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.

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HM Treasury gives green light to Brighton Main Line 2 study

Yellow Aspects

 

Yellow aspects are now common on the Brighton Line which increasingly has to bear more trains and traffic

between the Sussex Coast and London. The south urgently needs the Government's green light for BML2. 

 


 

In a communication from HM Treasury, George Osborne has given his personal assurance to Sussex MP Maria Caulfield that the Government is committed to a full study into Brighton Main Line 2. The Chancellor added: “I am happy for you to share this letter with the BML2 campaign group, who I hope will find this response positive.”

 

For some months there has been anxiety among MPs that the forthcoming study would be just another narrowly-focused look at reopening the 7-mile link between Uckfield and Lewes. Mindful that this would have extremely limited benefit to Brighton, Peter Kyle MP for Hove expressed grave concern and questioned the seriousness of the Government in its approach to BML2 which would provide the all-important second main line between the seaside city and the capital.

 

In similar vein, deteriorating performance by train operator Southern provoked a heated and lengthy Parliamentary debate on 8 July, where a host of concerned MPs spoke of the utter frustration of their long-suffering constituents. Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert said: “It has the lowest satisfaction rate of any franchise. The company should hang its head in shame at what passengers are saying”.

 

He accurately observed: “The one thing that passengers expect and need is a reliable train service to get them to their chosen destinations, particularly if they have flights to catch or if they are going to and from work.”

 

Mindful of the recent upheaval in central London he voiced what so many have thought:  “Neither Southern nor Network Rail can wholly lay the problems at the door of the London Bridge improvements.”

 

Brighton’s Green MP Caroline Lucas, a keen supporter of the second main line, echoed his sentiments: “I assure the right hon. Gentleman that Brighton commuters certainly do not see any improvement on the Southern line. They are fed up with the service they are seeing”.

 

Whereas the DfT has consistently misunderstood BML2, such as claiming it wouldn’t serve Gatwick, Nick Herbert pointed out: “It is unacceptable that commuters and others should so often have to endure an overcrowded service and be forced to stand for either part or the whole of a journey. The problems with Southern and Thameslink are exacerbated by trains that stop at Gatwick and pick up a large number of passengers, which overcrowds the trains.”

 

Mindful of the multitudinous reasons why trains continue to be regularly held up on the BML, he warned: “There will be incidents that are beyond the control of the train operating companies or Network Rail.”

 

In short – the south needs more routes and far greater track capacity into London.

 

Extolling the crucially-important role of rail, Labour MP Helen Hayes said: “A reliable commuter rail service for south London is vital – not only for the comfort and convenience of my constituents – but for the productivity of our economy.”

 

Equally vocal was Lewes’s new MP Maria Caulfield and perceptive in her observation: “On almost a daily basis there is no longer a rush hour, as people leave earlier and earlier for work and then leave later and later to get home, so that they can actually get on a train—never mind having to stand.”

 

She declared many elderly people were simply unable to stand for the 70-minute journey and told her fellow MPs: “Instead of campaigning about complaints, I should be campaigning for improvements to rail services for my residents. We are trying to get a second rail main line from the coast to London.”

 

Croydon South MP Chris Philp insisted they weren’t complaining about the railways in general – but the Brighton Line “which is the worst in the country”. He mentioned neighbouring Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell shared his views on “this terrible service, which affects his constituents every bit as much as mine.”

 

Others attending gave full vent to their frustration and worries. Sussex MP Huw Merriman said: “it concerns me hugely that, as more housing is built in my constituency, the Uckfield line and the coastal line will become even more overcrowded.”

 

Labour has also taken renewed interest in the project, despite nowadays having little representation in the south outside London. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that a senior Labour source lamented to us: “I wish we had done it when we had the chance.”

 

Nevertheless, and to her great credit, the Shadow Rail Minister Lilian Greenwood MP expressed the view of the opposition: “If Southern is to accommodate growing demand, further infrastructure improvements are likely to be necessary. The operator is running 700 more trains a day than the route carried 20 years ago, across some of the most complex and congested sections of the national rail network.”

 

Turning specifically to BML2 she pointed out: “There appeared to be cause for celebration in March, when the Chancellor promised ‘a feasibility study into Brighton Main Line 2 – speeding up journeys and relieving congestion’.”

 

She then queried the wording of the actual Budget document:  “– which mentioned only‘a further study into reopening the Lewes to Uckfield rail line’ – and not into the whole of Brighton Main Line 2. Will the Minister say a bit more about whether the scope of that study will extend to the whole project or not?”

 

Rail Minister Claire Perry responded at length to many points raised and showed she had both grasp of the problem as well as the undeniable benefit – “Sorting out the route will deliver potentially the biggest productivity gain in the UK.”

 

She also appreciated the challenge ahead:  “It has some of the oldest and most complicated track layout in the country” and explained why successive Governments had shied away from the problem because it is so busy, comparing it to: “like doing open-heart surgery on a marathon runner.”

 

Claire Perry also warned MPs what we’ve known for a long time: “– delivering the London Bridge improvement programme will not solve all the problems on the lines in question, particularly the Brighton main line.”

 

This is just one reason why BML2 is so important.

 

In his groundbreaking letter George Osborne said: “Effective transport links are vital for our economy to function properly” – specifically adding: “This means providing significant transport investment to places like the South Coast, where it is essential to have excellent connectivity between London and places like Lewes and Brighton.”

 

Determined to make his position abundantly clear, the Chancellor then delivered his unequivocal declaration to Maria Caulfield and the BML2 Project Group:

 

“As you noted, I announced funding earlier this year towards a feasibility study for the re-opening of the Lewes–Uckfield line. However, I want to go further and take the opportunity to look at rail links in Sussex more generally, including the viability of a Brighton Main Line 2. Therefore, as part of the Summer Budget, I have announced the extension of the scope of the Lewes–Uckfield study to look at improving rail links between London and the south coast, including upgrades to existing routes, consideration of the Brighton Main Line corridor, and re-examination of the Department for Transport’s feasibility study on BML2.”

 

George Osborne has unquestionably shown he is his own man, whilst the fact that he, rather than the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, has made this statement is exceptionally encouraging.  

 

We therefore trust that under his stewardship the BML2 project will be properly and fully explored for all its substantial economic, social and environmental benefits to London and the South East. As Chancellor, he more than anyone else, realizes the potential it holds by giving the capital’s commercial heartland new horizons, as well as all rail-users new hope.