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Latest 2017 BML2 Project Publication

BML2 response to Gibb Report BML2 response to 2017 Gibb report

Our 10pp response to the Gibb Report is now available to download for viewing or printing.

Click on image to start the download.

It is approx 2.5mb in landscape pdf format.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transport Department and Network Rail are crippling the South

Crippling the South

 

Trains are more popular than ever but the region cannot cope without an expanded system.

 


 

Frustration and anger continues to grow over the indifference to the south’s daily struggle to meet rising demand across its network. There are genuine concerns that between them the Department for Transport and Network Rail are strangling the south, seriously damaging its prospects, stifling its economy and undermining its future. This Government appears uninterested in solving such mounting problems, whilst its ministers will not face up to the fundamental weaknesses in this important region.

 

What the south urgently needs is a more comprehensive network so more trains can operate, but the Government and the rail industry continue to sit on their hands, still refusing to commit any large-scale funding towards a programme of genuine rail expansion. Yet they know how vital railways are to the economy, regeneration and prosperity because these are reasons they give for High Speed 2, insisting £50 billion must be spent on it.

 

Now we even have the chancellor George Osborne saying he wants to build a High Speed Three. But when it comes to the Home Counties south of the capital, whose diminished rail network now carries countless thousands more passengers into London than ever before, Governments of all political persuasions haven’t reopened or laid one additional mile of new railway. The southern region has been allowed to stagnate.

 

Double standards apply when it comes to HS2 and BML2. Whatever the merits of the former, the argument is put forward that all of a sudden it’s urgently needed – apparently no longer for ‘high speed’ – but to relieve the West Coast Main Line with substantial amounts of more capacity. Compare this to the Government’s attitude to the notoriously beleaguered Brighton Main Line and the latest comment from the Department for Transport to Edenbridge Town Council: “Large-scale investment in alternative routes in the outer area of the Brighton Main Line would likely be of very limited value in the short to medium term – this finding is applicable to the re-instatement of the Lewes-Uckfield line.”

 

Not surprisingly, the council said it was “extremely disappointed in the apparent dismissal of moves towards the much-needed restoration of the Uckfield line” adding that it would not prevent them continuing with pressure to see the line restored. One palpably angry councillor criticized such negativity, saying: “This has been going on for well over 25 years and is not getting anywhere because of the financial situation. Any money used on the railways will be wasted on the high speed line to Birmingham. The HS2 is unnecessary and such a waste of money – it's ridiculous. It's annoying as the cost for restoring and linking to Brighton will be minimal by comparison – the vast majority of the line is already there and operational –  it just needs some political commitment.”

 

In its response, a spokesman for Network Rail said: “We have asked for the trackbed of the route to be protected as we agree the route will be needed in future. However, there are more pressing needs on the Brighton Main Line, because the capacity squeeze is more acute at the London end of the route. Were we to create space for more trains at the coastal end of the line now, we would just be pouring more water into a blocked sink.”

 

But this is precisely why BML2’s London Phase is so vital – to enable more services and non-stopping trains from Brighton, Gatwick and elsewhere, to avoid clogging East Croydon and its multiple bottlenecks on either side.

 

And no matter what happens at the London end, the additional main line to Brighton and the Sussex coast is needed now and cannot come soon enough – because the entire BML is one ‘blocked sink’ for all its length. The same goes for the south’s Tonbridge Main Line, for which Network Rail admits it has no solutions.

 

In similar vein, an exasperated Uckfield commuter (one of David Cameron’s ‘hard-working families’) expressed his astonishment in a well-argued communication to the DfT’s ‘Deputy Director of Rail Network Outcomes’. He questioned why Network Rail’s Interim Report on South Coast capacity: “offers no forward strategic planning in respect of the continuing growing use of the rail network in the South East” and added: “I note that its contents have been accepted – presumably as the report does not propose spending any money”.

 

He went on to remind DfT headquarters in London: “Sussex remains particularly poorly served with effectively only one coastal commuter line to London running through it – the BML – to which everyone railheads. The Uckfield line does the best it can but strategically has no function in its present truncated form beyond serving the local towns and villages running near it.  It is chronically underused in terms of train paths if not underused by the local public and, as a result, suffers from severe overcrowding.”

 

Network Rail is fully aware of this, but has for years declined doing anything about it and comes up with numerous excuses. That’s largely because the DfT appears complacent, whilst successive Governments of all political persuasions over the past forty years have sat back and allowed today’s situation to develop.

 

Some very bold and real solutions are absurdly overdue and needed now – not in twenty years’ time – to create more train paths across the southern region into London. All the south’s principal routes are completely full and cannot support any more train services, whilst short-term fixes are now exhausted. The same goes for their latest attempts to squeeze in even greater numbers of commuters into the forthcoming Thameslink trains which will have fewer and narrower seats so more standing space is available.

 

When it comes to redoubling, electrifying and restoring Brighton’s secondary main line via Uckfield, the lame excuse of ‘no spare capacity in London’ is given. This, they believe, conveniently absolves them from doing anything at all.

 

Another excuse centres on the DfT and Network Rail’s view that third rail electrification is ‘dead’ and has no future role – but they won’t commit to overhead electrification either, which could easily and usefully be implemented on a second Brighton–London main line. No wonder many of us have the impression that they would really like people to stop causing them problems by using the railways.

 

All this boils down to recent depressing evidence that the south’s economic prospects are suffering badly because the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines have reached the very limit of their capability. Everyone knows – including Network Rail and the train operators – that the BML will carry on suffering periodic catastrophic failures, as well as daily delays. We can also guarantee that consequential repeated calls for restoration of Brighton’s secondary main line will continue to fall on deaf ears.

 

In his letter the Sussex commuter also questioned why “the powers that be” cannot grasp the fact that for want of just a few miles of track the vast conurbations of Tunbridge Wells and Brighton and all the towns around could be connected by rail. This fully functioning rail network would benefit many hundreds of thousands of people – a view recently expressed by Cabinet Minister and Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark.

 

In their response the DfT said: “The Department agrees with your view that the findings of the report need to be considered in the wider regional context”. However, so far there has been no evidence of this from Network Rail, which doesn’t feel it’s under any pressure to act decisively – or soon. Left to its own devices, it will continue to ignore the problem because, after all, simply saying they apologize for any inconvenience caused costs nothing.

 

The failings of the south’s inadequate rail network have been widely acknowledged for decades and by successive Governments and its ministers. The consequences are far reaching and truly enormous, having a direct and very negative impact on not just the regional economy but that of the capital.

 

Political pressure to address this shamefully long-ignored problem needs to be brought at the highest level.