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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South too wealthy for rail investment

Brighton Lanes

 

Brighton and the busy South East needs BML2

 


 

The South’s rail network is in crisis, but some in the DfT and Network Rail still have no visionary strategy to hand. Our heavily-burdened rail network is increasingly being pushed beyond its limits – but commuters and rail users already know that.

 

In the last few days media attention across Sussex and Kent has again been drawn to BML2. A hugely supportive editorial comment in the Sussex Express pondered: “BML2 – more than just a pipe dream?” and queried whether the new government “might direct more than a kindly or indulgent glance” at the proposal, before urging “– now is the time to provide the infrastructure the South so desperately needs”.

 

In Kent, the Times of Tunbridge Wells focused on the recurring delays and difficulties on the equally struggling Tonbridge Main Line as it fails to cope with rising demand, for which Network Rail admits it has no long-term solutions.  The popular newspaper mentioned BML2 and its proposed re-opening of the Royal Borough’s other London main line.

 

Meanwhile in Brighton, the city’s Argus carried a five-day feature in which award-winning transport consultant Nik Askaroff commented: “Access into Brighton is hopeless and we’re at breaking point already. The immediate problem in my eyes is the trains. Someone needs a strategy. It’s not right that people are having to stand all the way to London because services are too packed and there are no seats.

 

The new government is well-aware of these problems and the serious threat to the London and South East economy if nothing is done. Decades of doing nothing have left this region in this perilous position, as George Osborne observed on a recent visit to Lewes “– a part of the country that is so often ignored, or left behind, under previous governments”.

 

In specific reference to BML2 the chancellor recently declared: “We’ll start a feasibility study into Brighton Main Line 2 – speeding up journeys and relieving congestion in first 100 days for the South Coast”. Similarly, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has also said he remains “alive” to reopening the former Sussex main line.

 

For its feature the Argus contacted the DfT but, entirely true to form, a spokesman argued BML2 was “not a priority”. Equally predictably, a source at Network Rail ignored BML2; saying instead that reopening a Lewes – Uckfield line could only provide “slower, unattractive journeys and would not serve the major conurbations at Haywards Heath, Gatwick and Crawley”. Such stale and myopic statements come as no surprise.

 

Hove’s Labour MP Peter Kyle called the chancellor’s promise “a waste of tax payers’ money”, whilst last month Network Rail mentioned they hadn’t yet seen any of the promised £100k to conduct a new study – which appears a distinct blessing given their attitude, lack of perception and business acumen. So who should have control?

 

Network Rail’s last Lewes – Uckfield study in 2008 cost Sussex taxpayers £130k. We saw the first confidential draft which began: “If this scheme was to be taken forward then it could be seen as another building block in the development of the Lewes, Uckfield, Oxted and London corridor. Later developments could include shorter journey time, redoubling any single-line sections, connecting into Tunbridge Wells and electrification”.

 

But this never made the final published report, which instead came to a very negative conclusion. The study’s assigned Network Rail project manager Chris Curtis was adamant – “the rail industry and society as a whole would be worse off through reopening the line, as the costs would be greater than the benefits by quite a significant margin. To speed up the journey time we would either have to upgrade and/or electrify the existing line”. The conclusion astonished railway pundits.

 

Chris Curtis subsequently elaborated that recent reopenings in Scotland – at Larkhall, Alloa, Airdrie-Bathgate, as well as Maesteg and Ebbw Vale in Wales – “have all been successful because they connected reasonably sized centres of population in economically deprived areas”. He then compared these with Sussex, observing: “– this part of the world is hardly deprived economically (particularly if the cars going up Lewes High Street are anything to go by!)”

 

Astonishingly, he added: “there are no plans for significant housing development on the line of the reopened route that would create new traffic to London from the reopened section” – as if this had any bearing whatsoever on the overall network. No wonder Sussex and Kent routes are now in such deep crisis.


As we reported two years ago (June 2013), Network Rail’s Chris Curtis further reiterated his position by arguing: “Every other successful line reopening in the past two decades has linked an area in need of (or planned) economic regeneration to a city/region that offers employment potential. It is fair to say that this does not apply to Lewes – Uckfield, neither of which could be termed economically deprived areas, and betwixt them lie only fields. As an aside, the reason the traffic is bad in that part of the world is that most people can afford cars and tend to use them.” It didn’t occur to him this might be because they no longer have a railway and a train service, whilst remaining lines are jam-packed.

 

And he offered no hope for central London’s chaotic congestion by expanding the network with BML2’s Thameslink 2 programme. In 2013 Chris Curtis said “the route to Docklands from a wide variety of Brighton Main Line (and branches) stations from 2018 will be change at Farringdon for Crossrail. No need for another new railway there for a while yet.” We should all hope the recent gridlock at London Bridge and elsewhere in the capital has since changed minds.....

 

Last week Nik Askaroff was right to warn: “– the effect on businesses will be dramatic if people start packing up and going elsewhere. The Tories now have a majority in government, so the hope now is that things will start to take shape and the government has a transport-minded approach.”


The DfT has now stressed that it is fully aware of the aspirations for BML2 and remains committed to finding a solution to capacity issues between Brighton and London.

 

Similarly rebutting his department’s dismal statement, the Secretary of State has subsequently told the Argus that he wants Brighton to benefit from a “world class rail service” and that he was “looking carefully at ways to improve the train service between Brighton and London” adding: “It’s vital that we create jobs and improve the lives of those who commute.”

 

In Brighton, and probably speaking for the vast majority of Sussex people, Nik Askaroff told the Argus: “– my top priority would be the trains – because they’re having an immediate effect on businesses. If people don’t use the trains and instead drive into Brighton their problem then is that there’s nowhere to park – businesses then suffer.”

 

After decades of false dawns, let’s hope this time our faith in politicians to get on with BML2 isn’t misplaced.