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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Osborne says Conservatives will examine case for BML2

Brighton Seaford Railway

 

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

 

Thameslink2 Skyline

 

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

Rail Minister at Lewes with BML2

 

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

BML1 Sussex Main Line 

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

Wasting assets

 

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

Network Rail's draft Sussex Area Route Study promises

 

Network Rail Promises for Sussex

 

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.

 

 

Why only BML2 can benefit Lewes

A 6-page publication entitled "Why only BML2 can benefit Lewes" has been published by the BML2 Project Group and explains in layman's terms, why that scheme is the ONLY viable scheme on the table that would reconnect the railway from Uckfield directly to BOTH Brighton and Lewes with the least impact of noise and visual appearance within the South Downs National Park.

 

It is available as a 1.33Mb pdf download by clicking on this link

Tunnel vision over £3bn Bakerloo extension?

 

Elmers End 

 Elmers End: Should this remain a dead-end branch to Hayes?

Heading straight on (as it used to) this route must become a new main line from London’s business heartland at Canary Wharf

running direct to Gatwick and the Sussex Coast as part of Thameslink 2.


A period of ‘public consultation’ until 7 December has just begun on the proposed £3bn London Underground Bakerloo line extension. From its current terminus at Elephant & Castle, it is planned to extend to Lewisham, Beckenham and Hayes in Kent.

 

Already, London Mayor Boris Johnson, a keen supporter, is calling it a “top priority” and suggesting “It would provide a vital new transport link for the people of South London”. Similarly enthusiastic are some London boroughs and authorities. The Bakerloo Extension is in the London Mayor’s 2050 Infrastructure Plan which is now out for consultation:


https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/tube/bakerloo-extension?intcmp=21818

 

Opposing the proposal are the many thousands of Kent and South East London commuters who currently use Southeastern’s services from Hayes, Elmers End, Beckenham, Sydenham, Catford. They will lose their direct trains into Charing Cross/Cannon Street and will be obliged to use Underground services to Waterloo via Elephant & Castle.

 

In its current form, the scheme also poses a threat to the viability of BML2 which needs to make proper use of this highly valuable rail corridor through South East London. BML2 would introduce ‘Thameslink 2’ with its enormously important regional and cross-capital connections linking Stratford International with Lewisham.

 

We have been aware of the Bakerloo extension proposal for some time (it featured in Network Rail’s 2011 Route Utilisation Strategies) and we have discussed it with transport officers on both sides of the Thames. We have explained that the tube extension need not be a threat; in fact both could be accommodated to far greater advantage to the area – and to London Underground.

 

The strategic transport corridor between Croydon and Lewisham through Elmers End is wide enough to support BML2’s fast lines, as well as national suburban, or Bakerloo Line, trains between Lewisham and Elmers End. This also applies to Croydon’s Tramlink which partially uses the route south of Elmers End.

 

Nevertheless, there is a distinct danger that tunnel vision will prevail, whereby London-based planners will view transport in the capital from a narrow perspective only, whereby a massively rewarding national opportunity will be missed in the process.

 

However, one London Borough north of the Thames has already appreciated the huge potential of ‘Thameslink 2’ – which is the London-end component of the bigger Brighton Main Line 2 scheme. Indeed, it was even remarked that Thameslink 2 would be “easier to deliver” than the Government’s controversial HS2 “– and with more tangible economic gains!”

 

Coupled with the ‘Stanwick’ concept – which enables Gatwick and Stansted airports to be linked together through Canary Wharf and East London with one dedicated rail service – they have already given Thameslink 2 their backing. In a formal response they say:

 

‘NEW REGIONAL NETWORK RAIL LINE - Promote the new Thameslink 2 ‘Stanwick’ regional line proposal that links Brighton and Gatwick with Stansted airport via Isle of Dogs (Canary Wharf) and the Lower Lea Valley.  This will provide higher capacity on the network and directly link the Canary Wharf metropolitan employment centre with the South-East region.’

 

The phenomenal growth in rail travel, especially in and around London, seems unstoppable and shows no sign of slowing down. However, with transport commentators already talking about a Thameslink ‘Blackfriars bottleneck’ – even BEFORE the Thameslink 2018 Programme is complete and operational – the alarm bells in planning departments and the rail industry ought to be loudly ringing.

 

It is apparent to many observers that London already needs a new main line rail connection across the inner eastern Thames through Canary Wharf. This would not only bring substantial relief to badly-overcrowded central London, but open up valuable connections to counties separated by the river. As a South London transport planner told us in 2012 “London is effectively two cities”

 

Crossrail, Canary Wharf, East London regeneration, airport expansion and connections, are just a few of the reasons why Thameslink 2 needs to be grasped with both hands by the political big-hitters. Even so, the boroughs we have spoken to so far have emphasised the significant role they play and the influence at their command. Transport for London, the Mayor’s Office and Canary Wharf need to get behind this great project.

 

Thameslink 2 is also the best solution to the persistent problems plaguing the Brighton Main Line. Purely local re-openings in Sussex such as Lewes–Uckfield will not in themselves solve the horrendous capacity problems we are facing in the South East. Direct and frequent services into Brighton via BML2 are imperative – as yet again recent chaos on the adjacent Brighton Main Line demonstrates. This is quite apart from the current scheduled closures due to engineering works over four weekends. The cost to the Sussex economy is significant and trying to shunt people on a lengthy rail-hike around West Sussex via Arundel is no longer acceptable.

 

Last week, ex-Southeastern trains manager Charles Horton (now boss of the new mega-Thameslink franchise) incurred public wrath by suggesting commuters would find Siemens’ forthcoming Bedford-Brighton trains “more comfortable to stand up in”. We warned this would be the case back in February:


http://www.bml2.co.uk/the-news/156-story-stand-up-for-the-brighton-line.html

 

It shouldn’t be surprising that millions of rail-users across the south are feeling aggrieved, exasperated, angry, ignored – and simply taken for granted. Like everyone else, we too are wondering where are the powerful voices in Parliament who will speak up for this region.

 

This enduring mess of a rail network needs to be sorted out and BML2, alongside Thameslink 2, should be getting the serious Government attention it truly deserves.

 

 

 

Brighton Main Line 2 may be included says Minister as politicians clash over project

Brighton 82720

 

More track and trains are needed between the South Coast and London


 

Higher rail fares, increasing congestion, cancelled and late trains, weary and dissatisfied commuters, whilst both Southern and Southeastern come bottom of the league among passengers. Rail bosses say they’re carrying twice the number of passengers in the SE than ten years ago but, as we’ve said many times, not a mile of track has been reopened in the South. Commuters say they are “sick and tired of being treated like this”“we are fed up and something has to change”.

 

Brighton’s Conservative MPs have expressed their dissatisfaction as Simon Kirby observed: “This area has suffered from years of a lack of investment”. A keen supporter of BML2 and aware that short-term proposals are no longer enough, he added: “The Brighton Line is at capacity and a long-term solution is needed. There is a strong argument for us getting a second line, not only to solve problems of capacity, but also robustness. If there is a problem at the moment it can impact the whole line whereas another line would help that”.  

 

Just before Parliament broke for its summer recess, Simon Kirby tabled a question, asking whether the Secretary of State for Transport has considered funding in Network Rail’s next spending review for Brighton Main Line 2. The minister responded: “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.”

 

Brighton & Hove City Council has already given its backing to BML2 and a few days ago the Leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Geoffrey Theobald, contacted us to specifically reaffirm his endorsement.

 

Recently, at their request, Conservative candidates Nusrat Ghani and Maria Caulfield – who will be standing in Wealden and Lewes constituencies respectively – were given a presentation on BML2. Subsequently Maria Caulfield, who will be contesting Norman Baker’s seat, spoke on ITV Meridian News in support of the proposals.
 
This was followed by a longer feature on Meridian News, explaining how BML2 would reintroduce two main lines to the south; not only from Brighton to London, but also from Tunbridge Wells to London. In an interview at Uckfield station the emphasis was on the ever-worsening capacity crisis across the South East and the need for specific closed routes to be reopened, along with certain strategic new links to revolutionize the rail network. Substantial sums of money need to be invested in the region – but we need political champions who are prepared to argue that case within the DfT and the Government.

 

Soon, Network Rail is expected to present its draft study to the DfT on increasing route capacity between the Sussex Coast and London, in which they will consider BML2. Previous schemes of the past 45 years to reopen rail services between Lewes and Uckfield have been consistently rejected by the DfT, ministers and also the rail industry. As they have said, over and over again, this is because “Lewes would constrain through-running to Brighton” whilst the volume of additional trains required to make the scheme viable would not be possible.

 

The conclusive blow really occurred in 2008 with Network Rail’s study, which showed reopening a Lewes–Uckfield link just on its own as, even now, still being proposed by Norman Baker and the ‘RailFuture’ group, could only be for local use and of no benefit to Sussex’s central ‘spine’ – the Brighton main line. Full electrification, redoubling and direct running between London and Brighton would also be necessary – as proposed by BML2.

 

It was for this reason that BML2 was devised which, besides linking into Lewes and on to Eastbourne, includes the all-important South Downs tunnel directly into Brighton, thus enabling a massive increase in the number of services which could operate between the South Coast and London. In 2010, it was explained to Norman Baker how he could achieve his ambition of reopening Lewes–Uckfield as part of a much larger and more useful scheme, but he wouldn’t listen.

 

Meridian News interviewed the Lewes Lib Dem MP, Norman Baker, for his reaction to the Conservative support; however, yet again he expressed his opposition to BML2 and told viewers: “I’m all in favour of reopening railway lines; in fact I did some when I was Minister of Transport in the Department for Transport and I want to see extensions to the railway network. But we have to be practical as to what’s achievable. Lewes to Uckfield in my view is achievable, but BML2 practically – whether it’s desirable or not – is not achievable.”

 

His steadfast opposition continues to irritate all those who want to see the south’s overloaded rail system expanded – as is happening elsewhere in the UK. “Norman Baker is well-known for his enthusiastic endorsement of HS2, purely because it’s politically expedient for him to do so, yet he will not stand up and fight for the South and lobby for investment where it’s really needed – on our beleaguered and overcrowded network” – is just one comment we received from a commuter last week.

 

The tragedy is that during Norman Baker’s lengthy period as Transport Minister so much could have been achieved since 2010 had he only put his narrow personal ambition to one side and instead worked jointly with neighbouring MPs and councils who support BML2, enabling them to put their case to the DfT.

 

Sadly and inevitably, the real losers continue to be all those who have to rely every day on the South’s increasingly creaking rail network.

 

 

Transport Department and Network Rail are crippling the South

Crippling the South

 

Trains are more popular than ever but the region cannot cope without an expanded system.

 


 

Frustration and anger continues to grow over the indifference to the south’s daily struggle to meet rising demand across its network. There are genuine concerns that between them the Department for Transport and Network Rail are strangling the south, seriously damaging its prospects, stifling its economy and undermining its future. This Government appears uninterested in solving such mounting problems, whilst its ministers will not face up to the fundamental weaknesses in this important region.

 

What the south urgently needs is a more comprehensive network so more trains can operate, but the Government and the rail industry continue to sit on their hands, still refusing to commit any large-scale funding towards a programme of genuine rail expansion. Yet they know how vital railways are to the economy, regeneration and prosperity because these are reasons they give for High Speed 2, insisting £50 billion must be spent on it.

 

Now we even have the chancellor George Osborne saying he wants to build a High Speed Three. But when it comes to the Home Counties south of the capital, whose diminished rail network now carries countless thousands more passengers into London than ever before, Governments of all political persuasions haven’t reopened or laid one additional mile of new railway. The southern region has been allowed to stagnate.

 

Double standards apply when it comes to HS2 and BML2. Whatever the merits of the former, the argument is put forward that all of a sudden it’s urgently needed – apparently no longer for ‘high speed’ – but to relieve the West Coast Main Line with substantial amounts of more capacity. Compare this to the Government’s attitude to the notoriously beleaguered Brighton Main Line and the latest comment from the Department for Transport to Edenbridge Town Council: “Large-scale investment in alternative routes in the outer area of the Brighton Main Line would likely be of very limited value in the short to medium term – this finding is applicable to the re-instatement of the Lewes-Uckfield line.”

 

Not surprisingly, the council said it was “extremely disappointed in the apparent dismissal of moves towards the much-needed restoration of the Uckfield line” adding that it would not prevent them continuing with pressure to see the line restored. One palpably angry councillor criticized such negativity, saying: “This has been going on for well over 25 years and is not getting anywhere because of the financial situation. Any money used on the railways will be wasted on the high speed line to Birmingham. The HS2 is unnecessary and such a waste of money – it's ridiculous. It's annoying as the cost for restoring and linking to Brighton will be minimal by comparison – the vast majority of the line is already there and operational –  it just needs some political commitment.”

 

In its response, a spokesman for Network Rail said: “We have asked for the trackbed of the route to be protected as we agree the route will be needed in future. However, there are more pressing needs on the Brighton Main Line, because the capacity squeeze is more acute at the London end of the route. Were we to create space for more trains at the coastal end of the line now, we would just be pouring more water into a blocked sink.”

 

But this is precisely why BML2’s London Phase is so vital – to enable more services and non-stopping trains from Brighton, Gatwick and elsewhere, to avoid clogging East Croydon and its multiple bottlenecks on either side.

 

And no matter what happens at the London end, the additional main line to Brighton and the Sussex coast is needed now and cannot come soon enough – because the entire BML is one ‘blocked sink’ for all its length. The same goes for the south’s Tonbridge Main Line, for which Network Rail admits it has no solutions.

 

In similar vein, an exasperated Uckfield commuter (one of David Cameron’s ‘hard-working families’) expressed his astonishment in a well-argued communication to the DfT’s ‘Deputy Director of Rail Network Outcomes’. He questioned why Network Rail’s Interim Report on South Coast capacity: “offers no forward strategic planning in respect of the continuing growing use of the rail network in the South East” and added: “I note that its contents have been accepted – presumably as the report does not propose spending any money”.

 

He went on to remind DfT headquarters in London: “Sussex remains particularly poorly served with effectively only one coastal commuter line to London running through it – the BML – to which everyone railheads. The Uckfield line does the best it can but strategically has no function in its present truncated form beyond serving the local towns and villages running near it.  It is chronically underused in terms of train paths if not underused by the local public and, as a result, suffers from severe overcrowding.”

 

Network Rail is fully aware of this, but has for years declined doing anything about it and comes up with numerous excuses. That’s largely because the DfT appears complacent, whilst successive Governments of all political persuasions over the past forty years have sat back and allowed today’s situation to develop.

 

Some very bold and real solutions are absurdly overdue and needed now – not in twenty years’ time – to create more train paths across the southern region into London. All the south’s principal routes are completely full and cannot support any more train services, whilst short-term fixes are now exhausted. The same goes for their latest attempts to squeeze in even greater numbers of commuters into the forthcoming Thameslink trains which will have fewer and narrower seats so more standing space is available.

 

When it comes to redoubling, electrifying and restoring Brighton’s secondary main line via Uckfield, the lame excuse of ‘no spare capacity in London’ is given. This, they believe, conveniently absolves them from doing anything at all.

 

Another excuse centres on the DfT and Network Rail’s view that third rail electrification is ‘dead’ and has no future role – but they won’t commit to overhead electrification either, which could easily and usefully be implemented on a second Brighton–London main line. No wonder many of us have the impression that they would really like people to stop causing them problems by using the railways.

 

All this boils down to recent depressing evidence that the south’s economic prospects are suffering badly because the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines have reached the very limit of their capability. Everyone knows – including Network Rail and the train operators – that the BML will carry on suffering periodic catastrophic failures, as well as daily delays. We can also guarantee that consequential repeated calls for restoration of Brighton’s secondary main line will continue to fall on deaf ears.

 

In his letter the Sussex commuter also questioned why “the powers that be” cannot grasp the fact that for want of just a few miles of track the vast conurbations of Tunbridge Wells and Brighton and all the towns around could be connected by rail. This fully functioning rail network would benefit many hundreds of thousands of people – a view recently expressed by Cabinet Minister and Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark.

 

In their response the DfT said: “The Department agrees with your view that the findings of the report need to be considered in the wider regional context”. However, so far there has been no evidence of this from Network Rail, which doesn’t feel it’s under any pressure to act decisively – or soon. Left to its own devices, it will continue to ignore the problem because, after all, simply saying they apologize for any inconvenience caused costs nothing.

 

The failings of the south’s inadequate rail network have been widely acknowledged for decades and by successive Governments and its ministers. The consequences are far reaching and truly enormous, having a direct and very negative impact on not just the regional economy but that of the capital.

 

Political pressure to address this shamefully long-ignored problem needs to be brought at the highest level.