Brighton Main Line 2 championed in Parliament
Published on Monday, 13 January 2014 07:30
“The main line from Brighton is in dire trouble. It struggles and creaks through inadequate capacity.” - Caroline Lucas MP
During an important parliamentary debate ‘Inter-City Rail Investment’ on 9 January the pressing need for BML2 was hammered home to the Government and acknowledged by Transport Minister Stephen Hammond.
In his opening speech, Ian Swales MP (Redcar, Lib Dem) drew attention to the poor journey times between northern cities and the need to improve regional rail connections. He quite rightly urged investment in railways across England to secure growth and prosperity. In boosting regional economies, he enquired: “how the Department’s inter-city rail investment policy will meet the ambition of making the whole economy more successful, and not just that of London and the south-east.”
Unfortunately he, like many, have the impression the South East gets what it wants because it borders London, when actually quite the opposite is true. Unlike Scotland, Wales – and lamentably few parts of England – not a single mile of railway has been reopened in Sussex, Surrey or Kent. The south’s diminished network, which bears the brunt of commuter traffic, has been shamefully neglected by successive Governments.
Thankfully, Green MP Caroline Lucas put the record straight: “With hon. Members piling in to put their own inter-city and other rail services on the table, may I make a plea for the Brighton main line? We need more capacity, with a second line from Brighton to London so commuters do not get stuck in Brighton, as they do on the many occasions when that line is not operating.”
She was joined by Conservative MP (Brighton Kemptown) Simon Kirby who congratulated Ian Swales before saying he too frequently commutes to London and has come to know the BML – “a great deal better than I ever wanted to know it, if the truth be known”. He told MPs how frustrated its users have become and said, after tweeting, he was “inundated” by fellow passengers “who have simply had enough”.
He reminded the House that ‘Which’ magazine revealed: “rail passengers in the south-east have the lowest customer satisfaction in the whole of the UK” and alluded to fare rises, lack of a seat, overcrowding, delays, breakdowns, cancellations, which make the daily commute “grim”.
Simon Kirby said there were clearly serious problems which need to be addressed and then hit the nail squarely on the head – “At their root is the problem of capacity”.
He referred to reports suggesting possible solutions to avert the crisis, but specifically went on to say: “Another option, which I have thrown my weight behind, is the Brighton Main Line 2 proposal. I am happy to work with my Brighton colleague, Caroline Lucas, if it means that we can make it a reality. It would provide a new line between Brighton and the capital and obviously reduce pressure on the current line while avoiding the bottleneck that is Croydon, which currently causes many of the problems. Network Rail is assessing plans to link Lewes and Uckfield as part of its long-term planning process and acknowledged the attraction of a new route that does not involve the congested east Croydon corridor.”
He added: “Last year, in the House, I received assurances from the previous Rail Minister that the Government were considering Brighton Main Line 2 as a potential solution to the capacity problems affecting the south coast and would be looking to take the issue forward in due course. My constituents would welcome an update from the new Minister.”
Given the strong backing from Brighton which BML2 received last year, he then sought a direct answer from the Rail Minister: “If he can reassure me this afternoon that Brighton Main Line 2 is still being considered, I, like many of my constituents, will be very grateful.”
Caroline Lucas was equally determined to speak up for the south and the thousands who travel daily into London. She also thanked Ian Swales for securing the debate before saying: “I apologise, as others have, for the fact that I shall discuss a line that connects to London. I accept his broader point that we should not be so southern-centric, but I hope he will forgive me, given that my constituency depends a lot on the line between Brighton and London.”
She said she agreed with Simon Kirby and hoped they could have cross-party agreement “that the current rail system is failing our constituents in Brighton and Hove”. In likewise highlighting the plight of the “frustrated and angry” she warned: “The main line from Brighton is in dire trouble. It struggles and creaks through inadequate capacity.”
She then referred to a Network Rail event in December which focused on Brighton Line capacity and felt sufficiently moved to voice the grave concerns of so many people in the UK: “The connection between the two cities is critical to my constituents and we do not want to wait for the crumbs from the table. Many Members have said that this is not a debate about HS2 and it certainly is not, but I think we should remind ourselves of the amount of money that can be found when the political will is there to invest in our rail infrastructure.”
She then went even further by expressing the valid disquiet and apprehension felt by many that serious funding to expand the ordinary railway will inevitably dry up: “I would far rather that that money was invested in the general rail systems on which so many of our constituents depend, rather than what I see as pretty much a massively expensive vanity project that will not deliver the gains that we need.”
In turning to the specific case for Brighton Main Line 2, she told Parliament: “Brighton is a dynamic, internationally successful city and a major tourist destination, but it needs more investment in its rail lines: far too often the city is cut off because of problems at East Croydon or elsewhere on the line. We need some real vision and commitment to invest to get Brighton the second London line that we so desperately need. It is essential to have not only increased capacity, but a fast alternative route for passengers at times of disruption.”
Caroline Lucas then drew attention to a statement from Baroness Kramer to the House of Lords in October which said: “It is anticipated that Network Rail will provide a copy of its Brighton Main Line Pre-Report…to this Department before the end of the year. It will include…the potential role of new line schemes, including Lewes to Uckfield.”
She asked when that might be received and pointed out: “It is critical that the study should be a thorough review of capacity between the Sussex coast and London, covering all the options to end the chaos that we so regularly experience on this critical rail artery into London.”
In going on to say: “As well as talking about the specific needs of Brighton, including for a Brighton Main Line 2, I will say a few words about this country’s broader rail system” she made a plea for “an integrated, publicly owned and run railway that does not waste money on profit” and set out her party’s wish to see the nation take control of its rail system.
In his response to the support for BML2, Rail Minister Stephen Hammond said: “The two Members representing Brighton shared a moment of political unity. I certainly hear their pleas. I can confirm that the Department received a draft in December of the report to which Baroness Kramer referred—the London to South Coast Rail Study, which was carried out by Network Rail—and I expect to see a final version within the next couple of months.”
The Minister revealed he was accepting Simon Kirby’s challenge “to come and travel on the early morning train – I am very much looking forward to that” and also mentioned: “I can bring some good news to my hon. Friend Simon Kirby on the basis that Thameslink will see 116 new trains of 8 and 12 cars coming into operation, which will directly benefit his constituents.”
However, commuters will eventually be able to judge for themselves whether this is “good news” because – as Network Rail says in its ‘London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy’ – “the Thameslink Programme rolling stock has fewer seats and greater standing capacity compared to conventional rolling stock”.
No more services can be run on the Brighton Line because it is full and these new trains will be just as vulnerable as today’s trains running on an inadequate network.
Shortly we shall publish our own London & South Coast Study – detailing how BML2 can expand and strengthen the south’s rail network, bringing greater capacity, reliability and growth.
Sussex MP exposes a Government deficient of rail solutions
Published on Tuesday, 07 January 2014 09:50
The South desperately needs a larger rail network for more trains to operate
Conscious of the ever-increasing capacity crisis on Britain’s railways, Sussex MP Caroline Lucas asked the Secretary of State whether he would consider making “an assessment of the feasibility of introducing double deck trains on heavily-used parts of the railway network in the UK” – and in particular “the line between Brighton and London”.
The Green MP, who represents Brighton Pavilion, is acutely aware of the increasing strain under which the Sussex main line into London operates and also questioned “what consideration he has given to the introduction of double deck trains as an alternative to High Speed Two?”
With regard to HS2, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond responded: “The introduction of double deck trains on the West Coast main line as an alternative to High Speed 2 was considered by the Department for Transport in 2010. The option suffered from the drawbacks set out in Network Rail's study and was therefore not taken forward.”
However, whilst the Government now says High Speed 2 is solely about capacity rather than speed, it still refuses to invest in the south, leaving everyone to just struggle on.
In defending his position on the Brighton Line Mr Hammond said: “The study found that the scope for extra seating in such trains would be limited by the significant amount of space which would be taken up by staircases and vestibules inside the carriages. In addition, extra time would be needed for passengers to board and alight from such trains at stations. Furthermore, to accommodate the much larger carriages, extremely costly and disruptive rebuilding of tunnels, bridges and other railway infrastructure would be required.”
Network Rail’s Study was published in 2007 and we don’t disagree with its conclusions which are unassailable. Indeed, converting the Brighton Line for double deck trains wouldn’t just be expensive – that’s the least problem – but would be fraught with operational difficulties and insuperable conflicts with all other services.
Route conversion would also be unacceptably disruptive as Network Rail explained: “A substantial lowering of the track level in tunnels would be needed or the construction of a new single track tunnel allowing the existing tunnel to operate as a single line repositioned towards the centre of the tunnel bore.”
Altogether there are seven tunnels on the BML and, as they say: “there is a ‘credible’ limit to the amount of disruption tolerable on a route; for example, a six-month closure for a tunnel widening on the Brighton Main line would not be tolerable.”
Mr Hammond went on to tell Caroline Lucas: “For these reasons, the study concluded that the operation of longer conventional trains represented a more efficient way of providing additional capacity for passengers.”
However, this is simply papering over the cracks because there is a limit on longer conventional trains.
The Department for Transport says its “aspiration is for no passengers to have to stand for more than 20 minutes” which we fear won’t be much comfort to anyone these days. Even three years ago Network Rail observed: “Whilst significant lengthening of certain service groups is possible it is noted that there is already peak standing from locations such as Haywards Heath on existing 12-car trains.”
This is set to get even worse as Network Rail’s studies predict, whilst they say “lengthening of services from Uckfield; Caterham or Tattenham Corner can only indirectly respond to this issue.”
And all the political promises of ‘jam tomorrow’ with the long-awaited 12-car Thameslink trains won’t solve the fundamental problem either: “The size of the gap being forecast [numbers of passengers still left standing] is dependent on the current assumption that the Thameslink Programme rolling stock has fewer seats and greater standing capacity compared to conventional rolling stock.” – Network Rail (2010).
Capacity problems south of the Thames are just as urgent as those from the north into London. Politicians aren’t offering to spend billions here on a new ‘high speed’ line – but that wouldn’t solve the problem anyway.
So what about even longer trains? How about 14-car, or possibly 16-car? Quite rightly, Network Rail says their strategy “does not regard train lengthening beyond 12-car as likely to be a viable strategy for meeting 30-year demand.”
The south desperately needs an expanded rail network so more trains can operate – which is where BML2 comes in. Three years ago Network Rail said “On Sussex routes some additional train paths have been found, but the East Croydon area represents a major barrier to further growth.”
They say what they are looking for is “a new route that does not involve the congested East Croydon corridor” and go on to suggest: “a scheme that removed Fast line services from the existing Brighton Main Line somewhere in the Croydon area would be the ultimate capacity generator”
Of course it would.
This scheme should open up new rail corridors to enable trains ranging from Chichester, Horsham, Brighton & Hove, Gatwick, Lewes, Eastbourne, Hastings, Tunbridge Wells to not only serve East Croydon/Victoria and London Bridge/Farringdon (as now), but also reach Crossrail at Canary Wharf, Stratford International – and beyond.
As we start a new year, isn’t it about time the Government and the DfT started taking BML2 seriously?
Lib Dems attempt to derail London & South East rail plan
Published on Monday, 09 December 2013 09:27
The former electrified railway through Croydon, closed in 1983, is a key component of BML2. (photo courtesy Mr. Feakins)
‘We believe the work we have done has scuppered it, but it is still being taken seriously in the press.’ – Croydon Liberal Democrats
With the helpful co-operation of Government Minister Norman Baker, who recently moved from Transport to the Home Office, Croydon Liberal Democrats say they are confident they have scuppered the Brighton Main Line 2 Project.
Local resident and party candidate Ben Devlin has said that ‘Liberal Democrat Transport Minister Norman Baker MP had voiced opposition to the plans after visiting the area at the invitation of Croydon Lib Dems.’
The Lib Dem website also reports that BML2’s proposed crossover junction between the two lines (to enable Brighton Main Line and Gatwick trains to reach East London, Canary Wharf, Stratford International and beyond) – ‘have been condemned by Croydon Liberal Democrats and rejected by Lib Dem Transport Minister Norman Baker MP.’
They claim: ‘The new rail line from Brighton to Canary Wharf would tear through the quiet suburbs of Uckfield, South Croydon and Lloyd Park in an effort to bypass central Croydon’ and they go on to suggest – ‘homes, businesses and allotments in the area would be raized [sic] to make way for new rail lines.’
This is all rather double-standards posturing when considering the Croydon Lib Dems 2010 manifesto which promised: ‘To press for better rail links from Croydon and South London to Heathrow and to future High Speed lines north of London’. And just like their zealous High Speed 2 advocate, Norman Baker, they are fully behind fast rail links provided they ‘tear through’ someone else’s patch.
In a recent interview on Croydon Radio, Lib Dems John Jefkins and Ben Devlin warned listeners: ‘We’re keeping an eye on rail proposals’ whereas it is reported they have ‘slammed plans for a new Brighton to East London rail service’ – John Jefkins describing it to be – ‘a line to nowhere.’
Nowhere? Hardly an apt description of the most sought-after business location in the whole of the United Kingdom as the eastern side of the capital undergoes a transformation with investment pouring in from across the globe.
It’s also bleak news for Gatwick’s prospects, let alone its growth or expansion – if the Croydon Lib Dems have their way. John Jefkins claims that BML2 – ‘fails to relieve passenger demand to reach Gatwick or central Croydon and even misses central London. Pointless.’
That’s not true either. Both Brighton Line and BML2 trains would be perfectly capable of serving central Croydon and central London if required. But it’s only BML2 that can directly link Canary Wharf with Gatwick Airport. What they are objecting to is giving Gatwick and Brighton Line travellers and commuters additional fast connections through the capital to Crossrail and Stratford International.
BML2’s biggest advantage for London is the ‘Stanwick’ opportunity – a new dedicated rail service operating directly between Gatwick – Canary Wharf – Stratford – Stansted. A sizeable proportion of that infrastructure is already in place, whilst it has more going for it than even the proposed Crossrail 2.
Even on a local level the Lib Dems cannot get it right but, like their champion Norman Baker, who isn’t averse to whipping up a bit of unfounded hysteria, they are claiming: ‘The scheme would also rip up Tramlink from Lloyd Park to Elmers End.’
No it wouldn’t. A new and more useful Tramlink section between Lloyd Park and Lebanon Road would release the extremely valuable (former railway) tunnels so fast train services could avoid East Croydon’s bottlenecks, whilst the transport corridor onwards to Elmers End is wide enough to accommodate railway and tramlines side by side.
So what do the Lib Dems suggest? ‘We instead back current Network Rail plans to enhance capacity through East Croydon by adding extra platforms, and by building extra flyover junctions north of it.’
Clearly they should have studied Network Rail’s analysis (London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy 2011) because they would have read:
‘The East Croydon area represents a major barrier to further growth’ and elsewhere warns:
‘a small number of additional trains are planned to run upon completion of the Thameslink Programme, though this can only be to a very limited degree as the major constraint through the East Croydon area will remain.’
Network Rail’s Strategy also says: ‘Committed track layout remodelling works at Gatwick Airport station will enable improved operational flexibility and performance in this area and potentially enable additional trains to call. However given major constraints through East Croydon and in the London area no additional train paths to the capital will be able to run as a direct result of this scheme.’
In searching for ‘a new route that does not involve the congested East Croydon corridor’ Network Rail, in seeming desperation for any solution, suggested in its 2011 report: ‘A new tunnelled railway from south of Purley to Central London.’ Wisely, the company didn’t attempt to put a price tag on this new 15-mile tunnel beneath South London.
The Lib Dems in south Croydon have similarly alarmed their coalition colleagues. Conservative activist and local resident Maria Gatland also wrote: ‘Recently a leaflet delivered in our area by the Lib Dems seemed to suggest the possibility of a new rail junction in South Croydon that would have a very damaging effect on our area.’
Croydon MP Richard Ottaway subsequently contacted Rail Minister Simon Burns (since resigned) who simply reiterated the Coalition’s current view, saying:
‘What this [London & Sussex Coast] study will not look at is whether there is a strategic and affordable case to link Brighton, Gatwick and Croydon by a direct rail route to Canary Wharf, Stratford or Stansted as proposed by the BML2 Group.’
He concluded: ‘I think therefore that the threat of a major new rail junction in the South Croydon area in the foreseeable future is extremely remote.’
Nevertheless, as former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once famously remarked: “A week in politics is a long time”.
DfT response shows HS2 WILL consume all other major rail funding
Published on Monday, 04 November 2013 07:06
“Like all Government budgets, the rail budget is under great strain and can ill-afford to take on new major projects at this time.” – Department for Transport
Photo courtesy Disused stations
Labour’s former chancellor Alastair Darling seems vindicated saying that the £50 billion HS2 will consume transport funding to the detriment of the rail network.
He recently told the BBC he’d rather see spending on more pressing needs such as improving connections between Northern cities, the Midlands as well as the grossly overloaded commuter lines into London, rather than having one “foolish” grandiose project.
The Department for Transport is now excusing itself from supporting the South’s important Brighton Main Line 2 project. Its Rail Operations Advisor Peter Foot says: “Ministers have determined that the top priority for rail investment in forthcoming years is the High Speed 2 line north from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.”
Many politicians and well-informed commentators have challenged assumptions around HS2 and whether it fits the bill. Even former supporters such as Lord Mandelson have joined the growing band of HS2 sceptics, warning that it will suck funding away from the rest of the country.
It seems he also has been proved right because the DfT is now saying: “Whether or not a major infrastructure project has a good business case matters not if it is unaffordable. Like all Government budgets, the rail budget is under great strain and can ill-afford to take on new major projects at this time.”
The South East scheme has gained credible support since its launch in 2010, whilst even HS2 advocate Lord Adonis said of BML2 – “it is stark staring obvious that the second mainline to London is needed”
Nevertheless, Peter Foot says: “It is barely conceivable that Government would venture to promote another major rail project in the near future, especially given the huge challenge there has been to both the value-for-money and environmental cases for HS2. There is no doubt that Brighton Main Line 2 would be subjected to similar challenge if the Government were to adopt and promote the idea and it is less easy to see how a business case as strong as the case for HS2 might be constructed to support the BML2 proposition.”
Despite last week’s vote in Parliament, Labour is still threatening to cancel HS2 if costs rise above £50bn. However, the Treasury has made it plain that the Government doesn’t have £50bn to spend on other projects elsewhere – and that this vast sum for HS2 will have to be borrowed. It is therefore difficult to see how future chancellors will sign off other needy rail projects with this massive debt hanging around.
Given the strength of concerted protests against HS2, from the London boroughs to the rural shires – which the Government brushes aside – the DfT exhibits inconsistency in its position over BML2. Mr Foot said: “We have started to receive correspondence from people in the south Croydon and Selsdon areas beseeching Ministers not to entertain the notion that a new main line might be driven through the area.”
BML2 reopens one of London’s strategic but currently disused rail corridors opened in 1885. It was a fully-operational electric railway until it was closed by British Rail as recently as 1983. It is a hugely important bypass around the horrendous East Croydon bottleneck which Network Rail cites as its barrier to growth.
The DfT is simply quoting people’s fears as a feeble excuse to ignore the acute problems facing the overloaded lines from Sussex, Kent and Surrey into London.
Unlike in North London and beyond where scores of properties are doomed, BML2 doesn’t necessitate any demolition. So is the DfT really saying the residents of Selsdon have to be listened to, while hundreds of Camden householders – who will see their homes compulsorily purchased and razed for HS2 – can just be ignored?
The outgoing LibDem Transport Minister Norman Baker tried this one on. Like Nick Clegg, he is a very keen and vociferous supporter of HS2, recently announcing that more tunnelling would be financed to mitigate HS2’s impact in sensitive countryside. Yet he is strongly opposed to BML2 having a £50m tunnel on the outskirts of his Sussex constituency in order for more trains to reach Brighton: “It would be very, very expensive, it would also be very controversial – and the last thing we want is a controversial line” he told BBC Sussex radio.
Peter Foot concluded: “We don’t want to stifle innovative thinking about transport solutions to ease the congestion problems that are now afflicting most of the nation’s main railway lines, but dramatic and costly solutions face many high hurdles.”
Without BML2 feeding in from the south, the prospects for London and Gatwick remain particularly bleak.
Kent rejects rail network expansion
Published on Monday, 21 October 2013 07:08
This 4-mile stretch – no longer part of the national rail network – used to be the busy main line
from Croydon/London Victoria, as well as from Brighton, into Tunbridge Wells.
Attempts to involve Kent in expanding its rail connections are falling on deaf ears.
Not so in neighbouring Sussex, where earlier this year Brighton & Hove City Council gave the BML2 Project their full backing along with the city’s Conservative MPs who called it a “golden opportunity”. Describing BML2 as an “impressive and highly sensible project” they further afforded it their “unreserved approval and backing.”
Labour’s Lord Adonis called the closures affecting BML2 “a massive error of the 1960s which need to be reversed”, whilst fellow peer Lord Bassam told the media “BML2 will inject £millions into Sussex and the South Coast.”
But Kent’s leaders are still turning their backs on it.
At the opposite end of the UK, Scotland is pursuing even more line reopenings and forging ahead with major rail projects because they appreciate the immense benefits which accrue from giving their populace excellent connections as rail’s renaissance continues.
Even Kent’s neighbours in London have demonstrated how revitalizing strategic links can transform the capital’s integrated rail network. These are positively booming as patronage has risen way beyond all expectation. As usage soars, the demand for rail cannot be satisfied.
Not so in Kent. Incredibly, its policy – dating back a quarter of a century – has remained unchanged. The County Council’s Leader, Paul Carter, has just explained KCC’s position by saying: “The reason for not supporting at present any further developments proposed by BML2 is that both East Sussex County Council and Kent County Council regard the electrification of either, or both, of the Oxted–Uckfield and Ashford–Hastings lines as priorities.”
Compare this to what was said way back in 1987, when KCC’s then Leader, Anthony Hart, told us: “Whilst personally I am not unsympathetic to the aims of the Wealden Line Campaign in trying to restore and improve the railway line, it is not really a practical proposition and the limited available resources would be better employed in maintaining and improving the current network such as the electrification of the line between Uckfield and Oxted.”
This is nothing but a very lame excuse to sit on their hands – and one employed by East Sussex County Council’s hierarchy for decades.
Fast forward to 2010 and we discover the direct consequences of failing to support investment in the region’s run-down network. Whereas Tunbridge Wells once had two main lines to London, it now has just one station on the branch to Hastings, which is extremely cramped, has no spare capacity and is very difficult to operate – as Network Rail admits.
Worse still, Tunbridge Wells’ trains are in stiff competition with other services from East Kent for track space along the restricted route into London, especially between Tonbridge–Sevenoaks–Orpington.
A few years ago it was anticipated that most of East Kent’s commuter traffic could be ‘encouraged’ onto the faster but more expensive ‘High Speed One’ services to St. Pancras in order to free-up much-needed capacity on the Tonbridge Main Line. However, the losers have been commuters on the ‘classic’ Kent Coast services; for example in the 1960s British Rail’s hourly Folkestone to London Charing Cross services took just 77 minutes (av. 55mph) whereas today it now takes a protracted 106 minutes (av. 38mph).
Despite such ‘incentives’ to use HS1, commuters often have no choice but to use Kent’s ‘backbone route’, as Network Rail describes it, and complain that, besides having their journeys deliberately slowed down, the ‘classic’ services have been reduced since the introduction of HS1. Whilst services through Tonbridge seem busier than ever, HS1’s Javelin trains are running well below capacity – “half-empty” according to some observers.
Meanwhile, Network Rail says the Tonbridge Main Line is “a major barrier to growth”. There is no realistic way of enlarging the route, or running more trains along it. And, if even this was possible, it says there would “still not be spare capacity in the central London area for additional trains to run.”
The latest hopes are now pinned on ‘encouraging’ Kent commuters who use stations such as Staplehurst and Headcorn to drive instead to Maidstone because in 2018 it should have new Thameslink services to Blackfriars via Bromley.
Kent recently scored a victory over Transport for London, which was well-advanced with plans to extend its London Overground services to Sevenoaks – a proposal roundly condemned by KCC’s Leader Paul Carter as “totally unacceptable” and eventually blocked by the Government.
However, KCC in its ‘Rail Action Plan for Kent’ strongly supports a proposal that London’s suburban Hayes Line commuters should have their direct services into Cannon Street and Charing Cross taken away so these relinquished ‘train paths’ could then be transferred over to Kent. The contentious suggestion is that Hayes Line commuters could instead make do with a possible extension of the Bakerloo Line tube from Elephant & Castle.
Although Paul Carter goes on to say “KCC also supports the current proposal to re-open the Lewes–Uckfield line”, this is a strange comment, because this would be of extremely limited use to Kent without simultaneously reopening his county’s short strategic links from Tunbridge Wells into the Uckfield line.
So while Scotland presses ahead reinstating lines for its inhabitants; the Welsh are also doing likewise; and some English shires are at last waking up to renewing rail links or face gridlock, Kent has no interest in improving the lives of its people.
And let’s remind ourselves that it’s not just about commuters. You might conclude that restoring just several strategic miles of former main lines in order to link-up major conurbations such as Brighton/Lewes with Tunbridge Wells/Tonbridge, as well as the busy Surrey corridor up to Croydon might be a good idea in transport terms.
Well, not so Stephen Gasche* who responded:
“Thank you for your recent e-mail concerning the plans of BML2 for the re-opening of several branch lines and stations in Kent and East Sussex. Kent County Council has set out its rail policy in the Rail Action Plan for Kent (www.kent.gov.uk), and while this Council is determined to see improvements to the existing rail network delivered, we do not support the wholesale re-opening of closed railway lines and stations as proposed by BML2. The cost would be prohibitive, and the proposals are completely outside the Kent RUS produced by Network Rail which is the template for future rail development in the county.”
Fortunately the business case for BML2 is perfectly sound on its Sussex and London Phases alone and could quite easily go ahead without involving any connections into Kent. Generously, though, BML2’s Kent Phase encompasses four additional peak hour (12-car) trains directly to London’s Canary Wharf and connections to Crossrail from Tunbridge Wells West via Oxted.
But if Kent wants to remain a backwater and in the dark ages, then so be it. Those train paths can certainly be well-used by Sussex, including all the future growth and expansion of Gatwick Airport – which is clamouring for more capacity into London’s business heartland.
*We should have mentioned, Stephen Gasche is employed by Kent County Council and his job title is ‘Principal Transport Planner – Rail’. We don’t think there’s any likelihood of him being headhunted by Scotland.
DfT says ‘adventurous’ Brighton Main Line 2 could be delayed
Published on Monday, 30 September 2013 07:34
With neighbouring Brighton and Tonbridge main lines full to capacity, this route with vast amounts of spare capacity needs urgent investment to create BML2.
It hasn’t been a good month for the proposed High Speed 2 project. Quite aside from powerful opposition from Conservative shires over its impact, we have growing jitters from Labour about spiralling costs – and even threats to cancel it. There is no interest whatsoever from private financiers, whilst questions over the need for such a gargantuan sum spent on just one single transport corridor are now being raised. The latest is Transport for London upsetting the apple cart by insisting on major design changes.
We have no strong feelings about HS2, other than being seriously worried that it will inevitably suck funding away from projects which are vital to the nation.
From our perspective we see politicians and ministers becoming so besotted with such a glamorous high profile project that the everyday railway, which is crying out for more capacity, will suffer as a result.
The Department for Transport doesn’t understand Brighton Main Line 2. Only recently its ‘Rail Operations Advisor’ reiterated his department’s intransigent position (expressed also to local MPs) saying: “- it looks very difficult to construct a value for money case to re-open a railway line which, because there is no spare capacity through either Croydon or Tonbridge, could only be of use at off-peak times or when blockages occur on the Brighton Main Line.”
Had they studied BML2, they might understand that it doesn’t propose routing more trains from the Sussex Coast through Tonbridge. Relief of the Tonbridge Main Line (TML) is critically important – but Network Rail has no solutions of its own – other than suggesting train operators should price people off the busy high peak services to stifle demand.
BML2, by reopening Tunbridge Wells’ other main line to London, would provide new peak hour services and take thousands of commuters more conveniently to their place of work, thus markedly reducing congestion on the TML. It is a scandalous waste of national assets that this route is allowed to remain closed whilst the surrounding network increasingly groans under an enormous strain.
In regard to Croydon, Network Rail is in a similar quandary and, whatever piecemeal ‘interventions’ (as they call them nowadays) are eventually implemented in the 2020s, the rapid pace of growth in the next few years will have already nullified them.
Serious money needs to be spent in the south. It should be broadcast loud and clear – the south desperately needs a new main line because its major arteries – the BML and the TML are already clogged and urgently need bypass surgery – to use Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s phraseology in his political defence of High Speed 2.
Last year Network Rail said once they’ve sorted out East Croydon, then reopening the Uckfield line “makes perfect sense”. Well, it clearly makes perfect sense now because an additional main line between Croydon and Brighton can’t come soon enough to cater for all those chaotic emergencies which persistently plague the BML – and people’s lives.
At a time when fifty billion pounds is being blithely talked about as though it was easy money, we are dismayed to hear the DfT say: “The Government has to concentrate the limited funds available on measures that will provide immediate crowding relief.”
Limited funds? Now why would that be?
Tinkering around with a bit of train lengthening here and there, or hoping that the new Thameslink trains (which will have reduced seating and increased standing room) will solve matters is a slap in the face for everyone who makes the daily slog into London.
In regard to BML2’s London Phase, the DfT’s advisor goes on to say: “The more adventurous aspects of the BML2 project amount, in essence, to Crossrail 3, but without the benefits that the Crossrail 1 and 2 schemes bring because BML2 does not aspire to serve central London.”
This misses the whole concept, because BML2 trains (from Brighton, Lewes, Tunbridge Wells etc) could serve central London if train paths were allocated or exchanged. Instead, we have a situation where thousands of daily commuters are forced into central London only to make connections elsewhere, such as Canary Wharf and the City.
As a spokesman for London City Airport said last week – “everyone knows that London is moving to the East”. But perhaps not the DfT? Office space around Canary Wharf is in increasing demand, whilst swish apartments and residential developments are springing up everywhere as regeneration of the eastern capital continues apace.
Added to this, London First is clamouring for improved rail links to both Gatwick and Stansted. But Gatwick, which aspires to expand its capacity from today’s 34 million passengers to 87 million by 2050, is well and truly hampered – marooned on the wrong side of the East Croydon bottleneck – and with no spare train paths into London.
BML2 is urgently needed to take the pressure off ‘central’ London, as well as the Brighton and Tonbridge main line feeders. We need BML2 to allow non-stopping trains to avoid the Croydon bottleneck which will always be a collar on growth – both rail and air.
In its myopic obsessing with HS2, the Government has lost all sight of the growing crises south of the Thames.
Never mind the DfT saying – “That is not to say that it [Brighton Main Line 2] will never be built, rather that there are several major infrastructure projects that are likely to be above it in the priority list.” Patrick McLoughlin needs to realize that if the South East doesn’t work, then London won’t work.
And if London doesn’t work, then the UK economy won’t work.
Brighton Main Line 2 now.
HS2 – not at the expense of BML2
Published on Monday, 02 September 2013 07:21
Desperately overcrowded routes in the South East must not be starved of investment for the sake of one new high-speed railway.
As Britain’s second high-speed rail project – HS2 – is coming under concerted criticism we can only observe how things develop.
In the past couple of weeks there have been serious concerns expressed by business leaders about this “grand folly” as the Institute of Directors have questioned its value.
Other economic think tanks have described it as a “gamble”, whilst private capital investors have made it plain they are very willing and interested in investing billions in transport and other capital projects – but not HS2. It seems the taxpayer will have to foot the entire bill.
Increasingly, senior figures in the Labour Party seem to be distancing themselves from HS2 and have insisted there’ll be “No blank cheque” in any future administration. However, perhaps the most damning indictment came last week from its former chancellor and transport minister, Alastair Darling, who claimed HS2 could lead to the rest of the network “falling apart” as Treasury money would inevitably drain away into HS2’s pot. He even went so far as to describe the scheme as “foolish”, suggesting the need for high-speed travel could be obsolete in twenty years’ time – and all at the expense of more useful and more urgent schemes.
His thoughts were echoed by Tony Travers, an academic at the London School of Economics and adviser to Boris Johnson, who told the London Evening Standard “The real risk is that it will take money away from the conventional railway. It will compete with commuter services such as that from London Bridge to Sussex.”
At a time when Network Rail is looking in far more detail at what Brighton Main Line 2 could offer and ways of substantially increasing capacity between Sussex and London we find this deeply worrying. Mr Travers went on to warn: “That’s the way the Treasury thinks – it will not treat the conventional railway and the new high speed line separately, they will both be viewed as transport spending.”
Politically, this is not one-sided as Conservative support for HS2 is withering fast as more Tory MPs appear to be sharpening their knives – and not just those affected by its proposed route. A growing number this weekend are threatening a concerted campaign to “derail” the whole project.
From our perspective we have no strong opinions either way, though we do view things such as reliability, punctuality, a seat, and a pleasant travelling experience as more important than the better-off saving a few minutes.
Our main concern, though, is that many far smaller and less-significant but critically-important schemes such as BML2 would suffer as a result. Alas, this seems to be the way of Government.
Interestingly, last year, one of Labour’s key figures said of the Sussex project: “Wish we had done it when we had the chance” – and went on to explain the difficulties: “The problem is quite simple – getting the DfT interested in creating extra capacity on the network and finding ministers who are prepared to take on received wisdom. The other problem at the moment is that most of the department’s interest is in large capital projects like Crossrail and HS2.”
He added: “Interestingly our transport team are having a re-think about the HS2 project because it is eating up vast chunks of capital that could be spread around smaller projects with broader benefits.”
It is clear that there is much which needs to be done to increase both train and passenger capacity on Britain’s railways as the current trend – and in spite of the lengthy recession – is one of ever-rising demand.
Let’s be clear, the concept of a new railway providing superior connections between the Midlands, the North and Scotland with the rest of Europe is not a bad idea, but we worry that it hasn’t been properly thought through. For instance, having two high speed lines terminating at separate London termini (St Pancras and Euston) and with only a single-line connection seems illogical. Surely, HS2 should be a flawless continuation of HS1 through to the rest of the UK, otherwise any high-speed advantage will be negated. Other high speed trains from both directions could still terminate in London, but we feel that HS2 could, and should, do far more than is currently envisaged.
BML2’s budget is a tiny fraction of the alarming costs now being quoted for the current design of HS2 and the Government must not allow the urgent needs of the conventional railway and its everyday patrons to suffer as a consequence.
Finally, we are reminded of an eloquent comment from Lord Bassam to RAIL magazine in 2011: “In the dash for enormously expensive high-speed lines, I don’t believe the Government can afford to ignore the pressing needs of commuters who drive our economy, as well as the millions of other passengers who use the increasingly overcrowded Brighton Line.”
Network Rail looking more closely at BML2
Published on Monday, 05 August 2013 07:51
Transformation of the degraded Uckfield branch into Brighton Main Line 2 is long overdue
Increasing rail’s capacity between London and the South Coast is becoming more urgent than even a few years ago when Network Rail delivered its Route Utilisation Study for Sussex (2010).
Growth and demand continue to exceed expectation, whilst on a weekly basis we read about the latest progress on London schemes as well as aspirational projects coming forward. Evidence that the South (outside Greater London) has been left behind is verified by the Government’s announcement during May of a detailed review into this troublesome problem.
Answering correspondence from a London-based underwriter and other equally frustrated Sussex commuters, the DfT has told Wealden MP Charles Hendry they need to “clarify what the London–South Coast study is seeking to achieve.”
The DfT letter (signed in the absence of Rail Minister Simon Burns) begins: “The process now underway will study future demand for rail capacity and help inform Government investment decisions for the period beyond 2019. The Department is committed to focusing new investment where it can deliver the maximum sustainable benefit for travellers, the economy and taxpayers.” So far so good – and we wouldn’t disagree with that objective.
It continues: “While that inevitably means looking closely at capacity constraints on existing corridors it is also important to consider wider options for the provision of extra capacity, such as the re-use of former railway alignments where the trackbed is more or less intact. On that basis we have agreed with Network Rail that the programme of planning work for the London–South Coast corridor should include a review of the contribution that re-opening of the former Lewes–Uckfield line could make in meeting future capacity needs on this corridor.”
As we have pointed out, looking yet again at reopening a railway which, nowadays, can only go into Lewes will draw precisely the same conclusions as the 2008 Study – as recently made clear by the Network Rail manager overseeing that study (http://www.bml2.co.uk/the-news/126-story-secretary-of-state-s-sussex-rail-commitment-refuted.html)
Consequently, unless it embraces the Sussex Phase of BML2, this review will conclude that opening a Lewes-only link would merely provide a few more carriages added to the two trains per hour maximum on the Uckfield line, the capacity of which is ultimately constrained by the East Croydon bottleneck and central London terminal capacity.
The real tragedy of the route’s closure south of Uckfield in 1969 was the removal of Brighton’s second main line to London. Because that direct route through Lewes town centre has been irrevocably destroyed, Network Rail (and proposals by British Rail in 1971; Network SouthEast in 1987; Mott MacDonald in 1997; Connex/Railtrack in 2001) have identified little value in providing a local service terminating at Lewes or continuing on to Seaford or Eastbourne as trains would now have to do. No London-bound passenger from Brighton wants to go to Lewes and be obliged to change trains.
That’s why BML2 with its direct route between London and Brighton, as well as Lewes/Eastbourne, is of critical importance.
The DfT then goes even further off the rails in its latest missive. “This study will not look at whether there is a strategic and affordable case to link Brighton and Gatwick with Canary Wharf, Stratford or Stansted. It will not look, either, at capacity relief on the Tonbridge main line because there is a separate and subsequent Network Rail study of the capacity constraints affecting Kent.”
Some joined-up thinking (like a joined-up network) is desperately needed in Mr Burns’ department. With regard to Kent’s equally-overloaded Tonbridge Main Line, Network Rail has made it abundantly clear by stating: “Providing additional capacity on the Tonbridge Main Line is highly problematic” – “on the Tonbridge Main Line there will still not be spare capacity in the central London area for additional trains to run” – “The two-track section in the Orpington–Tonbridge area is a major barrier to growth” – “No evidence has been found that extra trains could run on this route”. It could hardly be plainer than that.
Meanwhile, the Government and the DfT lags behind in the growing interest being shown in BML2 and in particular its London Phase. No matter what decision is eventually forthcoming over expanding London’s airport capacity, one thing is certain – major improvements in rail connections and services will be absolutely critical.
Distinguished architect Sir Terry Farrell has been appointed by Gatwick Airport to oversee expansion. He favours a “constellation of airports” combining Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow interlinked by rail, whilst former Transport Secretary Philip Hammond also backs expansion at Gatwick and Stansted and wholly appreciates the importance of ‘super-fast’ rail connections to airports.
Gatwick, however, is in a very difficult and unenviable position. Quite aside from its patrons having to compete for seats and space alongside Brighton Line commuters and a rising number of weekday/weekend travellers, it is marooned on the wrong side of the Croydon bottleneck. Its ability to attract business customers is reliant on the ‘Gatwick Express’ on a rather tedious journey into London Victoria – rather than London’s economic and commercial heartland. And even once the Thameslink Programme is finished and Gatwick’s business travellers might choose these services, they will see Canary Wharf pass by as their train takes them two miles further into central London, knowing they’ll have to double-back out from Farringdon on Crossrail.
Last Friday the London Evening Standard carried a half-page feature on BML2, highlighting the project’s aspiration of a north-south Crossrail connection at Canary Wharf, thereby giving the capital a fast cross-Thames link through expanding east London. The massive potential of this aspect of BML2 was first suggested by Lord Bassam of Brighton who said this weekend: “it is key to unlocking its potential broader benefit.”
The Evening Standard went on to say: "Under current investment plans there is no prospect of a new line. But today Network Rail said it was looking more closely at BML2 and would be discussing it with Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin."
It also published a comment attributed to Tim Robinson, Network Rail’s Director of Development for Sussex – “We are looking at the potential benefits. A key part is how we increase capacity at East Croydon, which is essential to accommodate the additional services.”
In line with the DfT’s admirable aim to extract as much value for money from any investment project, we are currently compiling a contribution to Network Rail’s London – South Coast Study which we hope will be open-mindedly accepted in the helpful manner it is intended.
This study needs to be widely-focused, otherwise it will simply end up on the shelf alongside all those of the past forty years.
BML2 is capable of delivering a lasting solution to this serious conundrum and, in doing so, provide growth and prosperity in the years ahead.
Unlike Norman Baker we can’t all hop on a direct train to Brighton
Published on Monday, 08 July 2013 09:19
There’ll be no railway tunnelling through the South Downs for Brighton if Norman Baker has his way.
As an increasing number of influential Labour politicians appear to be getting cold feet over the soaring costs of High Speed 2, it’s beginning to feel like its ‘green light’ has reverted to a cautionary double-yellow.
Following last week’s disturbing revelation that the cost has unexpectedly increased from £33bn to £43bn (actually £50bn including rolling stock), prominent luminaries in the last Labour government are now saying that the whole scheme was baseless at the outset and has no sound economic case – their former business secretary Lord Mandelson going so far as saying HS2 could even end up being “an expensive mistake”.
As opposition to HS2 grows we can only watch on the sidelines. Critics warn it will worsen rather than assist the ‘north-south divide’; suck billions out of Treasury funds whereby much-needed regional rail schemes suffer; whilst the excessive environmental damage it will cause has not been appreciated. Whilst its impact across the countryside and through the Chilterns is being condemned by many rural constituency MPs, others are concerned about central London where widespread residential demolition is threatened.
Transport commentator and HS2-sceptic Christian Wolmar – conscious of the many people who struggle into London every day – succinctly commented on the disparity among the DfT’s favoured rail schemes when he wrote: “There are many rail schemes, crying out for far smaller sums than HS2, which could offer a bigger impact pound for pound. An excellent example is BML2.”
However, a few days ago Sussex MP and Transport Minister Norman Baker, a fervent advocate of HS2, was swift to defend the £50bn project, asserting: “HS2 will create hundreds of thousands of jobs; be a major boost to our economy, especially in the North of England; and will help us shift to the clean, green economy of the future.” We suspect the Green Party might disagree with that last remark.
He also took a swipe at Lord Mandelson saying: “More and more people are using the rail network every year so we desperately need more North-South capacity - unlike Peter Mandelson we can't all hop on a private jet.”
Well, Norman, many thousands of us here in East Sussex, Kent and Surrey won’t be hopping on a direct train to Brighton if you have anything to do with it.
Let’s be quite clear, Brighton Main Line 2 certainly isn’t in the same league as High Speed 2, although it clearly raises equal passions with Norman Baker whose vociferous support for HS2 seems to be only surpassed by his hostility towards BML2 which needs to pass through his constituency.
BML2 would restore – after a hundred-year absence – Brighton’s second main line to London, providing many more direct trains into the popular seaside city (as well as giving additional direct trains between London – Lewes/Eastbourne). To allow this to happen, BML2’s Sussex Phase would cost about £315m (including a £50m tunnel under the South Downs). But Norman Baker has branded BML2 “grandiose” and even told the BBC its tunnel through his constituency would be “very, very expensive”.
Norman Baker certainly isn’t against new tunnels – just as long as they’re somewhere else. Only last week he told HS2 critics: “we have listened to representations from communities along the line of the HS2 and have made important changes that will reduce the impact of the scheme. These include a new tunnel through West London, key design changes at Euston station and a new tunnel at Bromford, near Birmingham.”
In his home territory in Sussex, he told the BBC last October: “I’m getting complaints from Lewes about tunnelling under people’s houses. That’s not going to happen in a million years.” In fact BML2’s proposed tunnel goes nowhere near any housing; merely beneath chalk downland.
Given his pronouncements last week on HS2, he deploys double standards, insisting BML2 would be “very controversial – and the last thing we want is a controversial line.”
In 2010, we misguidedly imagined Norman Baker entering Government would be a campaigner for BML2 and everyone who’d benefit, appreciating that the more ambitious scheme, by finally and effectively solving the Brighton Line’s woes, would equally profit his constituency with similar direct trains into Lewes and on to Eastbourne.
In the last decade we’ve witnessed scheme after scheme being funded for places such as Scotland and elsewhere, whilst in Kent, Sussex and Surrey not a yard of track has been reopened on the most congested network in the UK. Those in the Labour Party may well be justified in fearing HS2’s open cheque will be at the expense of comparatively cheap but equally important schemes such as BML2.
Such ministerial hypocrisy should be challenged and, whilst more enlightened MPs appreciate what BML2 will do, we need champions to support the less glamorous projects which the South East’s hard-pressed, workaday and creaking railway needs.
“No further scope” on South’s congested railways says Rail Minister
Published on Monday, 10 June 2013 06:33
Amid growing concerns over the capacity crises facing both the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines into the capital and continuing poor performance on the BML, Brighton & Hove MP Mike Weatherley has again approached the Department for Transport.
Mr Weatherley believes “BML2 needs to be explored” and said recently: “Brighton Main Line 2 is a unique solution to solving many of the serious problems that face the most over-crowded routes between London, Sussex, Surrey and Kent, by re-opening a number of closed lines.”
In response, Rail Minister Simon Burns has warned: “Any scheme that seeks to provide further significant additional network capacity through south London would be a major infrastructure project costing billions because there is no further scope within the railway network’s existing footprint”.
At the moment the Government is still sticking to its excuse that it would be “difficult to construct a value for money case” to re-open the former Uckfield mainline connections into Brighton and Tunbridge Wells “because there is no spare peak capacity through either Croydon or Tonbridge”. This really isn’t good enough.
From this we can deduce that the DfT still doesn’t really understand the root of the problem and appreciate why BML2 was devised – to enable a significant increase in the overall number of services into the financial hub of the capital from Sussex, Kent and Surrey. A sizeable amount of these could usefully avoid the East Croydon bottleneck and run fast to Crossrail at Canary Wharf. This also applies to Tunbridge Wells which would gain a new main line to the same destination by completely circumventing the packed-out and equally-constrained Tonbridge line.
Simon Burns says the Government has had to “concentrate the limited taxpayer funds available on measures that will provide early crowding relief” – whilst fully acknowledging that the main lines into London from the south are heavily congested at peak commuting times.
“Most, if not all, of the available ‘simple’ infrastructure upgrades have already been implemented – including the completion of the Thameslink Programme” he told Mike Weatherley. So what happens now?
It seems the DfT is floundering over how it can effectively provide substantially more trackspace and therefore additional train services by 2020. With recent statistics showing passenger numbers rising even faster than anticipated, a Network Rail spokesman speaking recently to the Croydon Advertiser conceded: “We are probably down to major interventions such as entirely new tunnels to provide significant extra capacity.”
Not only this, the DfT has so far remained silent over how to drastically improve Gatwick’s rail services into London – recently described as “third world conditions” by the airport’s frustrated operators. It is for this reason that BML2’s London Phase is needed to deliver non-stop dedicated air/rail services to Crossrail and the thriving, fast-growing eastern environs of the capital around Canary Wharf.
We can only hope that Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s announcement last month of commissioning Network Rail to investigate ways of markedly increasing capacity from the south into the capital finally signals a more radical approach involving BML2. The time for tinkering around with piecemeal improvements has clearly passed.
To his credit, Mike Weatherley also raised regional concerns by expressing his apprehension that the strategic rail corridor at Tunbridge Wells, which once linked the Royal Borough’s two main line stations (and also operated services from Kent into Brighton) remains up for sale and under threat of redevelopment. However, Simon Burns appears reluctant to offer any leadership, let alone Government support in protecting certain strategic rail routes in the nation’s interest – even though in opposition this had been a key issue. Instead, he is still insisting it is the responsibility of local planning authorities.
We believe the South’s hard-working commuters who serve the London economy and pour billions into Treasury coffers deserve a lot better than this. The daily commute shouldn’t be a scramble for a standing place, let alone a seat, whilst the strain under which the South’s rail system struggles is becoming ever more evident. By contrast, Simon Burns, a committed advocate of the £34billion HS2 project, told RAIL recently: “Cutting journey times is important, but to my mind what is even more important is the increase in capacity that high speed will bring, because by 2025 the West Coast Main Line is going to be full.”
As Network Rail and train operators know, railway lines in the South are already full and, as many commentators have said, in the political dash for glossy high speed we mustn’t let investment in the ordinary, less-glamorous, but equally vital railway suffer in the process.