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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kent rejects rail network expansion

4-mile stretch of a previously busy main line

 

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

vast spare capacity

 

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

Overcrowded Train

 

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

Degraded Uckfield branchline

 

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

Train to Brighton

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

Overcrowded South East Train 

 

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.



Secretary of State’s Sussex rail commitment refuted

Lewes Station, East Sussex 

 Lewes, depicted here, like all of Sussex would benefit with BML2’s new connections across the South East and into London, Kent and beyond.

 

 

Following the recent successful and highly-publicised visit to Lewes by the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin who said he was “alive” to reopening the Sussex route, Transport Minister and Lewes MP Norman Baker has expressed his disappointment at our response to what he termed “the great news on Lewes–Uckfield” and the prospect of yet another study.


Norman says whilst he appreciates our conclusion to pursue BML2, he insists the reinstatement of the Lewes–Uckfield section is now “going to be properly looked at, with ministerial direction for the first time ever.”


He also criticized us by saying: “It is, I think, unduly pessimistic of you to assume in advance that this will run into the sand. Apart from the fact that it has been endorsed from the very top of the Department for Transport, the study’s terms of reference refer to links between the south coast and London – in other words the potential reopening will be considered in that context, not the localised context that was applied to the East Sussex County Council study.”


However, the Minister’s beliefs have been refuted by an influential Network Rail manager(1) who says:
“As some of you know I worked closely with the team who produced the 2008 report, and still do. The latest development has nothing to do with a change in attitude by the Secretary of State, the press release happened to go out in his name. Neither has there been a change in attitude at Network Rail, which was already looking at how to increase capacity on the Brighton Main Line, and is looking at all options, this being one of them.”


He then went on to defend the Lewes–Uckfield Reinstatement Board’s Study, managed by East Sussex County Council, insisting: “There is not ‘general agreement that the 2008 study was deeply flawed’ within the rail industry, i.e. Network Rail, Southern (plus, incidentally, new franchise bidders) and the DfT, who like it or not are the rail industry in that part of the world. There is, naturally enough, agreement by those who are campaigning for reopening, but that is a little different.”


He also firmly rebutted the Minister’s allegation over the ‘localised context’ by contending:  

“The report DID include wider economic benefits and DID assess the impact of improved connectivity across the region. It also did examine through trains to Brighton, which was quickly discounted as the time penalty for reversal beyond Lewes made changing more realistic.”


He refuted Norman Baker’s comment in RAIL that the 2008 Study was “a case of putting rubbish in and getting rubbish out” and said about reinstating Lewes–Uckfield: “The remit for the report was very much to reopen the line as quickly and cheaply as possible on the old alignment, and not to build across virgin countryside as required for a west facing connection at Lewes. Nevertheless, from memory, new flows to Brighton made a decent proportion of the traffic generated. However some of the issues above (and much more) didn't make it to the final cut of the report – which was all explained to the Board, which commissioned the work, at the regular review sessions.”


He then explained the way the business case was constructed, saying:

“All the assumptions, inputs and methods used were discussed with the Board and agreed by them. Indeed the Board agreed to distort the business case *in favour of reopening* by:
a) Allowing some pretty optimistic assumptions about the state of the former track bed and thus reinstatement costs.
b) Removing the required optimism bias [adding 60%] from the Business Case Ratio calculations.
c) Including optimistic sensitivity tests to demonstrate what level of passenger use would drive reopening.”


Furthermore, in defending his position towards reopening Lewes–Uckfield, he went on to say:

“None of these would be acceptable in a funding submission to DfT (or indeed Scottish / Welsh Governments). The Board included members from relevant local authorities and the MPs for both Uckfield [Charles Hendry] and Lewes [Norman Baker], the latter of whom was exemplary in his conduct, challenging every assumption, input, method and result. And accepting them, even where he did not like it. The Board did not include anyone from DfT, and they had absolutely no influence on or input to the report. Indeed when they rather cheekily asked for an advance copy of the report to see what it said, they were refused point blank. The first they knew what it said was on publication.”


Norman still remains opposed to BML2, but told us it was “not true, as you appear to believe, that I am uninterested in connections from Brighton to London. If Lewes–Uckfield can be reinstated, and the line improved and potentially electrified north of Uckfield, which will also be considered in the study, then that will allow some trains from Eastbourne (or Seaford) to divert via Uckfield, thereby freeing up train paths on the Brighton main line for more trains from Brighton or coastway west towns such as Worthing, as well as providing a diversionary route to London.”


However, this proposition by the Minister is rejected by the Network Rail manager who argues:

“There are only ever two reasons to re/open a new railway:
1) For wealth creation, sometimes called economic regeneration
2) To relieve a congested part of the network, to enable (1)
Every other successful line reopening in the past two decades has linked an area in need of (or planned) economic regeneration to a city/region that offers employment potential. Ebbw Vale, Maesteg, Alloa, Airdrie-Bathgate, Larkhall, Mansfield, Snow Hill, Aylesbury Vale with East–West rail to come etc. etc.”


More contentiously, he elaborated:

“It is fair to say that this does not apply to Lewes–Uckfield, neither of which could be termed economically deprived areas, and betwixt them lie only fields. As an aside, the reason the traffic is bad in that part of the world is that most people can afford cars and tend to use them, something that cannot be said of the majority of folk in Ebbw Vale. Being a regular visitor to both places, I can vouch for that. So, perhaps the best hope for Lewes–Uckfield is as part of a wider network capacity upgrade for London to the Sussex coast, but then there are alternatives. Croydon has to be sorted first to unlock much of this – there is the potential for another Reading sized project there – and work is underway now to resolve Gatwick. But what about south of Gatwick? My personal view is that if we are to upgrade 20 miles of existing line and build 8-10 miles of new railway in Sussex, potentially with some new tunnel to get through the South Downs, why not do it alongside the existing Brighton Main Line? There it can serve known demand, known growth areas, and improve the journey times / experience for all those who use it today. Done properly it need not be disruptive while built, and will benefit considerably more people than the alternatives.”


“And finally, the route to Docklands from a wide variety of Brighton Main Line (and branches) stations from 2018 will be change at Farringdon for Crossrail. No need for another new railway there for a while yet.”


We believe it is absurd to suggest that railways can only be opened in economically deprived areas. This Network Rail manager displays both naivety and insensitivity because East Sussex, despite having some wealthy dwellers, has a very low-wage economy and is the seventh most deprived county in the UK – ‘East Sussex has the highest levels of deprivation of all the counties in the South East’ – ESCC.


In engineering terms, quadrupling the BML south of Three Bridges is an extremely ill-considered proposal, necessitating four new tunnels (totalling well over two miles) including one through the South Downs (BML2 requires just one).


It would mean building a lengthy concrete viaduct alongside the historic and magnificent Ouse Valley structure – it will be difficult enough installing future overhead electrification gantries on it.


It would involve widening deep cuttings, high embankments, building many additional over/under bridges, let alone completely rebuilding six very busy intermediate stations.


In commercial/financial return terms, compared to BML2, the concept is seriously flawed because vast sums of money would be spent on Brighton Line quadrupling merely to manage high peak demand. For most of the day that extra route capacity would simply be wasted and its additional rolling stock half empty.


Brighton Line quadrupling would not open up immensely valuable new passenger markets into Brighton/Lewes (and thus increased track access charges for Network Rail) from central East Sussex, East Surrey and West Kent.


Network Rail would be spending the ‘big bucks’ just to manage over-demand in the high peaks.


Strategically, quadrupling would also be counter-productive, by encouraging even more unwanted railheading to the BML and its stations – exacerbating rather than ameliorating a growing problem. BML2 on the other hand would diminish railheading to the BML and thus free-up capacity.

 

Gatwick will gain nothing from quadrupling to Brighton, whilst capacity constraints at Coulsdon, East Croydon and on into Victoria, need radical solutions which only BML2 can realistically provide with a fast new connection across the eastern capital.


Railways are of fundamental importance to the South East. They are facilitators of economic growth and regeneration – otherwise London would not be spending billions on them. The ‘rail industry’ (Network Rail, DfT and the train operators) are the only bodies responsible for building/rebuilding and operating railways – we no longer have private companies with a competent, forward-looking business focus.


We should all be deeply worried because, in actuality, it is patently within the power of ‘the rail industry’ to determine the economic well-being of a region. Disastrously, through such mismanagement and what constitutes their perception of economic deprivation, it is capable of stunting growth, stifling demand – and damaging local prospects and regional economies.


As Brighton’s leaders, MPs and national representatives such as Lord Bassam and Lord Adonis have recently said, the struggling Sussex economy would benefit significantly by being opened up to new rail markets across the South East.


BML2, directly serving Lewes/Eastbourne and Brighton with new and increased services would give both Network Rail and train operators an infinitely better railway to the Sussex Coast than existed pre-closure. As for Norman, rather than trying to manoeuvre political decisions directly favouring only his constituency, he should be working in partnership with Brighton MPs and others towards our common goal for the South East.



(1) pseudonym 'Bald Rick' courtesy of RailUK Forum


Row over Kent rail capacity as crisis begins to bite

 

The South's degraded rail system

 
The South’s degraded rail system – closed and disused – the former main line from Tunbridge Wells to Croydon/London (right)

and the equally derelict main line from Brighton into Kent (left).

 

So often the focus of rail capacity problems is concentrated along the Brighton Main Line, but the situation is increasingly becoming just as dire on the Tonbridge Main Line. Now it appears that the gloves are coming off in the fight over who has control over the limited quota of allotted train pathways into London along Kent’s congested premier main line into the capital.


Transport for London seems resolutely determined to take over the operation of as many train services as possible from Sevenoaks inwards and its resolve has the powerful backing of London Mayor Boris Johnson. TfL says it would mean more capacity, more frequent off-peak services, whilst commuters could use Oyster cards.


Such a handover, which seems pretty certain to succeed, has been roundly condemned by Kent County Council and other worried representatives who fear commuters across Kent and East Sussex will end up losing out to suburban London’s needs.


KCC’s Leader Paul Carter has described TfL’s attempts to be “totally unacceptable”, saying his council recently commissioned a report from independent consultants which showed that services using the Tunbridge Wells–London line were fully utilised and with no spare paths to run extra trains.

     

Mr. Carter is absolutely right about scarce capacity according to Network Rail. However, KCC could have actually invested taxpayers’ resources far more wisely (and still has the chance to do so). Rather than paying thousands of pounds to consultants, a few hours spent reading Network Rail’s 2010 Kent Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) would have explained what their commissioned report told them.


Network Rail’s Strategy makes extremely gloomy reading: “Providing additional capacity on the Tonbridge Main Line is highly problematic” – “The two-track Orpington to Tonbridge section is a major barrier to growth” – “No evidence has been found that additional trains could run on this route” – “Growth may be suppressed by excessive crowding on existing services” – “High peak overcrowding on the busiest main line services between Kent and London will remain an issue, especially on the Tonbridge Main Line”.

 

Added to this are conflicting train movements between fast commuter and slow suburban services at Orpington; the inability to provide additional tracks north of Tonbridge (for geographical and protected Green Belt reasons); whilst if that wasn’t enough – “Central London capacity will remain a barrier to any further high peak trains”.


For good measure we can also add “Platform length constraints at critical sites such as Tunbridge Wells requires rolling stock with Selective Door Opening” – that’s because the station is too small for 12-car train to fit into. It’s also an operating nightmare which was supposed to be made easier with a new turnback siding, although Network Rail now views such installations as a “capacity constraint”. Throw in conflicts between Kent Coast/Hastings services at Tonbridge and it is clear that even the current timetable represents a daily challenge to unfortunate frontline railway staff facing passengers’ wrath.


On the other side of the coin, TfL’s director of Strategy Gareth Powell is absolutely right to say that London Overground has much to be proud of in its achievements, citing the many benefits which the LOROL services have brought to the capital. Usage has soared and the inner London surface network is exemplary in the very high standard of quality services it provides. Quite naturally, he understandably wishes to extend these benefits further into the South East and argues that fares, stopping patterns and frequencies for longer-distance commuters would not be affected.


Kent’s council leaders may seek to use their influence within David Cameron’s Government in their anxiety to protect core voters’ interests and its commuters who rely utterly on good rail services into the UK’s economic heartland. But in the other corner – and equally determined – will be Boris Johnson who, not surprisingly, has backed LOROL’s proposition. So who will win and who will be the losers?


The fundamental problem is quite clear – the South needs a bigger railway. As Network Rail has pointed out, once all trains have been lengthened in the South to 12-cars through Thameslink 2018 (the late-running Thameslink 2000), the ceiling will have been reached and – just like the Brighton line – that’s it folks! And commuters need to appreciate what the Kent Strategy says about these promised new trains in 2018: “the new Thameslink Programme rolling stock is expected to be configured with reduced seating and higher standing capacity configurations”.


KCC has rightly pointed out: “any further increase could only be achieved by re-allocating paths from Kent services to Tfl Metro services”. Such a move will be fiercely resisted and probably impossible. The only other alternative is to introduce ‘super-peak’ fares between 08:00 – 09:00 to discourage people from overcrowding trains – a proposition roundly condemned last month by Labour’s Transport Secretary Maria Eagle as enabling only the well-off to travel into work at a reasonable hour.


Of course, there is one other way – we start putting in some serious investment to rebuild the fractured and degraded rail system outside the capital and bordering the counties south of London – and there’s a lot of catching up to do!


Contrary to popular belief, the really serious damage wasn’t done by Dr. Beeching – he’d long departed (1965) – but successive penny-pinching Governments who put the squeeze on British Rail and effectively stopped it investing. There were also craven BR managers who, to their great shame, were only too willing to go along with this and allow the system to suffer as parts of the network were recklessly and systematically removed.


Rail links between Brighton-Uckfield (lost 1969); between Tunbridge Wells-Victoria (lost 1969); between Sanderstead-Elmers End-London (lost 1984); between Uckfield-Tunbridge Wells-Tonbridge (lost 1985). Electrification schemes shelved, routes singled (1989), strategic rail corridors sold-off for a paltry sum (1982-3). We now reap what they sowed and suffer the consequences.


Have any lessons been learned? Quite clearly not.


The Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin is still flatly refusing to intervene in halting the impending sale of the critical rail corridor in Tunbridge Wells, between the Central and West stations. As part of the bigger picture, which his blinkered officials cannot or will not see, this is essential for Kent to achieve more rail capacity into central London. The current owners, Railway Paths Ltd were given it for just £1 + VAT in 2001, but now insist they need to sell it on the open market (hoping for lucrative housing development) to keep themselves going.


Patrick McLoughlin has just written to Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark, saying that it is down to the Local Planning Authority to “identify and protect, where there is robust evidence, sites and routes which could be critical in developing infrastructure to widen transport choice”.


No it isn’t. How any Local Planning Authority can be expected to appreciate and oversee transport planning and demand on a regional basis is not just unreasonable, but nonsensical. Any developer’s well-paid QC would have no trouble in driving a horse and cart or 4 x 4 through this meekly-worded statement. This is simply abdicating Ministerial responsibility and, furthermore, exposes the Coalition Government’s paucity of ideas, lack of direction and any credible policy in planning and providing substantially more rail capacity between London and the South East.


Tunbridge Wells Borough Council says it will “seek” to defend the land, but still has no appreciation of the importance of the short rail corridor in its Borough connecting westwards into Brighton Main Line 2.  Evidence of this comes with its latest proposal to sell the coach park it owns on the so-called ‘protected’ trackbed for a paltry fourteen houses at Tunbridge Wells West. This, it must be said, hardly imbues any sympathy for Kent’s predicament in the face of TfL’s proposals. 

 

Kent’s leaders need to do three things:

  • 1) Rather than waste any more money on consultants, invest in the future by buying that strategic rail corridor – and keeping it safe.
  • 2) Tell the Borough Council it won’t permit any redevelopment on the coach park.
  • 3) Become involved and join fellow Conservatives across the border in Brighton and Hove who say that BML2 represents a “golden opportunity” to provide the quantity and quality of additional rail services which Kent and Sussex are clearly going to need this century.


A direct rail service between Canary Wharf/Crossrail and Tunbridge Wells is just one of the benefits Kent would gain with BML2. But for this to happen, these authorities need to look over their respective garden walls and appreciate the all-important bigger picture.


We might then begin to make progress.


 


 

Got some unanswered questions? 

Then please have a look at our new BML2 FAQ pages. They are split into three phases:-

  • BML2 Kent Phase FAQ
  • BML2 London Phase FAQ
  • BML2 Sussex Phase FAQ
  •  

     

    Shouldn’t the South be better connected to HS2?

    Quite aside from continuing arguments over the need for High Speed 2, there is also interesting debate within industry and transport journals over whether the Department for Transport has got it right in regard to the route.


    Aware of the criticisms and setbacks being faced over the suitability of Euston, we are intrigued by suggestions that Stratford would be an infinitely superior location. From our perspective this raises some very interesting opportunities in regard to the ‘spine and rib’ Brighton Main Line – especially if BML2’s proposal to link across to Canary Wharf and Stratford International is pursued.


    Such proposals are not coming from uninformed observers or those with a particular axe to grind, but people who know a thing or two about railways. For example Richard Keegan, formerly British Rail’s Director of Projects, is firmly of the opinion that the current route between London and Birmingham involves wasteful and unnecessary expenditure, whilst missing valuable opportunities for economic growth and better connectivity precisely where it matters. He believes Stratford International is the key and is proposing a more strategic solution, which would not only avoid the hugely contentious Chilterns areas, but instead run more usefully via the Lea Valley towards Bedford and on to south of Birmingham – where it would join the rest of the planned route.


    Keegan reckons the current plan is seriously flawed, citing four principal reasons:

     

    • 1) HS2 won’t serve Heathrow – the only reason for going west of London.
    • 2) It fails to provide HS2 with a critically-important international role – believing the inferior HS1-HS2 London link will never be built.
    • 3) It fails to overcome Euston’s fundamental weaknesses.
    • 4) It fails the need to boost overall capacity and drive UK-wide economic growth. 


    He points to the need to create “a railway for the future” right from the outset, connecting into HS1 to Ashford International and taking HS2 trains through to the continent, thereby providing a strategic main rail artery for regeneration on a massive scale that only Stratford International and the fast-growing eastern side of the capital can provide.


    Keegan has been critical of the ministerial mind-set which initially suggested that HS2 should serve Heathrow – but believes the promised connection to the airport  “at a later stage” will never be built – “there is no other reason to route HS2 via west London” he recently told Today’s Railways. He is also convinced that there is a host of other reasons against the currently-planned Euston route and says the whole project becomes simpler and far more beneficial to the country with Stratford International. Significantly, he says it would not only be quicker but also cheaper to build.


    He predicts enormous congestion problems if Euston goes ahead, whereas full connectivity with HS1 through Stratford would create a high speed railway between Paris/Brussels, Birmingham, northern cities and Scotland. There are many other practical reasons why he believes Stratford is infinitely better-suited, not least for a variety of railway operational purposes. He also makes the point that the currently-proposed and contentious route serves no areas designated for regeneration, whereas HS2 could materially benefit the business sector located in the eastern side of the capital, as well as the important commercial activity in the Thames Gateway.


    Even with a ‘Crossrail 2’ he says Euston won’t offer any connections to London’s airports – unlike Stratford which already has direct links to London Stansted – and with BML2 we can add London Gatwick! He also asserts that Birmingham’s HS2 customers will be principally aiming for Canary Wharf and the City.   


    Keegan is not alone. Only last month, Rail Professional featured the assessment of Michael Wand, whose experience embraces chief development surveyor with London’s Docklands Development, strategic advisor to the HS1 route planning team in the early 1990s, and Eurorail’s bid for HS1 in 1995.


    In an article ‘Rethinking HS2’ Wand looks beyond Birmingham with his ‘NorthStart’ scheme. He similarly warns of intrinsic flaws in current thinking and argues for a substantially more useful and productive high-speed route for the British taxpayer between London and Birmingham; one which connects London Stansted and the research capital of Cambridge with the manufacturing Midlands.


    He believes the presently outlined route, far from benefiting Birmingham will actually be to its detriment, worsening the north–south economic divide, rather than ameliorating it. Interestingly, Wand also comes out firmly in favour of Stratford International as the superior hub for access to HS2 and HS1 which would be situated on not just one seamless high-speed railway, but also served by London’s east-west Crossrail.


    Along with this, other journals have raised concerns about serious miscalculations over costs and disruption in trying to adapt Euston as a terminus for HS2 and landing the country with a second-rate project.  

        

    Whatever lies ahead for the UK’s second high-speed railway remains to be seen. However, as we have mentioned, there are related implications for BML2 even though it is not on the same scale as HS2. The short cross-Thames connection between Lewisham – Canary Wharf – Stratford International is going to be needed anyway, not only because it would open up superior connections across London, but in order to deliver the rail capacity the capital needs.


    With BML2, many towns and cities such as Chichester, Worthing, Horsham, Brighton, Croydon, Lewes, Eastbourne, Tunbridge Wells, etc, would be directly connected to Canary Wharf and Stratford – as would those north of the Thames. If Keegan and Wand are right, then ‘Stanwick’ (the Gatwick–Stansted dedicated air – rail link featured in New Civil Engineer last year) would also intersect with HS1 and HS2.


    Similarly benefiting would be the spin-off ‘Thameslink 2’ – uniting counties on both sides of the Thames divide and taking pressure off London’s Farringdon core. This would serve all the new Docklands residences in a manner unsurpassable by any other development as further investment, growth and prosperity would naturally follow.


    BML2 may not have the wow factor of a high-speed project, but it’s critically important to the south as the only means of providing sufficient capacity and the all-important new connections into the capital from an overcrowded and congested part of the country. And although BML2 is not in the same league as HS2, as Christian Wolmar perceptively pointed out, it nevertheless has the potential to deliver even higher benefits pound-for-pound.


    As we have seen recently, cross-party consensus backing BML2 is gathering pace as its opportunities and benefits are gradually being appreciated. We just hope that those responsible for strategic transport planning will listen, get it right and, as Keegan says, not land us with lost opportunities.



    Conservatives endorse Brighton Main Line 2

    Tunnel under the Downs

     

    “It is clear to us that BML2 offers a golden opportunity to provide a new,

    direct rail link between London and Brighton with its tunnel under the South Downs.”


    Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council – Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald OBE – and the city’s two Conservative MPs – Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley – believe the South needs BML2. In a powerfully-worded joint statement just released, they clearly set out the Conservatives’ position on rail and explain why a second Brighton Main Line is so essential for the South:


    “The Conservative party prides itself on being a facilitator of growth, business and prosperity for all and we recognise the importance of promoting those schemes which stimulate the economy, whilst protecting the south’s special environment.


    We recognise the important economic benefits effective and efficient rail links can bring to an area. We would like to put the case for Brighton & Hove, which is the third biggest city in the south after London and Bristol, to benefit from these.


    The High Speed Rail link from London to Paris has been a spectacular success, Crossrail – Europe’s largest construction project – will provide a long-awaited connection between east and west London and a new High Speed Rail Link 2 promises to breathe new life and prosperity into the regions of England.


    All of these projects have been brought forward on the back of strong economic arguments and we firmly believe that a new Brighton Main Line – BML2 – has an equally strong case to put. It would build on the success of recent years that has seen Brighton & Hove produce the highest number of new business start-ups anywhere outside of London and would drive this city’s continuing economic growth.


    It is clear to us that BML2 offers a golden opportunity to provide a new, direct rail link between London and Brighton with its tunnel under the South Downs. This will enable us to embrace the future with real confidence because BML2 will realistically deliver the quantity and quality of additional rail capacity that all of Sussex so desperately needs.


    We all know that the Brighton Line is one of the most important transport arteries in the south – described by Network Rail as a major ‘spine and rib’ route with lines feeding in. Yet it is creaking under the massive extra demands that have been placed on it in recent years.


    Network Rail’s Sussex Route Strategic Business Plan reports a 40% rise in passenger numbers on the Brighton main line in the last 10 years and goes on to predict a further 30% increase in the next 10 years. The figures are stark yet there is still no credible plan to meet this continuing rising demand. We are calling for the existing line to be brought up to standard and complemented by the introduction of BML2.


    Following a directive from the Department for Transport in 2007, Network Rail considered ways to significantly expand Brighton Line capacity with double-deck or longer (16-car) trains. However, it transpired that both options could actually make services slower, whilst the line and its patrons would remain vulnerable with no additional/back-up route in place. It is clear, therefore, that the Brighton Line cannot support enough new, or faster, trains to meet this demand.


    A new BML2 would provide a number of benefits. Firstly, it would provide much-needed back up for when engineering works, or unexpected problems, hit the existing Brighton line. We all know only too well how frequently this occurs and what disruption it causes – train schedules descend into chaos causing misery and frustration for many. It also deters potential visitors from coming to the city at weekends, when the engineering works take place. Secondly, it would open up a whole new source of visitors and businesses to the city by connecting residents of the expanding towns of Uckfield, Crowborough and further afield, directly by rail to Brighton & Hove. Many are currently put off by the length of time it takes to drive through our already congested city. Thirdly, it would provide a new direct route for Brighton & Hove Albion fans to Falmer Station to get to our fantastic new Amex stadium. And finally, it would be a godsend for the many thousands of our constituents who make the daily commute and depend on reliable trains to get them into work on time and at a reasonable hour.


    In our considered opinion, BML2 represents excellent value for money by fully exploiting existing rail assets to their utmost. It is a project which can be taken forward in stages, culminating in a far more robust and profitable network for the south.


    BML2 offers choice and opportunity across the whole spectrum of society involving commuting, leisure, tourism and business travel. It is an imaginative, impressive and highly sensible project and we afford it our unreserved approval and backing.”


    BML2 project manager Brian Hart said: “We are particularly indebted to Cllr Theobald, who has strongly supported BML2 ever since its launch in 2010. Similarly, Brighton MPs Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley have both maintained a keen interest in developments over the past couple of years and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to present our case to them.