Secretary of State’s Sussex rail commitment refuted
Published on Monday, 03 June 2013 06:48
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
Published on Monday, 29 April 2013 06:08
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?
Published on Monday, 22 April 2013 06:36
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.
Adonis champions Brighton’s Main Line 2
Published on Monday, 25 March 2013 06:12
“On any realistic analysis of capacity requirements over the next generation it is stark staring obvious that the second mainline to London is needed.”
– Lord Adonis, House of Lords Shadow Minister for Infrastructure.
Photo courtesy Guardian Newspapers
Lord Adonis, the last Government’s Secretary of State for Transport and now Labour’s Minister for Infrastructure in the House of Lords is championing the Brighton Main Line 2 Project.
A keen proponent of the national High Speed 2 rail link, Lord Adonis believes BML2 now needs to be taken seriously. In an interview in The Times last week he said that the big demand for investment is in the existing railway, not reopening rural lines of marginal importance. However, there were clearly a few glaring strategic closures deserving reinstatement and he specifically cited Brighton’s other main line to London (via Uckfield) which was destroyed forty years ago.
Now, in a statement issued today, he says:
“The loss of Brighton's second main line via Uckfield and the direct London services it provided was a massive error of the 1960s. It needs to be reversed.”
He then goes on to explain:
“Substantially increasing capacity into our cities remains the industry's greatest challenge. Brighton Main Line 2, by reconnecting Brighton with London as one seamless journey, has the potential to do this and is therefore a strong contender for serious investment because it would strengthen the existing overloaded network.”
With the media focusing on the fiftieth anniversary (27 March) of the 1963 Beeching Report which contentiously closed thousands of miles of railway and stations, the notion still persists that Beeching was responsible for chopping-out a seven-mile section of main line in Sussex. But the truth is even more tragic.
Beeching’s document proposed closing only certain stations; for instance Crowborough, Edenbridge Town etc, would remain open for commuters. Besides this, in 1960 the route was on the ascendant, scheduled for early electrification between South Croydon and Lewes – and into Tunbridge Wells.
In 1961 Transport Minister Ernest Marples – who had pecuniary interests in road construction and favoured rationalising the railways – announced in Parliament Beeching’s appointment as Chairman of BR. Meanwhile, road-favouring East Sussex County Council was pursuing its controversial ‘Lewes Inner Relief Road’ – a three-stage dual carriageway slicing through the heart of the County Town. Literally blocking its way was the Brighton – Uckfield – London main line which ESCC was reluctant to bridge at a cost of £135,000.
British Railways had no intention of closing the line, in fact quite the opposite, but following Marples’ approval of the road scheme with its 75% Government grant, BR sought a compromise by reopening an old connection into Lewes from the other direction (via Hamsey). Even though direct services into Brighton would be sacrificed – as trains would in future face east towards Eastbourne – at least the important Sussex Coastal connection would be retained.
In June 1965 Beeching left BR and returned to ICI, whilst Parliament granted powers to the British Railways Board (Act of 1966) to reopen the old Hamsey connection – last used in 1868. BR planned for train services to commence during summer 1967, thereby allowing abandonment of the direct Brighton connection through Lewes town centre.
BR expected ESCC to fund the £95,000 cost of the ‘Hamsey chord’, not least because £40,000 would be saved by obviating bridging the doomed town centre railway line. However, ESCC refused, objecting also to a railway bridge on aesthetic grounds, whereby a stalemate ensued. Confronted with being lumbered with a seriously-compromised branch line to Uckfield, BR consequently applied to close the entire network between Lewes and Hurst Green (Oxted) and Tunbridge Wells.
Meanwhile ESCC forged confidently ahead, bridging the river and building Stage One to both sides of the railway embankment it was determined to sever. Bulldozers finally breached it in 1969 when the new roadway (The Phoenix Causeway) was completed.
“It was a tragedy that this line was ever shut. It survived Beeching only to be closed by the County Council.
Now it needs to be reopened.” – Lewes MP Norman Baker speaking in Parliament, June 2004
The Brighton Main Line was now on its own and Brighton, Lewes and Eastbourne etc, were utterly reliant on just one route to London. Problems soon began manifesting themselves.
ESCC opened Phase One in July and just five months later decided to abandon Phases Two and Three of its highly-contentious road, built the Cuilfail road tunnel instead and eventually a bypass skirting around the south of Lewes. So Brighton’s useful second main line was sacrificed for a minor road in Lewes town centre.
The rest is history as they say, but the impact was utterly ruinous and the effect of this catastrophic closure still persists. The Uckfield line withered, subsequent electrification schemes were shelved as unviable, the valuable connections into Tunbridge Wells from both Brighton (via Eridge) and London (via Ashurst) were closed and in 1990 this former main line was partially singled – drastically reducing its capacity.
Lord Teviot led the first of many calls for the line to be reopened as Brighton and the South Coast soon began suffering the consequences of events so familiar today. However, every investigative study throughout forty years assumed reopening the old Hamsey chord, despite the considerable drawback of people having to change at Lewes. In 1997 consultants Mott MacDonald considered a turnback siding to reverse trains, whilst concluding any attempt to reopen the direct line closed in 1969 through Lewes town centre would be impossible. Another consideration involved a new tunnel through Cliffe Hill, east of Lewes, to achieve a direct connection to Brighton but the operational practicalities proved insurmountable.
In 2004 the Government believed the challenge remained overcoming trains facing “the wrong way” – as the Rail Minister Tony McNulty told Lewes MP Norman Baker: “ – the line would be limited by the proposal by the Wealden line group that trains should run into Lewes via the Hamsey loop—that is, heading east at Lewes. The station layout there would constrain through-running to Brighton and involve a shunt movement to gain the Brighton line.”
The latest industry documents clearly show that Brighton is not just the key driver of increasing demand, but there exists a pressing need to substantially expand capacity across the South to combat railheading. Network Rail says – “Sussex railways are the most congested in the UK”; The Department for Transport says – “The Brighton Line is one of a number of routes on which the provision of further capacity is difficult”; Southern says they want – “more capacity for trains from the South Coast into London” as well as – “a more efficient diversionary route for the BML in times of major disruption and engineering work.”
Revolutionary methods of tunnelling have made the economic and strategic case for Brighton Main Line 2 with its new direct link into Brighton under the South Downs west of Lewes and Ashcombe tunnel would repay its £50m cost many times over.
Lewes would connect into BML2 north of the new tunnel with services to and from Eastbourne, whilst Brighton would regain its second main line – absolutely essential for the city’s growth, prospects and economic health. And BML2 is considerably less expensive than previous unsuccessful investigations into expanding capacity on the Brighton Line.
Lord Bassam, a keen supporter of BML2, said the Department for Transport should begin seriously studying the potential benefits of BML2 whereby the unrelenting pressure would be taken off the Brighton Line by reintroducing this additional route. He said:
“BML2 will also bring extra gains by way of tapping into new revenue markets across a wide sweep of Sussex, Kent and Surrey, as well as providing a realistic diversionary route, new destinations and opportunities for people everywhere.”
He added that it is “terrific news” that his colleague Andrew Adonis is backing BML2 as he commands enormous respect and is seriously listened to by all parties and within industry.
Project manager for BML2 Brian Hart said: “The backing of Lord Adonis is an immense step forward for BML2. The greater project has a raft of major beneficial advancements for London and the South East. For instance, we believe Stratford, Canary Wharf and Lewisham should be joined on a new north-south axis across the eastern Thames so that Gatwick and Stansted may be directly connected by one unified fast rail link which simultaneously benefits London’s east-west Crossrail. This would also connect currently separated counties on either side of the river with a new Thameslink, as well as supporting the regeneration and development of East London. BML2 would deliver vast amounts of additional capacity into London with interchange onto Crossrail, avoiding the bottlenecks and critical ‘major barriers to growth’ specified by Network Rail.”
In a forceful message to both Lord Bassam and Brian Hart, Lord Adonis stressed:
“On any realistic analysis of capacity requirements over the next generation it is stark staring obvious that the second mainline to London is needed. Quite apart from the immense local benefits.”
Conservatives endorse Brighton Main Line 2
Published on Monday, 11 March 2013 06:39
“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.
BML2 – wired for speed
Published on Monday, 25 February 2013 06:20
Wired for Speed - and reliability.
Will this be the future for BML2 as the rebuilding of the line is used as the first part of the Southern Region's conversion from third-rail electric?
A top-level conference this week in London asks ‘Has Third Rail had its Day?’ at which Network Rail’s Head of Electrification and Energy, Peter Dearman, will argue the case for the conversion of the entire Southern Region’s 750V DC third rail network to 25kV AC overhead line (OHL).
So, is third rail really finished? The answer is undoubtedly “yes” for a number of compelling reasons put forward by the industry which is now at a crossroads and which needs to make some strategic and far-sighted decisions in the next few years.
Despite the Department for Transport’s negative attitude a decade ago, the case for railway electrification has changed beyond all recognition and is becoming stronger by the day. Compared to diesel operation, electrification is cheaper; maintenance 33% lower; fuel costs as much as 50% lower; purchase and lease costs 20% lower; track maintenance costs are lower; carbon emissions up to 30% lower; whilst fuel price volatility and insecurity of supply is averted. Better acceleration, reduced journey times, with quieter, smoother operation are also given as major advantages.
Converting the entire Southern Region will cost billions of pounds and it is estimated this could take 15 – 30 years to complete, but proponents argue that a decision needs to be made soon. The case for conversion stems from “concern about the inherent capability of the third rail system to cope with projected increases in passenger and freight demand”. The advantages of OHL over third rail are “lower capital and operating costs, higher energy efficiency and the ability to support faster and more intensive train services”. This is particularly important in the overcrowded London & South East Sector.
“Large energy losses” are another factor stacked heavily against third rail, whilst it is said “many trains are already running with their performance restricted by current limiters, with a consequential reduction in speed and acceleration, to protect the electrical system from overload.” Such overloads and “outages” are already occurring and upgrades are being considered. Nevertheless, the experts say “It is clear that the 750V DC system is reaching its limits in terms of enhancement.”
OHL will be used on all new electrification schemes, being simpler, less-costly, least sensitive to loading, as well as offering higher speeds. The industry says “Routes where speeds over 100mph could be beneficial in the long-term include the South West main line, the Brighton main line and possibly some others.”
So what exactly does all of this mean for the South? Providing considerably increased capacity by way of more services is the ultimate challenge – and this remains the rail industry’s top focus. Most passengers probably don’t know and couldn’t care what powers their train – all they want is reliability, a direct journey where possible, punctuality, a seat and a comfortable trip.
Across the UK, OHL is well-suited to routes primarily north of London where many intermediate stations were razed in the 1960s to enable the creation of fast ‘InterCity’ services. This drastic rationalization, which removed even large towns from the railway map, also occurred on the Western Region, enabling the development of British Rail’s hugely successful diesel-powered 125mph High Speed Trains which will eventually be replaced by electrics.
The Southern Region is a quite different railway and comparing journey times on its intensive network with those north and west of London is utterly pointless, although that doesn’t stop MPs trying to score points by making comparisons. The Southern had a generally very reliable, though not faultless, third rail system which was chosen in the 1920s and steadily expanded, until it culminated under British Rail in the 1990s. But the increased loads and stresses it’s facing today, particularly with new power-hungry trains, longer and even more intensive services are proving to be way beyond the old system’s capability.
The region uniquely serves a relatively small, close-knit area of the UK and has many towns from which people commute into London. It also has many stations (which would simply have been shut down under any other region) and, because of this, the average journey speed ranges anywhere between 35 – 50 mph. Even the Brighton Line’s fastest services still take one hour to complete the 50-mile trip and there is no available headway to increase speeds.
Further large-scale third rail electrification is absolutely ruled out, whilst we understand Network Rail is already looking seriously at OHL for the Uckfield line, alongside conversion of the East Grinstead – Croydon route.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since 2008 when Network Rail’s Engineering Assessment of the Lewes-Uckfield Reinstatement Study allowed for third rail electrification between Lewes – Uckfield – Hurst Green as a future development and costed it accordingly, whilst electrification of the truncated Uckfield line has been on and off the cards for forty years.
Today, the Uckfield branch, with its fixed fleet of diesel trains introduced in 2004, is experiencing severe overcrowding problems. The DfT bluntly refuses ordering any new diesel stock and says hard-pressed commuters will just have to wait until electrification schemes elsewhere in the UK might release second-hand diesels.
Recently, however, a number of knowledgeable individuals, some of whom work in the industry are offering friendly advice by suggesting that BML2 could not only be the way forward, but actually provide a very useful and convenient first step towards the desired conversion of the south to OHL.
Briefly, the proposal put to us goes like this. The Uckfield line is going to have to be electrified at some stage (with OHL) and BML2 fits perfectly with the eventual conversion of the Brighton Line – viewed as the most prominent and needful candidate. The problem is that conversion work will be enormously unpopular due to its widespread disruption, requiring lengthy engineering possessions on a ‘spine’ route that is in use almost 22 hours in 24.
The scheme suggested to us would be to build BML2 first (Sussex and Kent phases) with OHL to Brighton, Lewes and Tunbridge Wells West – the latter because the equally-busy Tonbridge Main Line is another prime candidate for conversion and urgently needs more capacity.
Because the Uckfield line is currently drastically under-used (operating just one train per hour during weekday off-peak and weekends) the disruption and interruptions to engineers during construction while its diesel trains pass through would be minimal during possessions. On the closed sections into Tunbridge Wells and Lewes, as well as the short new link under the South Downs to Brighton, such possession problems wouldn’t occur, whilst the minimum of interruption would occur elsewhere.
At the moment the rail industry’s aspiration is to convert the outer routes first, for example Brighton – Purley, followed by the more–intensive London suburban lines later. However, being a key route, the Brighton Line is permanently busy, least helped by Gatwick, where the task of converting the route to overhead would be hugely disruptive and one source even commented: “Probably impossible without BML2 there to shoulder the burden of unavoidably diverted services and passengers”.
In this thought-provoking scenario, we’re advised that BML2 would be in place as a fast, electrified, double-track main line between East Croydon and the Sussex Coast, with direct trains to Brighton and Lewes/Eastbourne, thereby diminishing the load throughout the Brighton Line’s conversion. The majority of the new trains are already dual voltage or designed for conversion, whilst the temporary power supply changeover (between pantograph and shoe gear) would be at Lewes, Tunbridge Wells West, Sanderstead and possibly Falmer, although OHL might go right into Brighton. Eventually, of course, OHL would extend much further.
BML2’s London Phase is also a useful means towards facilitating conversion to OHL by using the parallel, partially-closed/under-utilized Sanderstead – Lewisham route. This strategic rail corridor could be wired during the quiet daytime period, eventually carrying the diverted heavy loadings when East Croydon inwards needs conversion.
Beyond this, the London Mayor Boris Johnson needs to take a serious look at what BML2 offers, because it’s a cross-regional project which runs under the Thames through Canary Wharf and Stratford connecting into already long-established OHL territory.
Unified fast air/rail connections between Gatwick and Stansted airports through Canary Wharf is an obvious scheme with OHL, whilst the counties of Sussex, Kent and Surrey would clearly benefit by having the direct connection to Crossrail at both the Wharf and Stratford and on to Stansted, etc.
Like OHL, BML2 is the future and will pay for itself many times over.
City backs Brighton Main Line 2
Published on Monday, 11 February 2013 07:12
“It will be one of the most important political decisions to be made for Sussex in the next few years.”
B&HCC Labour Transport Spokesman Cllr Alan Robins
Brighton and Hove City Council has given its unreserved backing to establishing a new main line to London. For over a century Brighton had two direct rail links to London with through main line services via Haywards Heath and via Uckfield, but in 1969 its second route was severed to facilitate a massive road scheme through Lewes which, ironically, was abandoned the following year.
Growing pressure on the Brighton Line and its increasing vulnerability mean re-establishing the line is more important than ever. Southern says it would not only like to have a more efficient diversion for the BML during emergencies and engineering works but, more importantly, wants more capacity for trains from the South Coast into London so it can better balance demand between rising numbers of commuters and Gatwick Airport’s needs. Network Rail is also desperate for another connection; admitting only last month in its Sussex Route Plan – “there is no compliant diversionary route for the Brighton Mainline”.
Now, the City Council, currently led by the Green Party and which is the most powerful and influential authority south of London, is pledging itself to supporting Brighton Main Line 2 – the new direct rail link to the capital. During a lengthy debate on the City Plan to 2030, Cllrs Gill Mitchell and Alan Robins both praised the BML2 Campaign, whereby the Labour Group was keen to put forward strong amendments backing the project. These were successfully carried and will now form part of the City Plan to be submitted to the Government in April.
Lord Bassam contacted us to say: “Labour’s successful addition of BML2 to the City Plan section on transport links underlines the importance of ensuring good rail links to the South East’s most popular destination.”
He added: “The Government says it wants economic regeneration projects to kick-start the economy – this is one that works and could quickly get off the ground, injecting millions into Sussex and the South Coast. So I ask Norman Baker to make it a priority before it is too late.”
For the Conservatives, Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby says he believes: “BML2 would provide a much-needed economic boost to the area and a much-needed alternative rail service for commuters, business and leisure travellers alike. This is an improvement that has long been awaited and it is time to make progress.”
Cllr Gill Mitchell, Leader of the Labour & Co-operative Group on the council, expressed her satisfaction at the result, telling us she was “really pleased” that the other political groups had decided to give their backing to their amendment, the precise wording of which reads: “The need for rail service capacity and line improvements between the Sussex Coast and London, including the reinstatement of the rail line between Lewes and Uckfield”.
In an exclusive statement to supporters of BML2 she said: “The city needs a long term, permanent solution to reduce pressure on the existing main line that is so often out of action, sometimes for days at a time, and to expand rail capacity between Sussex and London. There is a very strong economic and strategic case for this that will not just improve the transport links between Lewes and Uckfield, but will create new connections to take the pressure off the Brighton Line. It would benefit the environment, the Amex Stadium and the city’s economy.”
Labour’s Transport Spokesman Cllr Alan Robins was admirably honest in admitting: “When I first heard of the BML2 project, and reinstating the rail link between Lewes and Uckfield, I didn't take a lot of notice believing it was only of interest to a few railway enthusiasts. But the more I read the more interested I became – and I now believe it will be one of the most important political decisions to be made for Sussex in the next few years.”
Because BML2 will put Falmer station and the eastern environs of the City on a new main line, benefiting both the University of Sussex and the stadium, he added that the Council’s decision was also: “Great news for fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Fulham, West Ham and QPR if they are still there because it will provide a direct link between London the Amex Stadium when Brighton are promoted to premiership.”
Project manager Brian Hart said: “Having secured support from many local councils and now the most important unitary authority on the Brighton Line, we hope London will similarly follow suit and open talks with us about how BML2 can solve many of the region’s transport conundrums.”
Network Rail Sussex Route Plan reveals need for BML2
Published on Tuesday, 29 January 2013 07:34
Keymer Junction north of Brighton is just one ‘Key Capacity Constraint’ identified by Network Rail’s Sussex Route Plan on the BML.
Other severe constraints depicted here exist at Gatwick Airport, Redhill, Stoat’s Nest, Purley, South Croydon, East Croydon,
Windmill Bridge, and the route into London Victoria.
These are caused by flat junctions, conflicting train movements, lack of platform capacity – especially at termini.
“Our ultimate goal is to deliver a high level of customer satisfaction and advocacy for the service we offer.”
– Network Rail Sussex Route Team
Network Rail is not unsympathetic to many aspects of BML2, but so far it is reluctant to commit itself to a project where political will is still wanting. So, what’s really in store within its 97-page Sussex Route Plan taking us up to 2020?
The Sussex Route is rightly viewed as ‘A central part of the Network’ by Network Rail which describes it to be: “a ‘spine and rib’ Route with the Brighton Main Line (London Victoria to Brighton) as the spine with a series of ribs (the branch lines) connecting to it. The Route is easily the busiest and most densely congested of the whole network with an average of 10 trains per route-mile at any time of day.”
Today’s demands on the BML ‘spine’ are extreme and the infrastructure has to withstand a far greater strain and perform better than at any time during its 170-year existence. It explains: “Access for renewals and maintenance is already very constrained in Sussex, particularly on the Brighton Main Line slow lines, where ‘working times’ of just over 2 hours a night are available.”
There are also “challenges” at weekends and Network Rail says it understands why train operators and passengers, who rely very much on the Brighton Line, expect the published timetable to operate. However, because there is a need to gain access for renewals and refurbishments, they and the train operators need to find different “access regimes” which strikes a balance between: “costs of infrastructure work against the needs of passengers and revenue generation”. Ways of achieving this with train operators are being discussed, but to us it appears that without BML2 they are hurtling full-speed towards an inexorable crisis.
Not surprisingly, Sussex railways are the most congested in the UK because there have been no enhancements, line re-openings or new strategic links added. Network Rail says: “Sussex Route is one of the main commuter routes in the south of England, carrying approximately 51,000 people in each morning peak into the Central London employment zone from key commuter towns such as Brighton, Horsham, East Grinstead and stations in-between. Passenger growth has been 40 per cent in the last 10 years and is forecast to grow by a further 30 per cent in the next 10 years.”
The problem isn’t helped by Gatwick which dealt with 34 million passengers in 2012, anticipated to rise to 40 million by 2021 and probably more than 45 million by 2030 if a second runway is added. Gatwick operators understandably want greatly-enhanced express services to London, but we know that without BML2 these cannot be delivered.
Network Rail says the main infrastructure restriction to further growth in Sussex is not only a combination of the series of flat junctions along the Brighton Main Line, but capacity constraints between East Croydon and Victoria, as well as the terminus itself. It hopes to reveal plans to mitigate these problems – after 2020.
“The increasing number of trains operating on the Sussex Route network has had an adverse affect on the rate of asset degradation” it says. This means the railway is wearing out faster through over-use, partly because growth in the past five years (and despite a triple-dip recession) has been higher than they predicted. Network Rail says more investment is needed on signalling, relays, electrification upgrades etc.
Many ageing Brighton line bridges and structures will also need strengthening and in some cases complete reconstruction, whilst it is hoped to “de-conflict” several key junctions which notoriously cause problems on the BML. Among them are Keymer, Stoats Nest, Windmill Bridge (see Network Rail diagram above).
As we know, BML2 avoids all of these constraints, whilst a decade ago Connex chiefs said one of the key reasons for introducing their ‘Wealden Main Line’ was Keymer Junction.
The Sussex Route team says it “will also be working with Transport for London (TfL) on longer term strategy for new cross-London links”. Well, we have just such a proposal that will reap multiple benefits at one strike....
Not only has growth been higher than originally forecast, but delays have unexpectedly increased – and rueful mention is made of recent calamitous BML incidents at Balcombe and Croydon.
Despite the eventual introduction of longer trains with Thameslink (latest promise is 2018) these services will still be wholly reliant on that single core route to Brighton and the Sussex Coast. Network Rail says lightly: “asset performance will continue to be a challenge, and incidents causing significant disruption are likely to continue.” So don’t say you haven’t been warned...
Network Rail says that soon “there will be one principal operator on the Route, as opposed to the two operators who utilise the Brighton Mainline today. This change could generate greater opportunities for Alliancing and joint working with the new Train Operator.” Well, that used to be called British Rail, and before that, the Southern Railway (1923–47).
Attention is drawn to their 2010 London & SE Route Utilisation Strategy which predicts higher growth on main line and outer suburban than on inner suburban. Interestingly, the figures reveal: “significant growth in the outer commuter markets over the next 20 years, 37 per cent to London Victoria and 83 per cent to London Bridge during the high-peak hour.” This shows the shifting focus towards eastern London, Docklands, Canary Wharf, Stratford, etc.
With the volume of trains operating over the Sussex Route it is already “now realistically at capacity” says Network Rail. It also warns that with scheduled track renewals ahead, the Thameslink Programme, and other enhancements – “there will continue to be significant disruptive access required” – i.e. engineering works.
Unfortunately, this is going to be highly problematical on the BML with its two-hour night-time slots, whilst they meekly admit: “At present there is no compliant diversionary route for the Brighton Mainline”. They suggest the Arun Valley Line “will assist”, but avoid conceding that it is an extremely poor alternative indeed. Not only does it require reversing trains at either Littlehampton or Ford, but it adds 30 miles to the otherwise 50 mile direct journey between Brighton and London, whilst trains are fed back into the BML at Three Bridges with all the constraints north thereof.
Network Rail admits the infrastructure in Sussex “is not reliable enough for the very busy timetabled operations and the increasing numbers of passengers carried each day” but they hope they can improve it – “with the main renewals being on the strategically important Brighton main line”. Of course, the other side of this coin is years of disruptive engineering works with no viable supporting/alternative route in place.
It is perhaps ironic that page 72 of its ‘Sussex Route Plan’ pictures Brighton station, where we propose new platforms for BML2, showing the trackless platform 9 and the wasting space beyond for two new platforms beneath the City’s magnificent iron and glass canopy.
They admit the new power-hungry Thameslink trains are going to place an enormous strain on the electrical delivery system (750vDC third rail) which was never designed to manage such over-demand. A degree of power upgrading will take place, but not surprisingly the heavily-overloaded Brighton Line infrastructure: “poses a particular risk for train service disruption in the event of overheating/failure”.
In summing-up, it seems perfectly reasonable to conclude that the regular pattern of track failures, power-cuts, signalling faults, train breakdowns, weather and passenger incidents, etc, will continue along this over-loaded route until someone decides enough is enough and the South will get the political champions it needs.
Project Manager Brian Hart commented: “Eventually, BML2 will be built and when it is operational and booming we will all wonder how on earth we managed without it and why we didn’t do it sooner.”
McLoughlin denies sell-off a threat to Brighton Main Line 2
Published on Thursday, 24 January 2013 07:40
Land (coloured yellow) including the trackbed seen in the diagram and on which the train is running to Sussex in the picture has now been sold.
The Secretary of State for Transport has given a personal assurance that selling trackbed will not affect reopening the principal rail link between Kent and Sussex.
In a letter to Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark, the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin said “The former railway formation has the protection provided by clause 11.1 of the Conveyance” adding “This is also highlighted in the sales particulars”.
He assured Mr Clark “Therefore, should there be a future decision to construct Brighton Main Line 2, the sale of this land would make it no less likely.”
In November the Government refused a request by Labour Lord Berkeley for the trackbed to be transferred back into railway ownership, thereby safeguarding the rail corridor linking the two counties.
The vendors, a charitable trust called Railway Paths Ltd, was given the half-mile of trackbed linking Tunbridge Wells’ two stations in 2001 for just £1 by British Rail’s property board (BRBR). In its current annual report the charity gives its reasons for selling: ‘Current funds stand at £1.9 million and the trustees would like therefore to add £1.8 million to reserves over the next 5 years. It is hoped that this can be achieved through the sale of assets which are not required for charitable purposes.’
Because the Government is abolishing BRBR in April, the charity’s trustees believe they will be exposed and citing ‘Loss of support’ from BRBR.
We learn this week that the Tunbridge Wells land has recently been sold, so what happens next and whether the Transport Secretary’s guarantee is valid remain to be seen.
At the moment, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is currently inviting public comment (until 8 March) on its Draft Transport Strategy at: http://consult.tunbridgewells.gov.uk/portal/economic_development__regeneration/transtrat/transtrat
This says: ‘The former line between Tunbridge Wells West and Tunbridge Wells Central is safeguarded from development by Local Plan policy. This could be reopened in the future should demand require, as part of an upgrade to the Uckfield line, which could also include the reopening of the line between Uckfield and Lewes in East Sussex. Potential upgrades to this line could also include electrification.’
Regrettably, Tunbridge Wells still appears to perceive this route as a country branch line into Sussex, rather than it once being the Borough’s principal main line connection to London Victoria and the West End. It also fails to appreciate the benefits Tunbridge Wells would gain through the BML2 Project and seems ignorant that it now relies solely on the Tonbridge Main Line to London which is, according to Network Rail, ‘a major barrier to growth’.
Meanwhile in Sussex, town councillor Michael Harker has said it was “unfortunate that figures of £3 to £4 million had been publicised” by the Wealden Line Campaign following Rail Minister Simon Burn’s surprise announcement last month that Network Rail would have to pay “open market value” if it wanted Uckfield’s station site. The councillor said “the value of the land was likely to be in the region of £½ to £¾ of a million at the most”.
However, the Campaign is sceptical because this was its value 25 years ago. In 1988 British Rail reported: “An offer has been received for the present station and former goods yard site of £650,000”. That appraisal went on to say: “The British Rail Property Board is confident that they can obtain this price as a minimum”. At that time the Campaign was facing concerted opposition from Wealden District Council whose chief planners said: “The preferred use of the station is non-food retail warehouse.”
The estimate of £3m - £4m came directly from the property board, the BRBR, who own the site. In 2006 both Southern and Network Rail were trying to establish a large commuter car park on the site, but East Sussex County Council wanted the railway land for its Town Centre Gyratory road scheme. At that time BRBR informed us: “The County Council would feel obliged to oppose any application for a car park use if the access is from the High Street” whilst ESCC had also told BRBR “there are not sufficient grounds to warrant a larger station car park”. Accordingly, with Network Rail’s Commercial Development Manager being quoted this multi-million figure, he and Southern walked away as it was simply unrealistic.
BML2 Project Manager Brian Hart said: “There is a fundamental issue here that urgently-needed railway expansion and development for the public good is being frustrated by the Government who is denying Network Rail’s request for a straightforward ‘cost-neutral’ transfer. When Network Rail was created it took ownership of all lines, stations and railway assets in the UK – it wasn’t expected to ‘buy’ Brighton, Lewes, Eastbourne – or anywhere else for that matter. Uckfield belongs to the operational railway – it is not a money-making opportunity for treasury coffers.
This has gone well beyond a farce and transport ministers at the DfT need to cut through all this Whitehall nonsense now.”
London needs a fast North – South rail link
Published on Monday, 14 January 2013 00:00
Demand is fast outstripping capacity and radical decisions for London’s cross-regional rail network are needed.
East Surrey MP Sam Gyimah has asked Network Rail if it “supports reopening the Uckfield/Lewes/Brighton rail line”.
Corporate Communications responded: “Network Rail are in principle in favour of the aims of the campaign, however the obstacle remains the cost, which is in the region of £100m” and went on to explain: “A successful proposal would show a positive business case and clear funding streams but unfortunately the current options do not achieve either of these.”
But, only recently, Transport Minister Norman Baker raised more than a few eyebrows when he told RAIL magazine that the 2008 Lewes – Uckfield Reopening Study if put in computer terms “was a case of putting rubbish in, and getting rubbish out”.
BML2 project manager Brian Hart commented: “It’s not so much about rubbish but – to use David Cameron’s analogy – finding the right tin on the shelf to do the job. I think the study showed that the substantial cost of reopening can only be justified with the considerably greater benefits of BML2 – which means incorporating a direct link into Brighton through the South Downs. A line going into Lewes only is insufficient justification for Network Rail and the train operators because it cannot generate the necessary additional capacity between London and Brighton and effectively relieve the BML.”
With regard to BML2, Network Rail told Sam Gyimah: “We are aware of the BML2 Campaign and their suggestions for multiple options for the area, and have discussed these in some detail with Brian Hart, the Campaign’s leader. We have been working on capacity enhancements for the Brighton Main Line for some time; these are currently being reviewed by our timetabling colleagues to see if they will release some additional pathways. These capacity schemes are being developed for delivery in the financial period commencing April 2019.”
Meanwhile, Paul Clifton’s feature in RAIL magazine ‘BML2 – will it ever happen?’ continues to generate comment, whilst ‘All routes lead to Brighton’ in December’s Rail Professional (www.railpro.co.uk) stimulated tremendous interest in this key project for London and the South East as the widespread opportunities are steadily being appreciated.
At our recent meetings with train operators on both sides of our divided capital straddling the Thames, we’ve been able to show why Government and the industry need to take BML2 seriously. We’ve also been talking to colleagues within the industry who have given constructive advice and shown how BML2 could answer many problems.
Discussion about BML2’s three possible phases: Sussex – Kent – London is continuing. Perhaps not surprisingly, in 2010 Network Rail suggested the first phase would likely be Sussex because it was relatively straightforward in technical terms and delivery and there were no engineering obstacles to overcome.
However, it’s now beginning to emerge that the driving force behind BML2 will be at the other end. The main reason is the project’s extensive benefits for London and not least its major airports which are now competing for expansion and substantially faster and better links into and across the capital.
A number of factors are rapidly aligning themselves in BML2’s favour. Boris Johnson has ordered a £3m study into making Stansted a 4-runway hub airport, whilst its operators are pressing to have super-fast rail services to Crossrail at Stratford International. Equally insistent is Gatwick which has now unveiled plans to massively expand its operations with the construction of a second runway in 2019.
Whatever happens on the air capacity debate, both airports will continue to expand and, in doing so, will certainly need substantially better rail links than exist at present, otherwise such heavy investment risks being squandered. Without them, London’s position as a global commercial and financial centre will be badly compromised – a situation the Mayor will not countenance.
North of the Thames the East Anglian lines into London are overcrowded and unsatisfactory as witnessed by the demands being made by airline operators. Conditions are no better south of the river where BML commuters and airline-passengers jostle for space on trains, which must compete for trackspace on limited pathways into central London.
Network Rail and train operators know the Brighton Line is inadequate but, even with the long-overdue implementation of ‘Thameslink 2000’ the extra capacity promised by 2019 will soon be swallowed up. Added to this is continuing development around London and the South East – loading even more pressure on the rail network.
Ironically, Crossrail will further exacerbate the situation, driving yet more demand for rail services feeding into its east-west course beneath the capital. Farringdon, predicted to be Britain’s busiest interchange hub, will also become its most congested. The ‘Farringdon knot’ with its 24 trains per hour feeding through from destinations across the regions will quickly prove unable to cope, not least because Thameslink passengers will be taken there to gain access to Crossrail.
One of London’s greatest needs is a fast north–south main line rail corridor beneath the Thames to take the heat out of the core. It is also needed to support and enhance Crossrail.
Direct train services between the UK’s two major hubs at Stansted and Gatwick through Canary Wharf and Stratford – the capital’s fast-growing focus of growth – are simply a must and Transport for London cannot afford to overlook the prestigious ‘Stanwick’ concept. Airline operators and owners need to embrace the benefits such joint operation would provide with a unified, dedicated, fast and frequent shuttle operating between their two expanding hub airports connecting directly with Crossrail at Stratford International and Canary Wharf.
Counties on both sides of the current divide would be united, whilst enormous and unnecessary pressure would be taken off the overloaded Victorian routes feeding into central London.
Brian Hart said: “BML2 needs high-profile political champions who are prepared to back the scheme and bring together the engineers, the financiers and the visionary planners who can see through the current fog of apathy and current lack of direction.”