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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.









Network Rail yet again dismisses ‘Lewes-Uckfield’ but will consider BML2

BML2 web80720


Work on introducing a long-overdue new main line between London and the South Coast needs to start straightaway


Network Rail has submitted a ‘Pre-Route Study’ to the Department of Transport on the beleaguered Brighton Line in advance of its ‘London & Sussex Coast Study’ into increasing rail capacity in the south. A draft is expected this autumn and the final report summer 2015.


In summary, this 31-page interim report says the most heavily-utilised junctions, platforms and lines are north of Redhill to London, so this will be the main focus of effort in 2019-2024. “These locations are acting as a bottleneck for the whole route” it says, adding: “Most of these inner locations are also likely to see increased usage from December 2018, when the Thameslink programme is completed.”


Believing there is no single scheme to free-up capacity on the route, NR expects the new Three Bridges Control in 2020 will ease several further key constraints, primarily at East Croydon, the busy junctions north and south thereof, and Keymer where Eastbourne/Lewes line joins.


However, it warns “it is unlikely a significant number of additional main line paths will be released on this route”. This is because the BML is already operating at full capacity.


NR therefore concludes “Given the above conclusions with respect to critical bottlenecks on the inner section of the BML, large scale investment in alternative routes on the outer area of the BML such as Lewes – Uckfield, is likely to be of very limited value in the short to medium term, although Network Rail remains of the view that protection of that alignment is still the correct policy for the long term.”


It also states the extent of rail development in the south will depend on available funding from the Government.


There are severe problems across the south’s network which carries massive volumes. NR gives the number of trains per day at these principal UK stations: Kings Cross 590; Euston 752; Paddington 834; Reading 1,027; Manchester Piccadilly 1,249. This compares with the BML’s north Croydon junction which sees 1,820 trains (1,195 of these go through East Croydon station).


London termini remain a severe constraint. With Thameslink (2018) the newly-remodelled London Bridge terminus will be restricted to 20 trains per hour – “Room does not exist to add additional platforms or approach tracks”.


On the Brighton – Victoria route it says: “Clapham Junction is the key platform-based constraint”.


Added to this, the London & South East Market Study predicts growth of 26% on the BML up to 2023 – 64% of this expected on Thameslink.


There are even more headaches in the pipeline because demand between BML stations such as Brighton, Gatwick and East Croydon is escalating: “especially in response to any expansion of Gatwick Airport and proposed retail and commercial developments along the route”.


As we cautioned, NR confirms: “The new [Siemens] rolling stock for Thameslink services has a layout designed for higher passenger density, with fewer seats and more standing room.” It says: “the extra carriages will ease or at least match the current levels of standing on the route at peak times” but warns: “in the long term, it is likely that passengers will stand for greater distances unless further capacity is provided.”


So what solutions are on the table?


A major problem is South Croydon Junction where the Uckfield/East Grinstead lines join the BML. NR says “No viable solution currently available”. This is why the BML2 project believes Croydon Gateway is critical for new cross-connections with a new interchange station to relieve the East Croydon bottleneck.


Further south, Keymer Junction is “particularly restrictive” whilst the single-line sections introduced in 1990 by British Rail under the then Transport Minister Michael Portillo on the former double-track Uckfield branch severely limit speed and flexibility. As such, this low-frequency service intensifies railheading to the BML from Haywards Heath and Gatwick.


NR rightfully concludes: “it is clear a new line solution would have to relieve constraints inwards of Stoats Nest Junction [Coulsdon] and Croydon to add any capacity value over what may be achievable anyway in 2019-24.”


It then refers to its 2010 suggestion: “long-term relief of the BML would require a new railway in tunnel from at least as far out as South Croydon in addition to any new line scheme in the outer area.” This enormously expensive proposal would involve a 15 mile-long tunnel beneath South London.


Away from London, NR considers the Sussex end, saying “During 2008 Network Rail undertook a study on behalf of East Sussex County Council, assessing the likely cost of re-instatement of the Lewes – Uckfield line and assessing the likely business case. The report concluded there was not a case for re-opening the route. The key points from the study were: 1) The cost of route re-instatement exceeded benefits of all options tested; 2) Options tested were based on the extension of existing Uckfield services to Lewes, Seaford and Eastbourne; 3) The level of population and expected development around the line was an important factor in the weak business case.”


However, NR supports “continued protection of the alignment” explaining that “the logic for this remains sound, namely that in the long term, if a large-scale new lines solution is found to the inner area, focus will again turn to how the outer areas of the BML can handle greater capacity.”


An ‘incremental’ re-opening, recently revived by RailFuture with its ‘Bridge the Gap’ campaign for a diesel-operated single-line connection, is rejected and will disappoint the former Transport Minister and Lewes Lib Dem MP Norman Baker.


NR is firm on this, saying: “In the short to medium term therefore the most likely use of Lewes – Uckfield could only be for the existing 2 trains per hour from Uckfield to be extended to run from Lewes or beyond. The 2008 study indicated this approach did not have a business case.”


NR contests that allocating any additional capacity from the south London area to Lewes services via Uckfield would not serve the largest peak demand locations. Of course, such Uckfield services could not go into Brighton and they argue these “would not relieve Haywards Heath or serve Gatwick Airport”, but this argument is partially flawed. They miss the fundamental crux of the matter that the problem rests with excessive railheading because Sussex’s other lines are extremely poor by comparison – notably the BML’s virtually parallel route – the Uckfield line.


Indisputably, relief of the overburdened BML can only come with an effective ‘rail bypass’ – as achieved in 1900 at congested Redhill Junction. As politicians are beginning to concur, the south needs a new main line between the Sussex Coast and London.


This interim report does not mention BML2, but says: “Running additional through services on the Uckfield line would trigger significant upgrade costs between Oxted and Uckfield including the need to double remaining single line sections, upgrade and put in new power supply equipment and re-signal parts of the route.”


It’s true that a total of 12 miles needs re-doubling, but this has been done elsewhere in the UK – Kemble being just one recent example. Past failures by cash-strapped British Rail to upgrade and electrify the Uckfield line are now being reaped. Are they really saying the West Coast Main Line must have the mega-expensive HS2 for ‘capacity relief’ but the south’s rail passengers can struggle on regardless?


NR admits “at times of planned or unplanned prolonged disruption on the Brighton Main Line south of the Croydon area there would be some diversionary benefit in having the Lewes – Uckfield route open.” But it then highlights the weakness of Norman Baker’s and RailFuture’s proposal: “under the scheme assessed in the 2008 report, diversionary benefits would be predominantly for East Coastway passengers, with any passengers from Brighton only able to use the route with services reversing at Lewes, and passengers from the West Coastway and any stations north of Brighton on the BML receiving no benefit.”
This is why the distinction between ‘Lewes – Uckfield’ and BML2 is so important. NR argues that even if they reopened Lewes – Uckfield, at times of diversion, potentially only one additional train could be run, unless the route is redoubled, resignalled and electrified (as proposed by BML2).


NR says it will look at an ‘Arun chord’ for diverting Brighton trains via Worthing, Arundel and Horsham, but says the journey time penalty, even with a new chord (avoiding reversal at Littlehampton), would add at least 50 minutes to the journey. Let us remind you the DfT dismissed going via Uckfield because it would add 10 minutes to the journey!


There are fundamental oversights in this NR report for reasons we’ll not discuss here, but will be explained in due course. However, since its publication, Lib Dem Transport Minister Baroness Susan Kramer has stated: “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.”




Baroness Kramer joins latest Lib Dem attack on Brighton Main Line 2

Croham Bridge


The closed railway through Croham in the Borough of Croydon will remain disused if the Lib Dems have their way.

This electrified London line was closed in 1984 but, as part of BML2, would form part of new rail connections

into the capital and into East Anglia from the South Coast.



Norman Baker’s replacement at the Department for Transport, Baroness Susan Kramer has involved herself in the Liberal Democrat campaign against the Brighton Main Line 2 Project.


In their latest attack aimed at BML2, on 10 April she took part in a photo opportunity at Westminster arranged by the Croydon Liberal Democrats where she took possession of petition slips garnered from local residents in the Croham area of the London Borough.


Baroness Kramer and John JefkinsIn a rather bland statement given to Lib Dem party activist John Jefkins she said: “Lib Dems in government are investing £38 billion in rail in the next five years, including upgrades to the existing Brighton mainline – without damaging Tramlink.”


But everyone who has properly studied and understood BML2 will know that, far from being damaged, the BML2 Project actively proposes improving and extending Tramlink. We don’t know what the Croydon Lib Dems have been telling residents, but the purpose they claim was to: “hand over your petition slips opposing any new ‘BML2’ rail line through Croham that would rip up Tramlink from Lloyd Park to Elmers End.”


Criticising BML2’s recently-published London & South Coast Appraisal (downloadable, see left column), Mr Jefkins said: “Tramlink is not the ‘underused’ rail line quoted by BML2 supporters in their latest study”. Our appraisal doesn’t say that, because we know how busy, successful and valued Tramlink is to South London.


With time now running out for this coalition government, the Lib Dems are already in election mode. In a recent interview with the Croydon Advertiser Mr Jefkins listed his primary concerns: “We have been listening to local views and a lot of people are concerned about parking, litter, overgrown pavements, council spending, waste, all these things matter on the doorstep. We also want to raise awareness of the Brighton Mainline 2 project.”


In the Advertiser he said: “No one knows this is on the cards” after telling its readers: “It’s bonkers, basically. It has no proper business case. I’m dubbing it a line to nowhere. They may as well build it out to sea because it misses Gatwick, East Croydon and central London.”


In fact it doesn’t miss any of these places, but brings much-needed flexibility and new destinations to the South’s rail network. Nevertheless, the Lib Dems quite clearly view the capital’s global financial centre at Canary Wharf, Stratford International, (and forthcoming Crossrail interchanges there), Stansted Airport, Cambridge, etc, as “nowhere”.


What’s more, all these “nowhere” places, such as Canary Wharf, would be directly connected to Gatwick Airport by the reopened line through Croham with a link across to the Brighton Main Line to avoid the insuperable East Croydon bottleneck.


Despite this, the Lib Dems boast they are offering “joined-up thinking on appropriate solutions to transport issues”. So what do they propose? Well, they suggest “support for extra platforms at East Croydon” and in typically vague terms “other major improvements planned by Network Rail.”


At the very least we would expect Baroness Kramer to be far better informed, especially as her own departmental officials have already explicitly warned: “There is no further scope within the railway network’s existing footprint”.


Similarly, Network Rail has explained the impossibilities of further expansion at East Croydon station, let alone the railway and its busy junctions through here. In a recent interview in the London Evening Standard, Tim Robinson, Network Rail Director of Development for Sussex, said: “We are looking at the potential benefits of BML2. A key part is how we increase capacity at East Croydon, which is essential to accommodate the additional services.”


In its London & South East Route Strategy Network Rail explains: ‘On Sussex routes some additional train paths have been found, but the East Croydon area represents a major barrier to further growth.’ It also says what they are looking for is ‘a new route that does not involve the congested East Croydon corridor’ – going 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’.


That is precisely what is required. So it’s regrettable that the Lib Dem’s Transport Minister, who has been in the job barely six months, is evidently putting her party’s politics before the serious and fundamental problems afflicting the South’s railway network.


Baroness Kramer’s predecessor, Lewes Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, who was controversially shifted into the Home Office last October, made good use of his three and a half year term at the Department of Transport by campaigning against Brighton Main Line 2. Even shortly before he left the DfT, he visited Croydon to express his opposition towards BML2 and specifically “rejected” the scheme’s proposal to allow fast Brighton Line trains and Gatwick Expresses to avoid East Croydon to reach London.
You might think re-opening disused railways, installing short strategic links and exploiting existing assets to allow the whole system to operate far more efficiently in a cost-effective way would be passionately supported by any so-called ‘environmentally-conscious’ political party.


But the Lib Dems have contradictory approaches when it comes to rail – as Norman Baker proved with his own words. He is an ardent supporter of HS2, saying: “High speed rail will be good for the environment and the economy. HS2 will create hundreds of thousands of jobs; be a major boost to our economy and help us shift to the clean, green economy of the future.”


Yet in Sussex he describes BML2 as “grandiose” and didn’t think it “has a hope of happening”.


In regard to HS2 he said: “We have listened to 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 and a new tunnel at Bromford, near Birmingham.”


However, in his fight against BML2 running through a corner of his constituency he told BBC Sussex: “I’m getting complaints from Lewes about tunnelling under people’s houses. That’s not going to happen in a million years. It would be very, very expensive, it would also be very controversial – and the last thing we want is a controversial line.”


The reopening of many long-closed lines throughout London has been more successful than anyone ever imagined. It is time that policy was extended into the southern counties bordering the capital where not a mile of closed railway has been restored to the national network. This is even more urgent as the system faces a daily struggle to keep up with the overload of increasing traffic.


Those who actively seek to deny millions of people in London and the South East a superbly upgraded and expanded network capable of daily transporting many more passengers really don’t deserve to be entrusted with such power.



Ministerial backing for Brighton Main Line 2


Tunbridge Wells West Station


The magnificent and spacious Tunbridge Wells station built by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Company whose main lines connected the Royal Borough to both London and Brighton. But it was systematically run-down in the 1960s and eventually closed by British Rail in 1985. As part of BML2 it would be reopened as a premier commuter station with direct trains to Canary Wharf, the City and Brighton and bring about the regeneration of the nearby Pantiles area of Tunbridge Wells.



In what will undoubtedly be seen as an extremely welcome move, the Minister of State for Cabinet Office (Cities and Constitution) and Member of Parliament for Royal Tunbridge Wells, the Rt Hon Greg Clark, has pledged his firm backing for the Brighton Main Line 2 Project.


In a communication this week his office told the BML2 Project Group: ‘The Member of Parliament for Tunbridge Wells, Greg Clark, is a strong supporter of the BML2 campaign.’ 


To underline that support, his office reported: ‘He has recently written to the Rail Minister, Stephen Hammond, to highlight the benefits that a link from Tunbridge Wells to Brighton Main Line 2 would bring to his constituents.’


In his statement, the Minister said: ‘The transport network in my constituency is already severely overcrowded so a new link from Tunbridge Wells to Brighton, Eastbourne and London would be a great boon.’


Given the unrelenting pressure on the south’s rail routes into London and the search for viable solutions, Greg Clark explained: ‘The Rail Minister has asked Network Rail to carry out a review on how to increase rail capacity between London and the Sussex coast so I wanted to ensure that he was made aware of the considerable benefits this proposal would have for local rail passengers.’


In his role as Minister for Cities, Greg Clark was in Brighton this month where, in the presence of MPs Caroline Lucas and Mike Weatherley, who both support BML2, he signed off the ‘Greater Brighton City Deal’. This is aimed at boosting the city’s technological future with £170m of investment and the creation of 8,500 new jobs. Brighton will become a key place of employment – and people need trains to get to work. The Minister said: ‘It can help turn Brighton into one of the most prosperous cities in the UK. This is one of the places that is going to drive growth, not just locally, but across the United Kingdom – and your neighbours are very much part of the local economy.’


Rail transport is clearly vital to any thriving, growing economy and in this latest move the Tunbridge Wells MP has shown he is certainly aware of the daily difficulties facing the south’s commuters and other passengers in travelling around the region. The Tonbridge Line, just like the Brighton Line, is full up and cannot operate any more trains – which is where BML2 comes in by restoring those former main line railway services into Tunbridge Wells and into Brighton axed in the sixties.


In another equally welcome and significant move, the Minister has gone further. His office told us: ‘Greg has also asked the Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to support the BML2 scheme in their forthcoming Transport Strategy.’


This development will be especially well-received by Brighton & Hove City Council which last year gave its firm backing to BML2. As well as its key Labour and Green supporters, Greg Clark’s fellow Conservative MPs in the city, Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley, will be particularly pleased to receive the Minister’s pronouncement and wholehearted support for BML2.


The news will similarly cheer many thousands of people right across Sussex, Kent and Surrey who, for decades now, have been denied a comprehensive and integrated rail network. Speaking on behalf of the Uckfield Railway Line’s town and parish councils’ rail committee, its chairman, Uckfield’s Mayor, Cllr Ian Smith, said he was extremely encouraged and delighted by the news: ‘This is a tremendous boost for all of us here in East Sussex. We have never given up hope of seeing modern rail communications re-established to Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge. For us it is just as vital as BML2’s direct link into the City of Brighton and Hove, as well as into Lewes and Sussex coastal towns. Having the Minister’s support gives further encouragement and renewed hope to all those in the area who have steadfastly maintained that rebuilding our disjointed rail network is essential for the economic well-being of the South East Region and for supporting London’s position as a world-class business centre.’


BML2 chairman Duncan Bennett was equally enthusiastic, commenting: ‘Greg Clark’s involvement is truly significant and I’m thrilled that such a powerful voice in Kent wishes to be part of this fantastic project for the South East. In particular, I very much hope that Kent’s councillors will give their full backing to the Minister and now come on board as Tunbridge Wells and surrounding towns have so much to gain with BML2.’



London & South Coast Appraisal Published

BML2 London & South Coast Appraisal


After many months of thorough analysis, the BML2 Project Group has produced its own appraisal into how more capacity, network expansion and boosting the regional economy can be achieved. It points the way forward to a phased investment programme which will provide a far more robust and comprehensive rail system. 


We believe work should start straightaway, not in fifteen years’ time when Network Rail hopes to mitigate its East Croydon bottleneck headache. Equally, the Department for Transport needs to look beyond piecemeal enhancements and appreciate the bigger picture. This involves London’s pressing need for cross-connections east of the capital.


Two of London’s critical feeders, Sussex’s Brighton Line and Kent’s Tonbridge Line are already at capacity says Network Rail, which admitted there is insufficient track capacity to operate any more trains. The BML2 project can solve two problems at once, but it will probably need friends in high places and powerful political hitters to guide it through.


As the document makes clear, BML2 is not about speed or attempting to rival or substitute HS2; however, it’s just as important. It is about realistically addressing the alarming capacity crisis on a very congested rail system feeding into London from the Home Counties.


To Download the Appraisal CLICK on above image




Time to rebuild the South East’s rail network


Tonbridge Failure


The South east needs a larger and more resilient network.


Landslides, floods and storm-force winds have all wreaked havoc on the railways this winter; adding to the already difficult conditions under which the system normally operates. Above all, the message is that we need a far more resilient network which can quickly respond, not just in emergencies such as these, but to all those regular delays occurring on a weekly basis.


Despite the headline-hitting calamity which struck Dawlish, closing the line for several weeks and prompting sudden calls for a £700m reopening of the alternative route to Plymouth, the continuing plight of the far busier Brighton Line must not be overlooked. This intensely busy route has been waiting 45 years for its alternative line to be re-established.


In a recent interview, Network Rail’s Tim Robinson said Network Rail expected to publish its draft London & South Coast Study this spring, followed by its final report in the summer. Instigated by the Department for Transport, this will consider how more trains can be operated between the Sussex Coast and the capital. This is not a new subject, but one seriously proposed in 2001 when Connex and Railtrack jointly demonstrated the urgent need for new main lines in the south.


Since that time, overcrowding has drastically worsened, whilst the only development to date has been to reduce seating capacity to make space for more people to stand when the new Thameslink trains arrive in 2016. As commented, such a proposition is not being put forward for greater capacity on the West Coast Main Line, where the Government says it needs to spend £50 billion to build High Speed 2.


Here in the increasingly over-congested South East, the fundamental problem has always rested with a small and extremely overburdened network. Consistently ducked by every Government, this situation will never improve until the predicament is properly addressed.


However, after many months of thorough analysis, the BML2 Project Group has produced its own appraisal into how more capacity, network expansion and boosting the regional economy can be achieved. It points the way forward to a phased investment programme which will provide a far more robust and comprehensive rail system.


We believe work should start straightaway, not in fifteen years’ time when Network Rail hopes to mitigate its East Croydon bottleneck headache. Equally, the Department for Transport needs to look beyond piecemeal enhancements and appreciate the bigger picture. This involves London’s pressing need for cross-connections east of the capital.


Two of London’s critical feeders, Sussex’s Brighton Line and Kent’s Tonbridge Line are already at capacity says Network Rail, which admitted there is insufficient track capacity to operate any more trains. The BML2 project can solve two problems at once, but it will probably need friends in high places and powerful political hitters to guide it through.


We are wholly confident BML2 has an extremely strong business case because of the indisputable value it would deliver to both train operator and network provider. Its key advantage lies in the new journey opportunities which would largely finance its case, whilst other very significant benefits are gained.


Principal among these would be the value to airline industry because BML2 could seamlessly and efficiently connect two of London’s three hub airports as one joint integrated operation. Directly serving the beating heart of London’s global financial centre at Canary Wharf, these trains would conveniently interconnect with Crossrail’s east-west services.


Stratford International would also be served, linking together counties on either side of the Thames divide and becoming a driver for regeneration and prosperity. Perhaps the greatest bonus of all rests with the Thameslink 2 concept which would take enormous pressure off the central London core through Farringdon. Only recently, the Arup Group involved with developing Crossrail exposed a serious miscalculation in future demand once Crossrail and Thameslink are complete, warning of unbearable overcrowding at Farringdon and other central London stations.


As the document makes clear, BML2 is not about speed or attempting to rival or substitute HS2; however, it’s just as important. It is about realistically addressing the alarming capacity crisis on a very congested rail system feeding into London from the Home Counties.


With the welcome arrival of spring and the destructive storms now hopefully behind us, the travelling public’s tolerance has been tested to the extreme this winter. Nevertheless, the problems facing the south’s network won’t subside with the floodwaters.


As our London & South Coast Appraisal explains – we need a bigger network.  



Stand up for the Brighton Line

Siemens-700 EMU


Despite more standing room and fewer seats, the new Thameslink trains will be just as hampered by the Brighton Line.
Photo: Siemens UK 


BBC South East’s Inside Out programme recently featured the stresses and weaknesses in the region’s rail network.


Unfortunately rather simplistic comparisons were made yet again between journey times on northern InterCity routes and those from the South Coast into London. Interviews with local MPs featured the predictable aim of securing faster services (at the expense of others). Of course, if we closed all the intermediate stations – as occurred on routes north and west of London in the 1960s to create the 125mph InterCity services – then we might clip off half an hour on the morning commute.


Thankfully, realism was introduced into the programme by Network Rail’s Tim Robinson who sensibly pointed out that the south’s railway was entirely different. He explained it was an intensive commuter system, carrying many thousands into work every day on a very congested network, with hundreds of stations, interlacing lines and conflicting train movements, busy junctions and so on.


However, as Network Rail admits, the whole infrastructure is fast wearing out. Inherent weaknesses are now really beginning to show and these need to be urgently addressed. If the south’s politicians would unite on this, then we might find some Government attention.


At the moment, all hopes are pinned on Siemens new Thameslink trains, unveiled this month and entering service from 2016. This is being heavily promoted by the Transport Secretary as “the good news” for beleaguered Brighton Line commuters. Even so, words are very carefully chosen when saying these new trains will deliver significantly more capacity by carrying higher numbers of people. That’s all perfectly true, but we have been more interested in exactly how that is done, rather than accept it at face value.


The new trains are lighter, use less power and are far more spacious inside. Of course, the trains themselves cannot be any bigger because of Britain’s loading gauge compared to the continent, so how do they do it? Because they are fixed formation – that is built as complete non-detachable units of 8-car and 12-car – they cannot be joined or divided en route. Consequently, intermediate driving cabs aren’t required which releases space along the whole length of the train and thereby used for seating, or more pertinently, standing.


We became concerned a couple of years ago when Network Rail revealed: “the Thameslink Programme rolling stock has fewer seats and greater standing capacity compared to conventional rolling stock” (London & SE Route Utilisation Strategy 2010) – and so it is.


The DfT aspires for no passenger to have to stand for more than 20 minutes, but most commuter journeys in the south are over an hour and nobody would want to stand all the way into work or back home.


Many current Southern trains have ample (2+2) seating, whilst narrower seating in the ‘high-density’ (3+2) carriages isn’t popular. So what will conditions be like on the new Thameslink trains compared to today’s ‘high density’ trains? The table here sets out capacity on Southern’s ‘high capacity’ trains (SN in green) alongside the new Siemens Thameslink trains (TL in blue) to assess the forthcoming ratio between sitting and standing.


Seat Capacity on new trains



The new Thameslink vehicles are strikingly metro-style and, like London Overground trains, are entirely ‘walk-through’. Some observers have already branded them clinical and bus-like, but they are certainly better-placed so more people can stand in the wider aisles – due to narrower and less seating. But is this what people are paying for? Brighton and Sussex Coast commuters might well think they’ll secure seats in the morning, but that will not be the case after a wearying day at the office as they face the free-for-all evening crush out of London.


The capacity crisis in the south is about much more than cramming as many people ‘Hong Kong style’ into a train. Longer-distance commuters shouldn’t be considered in the same manner as London’s suburban travellers who are generally content with 20-minute hop-on/off journeys around the capital.


The real challenge, which has persistently been ducked by all Governments for decades, is providing more track capacity. This will not only allow more trains to run, but provide a whole variety of new and current destinations on an enlarged network that is far more robust, flexible and resilient in operation.


In all other respects, the new trains will be comfortable and doubtless extremely reliable – after all they are being designed and built in Germany. But let’s not forget that no matter how swish or potentially fast these new Thameslink trains might be, or how many people can be packed in, they will remain just as vulnerable to the problems afflicting the BML today. It seems hardly a week goes by without ‘Major Disruption’ somewhere on the Sussex Route.  


Until recently, Network Rail has shown little interest in providing Brighton and the Sussex Coast with a second main line to London. In 2008 it bullishly rejected any need to have another route to share the load and also be there for all those many occasions when the BML goes down. Back then, boasting about its ‘Seven Day Railway’ concept, it confidently predicted:


“Such closures occur on up to 8 occasions per year, usually on winter Sundays when demand is lowest. Due to the nature of the track layout between Three Bridges and East Croydon, complete closures are required only rarely and generally are programmed for the Christmas holiday period.”


Six years on and after countless incidents at great cost to its ‘customers’ and businesses its words ring hollow:


“Such closures are thankfully rare, and Network Rail is working to further improve performance in order for such closures to be eliminated as far as is practicable.”


It also rather ruthlessly pointed out: “The benefit to the industry of providing an alternative route in the event of an emergency total closure is the avoidance of compensation to passengers for cancelled trains and delayed journeys.”


Because Network Rail perceived no value in a secondary route, it decided against factoring this into the Uckfield line reopening study:  “Given the rare occurrence of total closures, and the relatively low level of cost avoided, this has not been included within the business case.”

Sussex commuters and train operators might take a different view….


Fairly soon Network Rail is to give the Transport Secretary its report on delivering more capacity between London and the Sussex Coast.


If this does not take into consideration the immense benefits appertaining to BML2 then it will continue failing millions in London and the South East.



Brighton Main Line 2 championed in Parliament

Brighton Train Line in dire trouble


“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

Sussex Overcrowding


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

Former electrified railway through Croydon


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


South London's wasting asset


“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.