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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stand up for Sussex – not on its trains

Wasting assets

 

Rebuilding Sussex’s other London – Brighton main line is long overdue.

 

Network Rail has published its Draft Sussex Area Route Strategy, which is open to public consultation until 13 January 2015.

 

Conditions for rail travellers will worsen, whilst more seriously its proposed plan for the next thirty years will acutely hinder economic growth in the South East.

 

Elsewhere in Britain, politicians are promising new multi-billion high-speed lines, whilst Network Rail is already spending millions on electrification and re-doubling routes for greater efficiency and capacity, as well as re-opening links and building new spurs. None of this is even being considered in Sussex – which they admit has the most congested and heavily-used railway in the UK.

 

NR tells us that the BML through East Croydon has the highest number of daily train movements in the whole of the UK – more than Reading, Manchester, Edinburgh, Paddington, Euston or King’s Cross. However, all they can offer the London borough is possibly squeezing in two more platforms. And whilst Croydon’s notoriously complicated Windmill Bridge Junction to the north will require massive re-engineering, at the similarly restrictive South Croydon Junction they’ve already admitted defeat, stating – ‘no viable solution currently available’.

 

Not so long ago (2007) NR investigated 16-car or double-deck trains for the BML, but rejected this because it would slow down the whole service – as trains would be delayed by dwelling longer at stations while people got on and off. Accordingly, NR seriously involved itself in proposals to restore Brighton’s secondary main line via Uckfield. Because subsequent redevelopment in Lewes means this line could no longer run directly into Brighton, they threw in the towel, as happened with every previous investigation by British Rail, Network SouthEast, Connex, Railtrack, etc.

 

That’s why BML2 was developed in 2010, with its easy-to-build tunnel beneath the South Downs leading straight into Brighton again. The result is what everybody wants – a second main line between London and the Sussex Coast.

 

Consequently, there has been high expectation that NR would seriously begin investigating BML2, put aside its sulky ‘not invented here’ prejudices, adopt a positive attitude and find ways to put the project’s highly-beneficial proposals into practice. Evidently, Government Ministers thought the same, especially as earlier this summer Lib Dem Transport Minister Baroness Kramer at the Department for Transport announced: “The Government recognises the importance of rail links between London and the South Coast. As such, we have asked Network Rail to consider options for improving capacity on this key corridor including the role that the Brighton Main Line 2 proposals could make.”

 

She was not alone. This assurance also appeared to be endorsed this summer in a response from Conservative Transport Minister Stephen Hammond who told Brighton MP Simon Kirby in the House of Commons: “The Department has not yet begun the process of formally considering options for funding during railway Control Period 6 (2019 to 2024). When this process formally commences in 2015, it will likely identify a range of potential options for investment, some of which may include elements of the wide ranging proposals, collectively known as Brighton Main Line 2.”

 

So where are they? Rather than carry out what was expected of them and investigate ways of developing BML2 to allow Sussex to manage the rising tide of rail congestion – let alone thrive and grow in the coming decades – NR has wholly ignored it.

 

In its Draft, NR prides itself on having ‘delivered’ more capacity – ‘with very small infrastructure investment outlay when compared with other routes in the UK’. That is a fact sorely apparent to everyone in Sussex, Kent and Surrey who have, for decades, sought expansion of the network – as well as all those who daily endure an inadequate system.
 
Rather than rebuild Sussex’s much-needed second main line, which would bring countless other money-spinning benefits too, NR’s planners have decided that they are going to cram the BML beyond its capable limits, safe in the knowledge that they can get away with it down here.

 

As a result, more trains will be shoe-horned into the already jammed route, which only a couple of years ago a previous Sussex Route Director was saying couldn’t possibly take any more. Balcombe for example will now have to support a train on average about every three minutes each way. Car parks are being enlarged to force more commuters to drive miles on rural roads to railhead across to the BML. Once on board, conditions will continue to deteriorate as they have admitted there will be more standing for longer periods, more congestion, more overcrowding, more engineering works – and of course more delays.

 

Virtually all along the BML they are planning reconfiguring junctions, possibly adding flyovers and platforms to support these additional services. However, whenever things go wrong – as unquestionably they will – there will still be no alternative route for the BML when everything comes to a chaotic standstill.

 

Brighton comes off worst of all. No new services in or out of the City’s station are planned, or possible, with their proposals. Unlike BML2, which could provide at least an additional 4 services to London in the peak avoiding the BML, Brighton stands out as the biggest loser.

 

The City’s economy will not benefit from any new rail connections whilst, similarly, large towns and the populated expanses of East Sussex, Kent and Surrey will remain disconnected from Lewes and Brighton. Neither is there is any good news for Brighton commuters who will find their trains jammed more and more by ‘rail-headers’ forced onto their route, whilst on the homeward journey they can all partake in the general scrum for a seat – or increasingly a place to stand.

 

We can only conclude that NR’s planners imagine they’ve been very clever by pretending they’ve never heard of BML2 or that it doesn’t exist. As such, they refer only to the less-than-satisfactory ‘Lewes–Uckfield’ reopening, which as we know has failed time and time again throughout forty-five years. By implementing this ploy they are able to disassociate themselves with consummate ease from attaching any importance to it. Feeble excuses are then found that a total of 12 miles of the current Uckfield branch would need redoubling and it would, heaven forfend, need electrifying too.

 

There is even more bad and uncomfortable news for Sussex. NR predicts that even with the new Thameslink trains, overcrowding on the BML will continue rising apace, as will standing for longer periods, so much so in fact, that any gains will be negated by 2024. The former chief of poorly-performing Southeastern, who now heads the ‘Govia Thameslink Railway’, has already landed himself in trouble for recently suggesting that commuters will find GTR’s new trains “more comfortable to stand up in”. This is because they’re installing narrow seats, with fewer of them, thus creating wider aisles and more standing room near the doors.

 

In reality though, commuters won’t find the new trains more comfortable to stand up in. Back in 2007, when NR was talking about longer or double-deck trains for the Brighton Line, it took into consideration people are getting fatter, or as they diplomatically put it, the ‘increasing body mass index’ of the population. 

 

The DfT’s specification on ‘capacity allowance’ for standing passengers has for many years been set at 0.45m² of floor space per passenger.  However, as this could cause a problem, and because they don’t want to invest in expanding Sussex’s rail network for more trains to run, the DfT and NR have a cunning plan. They have decided to reduce this allowance to 0.25m² which henceforth, as NR states, will be equivalent to four passengers per m². Hey presto – more Sussex commuters can be crammed in.
 
Elsewhere in the south, NR proposes allowing the shamefully-wasting asset of the Uckfield line to carry on terminating seven miles short of Sussex’s coastal network. It’s also content to leave it restricted to operating only 2 trains per hour in the peak, whilst just a few miles to the west, the parallel BML will be forced to struggle on – managing 19 trains per hour. This is not only absurd, it is unacceptable.

 

Nearer London, the strategic vision is just as dismally absent, where NR appears entirely unaware of the capital’s eastwards gravitational shift in growth, high employment and development. Warnings from those involved in developing Crossrail that the central London Thameslink core through Farringdon will be quickly overwhelmed on opening are being ignored. The need for Thameslink 2 across the eastern side of the capital is perfectly obvious to many.

 

NR tells us ‘More than 70 million passenger journeys a year are made on the main London to Brighton line, with 2,500 trains passing through the Balcombe Tunnel each week’ – evidence, if such was necessary, that Sussex needs a second main line not only for regular diversions, but another route to shoulder the massive burden. Before the 1960s the Uckfield line was British Railways’ second route between London – Brighton and BR was on schedule to electrify and develop it.

 

Only last year Lord Adonis said it was: “stark staring obvious that the second mainline to London is needed” whilst support for BML2 is seen across the political spectrum.

 

NR has no such ambition and is either unwilling, or unable, to comprehend what Sussex desperately needs. It meekly excuses itself by saying: ‘On the current understanding of demand growth, it is outside the timeframe of this study to determine what shape such a scheme would take, save to recognise that protection of the existing Lewes–Uckfield alignment is a sensible approach for the future.’
 
This isn’t good enough. It’s time to stand up for Sussex – not on its trains.

 

Our full 4-page response to Network Rail’s Draft Sussex Area Route Study can be downloaded here, or from the Wealden Line Campaign website, which also features other stories and the history of our 28-year campaign to restore the Sussex main line through Uckfield directly to Brighton and Lewes.