NETWORK RAIL REVEALS BML2 AS FASTEST ALTERNATIVE ROUTE
Published on Thursday, 01 October 2015 07:38
Shameful - the South East’s most notorious wasting asset.
Ahead of George Osborne’s own commissioned study into examining the Brighton Main Line 2 Project, Network Rail’s newly-published ‘Sussex Area Route Study-Final’ already reveals that BML2 gives Brighton & Hove, Lewes and Eastbourne the fastest alternative rail route to London.
The fastest direct trains between Brighton and London Bridge currently take 56 minutes (semi-fast services 64). However, NR says trains diverted via BML2 would take just 73 minutes, providing the fastest-possible second route between London and the Coast. Journey times to London Victoria are equally impressive.
BML2 is shown as being much faster than reversing trains at Lewes by 20 minutes (with only an Uckfield–Lewes link). BML2 is also faster and more convenient than building a ‘Lewes loop’ which would incur at least 8 extra minutes. This supposes that such a tight curve is feasible, or Lewes had the capacity for additional trains.
BML2 is, of course, infinitely faster than the current 2-hour alternative via Arundel – as Labour delegates had to endure on the party’s conference opening day in Brighton. Even a new ‘Arun chord’ costing up to £75m to avoid reversing at Littlehampton or Ford, would add an extra 50 minutes.
But NR thinks the South East can wait at least another three decades for BML2. Its author, ‘Group Strategy Director’ Paul Plummer says: “I am delighted to present the Sussex Route Study, which sets out the strategic vision for the future of this vital part of the rail network over the next 30 years”. However, commuters will not be delighted once they experience being crammed into very higher-density rolling stock with narrower seats and more standing room.
An attempt to cram more trains onto Sussex’s already grossly-overloaded routes is also planned. Although NR says Sussex lines carry more than 60,000 people in the high peak hour alone into Central London, unlike Scotland, no new or re-opened lines are planned, despite this being the most over-populated and heavily-used system in the UK. So these flash new trains will still be stuck on the same old railway, subject to as many delays and cancellations.
Even though BML2 is an outright winner on emergency diversion, NR says this alone cannot justify its case. However, its diversionary capability is just a big bonus – not the sole impetus – and typically, NR is incapable of seeing BML2 as a hugely-useful new main line in its own right.
NR and DfT officials don’t understand that thousands are forced to railhead to the Brighton Line and that’s why it’s in such deep trouble. The overall journey, from doorstep-to-workplace, would be even faster on BML2 in many cases. Falmer to London is an example, or consider how fast and easy Brighton to Canary Wharf Crossrail would be, avoiding bottlenecks at East Croydon, London Bridge and Blackfriars.
Not long ago New Labour’s Strategic Rail Authority (remember them?) told us relieving the Brighton Line was top priority. No use extending car parks – the trains are full. Can’t run more, or longer, trains – this would slow down the service yet more. Now, in a complete U-turn, they are extending Brighton Line car parks, encouraging thousands more to swamp the route, whilst according to Thameslink’s new boss these super German-built trains will be “more comfortable to stand-up in”. NR’s study reveals each of Southern’s current ‘class 377’ carriages can carry 99 people (60 seated 39 standing), whereas each new ‘class 700’ Thameslink carriage will carry 148 – half as much again (55 seated with 93 standing). The DfT has assisted by relaxing its stipulation of two people standing per square metre – to four.
BML2 is also misunderstood. NR says: “The BML2 scheme would utilise the former alignment of the Lewes–Uckfield line but instead of connecting to Lewes would tunnel under the South Downs to run directly to Falmer and onward to Brighton via the East Coastway.” Importantly, it should read “as well as connecting to Lewes”. More erroneously, it talks about a “double-deck track over Croydon Tramlink” – which has never been proposed and isn’t necessary.
NR boasts “The Thameslink Programme will have resolved the central London bottleneck” and is putting excessive faith in the developing ‘European Rail Traffic Management System’ (ERTMS) whereby, in theory, more trains can be digitally controlled. Only last January, NR’s computer modelling ‘proved’ that 22 trains per hour could operate through London Bridge – but we all remember what happened there.
All hope – for that’s what it is – is now being put into ERTMS operating 24 trains per hour (that’s one every 150 seconds) each way through the 2-track Thameslink core at Blackfriars/Farringdon. As Private Eye pointed out, they are relying on trains north and south converging in the right sequence with no delays.
The much-respected journal Rail Engineer recently expressed grave doubts over the emerging technology, concluding: “Fingers crossed all round, I guess.” whilst Private Eye commented “The chance of delays on the Brighton line, and their far-reaching effects, would be eased if an alternative Brighton mainline were available; but the engineering involved makes that impossible before the **** hits the fan in 2018 or 2019.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, NR’s Final Sussex Study is narrowly focused on their own railway operations. It fails dismally on what it calls its ‘conditional outputs’ (expectations) regarding sufficient capacity for the leisure market at weekends, appropriate connectivity and capacity for tourist attractions, access to higher education establishments and making the rail network more accessible to passengers.
So what shall be done? As others have said, the situation is seriously damaging not only the economy of Sussex, but a whole swathe of London and the South East. That is why the Chancellor’s sudden intervention is so very welcome and significant because he is sensitive to the hugely negative impact the current network has on growth and recognises the immense value and potential of BML2.
The project’s Thameslink 2 aspect has the greatest benefit, economic return, and usefulness after Crossrail. And let’s not forget that Gatwick is a huge employer/contributor to the South East economy (even though some seem to want it closed-down), but was seriously marked down by the recent Sir Howard Davies Airports Commission Expansion Report for its poor rail connections.
Rail Minister Claire Perry at the DfT has said she expects a study into BML2 to be complete by the end of the year, but what we don’t need is a rushed dismissal from officers anxious to shelve it.
George Osborne needs to be at the very heart of this because BML2 is as much about the economy as transport, and it is a project he needs to steer through with all possible speed.
HM Treasury gives green light to Brighton Main Line 2 study
Published on Tuesday, 04 August 2015 07:15
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.
Osborne promotes Brighton Main Line 2 Project
Published on Monday, 13 July 2015 07:07
This closed main line from London to Lewes and Brighton should be growing traffic – not trees.
After January’s meeting with Rail Minister Claire Perry, when the far-reaching benefits of BML2 were discussed, George Osborne was accordingly briefed. The chancellor subsequently committed funding in his spring budget towards a proper investigation into reopening the region’s second main line to the Sussex Coast.
However, there was some lingering uncertainty over what might be investigated, despite George Osborne himself being unequivocal and, promising just before May’s general election, to start a feasibility study into Brighton Main Line 2.
Since being elected, two new Sussex MPs Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) and Maria Caulfield (Lewes) have expressed a specific interest in the south’s ailing rail system and are working closely together. Only recently, Maria Caulfield briefed Treasury officials about BML2 and presented them with documentation on the project.
She also sought clarification from the Department for Transport over their proposed scoping of the new £100k study and received a statement from department officials. In this the DfT began by saying ‘In recent years stakeholders have suggested that the Lewes – Uckfield line could provide a valuable alternative route between London and the south coast during disruption on the Brighton Main Line’.
‘Recent years’? – in truth, people and politicians have been saying this for more than 46 years, whilst the route is needed all the time – not just during disruption!
The DfT reiterated Network Rail’s view that “large scale investment in alternative routes in the outer (southern) area of the BML would likely be of very limited value in the short to medium term.” DfT officials seem to share the view that reopening is part of a longer term strategy. In other words, the situation has got to get even worse, whilst Network Rail is still trying to solve bottlenecks in Croydon and central London.
As a result, the DfT therefore thought that the new study could be restricted to the following three conditions:
1) The opportunities that the reopening of the Lewes–Uckfield line could offer in terms of local journeys. This would consist of a market study looking at the demand for local journeys along the immediate Lewes–Uckfield corridor as well as neighbouring areas.’
2) The strategic contribution the reopening of the line could make during times of disruption to the BML, both planned and unplanned.
3) Consideration of the capital funding options, in the event that a case was identified for reopening the line. Key to this would be an assessment of the split of local and national funding, reflecting on the findings of the first two elements of the study.
To begin with, the reopening of this strategic section has virtually nothing to do with ‘local journeys’ – it is one link in a very long chain. A 15-minute interval bus service operates between Lewes and Uckfield, whereupon any ‘market study’ based on such a narrow principle would come to an extremely negative conclusion. But that’s precisely the answer the DfT would prefer.
On the second point, we already know it would be impossible to construct a strong enough business case purely as a diversionary route. Although the line could be helpful ‘at times of major perturbation’ – to use Network Rail’s terminology – the economic validation wouldn’t be sanctioned.
Regarding the third point, the chances of obtaining any contribution towards reopening a Lewes–Uckfield link from ‘local funding’ (i.e. East Sussex County Council) are risible and even more remote than Greece paying off its national debt by Christmas. ESCC has always been hostile to this project and has said as much in numerous statements, ever since it managed to engineer the line’s closure for its Lewes Relief Road scheme in the 1960s.
Such a proposed scoping demonstrates that some obdurate Network Rail managers and DfT chiefs remain unwilling, or unable, to grasp the concept of BML2 and its wide and hugely beneficial implications for London and the South East. It’s little wonder that we find the South’s badly-overloaded rail network in such an unhappy predicament today.
BML2 is not about huge public-purse spending to run a few more subsidised trains, but a business-minded strategy of opening-up specific strategic links to tap into guaranteed profitable markets.
Fearing what might happen if left to Network Rail, we contacted our two new MPs, who in turn raised the issue with Rail Minister Claire Perry. Nusrat Ghani responded:
“I’m pleased to let you know that Maria and I met with Claire Perry last week to discuss various issues with our rail service in Wealden and beyond. She confirmed that the Department for Transport is beginning to scope a study into BML2, as per the Chancellor’s statement.” (our emphasis)
In last Wednesday’s budget we were extremely pleased to read that George Osborne had acted swiftly and decisively in determining Government policy. Under the heading ‘Securing a truly national recovery’ the chancellor demonstrated he knows what he’s talking about:
Brighton Main Line: The government will extend 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 DfT’s feasibility study on BML2.
This is a significant step forward because it shows that for the first time ever, the Government appears prepared to take BML2 seriously and is willing to listen and be convinced of its widespread merits.
Despite a fair amount being spoken about the creation of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, the chancellor is well aware of the massive contribution the already-existing ‘Southern Powerhouse’ injects every day into the national economy of Great Britain. The role of rail in London and the South East is absolutely critical to its continuing growth and success.
Isn’t it about time Network Rail and senior DfT officials woke up to this fact and started taking BML2 as seriously as the new Government?
South too wealthy for rail investment
Published on Tuesday, 16 June 2015 07:32
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.
George Osborne says Conservatives will examine case for BML2
Published on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 07:14
The South desperately needs a second Brighton Main Line – not a second main line to Seaford.
The Government's budget announced £100k for a new study on reopening the Uckfield line to the Sussex Coast. However, there is some confusion about what this means, whilst there are claims that this is nothing more than desperate electioneering.
Chancellor George Osborne is aware of the Sussex project, because he recently said: "The prospective conservative MP in Lewes, Maria Caulfield, is a strong advocate for a new BML2 line into London and we will look closely at its viability." Nevertheless, the budget document only says: 'The government will provide £100,000 for a further study into reopening the Lewes to Uckfield rail line' – which many in the rail industry and local authorities will regard as yet another tragic waste of time and money – given identical failures over forty years.
Let's be clear, BML2 is not a grandiose name for restoring an Uckfield–Lewes link. The unavoidable hindrance in every investigation, as we have been told for over thirty years, is that all Uckfield line trains heading south would now 'face the wrong way at Lewes' – that is towards Eastbourne or Seaford – instead of Brighton.
Any second Brighton line must have trains running as swiftly, directly and conveniently as possible between London and the City of Brighton & Hove. That's impossible if all passengers have to change onto other services at Lewes. Besides being time-consuming, previous studies have shown that reversing trains here would be problematical with conflicting movements.
This was also a conclusion of Network Rail's recent 2008 Lewes–Uckfield Report which threw up another major problem – East Croydon has no spare paths for extra services to run through here. The Brighton Line is full up, so the opportunities to increase route capacity between the Sussex Coast and London are virtually non-existent. Furthermore, even after Network Rail has had a go at ameliorating some of East Croydon's constraints in the 2020s, there still won't be any spare capacity at London termini – and certainly no more through the restrictive Thameslink core.
BML2 was devised in 2010 to address these fundamental problems over restoring Brighton's second main line and addressing the South East's severe lack of route capacity whereby more trains could run – in Kent as well as Sussex. A new direct line into Falmer and Brighton is essential. It is not only realistic and affordable, but irresistibly attractive with today's cost-effective tunnelling technology. It would provide the fastest, most direct and convenient alternative to the grossly-overloaded and unreliable Brighton Line. Lewes (Eastbourne and Seaford too) would gain new direct London connections too – something which can't happen with a purely 'Lewes–Uckfield' reopening.
The number of additional services possible between London and the Sussex Coast would increase enormously, as would passenger-carrying capacity, whilst the benefits of a realistic Brighton Line alternative would be truly incalculable. Only BML2 can deliver this.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on his visit to Lewes last week, said £2.4bn would be spent across the South Coast on specific transport investments – "a part of the country so often ignored, or left behind under previous governments". How very true. During Labour's last term, its Strategic Rail Authority told BBC reporter Paul Siegert, when he asked if the Government would support the Sussex reopening, was bluntly told: "No – there aren't any votes in it". On the other side of the coin, the Conservatives always know they'll win such southern constituencies anyway, whereby funding is invariably channelled towards marginal seats – rather than where it's needed.
Despite this, while in the County Town of East Sussex, George Osborne also pledged: "We will also examine a second Brighton main line that could help to ease congestion, speed-up journeys and provide regular direct trains to London from Seaford and Newhaven."
Challenging the Chancellor's announcement, former Transport Minister Norman Baker, who is defending his seat in Lewes, was scornful in Brighton's Argus: "Saying he is backing something weeks before the election is frankly a desperate attempt to get some votes. Tories are spraying money and promises around as they are losing the election."
Mr Baker insisted in the Sussex Express that the new £100,000 study was a result of his lobbying of Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury – "That is where the action is. George Osborne's words are simply a lot of pre-election hot air that means nothing."
Unfortunately, throughout this parliament Mr Baker has maintained his utmost opposition to Brighton being directly connected to the new Sussex main line and recently boasted to Sussex Express readers: "I will be discussing the terms of reference of the study with the Transport Secretary shortly."
Meanwhile, his attempts to cause controversy and unnecessary alarm in the run-up to the election over BML2's proposed tunnel under the South Downs have taken an unexpected turn. After deliberately making false claims in his election paper and in the Sussex Express about BML2 "requiring a massive tunnel under the town with all the disruption that would cause" he was challenged to show on a map, exactly which houses would be affected. Whereas Mr Baker has remained silent, an online statement from the Lewes Liberal Democrats has subsequently admitted: 'Tunnel from Uckfield–Brighton does not.'
Problems across the South's rail network are truly profound. They have been allowed to become so grotesque, so ignored, and so utterly unacceptable, that an investigation needs to be urgently undertaken into BML2, not 'Lewes–Uckfield' yet again.
The whole region's contribution to the national economy is so great, so vital, and so deserving, that it must have serious capital investment injected into providing Sussex, Kent and Surrey with BML2's restored main line links.
Whoever wins power after 7 May cannot afford to ignore it any longer.
Senior Labour Peers briefed on Thameslink 2 at House of Lords
Published on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 07:04
BML2’s Thameslink 2 phase through the eastern capital is gaining strong support.
Following on from January’s presentation to Conservative Rail Minister Claire Perry, Labour Peers Lord Andrew Adonis and Lord Bassam of Brighton have been given an updated briefing about BML2. In particular, this focused on its high-value Thameslink 2 aspect. The problems on the Brighton Line are extremely serious, whilst the Labour Party is targeting all three of the Sussex city’s seats in the hope of winning them back.
Coincidentally the meeting occurred at an especially apposite time, during which media attention has been drawn to the utterly chaotic events at London Bridge station. The problems here cannot all be blamed on reconstruction work, however necessary, commendable and impressive this may be. Unfortunately the fundamental predicament will not be solved by the current Thameslink Programme, due for completion in a few years’ time.
Acknowledgement of this surfaced in a communication from Southern who advised: “the revised infrastructure has struggled to deliver the timetable”. It was further explained that modelling by Network Rail of the new reduced track layout: “showed that we should be able to run a maximum of 22 trains per hour. However, as the service intensifies during the peaks, particularly in the evening, we have found that trains gradually become later because minor delays lead to trains queueing approaching the station which then creates more significant delays. In practice therefore, we have simply not been able to get this number of trains into and out of London Bridge successfully during peak hours despite amending the train service in anticipation of the reduction.”
Not so long ago, a rail boss despairingly commented that solving one bottleneck inevitably created another elsewhere. Such will occur at the already-hinted ‘Blackfriars bottleneck’ where Thameslink will attempt funnelling 24 trains per hour each way through two platforms. A similar warning is also being voiced by professional engineering companies involved in Crossrail, where Thameslink will interconnect at Farringdon. Worryingly, volume of usage, they say, has been substantially underestimated.
Apart from the Labour Peers at the House of Lords briefing, were strategic business representatives who expressed very strong interest in seeing Thameslink 2 happen. They clearly appreciate the immeasurable benefits and commercial opportunities the scheme would bring to London and, in particular, the eastern side of the capital. It wasn’t for nothing that rail industry representatives suggested to us at a BML2 presentation a couple of years ago that the London Phase would be the primary generator of the whole project.
Meanwhile, the Chancellor George Osborne has promised the Government will look at the viability of BML2. He said Government needs to do more to unlock the area’s potential, adding: “This means investing in infrastructure”. Writing in the Sussex Express, and subsequent to the BML2 presentation at Lewes given to Claire Perry, he specifically said the Government needs: “to look at the bold ideas you have for connectivity in London – the prospective Conservative MP in Lewes, Maria Caulfield, is a strong advocate for a new BML2 line into London.”
Countering this initiative, Lewes’s sitting MP, Lib Dem Norman Baker, has intensified his personal campaign against BML2 as part of his election manifesto. In a newspaper-style publication entitled ‘South Downs Observer’ delivered to thousands of households in Lewes, Seaford, Newhaven, Polegate etc, he again attacked his Conservative opponent for supporting BML2. Many residents appear to have been hoodwinked by this journal, masquerading as an independent newspaper, in which Mr Baker told constituents: “Lewes–Uckfield reinstatement is, it is important to note, different from the so-called BML2 scheme, supported by the Tory parliamentary candidate. Apart from being hugely expensive, this would run direct from Uckfield to Brighton, so bypassing Lewes. It would need a huge amount of tunnelling under the town, with all the disruption that would cause”.
Throughout his 3½ years as Transport Minister Norman Baker attempted damaging BML2 by politicising it, in direct opposition of our aim of uniting politicians of all parties to work collectively for the benefit of Sussex and the wider South East. In October 2012 he told BBC journalist Paul Clifton in ‘RAIL’ magazine “I’m getting complaints from Lewes about tunnelling under people’s houses”. We have never seen any evidence of this and it seems to us that he has convinced himself with his own rhetoric.
BML2 specifically serves Lewes and Eastbourne as much as Brighton, whilst to say it tunnels beneath the town is utterly untrue. Consequently, we were obliged to defend BML2 against such falsehood, as well as defend those (of any political persuasion) who support the project. Writing in the Sussex Express, Brian Hart said Mr. Baker was “perfectly entitled to be extremely sceptical about BML2 but, devoid of valid arguments, shouldn’t resort to untruthful tactics”. It was pointed out that his electioneering ‘South Downs Observer’ was deceitful because he unnecessarily alarmed residents by claiming BML2 tunnels under the town, and saying this was “a deliberate lie”.
The ex-minister immediately got on to the Sussex Express whereby its content editor said: “Dear Mr Hart, I refer to your letter published in this week's Sussex Express in which you accuse Mr Norman Baker of a deliberate lie. Mr Baker has complained about this statement which could be regarded as potentially defamatory. You have personal legal responsibility for your letter and I am inviting you to send in a further letter for publication which withdraws this claim and apologises. Failing this, the Sussex Express will publish a statement disassociating itself from any such inference.”
We replied that Mr Baker wasn’t above reproach, or at liberty to peddle falsehoods in order to scaremonger, causing unfounded alarm with the deliberate intention of taking away votes from his political contender. If anything was pejorative, it was Mr Baker’s assertions in his ‘newspaper’. Furthermore, the only person deserving an apology is Ms Caulfield, whilst Mr Baker should also be obliged to withdraw his false assertion that BML2 tunnels beneath the town.
But we know that isn’t going to happen. The Sussex Express felt unable to publish our response; instead printing a needless statement disassociating itself from the views of its readers.
The enduring problems on the south’s railways are profound and beleaguered commuters and rail users (of all political persuasions!) need influential leaders to unite in securing investment in expanding the most overloaded and congested system in the UK. The current practice of loading more trains onto a diminished system without expanding the rail network is unsustainable.
The divisive tactics being deployed by the Lib Dems to denigrate BML2 are deplorable. The fundamental afflictions plaguing the Brighton Line – and the equally important Tonbridge Line too – will never be resolved without implementing BML2 and in particular its tremendously beneficial Thameslink 2 adjunct, which the Lib Dems also oppose, but which London desperately needs.
It will not matter one jot who runs the trains – the current private operators, Transport for London, or a nationalized body – because the chaos will continue until there is more track on the ground, new cross-capital routes and connections enabling more trains to operate.
We’ve said it countless times in the past and we’ll say it again – we need a bigger network – it’s BML2 or bust!
Rail Minister sees potential of Thameslink 2 across London
Published on Monday, 26 January 2015 07:24
Michael Lunn, Conservative campaigner; Maria Caulfield, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate;
Rail Minister Claire Perry MP; Gordon Pratt, Thameslink 2; and Brian Hart, BML2, at the recent presentation in Lewes.
The Rail Minister, Claire Perry MP, has been given a briefing about the massive potential of Thameslink 2. This is part of the more extensive BML2 Project which has beneficial implications right across the south.
On a visit to Lewes this month, she met Conservative Parliamentary candidate Maria Caulfield and local Conservative campaigner Michael Lunn to examine and discuss the multiple problems affecting Sussex and in particular the Brighton Line.
A twenty-minute presentation on BML2 was given to the Minister, briefly explaining why the removal of key secondary routes over past decades had forced both the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines into capacity crises. Particular emphasis was on the role of BML2’s Ashcombe tunnel beneath the South Downs so that fast trains could once again run directly between Brighton and London via Uckfield. This would answer the industry’s forty-year project-killer that has caused all previous reopening studies to founder because, otherwise, ‘trains would face the wrong way at Lewes’.
Focus then moved to the London end, where it was explained that Network Rail’s insuperable Croydon bottleneck required a far more radical solution. Project manager Brian Hart explained that two additional platforms proposed at East Croydon would be inadequate for the overall capacity challenges facing Network Rail as rising demand will overtake this extra capacity. Instead, the Minister was shown the need to strip-out the unnecessary congestion of people and trains not wanting, or stopping, at East Croydon, with a new link towards London.
A new ‘X-shaped’ crossover near South Croydon would allow all Sussex trains (via Uckfield, Haywards Heath, Horsham etc) to reach Victoria, London Bridge or Canary Wharf. If desired, there would also be an opportunity to create a newer, larger purpose-built interchange termed ‘Croydon Gateway’ with more platforms and separated fast lines. This would create alternative routes for trains and give passengers greater choices over London destinations.
Gordon Pratt spoke of the opportunities which this phase, known as Thameslink 2 (TL2), could provide, not only to the business sector at Canary Wharf, but to the regeneration and fast-developing growth within London Boroughs across the eastern Thames. The key to unlocking TL2 was the central core between Lewisham – Canary Wharf – Stratford which would provide a north-south axis at Canary Wharf and London’s Crossrail. He also pointed out that the proposed Bakerloo Line extension represented a significant and exciting opportunity to embrace TL2 and deliver something of far greater worth for the capital.
Brian Hart referred briefly to the rebuilding at London Bridge which he said was clearly necessary as part of the Thameslink Programme and praised those involved in this stupendous engineering challenge which would eventually bring great benefits to the system and passengers.
Nevertheless, he reminded the Minister and the guests that engineering consultancy Arup had already warned that demand at Farringdon in 2018 had been seriously underestimated, whilst the ‘Blackfriars bottleneck’ was a term already being bandied about in the railway press.
Gordon and Brian emphasised the daily blocking of London Bridge caused by many thousands of commuters who worked in the environs of the Wharf, but were forced to travel into central London. The capital's east-west Crossrail would change travel patterns, whilst leaving Blackfriars Thameslink as the only north-south through line in this area was short-sighted and simply creating a new bottleneck.
Michael Lunn said he very much welcomed Claire Perry’s attendance: “– to see the benefits the BML2 scheme would bring to Sussex with a substantial increase in direct rail services between London, Brighton, Falmer, Lewes, Eastbourne and Seaford.”
He mentioned that apart from operating more services, a direct alternative to the increasingly overcrowded and badly-congested Brighton Line was required – “Only BML2 can do this” he said.
He added: “We must also build a new rail connection across East London with Thameslink 2 so that excessive congestion in central London may be avoided.”
Rail Minister Claire Perry listened very attentively and fired many probing questions; afterwards thanking those involved and requesting a copy of the presentation and the projected costs for BML2’s Sussex Phase.
Elsewhere in the news and writing in the Daily Mail in late December, Michael Williams drew attention to rising demand, saying: “Passengers on today’s London to Brighton line, for instance, are forced to travel in sardine-like conditions — so grim they would be illegal under EU law for the transport of animals.”
He continued: “The Company’s panjandrums argue that the tracks can’t be updated without closing entire routes for several days because there are no alternatives.” This is certainly true on the Brighton Line, where even an overnight ‘slot’ of several hours is out of the question. Michael Williams then went on to cite BML2 by saying:
“Yet running parallel is an alternative line, once also leading to Brighton, which peters out abruptly at the buffers in the middle of rural Sussex. Restoring the missing link, axed in 1969, would be relatively simple, costing a mere £350 million, compared with the £50 billion cost of HS2.”
Regrettably, countering such support, Lewes’s Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, yet again used his influence against the Sussex project by seemingly alerting his party colleagues at Croydon. Local Lib Dem activist John Jefkins MBE (who presented his petition opposing BML2 last year to Baroness Kramer) roundly criticized the scheme in a letter to the Sussex Express, asserting BML2 would see “100 homes destroyed”. As well as being untrue, this is just as alarmist as Norman Baker’s recent claim that the new Sussex line within his constituency would require “a massive tunnel under the town with all the disruption that would cause."
John Jefkins MBE further claimed BML2 “hinders Norman Baker as he campaigns for Lewes–Uckfield to reopen” and dismissed Thameslink 2 by telling Sussex Express readers: “Any politician instead backing BML2’s extra London costs and bypassed market deserves scorn.”
Whether any politician backing BML2 or Thameslink 2 deserves scorn we’ll leave you to decide, but between now and the General Election we can be sure much will be said about the urgent need to sort out the enormous problems affecting the South’s congested, over-burdened and utterly inadequate rail system.
Osborne urged to start supporting Brighton Main Line 2
Published on Tuesday, 02 December 2014 05:43
The BML – a route at bursting point. Sussex desperately needs its secondary main line to both Lewes and Brighton restored.
Sussex Conservatives are backing BML2 and urging Chancellor George Osborne to do likewise.
Following the publication of Network Rail's draft Sussex Area Route Study, which intends trying to pack even more people and trains onto an already overloaded and poorly-funded system, reaction has ranged from dismay to outrage. The crush will become particularly acute on the South's premier main line, whilst the fact that Sussex is still denied its desperately-needed secondary route between London and the South Coast is deemed unacceptable.
Now, Cllr Geoffrey Theobald OBE, the Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council, has succinctly summed up the frustration and feelings of countless thousands of Sussex people by issuing this statement:
"The seemingly never-ending cycle of weekend engineering works on the Brighton to London mainline – shutting down 20 miles of track between Three Bridges and Brighton – has highlighted once again how desperately we need a second direct route between our city and the capital.
At October's Conservative Party Conference I made a point of speaking to the Rail Minister, Claire Perry MP – to highlight the increasingly strong economic case for BML2. She quite rightly pointed out that a lot of money has been spent in recent years on the existing line – not least the current Thameslink upgrading – which is of course very welcome. However, these improvements in themselves don't address the fundamental problems of lack of capacity and lack of a quick and reliable alternative in the Sussex part of the route when BML1 shuts down.
The performance of trains on BML1 is poor and set to get worse. Last month, over 20% of Southern's trains failed to make it to their destination on time. The Managing Director of Southern recently described it as "a tough bit of railway to operate. Capacity and performance are at odds..." If this isn't a plea for a second Brighton to London mainline then I don't know what is.
Things are not going to get any better. Network Rail's London and South East Market Study predicts 64% growth in passenger numbers by 2023 and a more than doubling by 2043. Network Rail themselves conclude that "It is no longer viable to continue to add incremental additional services to the route as it is currently configured."
All of which makes it baffling in the extreme that BML2 is barely even mentioned in Network Rail's draft Sussex Area Route Study, currently out for consultation. This study looks at options for addressing problems on the current line such as train lengthening and putting on additional services. But longer and more frequent trains are no help when the line is closed because of flooding/landslips/signal failure/suicide/engineering work.
Despite this, I am optimistic that the case for BML2 is gaining traction. In response to a Parliamentary question from Simon Kirby MP – a keen supporter of BML2 – Transport Minister, Stephen Hammond, said that the Government is actively considering it as a viable option. Former Labour Transport Minister, Lord Adonis, said recently that it is "stark staring obvious that the second mainline to London is needed".
And Lewes MP, Norman Baker, one of the most vociferous and influential opponents of BML2 is no longer a Government Minister.
To paraphrase that famous British Rail advert from the 1980s – this is well and truly the age of the train. The High Speed Rail link from London to Paris has been a spectacular success; Crossrail – Europe's largest construction project – will provide a long-awaited connection between east and west London; and a new High Speed Rail Link 2 (and even HS3) promises to bring greater prosperity to the Midlands and Northern England.
There is no doubt that the current Government understands the economic imperative for investing in new rail infrastructure, but unless the nettle is grasped over BML2, Brighton & Hove, and the whole of Sussex, is in danger of getting stuck in a siding.
Brighton & Hove is a city on the up. Our population is growing at a rapid rate; visitor numbers are on a similar trajectory. The i360 will bring in hundreds of thousands more tourists when it is completed in a couple of years' time. The success of the Greater Brighton City Deal in attracting new Government funding means that large new regeneration schemes are now in the pipeline. All of these welcome developments will push up demand for fast, efficient and reliable train travel still further.
Last week we heard the fantastic news that the Government is set to make significant new investment in one of the key arterial roads through Sussex – the A27. This is extremely welcome and long overdue but if we are to have a truly integrated and sustainable transport network, it must go hand in hand with improvements to the rail infrastructure.
The Chancellor's Autumn Statement would be a great time for us to get some good news on BML2!"
Throughout this parliament the Wealden Line Campaign has worked hard in attempting to build a forceful all-party political consensus in the south, with the specific aim of attracting Government interest and support for BML2. Whilst we have managed to unite Conservative and Labour politicians for the common good, our efforts have yet again been undermined by the recently-resigned Home Office Minister, Norman Baker. In a complaint published in the Sussex Express, Lewes's Lib Dem MP criticised the project as well as his rival Conservative candidate for promoting BML2.
He accused local and national people of unfairly misrepresenting him, before criticising Maria Caulfield because – "she has backed BML2, a scheme which would go straight from Uckfield to Brighton, bypassing Lewes (we will get a spur if we are lucky) but requiring a massive tunnel under the town with all the disruption that would cause."
Despite our many efforts to explain the project to him, Norman Baker remains convinced there is a conspiracy to tunnel under Lewes, but as we've always shown, BML2's Ashcombe tunnel runs beneath downland to the west – as our website document 'Why only BML2 can benefit Lewes' openly shows.
Even in 2012, when a Transport Minister, he told the journal RAIL that he was receiving messages from anxious residents about "tunnelling under people's houses". Whether such deliberate misrepresentation is designed to serve his purpose of causing wholly unnecessary alarm and opposition we can't fathom, but it applies to his equally peculiar belief that BML2 trains from London would not serve Lewes, Eastbourne and Seaford.
We are also repeatedly asked how Norman Baker can be such a keen advocate of High Speed 2, yet describe BML2 as being "very controversial – and the last thing we want is a controversial line." Neither can anyone understand how, when Transport Minister, he overrode concerns about HS2 by announcing – "a new tunnel through West London, key design changes at Euston station and a new tunnel at Bromford, near Birmingham" – yet vociferously campaigns against a new railway tunnel in his own constituency.
Here in the Wealden Line Campaign's 29th year, the greatest tragedy from our perspective has been the wasted opportunity of the past five years. In 1998, when Labour MP Glenda Jackson was appointed to the Department for Transport as Transport Minister, an elated Norman Baker told us: "The door is open – all we have to do is walk through". Yet, twelve years later and by a quirk of political fate he became a Transport Minister, despite everyone's great expectation he walked into the DfT – and firmly shut the door in our face.
Throughout his tenure as both Transport Minister and Home Office Minister he has, to our great regret and dismay, taken every opportunity, at LibDem political meetings in Croydon, on BBC Sussex Radio, Meridian television, in national railway journals and in newspapers, to exert his influence against such an important project for Sussex.
In spite of this we are extremely grateful to have the continuing strong support of Brighton, and politicians from opposite sides. The South's railway system urgently needs expanding to manage unprecedented soaring growth and Sussex – as Geoffrey Theobald so rightly says – must not be left behind.
Stand up for Sussex – not on its trains
Published on Monday, 17 November 2014 00:24
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.
Network Rail draft Sussex Area Route Study Promises
Published on Monday, 17 November 2014 00:23
Network Rail's draft Sussex Area Route Study promises
That is the Conclusion of the BML2 Project Group after detailed scrutiny of Network Rail's 202-page draft Sussex Study Document which has recently been released for consultation.
As the document is such heavy going and full of business jargon, we feel it is very unlikely to be read by the public, the media or Members of Parliament, so we are publishing our own 4-page analysis which forms the BML2 Project Group response under Network Rail's Consultation which closes on 13th January 2015.
BML2 Project Group's Response to Network Rail
You can download your own copy of our 4-page Consultation Response to Network Rail HERE, or alternatively by visiting the Wealden Line Campaign's website (www.wealdenline.org.uk) and whilst there, also explore other stories and the history of our 28-year campaign to restore the Sussex main line through Uckfield directly to Brighton and Lewes.