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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Strategy for Growth now published.

The launch of the BML2 Project last year and the publication of Network Rail’s various Route Utilisation Strategies (RUS) for Sussex and Kent focus attention on the south’s already “full-up railway”. Trains are increasingly badly overcrowded in the rush hours, so the aim is to lengthen them all, wherever possible, to 12-cars. But this is only a quick-fix solution, because commuter traffic is set to grow in the next twenty years in the London & South East region by 30%, whilst the train companies tell us some parts of the network already remain busy all day. So where is the bigger plan?

Lack of capacity doesn’t just mean too many people crammed into carriages. It’s really about finding more train paths, because there is a limit to how many services can be run on a section of railway and the necessary interval of minutes between these trains. The Brighton Line is a good example of a “full-up railway” with no spare train paths – and it’s going to carry on getting busier all the time. Wishful demands for more trains and much faster, more reliable services simply cannot be met, whilst closing routes like the BML at weekends for engineering works understandably causes great upset. And now we learn that the Tonbridge Main Line is in an equally invidious position.

Unhappily, the draft London & South East RUS, which will appear in its final version in the summer, currently offers no solutions to accommodate growth on the rail network across Kent, Sussex and east Surrey. These documents are supposed to be blueprints for the long-term, because providing the capacity so pressingly needed requires years of planning and engineering. Instead, all they can think of is choking-off demand by substantially raising fares in the busiest hours in the seemingly desperate hope that people will travel either much earlier or later to work. Forcing commuters to pay a lot more for nothing in return will rightly be condemned as a wholly inadequate and unsatisfactory proposition.

In fairness, it’s easy to criticize the railways, which are increasingly expected to provide a faultless 21st century train service on a 19th century framework which was badly neglected and even wrecked in places during the latter decades of the 20th century. With ‘stakeholders’ invited to submit comments about the draft L&SE RUS, we may anticipate unrealistic demands for all sorts of extra services, stopping at more stations – but still arriving in London much faster than today. This simply cannot happen. HS1 aside (because that operates as a spin-off from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link), we shall never see high speed services in this region – the southern simply isn’t that kind of railway. We must accept it will always be an intensive, closely-knit urban and relatively short-distance system with, if we’re lucky, a bit of 90mph running thrown in wherever and whenever possible.

Read more: A Strategy for Growth now published.

It's Grim Down South

The London and South East Route Utilisation Strategy Draft for Consultation was published in mid-December and the pdf document may be downloaded from Network Rail’s website. The closing date for responses is 18 March 2011 and the final version will be published during the summer.

 

Network Rail says that the strategy, which we shall refer to as the L&SE RUS DC, was ‘developed closely’ with both the Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL). Disappointingly, though, it offers no cheer to the many thousands of rail travellers who daily endure the heavily-congested longer-distance commuter lines feeding into London from Sussex and Kent. Although over the next few years trains can be lengthened in an effort to mitigate short-term overcrowding, increasing demand will overwhelm the available space on trains and the network. Because rail usage has already surged back up to pre-recession levels, Network Rail is seriously worried about capacity because this word is mentioned a staggering 614 times in this draft consultation. Nevertheless, despite the numerous ‘challenges’ and ‘problems’ mentioned elsewhere, they appear prepared to blithely throw in the towel when it comes to the two busiest arterial routes feeding into London from these two Home Counties.

 

Read more: It's Grim Down South

With friends like these...

Our attention has been drawn to the ‘East Sussex Local Transport Plan 3 – Consultation Draft’ and although we were invited by East Sussex County Council (ESCC) to submit any comments, we refuse to take part in this charade. However, as comment has been made in the media that ESCC shows ‘continued support’ for the reinstatement of the Lewes-Uckfield rail link because it appears in this latest plan, it was decided to run through the 182-page document.

Despite the use of subliminal green ink, we remain unconvinced that this particular leopard has changed its spots, whilst the document is predictably littered throughout with tedious jargon. For example, we counted 49 instances of ‘challenges’; 70 of ‘partnerships’; 68 of ‘climate change’ and a wearisome 136 of ‘sustainable’. There were also 25 uses of ‘connectivity’ which is something we don’t need to be told that East Sussex lacks – most obviously the famous gap in the county’s rail network. However, this ghastly word is applied only once to railways with the 24 remaining associations being applied to ever-more expansion of the road system. What a surprise.

It all aims to sound very impressive and ‘green’, as in this example:
‘The LTP3 strategy will need to help improve access to employment centres. This in turn will help to maximise job opportunities, reduce the financial and social costs of unemployment and improve people’s quality of life. The challenge is to find and implement cost effective, innovative solutions which contribute most to reducing localised congestion and provide journey time reliability for both business and personal journeys. We must also recognise the importance of the strategic links to London and to interconnectivity between other employment centres in the South East such as Brighton, Worthing, Tunbridge Wells and the Gatwick/ Crawley areas.

Businesses will benefit in terms of reduced costs and a reduced carbon footprint, from the promotion of travel by non car modes through better information on travel choices and where appropriate as part of workplace travel planning solutions. This will also contribute to reducing congestion and therefore increasing journey time reliability.’


Of course, we all know what the real solution would be, but ESCC would have us believe it supports reinstating East Sussex’s former rail links to Tunbridge Wells and between the County Town of Lewes and the Uckfield Line:
‘The potential re-opening of the Lewes / Uckfield / Tunbridge Wells railway – despite the outcomes of the Network Rail study in 2008 on the Lewes – Uckfield reinstatement, which identified a low cost-benefit ratio, the County Council remains supportive of the reinstatement. The Council will continue to support and work with neighbouring authorities to lobby for the reinstatement of the line as part of the Route Utilisation Strategy process which is led by Network Rail and the wider need to deliver rail infrastructure capacity improvements in the south east over the next 15 years in order to meet increasing demand.’


Having witnessed for ourselves in 2009 ESCC’s ‘lobbying’ at the Houses of Parliament with the All Party Parliamentary Rail Group, we can be forgiven for wondering whether this is advisable, especially given the plainly evident self-satisfaction expressed that evening over the derailing of the 2008 Lewes-Uckfield Rail Study. Further on in the document we find this:
‘The County Council continues to support the aspiration to reinstate the Uckfield to Lewes railway line, which would significantly improve sustainable access to the major towns in the county and to London, although the most recent Network Rail study in 2008, concluded that although it is technically feasible, there is currently no economic case for rebuilding the line when appraised against the Government’s current major scheme assessment criteria. These criteria are currently being reviewed by Government in order to provide greater parity in assessing road and rail schemes. Work has recently been undertaken by a local campaign group looking at the benefits of a new railway line between Brighton and Uckfield and beyond to London, utilising existing infrastructure where appropriate. This work merits further investigation and this will be sought from Network Rail via the London and South East Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) process.’


We intentionally excluded ESCC from the BML2 Project, but from this statement we can be certain that BML2 will be afforded exactly the same treatment as ‘Lewes-Uckfield’ by this local authority. Of course, if ESCC was honestly committed to reinstating the rail link then it would be more than prepared to honour the documented pledge it made to fund the A22 road bridge over the re-opened railway. The fact that this was solemnly given to us and all concerned 32 years ago makes no difference whatsoever, but their word is not their bond, as we shall see again if they are allowed to have their way. This brings us to the nub of the matter:
‘In Uckfield, future housing growth is likely to further exacerbate the existing congestion problem in the town centre. Therefore, the implementation of a suitable town centre traffic management scheme will help to address this issue.’


The spectre of ESCC’s gyratory road scheme is raised yet again. This would swallow up the station site and effectively block the critical rail corridor between the South Coast and London. ESCC refuses to consider a bridge over the route and wishes to sever the trackbed, whilst it now intends to find a wealthy partner to pay for its road-building ambition in the centre of Uckfield: ‘As the traffic situation in the town centre will continue to deteriorate with further development, financial contributions will be sought to finance the implementation of a suitable scheme, taking into account any future reinstatement of the Uckfield to Lewes railway line.’


But ‘taking into account’ merely means acknowledging, with copious amounts of crocodile tears, that the 2008 Study proved reopening the line wasn’t justified. And no one should be fooled into a false sense of security by these honeyed words: ‘Investigate potential town centre traffic management options to facilitate the additional traffic generated by housing and business growth in and around Uckfield coming forward through the LDF, without prejudicing the future reinstatement of the Uckfield to Lewes line.’

We’ve heard it all before. We had that in 1978. You have been warned.

Increasing volume is the greatest challenge

Despite current financial circumstances, spending reviews and all manner of economic uncertainties in the months and possibly years ahead, one factor appears certain – that demand for rail travel will continue increasing. Political short-termism has no place in railway planning and it is imperative that real vision for the considerable challenges which lie ahead is not encumbered. Encouragingly, recent figures from the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) show sustained growth, whilst the rail industry as a whole is preparing for a renewed surge in demand in the years ahead, particularly once the economy shows real sign of recovery. Unsurprisingly, much of this demand is centred on the London and South East commuter network where increasing volumes are already proving difficult to manage and present the greatest headache for planners desperate for realistic and lasting solutions.


Because Route Utilisation Strategies are long-term focused, it is therefore both timely and appropriate that Network Rail is currently embarking upon a London & South East RUS. As its title implies, this will have a regional aspect and look at far wider horizons than any of the extremely informative but rather limited RUSs individually produced (in this area) for Kent, Sussex and South London. The draft for consultation is expected to be published during December whilst, following a consultative period, the final strategy is planned to appear next summer.

Read more: Increasing volume is the greatest challenge

BML2 – A positive and constructive beginning.

Since the public launch in April of the BML2 project, the summer months have been occupied with a busy programme of presentations to a range of bodies such as Southern; Network Rail; representatives from the Office of Rail Regulation and ATOC; as well as MPs and numerous councils in the region. The feedback from these events has been enormously helpful and encouraging, enabling us to further develop and refine the project, which has been our key objective. In the same way as the RUSs, BML2 can be evaluated to bring in fresh thought and ideas which allow us to continually improve upon the base case. The overall response has been far more positive than even we could have imagined. We also welcome the further challenges set by Theresa Villiers, the Under Secretary of State for Transport in demonstrating how BML2 could solve many of the severe problems facing the Brighton Main Line.


From the outset of the launch, we freely admitted that we did not have all the answers and that BML2 would require the collective strategic thinking and support of the rail industry to make further progress. At this initial stage it is a concept which looks at the seemingly intractable and worrying challenges facing both the Brighton and Tonbridge Main Lines in the 2020s and how we are going to keep the South East on the move with these two core routes operating efficiently. We made it plain that we were not about to embark upon compiling timetables, providing detailed engineering costs, or even attempt producing robust business cases. These will be tasks for those with the professional expertise, the technological skills and the considerably complex computer programming software needed to develop BML2.


Media coverage in journals such as Rail Professional and railway periodicals has been fair in its appraisal, whilst provincial newspapers have covered the project to varying degrees of seriousness. Our attention has also been drawn to some of the debate on various blogs; however, very little has been serious or of any intrinsic value. Invariably, there has also been undeserved comment from some who clearly have never read the project document, let alone understood its basis.


It is our intention to revise the BML2 project document which appears on the dedicated website because some of the content has been superseded by the feedback we have received from the rail industry. This has been both helpful and offered in a spirit of co-operation, thereby enabling us to periodically revise and improve upon the presentation itself. We have listened to the advice offered and incorporated everything as more information and constructive suggestions come forward.


No one should under-estimate the scale of the problem faced by those who have to daily move many thousands of commuters around the South East. Equally, the increasing strain on the network as public demand continues to grow on certain sections throughout the day and at weekends. The popularity of rail travel is something which should be welcomed and encouraged for a whole host of reasons. That is why we believe BML2 has such great potential in benefiting the South East and improving the quality of life for everyone.