaps not the DfT? Office space around Canary Wharf is in increasing demand, whilst swish apartments and residential developments are springing up everywhere as regeneration of the eastern capital continues apace.

 

Added to this, London First is clamouring for improved rail links to both Gatwick and Stansted. But Gatwick, which aspires to expand its capacity from today’s 34 million passengers to 87 million by 2050, is well and truly hampered – marooned on the wrong side of the East Croydon bottleneck – and with no spare train paths into London.

 

BML2 is urgently needed to take the pressure off ‘central’ London, as well as the Brighton and Tonbridge main line feeders. We need BML2 to allow non-stopping trains to avoid the Croydon bottleneck which will always be a collar on growth – both rail and air.

 

In its myopic obsessing with HS2, the Government has lost all sight of the growing crises south of the Thames.

 

Never mind the DfT saying – “That is not to say that it [Brighton Main Line 2] will never be built, rather that there are several major infrastructure projects that are likely to be above it in the priority list.”  Patrick McLoughlin needs to realize that if the South East doesn’t work, then London won’t work.

 

And if London doesn’t work, then the UK economy won’t work.

 

Brighton Main Line 2 now.