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Latest 2018 BML2 Project Publication

Design2158 What BML2 will do for

Kent and Tunbridge wells

The 14pp report can be downloaded for viewing and printing by clicking on the image. Please circulate to friends and colleagues and if appropriate, to local Tunbridge Wells and Kent councillors.









Department for Transport denies indecisiveness over ‘capacity time bomb’


Crush time on Southern


 Demand for rail travel has far outstripped available capacity –
the Government needs to sanction BML2 without further prevarication.

The Department for Transport has denied it is deliberately delaying publication of the long-awaited London & South Coast Rail Study. However, City of Brighton & Hove MPs, Caroline Lucas and Peter Kyle, have lost patience with the Government over what they perceive to be reluctance in releasing this long-overdue report. The primary purpose of the analysis is to determine whether a second main line (BML2) is needed between the capital and the Sussex Coast.


Instigated by the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, the costly £100k Treasury-funded study, carried out by London-based consultants WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff, was deemed urgent and was originally ordered to be delivered to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin before the end of last year. In January, Rail Minister Claire Perry told MPs publication would be in early spring, although a few months later she resigned her unhappy ministerial position following the horrendous ‘summer of discontent’ across Southern services. MPs were then told it would appear this autumn.


With the situation on the railways worsening and exasperated by a lack of progress, Green MP Caroline Lucas recently tabled a Commons Question, specifically asking Transport Minister Paul Maynard if he will: “publish the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study” as well as:  “whether he plans to fund proposals for a Brighton Mainline 2 in order to remedy the significant capacity and performance constraints identified.”


The written answer she received blandly read: “The Government will publish the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study, and its response to the recommendations, in due course.” Unimpressed, Caroline Lucas, who consistently fights very hard on behalf of Brighton commuters, roundly condemned the response as “rubbish”.


Equally frustrated at the apparent prevarication was Hove’s Labour MP Peter Kyle. He told the City’s Argus newspaper: “We’ve had a new Chancellor, new Rail Minister and new Government since they first promised this report and still passengers suffer every day. As well as doing everything I can to get the current mess sorted out, I am pressing the Government to deal with the long-term capacity time bomb that will explode on to the next generation of passengers if we don’t get this right. I’m calling for this report to be released before Christmas at the very latest.”


It is believed the consultants delivered their report to the Government quite some months ago, whilst the Department for Transport confirmed to Peter Kyle that the study had, in fact, been completed. However, the DfT insisted that the findings were now being “carefully considered by ministers”. Even though a publication date for the long-delayed report has still not been announced, a source has indicated it would be on 23 November as part of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement.


We have since heard that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Tunbridge Wells MP the Rt Hon Greg Clark, is to write to Rail Minister Paul Maynard for an explanation.


In a similar development, the DfT responded to one of Southern’s Uckfield Line commuters, who spontaneously wrote to the Secretary of State the Rt Hon Chris Grayling over the desperate need for BML2 to happen. Completely putting to one side the current industrial unrest, William Harrison outlined the never-ending problems he endures across the South, fundamentally caused by an insufficient network which needs heavy investment and enlarging. Particularly stressful for him is Southern turning back its delayed evening peak trains at Crowborough and short of their Uckfield destination. Everyone is asked to leave the train, including of course William and his faithful guide dog Texan. This practice allows the delayed service to head back to London on time – and thus without penalty to train operator Southern.


The DfT told William what he already knew – that Brighton lost its secondary main line when the short Lewes–Uckfield section was closed in 1969. It should also be pointed out that, at the same time, Tunbridge Wells lost its direct main line to London via Oxted. As the DfT mentioned, this left only a skeleton service between Sussex and Kent (Eridge–Tonbridge) which was withdrawn in 1985. Consequently, the South East lost two very important strategic main lines. The capacity crises now affecting both the Brighton and Tunbridge Wells/Tonbridge main lines are a direct result of these foolish closures.


The DfT acknowledged: “Local aspirations to reopen the line are long-standing and well understood by Government and the rail industry. People face considerable frustration in moving between the towns by road, whether by car or public transport.”


However, the response went on to say: “The key challenge with reopening the [Wealden] line is that it would involve significant construction costs and the local demand and wider benefits would be potentially insufficient to make the scheme economically and financially viable.”


This is a deplorably poor response; identical to all the tired excuses which have been made time and again over forty years for shamefully ignoring the South East and doing nothing. It indicates that the DfT imagines this is a local problem, confined to the borders of Sussex and Kent. More worryingly it demonstrates they still can’t see the wood for the trees and have precious little grasp of the fundamental problems.


If demand is so low, why has strong and unrelenting public support for these strategic rail connections to be restored been sustained throughout four decades? Why have innumerable serious studies been conducted into reinstating the routes – by British Rail (1971); Network SouthEast (1987); Railtrack (2000); Connex (2001); Network Rail (2008)? Why have numerous consultants such as Atkins; Buchanan; Steer Davies Gleave; Intermodality; Bride Parks; Mott MacDonald – and now WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff been hired to produce substantial reports?


This issue has been a festering sore for almost half a century – a fact highlighted by ex-Chancellor George Osborne when he courageously spoke up for the South by rightly defining Sussex as: “a part of the country so often ignored or left behind under previous Governments.”


The DfT’s letter to William continued: “In 2015, in recognition that further work is needed, the former Chancellor commissioned the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study, which looks broadly at the region’s rail transport needs. The Study considers the case for investment in the Brighton Main Line, re-opening the Wealden line and the Lewes–Uckfield line, as well as the ‘BML2’ concept, for a new mainline to London.”


So this month we may discover whether the Government intends kicking this particular can yet further down the road, or whether it understands the widespread benefits of BML2 and is prepared to back the project. The DfT concluded: “Our response to the Study will need to account for rail investment priorities across the country. Later this year, the rail industry will present its initial advice on investment needs for the national network, for 2019 onwards. On the basis of this advice, Government intends to articulate its emerging priorities for improvements to the national network during 2017. The Government will publish the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study, and its response to the recommendations, in due course.”


There is no need for further prevarication, dithering or indecision. This long-ignored crisis is now on our doorstep – quite honestly what further evidence do we need? Firm, clear-sighted and decisive action must now be taken. Lord Adonis, Chairman of the Government’s National Infrastructure Commission succinctly summed it up in 2013: “It is stark staring obvious that the second main line to London in needed. Substantially increasing capacity into our cities remains the industry’s greatest challenge. BML2 – by reconnecting Brighton with London as one seamless journey – has the potential to do this. It is therefore a strong contender for serious investment because it would strengthen the existing overloaded network.”


After nearly fifty years – what more evidence do we need?





You’ll be lucky to get a space to stand!


A  seat?!! – You’ll be lucky to get a space to stand!



An increasing number of business leaders, politicians and commuters are calling on the Government to create the sorely-needed second main line between London and Brighton. As we reported in July, the new Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, has long been aware of the growing problem and overall lack of rail capacity in the south. Equally aware was recently-departed Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who last year personally commissioned a £100k full-scale study into the Brighton Main Line 2 Project – which is still to be published.  


On top of the worsening capacity crisis in Sussex – famously described by Network Rail as having ‘the most congested routes in the UK’ – we have had the worst disruption in decades. The industrial dispute has been badly handled and it seems there is no end in sight, but even if this was amicably resolved tomorrow, the fundamental problems and weaknesses in the south’s rail system will remain.


The South’s economy, too, has suffered enormously. Seasonal trade in coastal towns has plummeted, whilst the cost to London and its commuters has been severe, both commercially and in individual terms. The Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council, Cllr Geoffrey Theobald OBE, has expressed profound dismay as he says the City is on the cusp of so many exciting developments with investment in such attractions as the British Airways i360; campus expansion and development of a biomedical centre at Sussex University; a new conference centre; as well as Brighton & Hove Albion possibly making the Premier League next season.


BML2 would of course provide direct London services to Sussex University and the AMEX stadium but, most of all, relieve the terribly overcrowded and overburdened adjacent Brighton Line. “Yet, as the city grows in importance and population, the current rail service cannot cope, even if the trains are running perfectly, let alone for the future” says the Conservative Leader.


“To me these are some of the many reasons why we are crying out for an additional Brighton to London mainline – BML2” he adds. As he pointed out, BML2 would also directly benefit the heavily-populated towns along the Sussex Coastal strip. It would also improve rail services from busy key commuter towns, such as Horsham in West Sussex and Tunbridge Wells in Kent.


Geoffrey Theobald declared: “Fundamentally it’s about providing far more capacity into the network so that more trains can operate and hardworking people can rely on getting to work on time, comfortably and without delays. They may even get a seat!”


This view is shared by the Labour Party’s Leader Jeremy Corbyn who, when famously complaining he couldn’t find a seat, quite rightly said: “The reality is there are not enough trains – we need more of them”. Indeed we do. However, Mr Corbyn was lucky to find a corner in which to sit on the floor. On a regular basis Southern commuters think themselves fortunate if they find a space to stand and can actually clamber onto some services where the doors – operated by the driver or the guard – can just about be closed.


It seems yet more misery for Brighton Line commuters is the realization of reduced seating on the new Govia Thameslink trains, now coming into service. The Guardian recently highlighted the plight of long-distance Thameslink train travellers who are forced to stand for over an hour or even more. Those who do find one of the new narrower seats were dismayed there were no small fold-down tables for a laptop. Over two years ago, we warned about such metro-style conditions for long distance commuters but nobody seemed bothered. As more of these ‘cattle-class trains’, as they’ve been described, come into service, bear in mind that they rely on the same old inadequate and heavily-overburdened system which needs radical investment.


Unfortunately, here in the South East, we can’t operate more trains as Jeremy Corbyn proposes – because we no longer have a big enough railway.  Drastically cut back over decades by both Labour and Conservative administrations, successive Governments have so far – and despite pre-election promises to fix it – have resisted reopening any strategically useful lines here.


Instead, they remain fixated on pursuing controversial and hugely expensive high-speed schemes elsewhere. However, while the South’s beleaguered network creaks ever nearer towards looming gridlock, HS2 now appears to be falling out of favour, certainly among business commentators and serious investors. Only a few days ago Nigel Wilson, chief executive of Legal & General, one of Britain’s largest funders of infrastructure projects, urged Theresa May to walk away from HS2, warning “You can have big projects, but they have got to be the right big projects.”


Correspondents to the London Evening Standard have also said BML2 “needs to happen soon” – going on to outline its simplicity and relative ease of construction, whilst delivering massive economic and social benefits for the region and the millions who live here.


Brighton’s Conservative Leader described BML2 as “the only solution” and said he would wait with bated breath the new feasibility study commissioned by George Osborne and hoped that “the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will have the same interest as his predecessor in building a new main line in the south.” Confidence was also expressed in the appointment of Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby to Economic Secretary to the Treasury in Theresa May’s new Government, citing how Simon has been a vocal and long-standing supporter of BML2.


In praising BML2’s ability to offer so much opportunity for growth and prosperity across London and the South East, Geoffrey Theobald encouraged investors to bear in mind “Theresa May has been clear that post-Brexit Britain is open for business and investment on a global scale.”


He concluded by expressing the wishes of all of us by saying: “Whitehall must therefore grasp the nettle and move forward with BML2 without any more delay.”  






Overcrowded Southern Train


The new Government’s biggest challenge – building BML2 for more trains into London.


The political turmoil of the past few weeks has been phenomenal. We’re on our way out of the EU; we have a new prime minister and, within the last few days, we have a whole new government team. Amid all this, there is one consistency – the railways remain in deep crisis.


Here in the south there is virtual mutiny among commuters; large-scale and vociferous protests at Southern’s stations and London termini; whilst widespread discontent, frustration and sheer anger is being expressed at what’s going on. Calls for GoVia to be stripped of its Southern and Southeastern franchises are being made daily; petitions are flying around and placards are being waved. MPs have been demanding swift and decisive action from Rail Minister Claire Perry – who asserted that changing the train operator would solve nothing – and now even she has thrown in the towel and resigned.


The fundamental problems run far deeper than most people realize, whilst nobody seems to have a clue what to do. Having created a monster franchise in the first place, the Department for Transport is keeping its collective head down in case anyone starts apportioning blame at their door. In this fragmented mess there seems to be no overall control – and it is those ordinary ‘hard-working people’ (whom the outgoing David Cameron claimed to champion) who are suffering on a daily basis. Make no mistake; even if the current industrial dispute was solved tomorrow, the underlying situation will get even worse.


At the very least, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, must demonstrate the same interest as his predecessor George Osborne in building new main lines in the south, as proposed by the Brighton Main Line 2 Project (BML2). Whatever Osborne’s faults or merits, he clearly recognized the intrinsic potential of the project to solve the horrendous crisis in the London and South East network.

Fortunately, Theresa May has already made her first good move by appointing Chris Grayling as Secretary of State for Transport. He is more than aware of the problems on the Brighton Line as, exactly a decade ago, on 21 July 2006, he wrote to the Wealden Line Campaign saying: “I can understand your interest in the scheme and appreciate the potential benefits of opening up the line to the South Coast through Uckfield.”


This was followed in May 2007 when, as Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, he wrote about the Conservative’s plan to protect certain key disused rail lines, with the Uckfield line being one of the top four they were most interested in. What Chris Grayling said ten years ago is even truer today: “There are towns and cities up and down the country where transport systems are bursting at the seams and it makes sense to protect old transport corridors from development. Too many developments are being planned without adequate provision for local infrastructure. In many cases, disused railway lines provide corridors into city and town centres. We want to make sure that there is adequate protection for potential public transport routes to help ensure that our towns and cities grow in sustainable ways.”


Even back in 2007, when Labour was in Government, the Conservatives recognized the route’s value as the Grayling document said the Uckfield line: “– could act as a valuable relief line for the [Brighton] main line to the south coast from London.” Other recent Transport Ministers such as Justine Greening and Teresa Villiers have both confirmed it as “a viable proposition” as well as “an issue of high importance”. So why, year after year, does nothing ever happen? Why is no one bold enough to make these political decisions?


Given the fundamental lack of capacity, unreliability and daily chaos on the South’s rail network, no one is remotely interested in hearing about the new Government’s commitment to ensuring the mega-expensive and highly controversial HS2 goes ahead, come what may. Instead, it is now time for Theresa May to instruct the DfT to release Osborne’s Treasury-funded study into the BML2 Rail Project conducted by consultants WSP|Parsons Brinkerhoff.


It is also an opportune moment for Mrs May (whom we genuinely wish the best of luck) to invite high-profile investors around the table. The private business sector, both in the UK and overseas, has repeatedly expressed its keen and serious interest in participating by investing in worthy major infrastructure projects such as transport. However, reticence has noticeably been expressed when it comes to grandiose schemes such as HS2.


Also appointed to the new team is Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby, who received a call from Prime Minister Theresa May at the weekend, offering him a Ministerial position as Economic Secretary to the Treasury in her new Government.


Simon Kirby has been a long-standing supporter of BML2 and we hope he will use his influence in his new post. Following a meeting with us in 2012 he said: “I was pleased to meet with representatives from the Brighton Main Line 2 campaign recently. As they know I am a supporter of their cause, and I was grateful to them for meeting with me to discuss this issue. They have made the argument that a second main line is the only realistic and cost effective means of overcoming the existing capacity problems that are clear to us all.”


We have been assured that Brexit will not affect investment in BML2 and we have every reason to believe this is true. That’s because thirty years ago, in 1986, the Wealden Line Campaign modestly sought the reinstatement of the 7-mile ‘missing link’ between Uckfield and Lewes to create another railway route between the Sussex Coast and London. This was ready to proceed at a cost of £6m (yes – £6m!) by British Rail which was allowed to put up 25% if the remainder was forthcoming from outside funders. The MEP for East Sussex at that time, Sir Jack Stewart-Clark, raised everyone’s hopes of European funding. But not a penny, let alone a cent, came our way – it all went to build super highways in Spain, Italy and France.


As Sussex MPs at a recent Select Committee meeting grilling Southern despaired: “Someone needs to get a grip”. This doesn’t mean just solving the current industrial dispute so we can return to our normal daily chaos of cancellations, late-running services, staff shortages, signalling problems, point failures, train breakdowns, etc. It means inviting investors to step up to the table to declare their interest by investing in building the new main lines proposed by BML2.


Fundamentally it’s all about providing far more capacity into the network so more trains can operate whereby all those ‘hard working people’ can rely on getting to work on time, comfortably and without delays. Transport is a pivotal element of a successful economy such as London, whilst nothing facilitates growth, prosperity and regeneration more than a new railway.


Post Brexit, so many new and exciting opportunities await this nation, which is now declaring itself open for business and investment on a global scale. BML2 is one enormously valuable transport scheme which offers so much opportunity for growth and prosperity across London and the South East – it has to be grabbed with both hands – and without any more delay.





Sussex Mainline Lost in 1969 

The main line Sussex lost in 1969 – now a compelling case.
Photo courtesy John Wenham


Brighton and Hove Conservative Group Leader, Councillor Geoffrey Theobald has expressed his dismay and disappointment at the recent criticism from both the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties in East Sussex of the campaign to secure a second Brighton to London rail mainline.


As a strong supporter of BML2 for a number of years, Cllr Theobald has been very public with his view that it is a vital missing piece in the jigsaw of an efficient and integrated sustainable transport system in the south-east of England, bringing not only enormous economic benefits to Brighton & Hove and the wider Greater Brighton area, but also a quick and reliable alternative for when the existing Brighton mainline requires maintenance or encounters problems. Inconvenience that residents from Worthing to Eastbourne and long-suffering commuters are all too familiar with.


In the House of Lords on 29 February Baroness Randerson (Lib Dem) asked: “My Lords, there has been a vigorous campaign to reinstate the rail link between Uckfield and Lewes, which would provide better access to employment in Brighton from the Weald and an additional, badly-needed route between the Sussex coast and London. The coalition funded some studies into this, but the current Government has not given any firm commitment. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government has plans for action on this and does he accept that the regeneration is needed now, not some time in the future, as indicated, possibly 2030 and beyond?”


Lib Dem ESCC Councillor Rosalyn St Pierre, who opposes BML2 and supports reopening a railway line between Lewes and Uckfield only, said “People in Sussex are forced to live with one of the worst performing railway networks in the country”. She called upon Lewes MP Maria Caulfield “to be honest with commuters.”


Maria Caulfield responded swiftly: “Once again the Lib Dems have got it wrong in assuming I have taken little interest or action on the terrible rail service in the constituency. As far as I am concerned there was no baton to pass on due to the lack of action by Norman Baker”. She told the Sussex Express that the broader and extensive London & South Coast Study, ordered by the Chancellor George Osborne last year, and which he promised would include BML2, will be published this autumn. Furthermore, she was optimistic it would be favourable.


This prompted a frankly astonishing attack, from a Labour Councillor from Hastings speaking at an East Sussex County Council Cabinet meeting. Cllr Godfrey Daniels told members reinstating the Lewes–Uckfield line was “a piece of madness” and urged the council not to be diverted by “mythical plans”. He suggested electrifying and redoubling sections of the Hastings–Ashford line would be a worthier project.


Not unexpectedly, Cllr Daniels’ opposition found warm favour with the County Council’s Director of Communities, Economy and Transport, Rupert Clubb, who gladly reminded cabinet that the 2008 Study, steered by ESCC and which considered opening only Lewes to Uckfield, concluded a poor business case and therefore “did not offer value for money”.


It’s worth pointing out that Hastings–Ashford already enjoys modern, air-conditioned trains operating a fast hourly service. Compare this to the fast-growing Weald where replacement bus services have been in operation for over 47 years between Crowborough/Uckfield, Brighton/Lewes.


Brighton’s Cllr Theobald said “It is very sad that an East Sussex Lib Dem Councillor has taken to the press to criticise Lewes MP, Maria Caulfield, for so-called Government ‘inaction’ over BML2. This really is a bit rich coming from a colleague of ex-MP Norman Baker who did absolutely nothing as a Lib Dem in Government, when he was a Transport Minister, to champion BML2’s cause – in fact, quite the opposite. By stark contrast, as Maria has quite rightly pointed out, under this Conservative Government, George Osborne has provided £100,000 funding for a new feasibility study into BML2 which is due to report in the autumn.”


Re-opening Lewes–Uckfield is a central part of the much greater BML2 project launched in 2010, aimed at solving severe capacity problems. Norman Baker was given priority to spearhead BML2 just prior to his election to Government in May 2010, but instead peddled complete untruths about the project. He first claimed it “bypassed Lewes” and, when this didn’t work, he suggested it would “tunnel under the town with all the disruption that would cause”. His attempt to discredit his successor, who spoke in favour of BML2, eventually backfired on him, whilst Lewes Lib Dems were obliged to admit the claims were false.


With regard to Hastings–Ashford being electrified in preference, the Leader of the Brighton Conservative Group Cllr Theobald said such comments were “short-sighted” adding “this may well be a beneficial project for his [Cllr Daniels] constituents but it would do absolutely nothing to solve the chronic overcrowding and capacity issues between the Greater Brighton area and London”.


Brighton’s Cllr Theobald told the BML2 Project Group: “I remain hopeful that BML2 will get the green light from the Government in the near future. George Osborne has consistently demonstrated his commitment to serious transport infrastructure projects in recent years such as HS2, HS3 and Crossrail 2. And in the end, I think that he will be convinced by the economic case for BML2 which in my view, is compelling and was the main reason why it was included in our recent Greater Brighton devolution bid to Government.”  



City unites over call to build new Sussex main line

Brighton Station Gateline


BML2 would bring about enormous economic benefits to both Greater Brighton and Greater London



Representatives of Brighton & Hove have united in their unreserved backing to the Brighton Main Line 2 Project and will put pressure on the Government to concede its importance, not only to the City, but the whole of Sussex.


The Conservative Group Leader on Brighton & Hove City Council, Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald, is calling for a second Brighton to London rail mainline – BML2 – to become a reality and, furthermore, he wants it to be the centrepiece of the Greater Brighton devolution bid to Government.


The powerful Greater Brighton Economic Board, of which Cllr. Theobald is a member, comprises the Leaders and Chief Executives of Brighton & Hove City Council, Lewes District Council, Mid Sussex District Council and Adur & Worthing Councils and therefore commands considerable influence.


BML2 would bring benefits to all these authorities. Its Sussex and Kent Phases would reduce the enormous pressure on the Brighton Line and introduce new additional direct services between London and Brighton, Lewes, Eastbourne and Tunbridge Wells. Its London Phase would enable direct services from Chichester, Horsham, Gatwick, Worthing, Brighton & Hove, Lewes, Eastbourne, Hastings, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge to reach Canary Wharf (Crossrail) and Stratford. Some of these could operate beyond into East Anglia and on to Stansted Airport, thus avoiding central London bottlenecks.   


The GBE Board has recently submitted a bid to Government for more powers to be devolved to the local area, including decisions on transport investment. This is likely to find a sympathetic ear with Chancellor George Osborne who, in speaking about BML2 last spring, declared Sussex was: “– a part of the country so often ignored, or left behind under previous Governments.”


Cllr. Theobald, a long-standing and staunch supporter of the Brighton Main Line 2 Project believes strong emphasis must be placed on BML2 in the negotiation process because it would deliver so much. Similarly, the Government is minded to devolve decision-making to the regions; rather than leaving such critically important matters as transport the sole responsibility of DfT officials based in London.


In commendably speaking up for all of Sussex, Cllr. Theobald explained: “All the areas such as Manchester and Birmingham which have been successful in their negotiations with Government for greater powers have had a bold and ambitious vision for their areas. By putting the very obvious case for a second direct rail line from Brighton to London at the forefront of our bid, I firmly believe that we can join these municipal powerhouses.”


Mindful of George Osborne’s personal intervention this summer to see BML2 explored, as opposed to yet another Lewes–Uckfield reopening study, Cllr. Theobald outlined his reasons why BML2 must now be firmly on the table alongside other schemes: “The Government is clearly very keen on investing in new rail infrastructure through projects such as HS2, Crossrail 1 & 2 and HS3 so I do believe that we would be knocking on an open door, or at the very least, one that has not been bolted shut.”


With characteristic perception, he emphasised that the desperately-needed new main line was as much about the economy as transport and should therefore be treated accordingly: “BML2 would bring about enormous economic benefits to both Greater Brighton and Greater London.”


Mindful too of the increasing daily crush and the unrelenting pressure under which the Brighton Line is forced to operate, Cllr Theobald said BML2 would: “ease congestion and give passengers a direct and reliable alternative when things go wrong.”


Brighton and Hove’s MPs are equally determined to press the Government to get on with building BML2. As a regular rail user herself and mindful of the fractured rail network which needs extending, the City’s Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “Brighton’s commuters are fed up with the shoddy service they have to put up with. It’s abundantly clear that the Government should invest in Brighton Main Line 2. Not only would the new line ease congestion on the route to London but it would connect Brighton to towns in East Sussex, Kent and Surrey – thus giving people a viable option to leave their cars at home when visiting our city.”


Over the years the popular MP has made several trips down the Uckfield line to its current stump in East Sussex and has been an ardent supporter of regenerating Sussex’s lost main line, first as a Green MEP and then as a Brighton MP. She declared:  “I fully support the BML2 project and will continue to put pressure on the Government to turn this very positive vision into a reality.”


The Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, Cllr Warren Morgan, spoke on behalf of the Labour Group and said: “We all know that the BML needs an alternative, even Network Rail admit this. BML2 would open up more services to London with new destinations in Kent and beyond. It would significantly benefit Gatwick and ease the chronic overcrowding on the present service. If the Greater Brighton area is to truly prosper then BML2 is the key to unlocking that economic growth and we call on the Government to recognise this.”


The City’s Green Party spokesperson on economic development, Councillor Tom Druitt, equally asserts that BML2 is not just about transport: “Proposals to develop a second Brighton Mainline would be a huge boost to the local economy, increasing the attractiveness of Brighton as a tourist destination as well delivering greatly improved links between Brighton and East Sussex.”


He said he hoped the Government would start building an alternative London–Brighton rail connection, because only this would ease pressure on an already strained network. He added there is a clear need to significantly reduce delays and bottlenecks – “making rail travel the best choice for residents, commuters and visitors to the city.”  


He concluded: “The Brighton Main Line 2 project is an essential investment which will pay for itself many times over and is a critical element of a more sustainable development plan for the South East region”.






Missing Link


A wasting asset closed in 1969 and just several miles in length – the South’s most notorious ‘missing link’.



Moves to create the south’s new main line into London are gathering pace. Three distinct developments have occurred in the past few weeks which have propelled the Brighton Main Line 2 project further forward.


The Bow Group, the intellectual Conservative think tank, has published Reviving Britain’s Railways, urging Government to be less obsessed with HS2 and instead start building high-impact schemes to deliver more capacity into the UK rail network. Citing disastrous rail closures carried out in the 1960s which need urgent attention, the Bow Group Report focuses on the South East’s most notorious:


‘Commuters are crammed together as they battle to get to work in the capital. However, by coincidence, a parallel line used to run from London to Brighton – and whilst it now ends part way through Sussex, £350m would see the Wealden Line revived and the opening of Brighton Main Line 2. That would be the type of investment which would alleviate the woes of many commuters from Brighton to London, opening up rail capacity, and providing an effective service which could be fit for the future. The suggested overall project for the Wealden Line would even go further. As well as the Brighton Main Line 2, the campaign group behind the proposals would see a branch connection to Tunbridge Wells, and the opening of smaller lines in South London. The scheme, which has been supported by the Brighton & Hove Conservative Group Leader and local Conservative MP Simon Kirby, could transform rail travel across Sussex. It could also begin to address some of the connectivity issues which make travel a logistical challenge if trying to reach a station on a different main route, without travelling to London and back out again.’


This report follows George Osborne’s personal intervention this summer of ordering a full investigation into BML2 as well as his appointment of Lord Adonis to head the Government’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). Andrew Adonis is a close friend and party associate of Lord Steve Bassam of Brighton – a keen and longstanding proponent of BML2 who speaks passionately about the need to revive Brighton’s second main line.


Resigning the Labour Whip in the House of Lords in order to chair the NIC, Lord Adonis is now perfectly placed to push BML2 to the very heart of the commission as an easily deliverable scheme initiating the Chancellor’s plan to get Britain building. Only two years ago, Lord Adonis proclaimed it was: “stark staring obvious that the second mainline to London is needed”. His thinking has now been echoed by the Conservative’s Bow Group because in 2013 he declared:  “The loss of Brighton's second main line via Uckfield and the direct London services it provided was a massive error of the 1960s. It needs to be reversed.”


At that time, Lord Adonis helpfully explained his strategy: “Substantially increasing capacity into our cities remains the industry's greatest challenge. Brighton Main Line 2, by reconnecting Brighton with London as one seamless journey, has the potential to do this and is therefore a strong contender for serious investment because it would strengthen the existing overloaded network.”


In other developments, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin delivered the Terms of Reference for the £100k ‘London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study’, specifically sanctioned by George Osborne. The DfT’s Terms of Reference for the Study are both extensive and demanding. It begins: ‘The Brighton Main Line (BML) is a critical link in rail travel between London and the South Coast. However, known network infrastructure constraints compromise the on-time performance of services along this corridor; metrics such as the Public Performance Measure are below the national average’ [late-running trains].


Commendably acknowledging the growing problem, it says: ‘Given strong ongoing demand for rail services between London and the South Coast, the Government will appoint a consultant to evaluate the strategic case for investment in existing and new rail capacity along this corridor.’


The contract has since been awarded to WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff (WSP PB). With time of the utmost essence, key representatives from the BML2 Project Group were last week invited to the consultants’ London headquarters to give a presentation on the scheme to WSP PB’s appointed Project Director, Project Manager and Technical Lead in what was a wide-ranging and scrutinising meeting.


The time allowed for the report is extremely short (before Christmas) whilst three categories are specified: Part A – Demand for services; Part B – Proposals to address demand and their feasibility; and Part C – the priorities for investment in the short, medium and long term.


Part A will look at demand based on rail industry projections as well as housing and commercial developments now taking place. In this respect, WSP PB is meeting local authorities, as well as those industries critically affected by the BML, notably Gatwick Airport.


Part B will consider the currently proposed modifications to the BML (and associated routes) by Network Rail, Transport for London, etc. This section also calls for a full description for ‘entirely new or largely new lines between the South Coast and London, including concepts such as BML2’.


In consideration of building the second main line between the capital and the Sussex coast, the consultants are being asked to investigate its feasibility; how it would respond to demand; its design factors (including the new route’s interaction with current lines); the availability of land and if there are any tunnelling constraints.


This section must also consider operational impacts, journey time savings, passenger flows into London terminals and resilience benefits offered by BML2 in times of disruption. Costs are also expected to be assessed, whilst the Government is also interested to learn to what extent the private sector might be willing to participate in building these new rail links.


Part C aims to determine priorities, ranging from the short (5-10 years); to medium (10-20 years); to long term (20+ years). Any potential conflicts between these priorities will also need to be assessed and resolved.


A 90-minute BML2 presentation to WSP PB featured current problems afflicting both the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines and the extraordinary high demand which is rapidly pushing these routes deeper into crisis. It was explained that its three phases (Sussex, Kent and London) are interdependent, but range widely in engineering complexity and cost. The Sussex Phase is straightforward in engineering terms and would immediately deliver wide-scale benefits right from the day it opens. Absolutely nothing can be gained by delaying its implementation any longer, but there is much to lose, particularly in terms of the South’s economy – as many others have pointed out.


WSP PB was told the same applies to Kent, which would regain its second main line between Tunbridge Wells and London, so regrettably closed in 1969. This would simultaneously restore regional connections to Brighton and the Sussex Coast – and deliver those “immense local benefits” mentioned by Lord Adonis in 2013. Besides providing realistic relief to the increasingly overloaded Tonbridge Main Line, this phase will open up strategic twenty-first century routes directly into the capital’s financial heartland.


It was then explained the London Phase is unquestionably the most multifaceted and costly to deliver; however, its commercial and social value would far exceed its capital outlay. This phase would reap the highest rewards, not just in terms of passenger benefits, but economic regeneration and growth across East London and its business centre at Canary Wharf. A particular BML2 bonus (also termed ‘Thameslink 2’) must be taken into account –  its ability to remove vast quantities of unwanted central London congestion from London Bridge, Blackfriars, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, etc.


Gatwick and Stansted airports would be particular beneficiaries with direct, faster and increased connections to Canary Wharf, Stratford International and Crossrail. Linking these two London airports seamlessly together with one dedicated fast rail service through East London would be possible with BML2. Building such fundamental infrastructure is critically important in terms of securing both airports’ future well-being and prosperity – especially if London Heathrow is granted expansion through a third runway.


We have a rail network struggling to manage demand; public clamour for more train services and better journeys; a private sector keen to invest in infrastructure; and a Chancellor keen to get Britain building again.


There’s never been a better time to start building BML2.





Hever Station


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

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.



Osborne promotes Brighton Main Line 2 Project


Uckfield Buffer Stop


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

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.