Rail Minister blocks Network Rail progress in South
Published on Wednesday, 02 January 2013 07:18
Direct Brighton – London train services once ran through here, but now the Government intends selling Uckfield rail land at ‘open market value’.
“I appreciate the potential benefits of opening up the line to the south coast through Uckfield”
– Chris Grayling MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport July 2006
Hopes for a future new station and a large, desperately-needed, car park for Sussex rail users at Uckfield have been dashed by the new Rail Minister Simon Burns, who has refused Network Rail’s request to have the land transferred into its ownership.
Following a meeting on 13 December at the Department for Transport between local council representatives, Wealden MP Charles Hendry and the Minister, a press release wasn’t issued by East Sussex County Council until Parliament had gone into the Christmas recess on 20 December. We therefore held comment in abeyance because this important issue cannot be buried. Only three words mattered in that press release which said:
‘The Transport Minister welcomed the plans for a new car park and said he would support the transfer of land from current owners, the British Rail Board Residuary, to Network Rail at “open market value” and at the earliest opportunity.’
On taking office, Prime Minister David Cameron announced he was abolishing the British Rail Board Residuary (BRBR) on his “bonfire of quangos” (the Public Bodies Act 2011) – a move which had the full backing of Network Rail.
In a consultation last May the DfT asked: “Do you agree that London & Continental Railways* is the entity best placed to manage the assets and related activities proposed to be transferred to it (if BRBR is abolished) and if not who else should manage these assets and the associated activities?”
[*London & Continental Railways (LCR) was the private company established in 1994 to build the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, now called HS1, but was bought out by the Government in 2009 and is now owned by the DfT]
Accordingly, Network Rail identified five key sites in the UK and told the DfT: “It is our view that for operational reasons and to safeguard future rail capacity needs, a number of properties proposed for transfer to LCR should be transferred to Network Rail, namely, Market Harborough, Folkestone West, Leeds Hunslet Down Sidings, Uckfield, and Glasgow Eastfield Depot.” All five are specifically important to improve the railways for public benefit and Network Rail provided a full explanation for each transfer.
Apart from the five sites which have potential commercial value (Uckfield being an example) the Government is keen to rid itself of other ‘assets’ such as the war memorials dedicated to the men and women employed as railway servants whose lives were sacrificed in the two World Wars. The DfT is pressing Network Rail to take responsibility for these.
No one anticipated that the Government expected Network Rail to buy these five sites – it could have applied to do this before if that was the case. And neither did Network Rail – which told the DfT:
“There is an assertion that the transfer of the properties, structures and war memorials will be cost neutral, but this will only be known once our due diligence has been completed. We have not had sight of any evidence that supports the assertion of cost neutrality. Similarly, there is an assertion that we will be compensated through the benefits we receive of owning the properties, but this will also only be known once our due diligence has been completed. Again, we have not had any sight of any evidence that supports this assertion.”
In respect of Uckfield, BRBR’s chairman Doug Sutherland told the Wealden Line Campaign in 2006: “I can advise you that we intend to market this land on a competitive basis”. More recently (July 2012) BRBR – this ‘wholly-owned subsidiary of the Secretary of State for Transport’ – says it still hopes that planning approval for “residential and/or commercial use” will be possible “in order to take advantage of the town centre location close to the station”.
BML2 project manager Brian Hart commented: “The strategic regional importance of the Uckfield line is widely acknowledged and if there’s any doubt then I’d suggest Simon Burns has a chat with his coalition partner, Transport Minister Norman Baker who will, I’m sure, make the case very strongly. Given the warm words we had from the Conservatives when in opposition, I’m appalled they’re now attempting to sell-off public assets. Clearly, it’s in the nation’s interest that Uckfield is handed over as soon as possible to Network Rail and I hope our Lib Dem Minister, regional MPs, councils and public alike will make their views known in the strongest possible terms.”
Trains across the south are filling up way beyond expectation; the rail network is grossly inadequate and car parks are being extended wherever possible. The Uckfield route is reaching bursting point and this has a direct knock-on effect on adjacent main lines into London. Ashurst and Eridge are now being expanded to cope with increasing demand from Tunbridge Wells whilst, only recently, a Southern spokesman said that, if there was room, then Three Bridges car park on the BML could be filled-up “three times over”.
Even if this could be done, Network Rail cannot overcome the enduring Brighton Line problem which it warned about in its 2010 Sussex Route Utilisation Strategy: “There is no case to develop major new large car parks on the Brighton Main Line as peak on-train capacity is likely to be reached between 2020 and 2026.”
Everyone agrees that Network Rail is best-placed to own and manage the Uckfield site – as with any other railway station. The Minister’s decision that it should instead be sold at “open market value” simply smacks of selling-off publicly-owned assets to the benefit of no one except Treasury coffers. BRBR was expecting to make between £3m – £4m out of Uckfield, but Network Rail could never make a business case for a 130-space car park at £30,000 per bay.
Along with above-inflation fare rises, this is not the good New Year message the south’s rail users expected – or deserve.
BML2: “a good idea” says industry voice
Published on Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:27
In 1985 the Thatcher Government acceded to British Rail’s application to close the main rail link between Sussex and Kent – which it had been steadily running down. BR said they could avoid spending £1.2m over 3 years on maintenance and would save another £140k by not renewing Grove Junction at Tunbridge Wells (shown here) where lines from Brighton and Hastings once diverged.
This critical land (in foreground) though described as ‘safeguarded’ is now being offered on the open market to the highest bidder.
The debate over the fate of strategic rail land at Tunbridge Wells continues. Kent on Sunday featured the issue, whilst BBC Radio Kent recently interviewed the Government’s Transport Minister Norman Baker; BML2’s Project Manager, and Sim Harris the Managing Editor of Railnews – ‘The voice of the industry’.
Its editor began by saying electrification was probably the biggest challenge facing BML2, pointing out that industry policy and Government are now moving away from DC third rail to AC overhead power supply whereby this raises significant incompatibility problems for the Southern Region’s extensive third rail system. “If you want to do the BML2 Project, electrification would appear to be essential” he said, commenting: “It would be a shame if this scheme has to hang on because electrification is changing, but that might be what happens.”
He is absolutely right of course and we intend addressing this subject in the New Year.
For the moment, though, the BBC interviewer wanted to focus on the immediate business of safeguarding the land so that Tunbridge Wells and its many commuters would not lose out on all the benefits of another London main line with BML2.
Sim Harris told her: “I think I can come down quite firmly here. Electrification apart, it’s a good idea and there’s a lot to be said for it and land that would be essential to the scheme I don’t think it should be sold off. I think that is wrong. It is short term. Yes, somebody can build some new houses on it, well there are other places in Tunbridge Wells where you’ll be able to build some new houses, I’m quite sure.”
He then aptly raised the difficulties confronting reopening lines where subsequent industrial and residential redevelopments have severely compromised rights of way. In the case of Tunbridge Wells he was most insistent: “We can see this coming a mile off. It should stay in a position where you could put the railway back. Let’s not make it much worse.”
He went further by saying: “Rail capacity is a big issue in Kent and Sussex – certainly we’re going to need more trains in the future if present trends are anything to go by, so let’s not stop a significant improvement by just allowing somebody now to step in and get in the way.”
Earlier that morning, Norman Baker told the BBC interviewer about his support for reopening the Uckfield-Lewes link as part of a new main line between London and Newhaven. He said: “It would certainly strengthen the case if we could open the line properly between Eridge and Tunbridge Wells and I was very sorry when that closed. That was actually quite a late closure and I was disappointed British Rail went ahead with that.”
The Minister was then asked: “Are you aware that lines from Tonbridge and Brighton into London are so overcrowded?” to which he responded: “Well, indeed, absolutely so – the railway is a victim of its own success.”
Later in the programme, Railnews’s editor commented: “Well it’s interesting to hear that Mr Baker is wholly in favour of it, I’m glad to hear it, but I’m wondering whether he’s speaking in his capacity as MP for Lewes or is he speaking as a Transport Minister? Because if he is, then that means that DfT transport policy is inclined to warm to this scheme and if they are then they should be intervening and making sure that this piece of derelict land is preserved.”
We earnestly wish such was the case. But the DfT seems to have misunderstood Lord Berkeley’s question tabled in the House of Lords on 12 November: “To ask HMG whether it will request the new owners of British Rail Property land to purchase the former track bed of the line between Tunbridge Wells central and West stations in order to safeguard a corridor for future expansion of the rail network between Kent and Sussex.”
However, a few days ago Earl Attlee, on behalf of HMG responded: “BRB Residuary does not own the former trackbed of the line in question”. Well, we know that.
London & Continental Railways (LCR) – a company owned by the Transport Secretary – will take over remaining assets once belonging to BRB. Lord Berkeley’s request was for this former BR land, now being sold on by Railway Paths for potential housing development, to be taken back into public ownership through the Secretary of State, perhaps with LCR.
Earl Attlee continued: “The National Planning Policy Framework states that: ‘Local Planning Authorities should identify and protect, where there is robust evidence, sites and routes which could be critical to developing transport infrastructure to widen transport choice’.”
This just excuses Government from any responsibility for safeguarding rail corridors in the nation’s interest and reveals an absence of strategy for specific routes with widely- acknowledged potential to strengthen and improve the network. And with one of the Government’s own transport ministers, Norman Baker, making the case himself – how clear does it have to be?
Local authorities aren’t qualified to plan future rail capacity – that’s not their job and they really shouldn’t be put in this position. Even where they have aspirational policies to protect routes within their boundaries, almost none has the power, let alone the will, to stand up to aggressive developers with well-paid QCs at their side – as we have seen in the past.
For its part, Railway Paths Ltd, which bought the half-mile rail corridor for £1 in 2001, claims it needs to raise money to meet its ‘significant maintenance liabilities’ and, as a charity, is required to obtain ‘best value’ for asset disposal.
Its chairman Ian White told us: ‘Most of the land in question in Tunbridge Wells did not carry a former railway line and the potential sale does not jeopardise the future of the railway line that runs through it. The route of the line itself is doubly protected, not only by the planning authority but also this absolute requirement for the Secretary of State to give authorisation for the land to be used in a way that would prevent the railway from being reopened.’
We disagree that the land is ‘doubly protected’ as Ian White suggests. We have no objection to the bulk of non-railway land being sold separately, but the trackbed – and that means its entire double-track formation – should not be included in this sale.
The preferable solution is for Network Rail to take ownership and we await a response to our request that they take custody of it – particularly as they’ve said they are not opposed to reopening the line subject to a robust business case.
Given the increasingly critical situation facing the South East’s overburdened network, there can be no further erosion of this important rail corridor.
Ministers facing questions over embarrassing rail land sale
Published on Tuesday, 20 November 2012 06:45
Once the main rail connection between Kent and Sussex until run down in the 1960s and finally closed in 1985.
This strategic link is important for BML2.
Lord Berkeley, chairman of the Rail Freight Group and columnist in Railway Magazine, is questioning the Government over yet another embarrassing sale of strategic railway land - this time in Tunbridge Wells.
In the last few days he has tabled: “To ask HMG whether it will request the new owners of British Rail Property land to purchase the former track bed of the line between Tunbridge Wells Central and West stations in order to safeguard a corridor for future expansion of the rail network between Kent and Sussex”
This represents a specific request for the Secretary of State for Transport to take back vitally-important BR land at Tunbridge Wells which a charitable body hopes to sell at astronomic profit.
Given the Coalition Government’s professed commitment to protecting strategic rail corridors in the nationwide interest, this is a question which neither the Conservatives nor Liberal Democrats can evade. The issue is featured nationally in the latest RAIL, whilst this week the Kent & Sussex Courier covered the unfolding story.
As we recently reported, this immensely important transport corridor, which joins Kent with East Sussex and Surrey, once belonged to the nation as part of British Rail. However, BR’s Property Board was abolished, replaced by a quango called the British Rail Board Residual Ltd (BRBR) which began disposing of non-operational assets, many of them valuable development sites. Having no use for the linear strip of land which once connected Tunbridge Wells’s two main railway stations (Central and West), a surreptitious deal was struck with Railway Paths Ltd (RPL) – ‘a charity established to take ownership of disused railway lines from BRBR’.
RPL claims its remit is to ‘preserve, restore, maintain and protect for public benefit, structures and buildings on land owned by the charity’ as well as ‘make available for public benefit routes, roads and paths suitable for walking, cycling, horse riding’ etc. RPL is also required to support Sustrans, but - most importantly - it has an undertaking with the Secretary of State ‘to safeguard for potential future public transport use the disused railway lines in its ownership.’
The sale of the half-mile corridor in Tunbridge Wells, which included a large triangle of dense woodland near the former Grove junction (where the Hastings and Brighton lines once diverged) occurred unknown to anyone, passing quietly from BRBR to Railway Paths in April 2001 for the sum of just £1.
We were interested to see that BRBR’s ‘Director of Property Sales and Management’, Greg Beecroft, happens to be a Trustee of Railway Paths, whilst Howard Jones, Director of Estates at RPL is reported in this week’s Courier saying: “A residential development is most likely and it would give us the best financial outcome.”
It most certainly would.
Eleven years on, RPL is set to make an outrageous profit – and at enormous public expense, so it is hardly surprising that councillors in Sussex and Kent have expressed their anger at this prospect.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Tunbridge Wells MP, The Rt Hon Greg Clark, is now writing to Transport Minister Norman Baker – “to ask him about the legal status of this land.” But we are perfectly aware of the legal and supposedly binding clauses contained within the conveyance, having purchased a Land Registry copy in 2007. As we have witnessed in the past, though, these ‘protections’ can be over-ridden.
The question should be – why is this ‘safeguarded’ land being offered on the open market to the highest bidder by this so-called ‘charity’ (clearly on course to make an enormous profit) – and especially when all the taxpayer received back in 2001 was £1?
Efforts to persuade Kent County Council to take a strategic interest have so far been rebuffed. Despite having a ‘Principal Transport Planner – Rail’ sadly he, Stephen Gasche, showed little vision or concern and simply passed the buck: “I understand the point you are making about the land between Tunbridge Wells Central and West stations. While neither Kent County Council nor Tunbridge Wells Borough Council would be in a position to purchase this land, it would be the responsibility of the latter council as the planning authority to safeguard the land in its Local Plan if it chose to do so.”
TWBC’s Chief Executive William Benson was more cooperative, saying his colleagues have spoken with East Sussex County Council and Network Rail. A statement from TWBC reads:
“The Tunbridge Wells Central to Eridge Railway Line is safeguarded under 2006 Local Plan Policy TP13 and the line is a longer-term aspiration for the Council. The Council will seek to robustly defend any part of the redundant line from development, which would prevent its successful future operation as a rail route.”
Clearly, the inclusion of the word “seek” provides no guarantee whatsoever, whilst, with the greatest respect, TWBC really should be taking far greater interest in BML2 and appreciating that as well as the Eridge section, the Ashurst connection (closed 1969) joining into the Uckfield line needs equal protection. This is because it would restore the Royal Borough’s other direct main line into central London and potentially Canary Wharf and Crossrail with BML2’s London Phase.
Network Rail told TWBC that it is “not opposed to the reopening of the line, subject to the development of a robust business case which is predicated on sufficient passenger demand and the alleviation of existing capacity constraints into and out of London.”
Restoring this main line from Tunbridge Wells West to London (BML2) is the only way of relieving the congested Tonbridge – Sevenoaks – Orpington route which Network Rail says is “a major barrier to growth” in its 2010 Kent Route Utilisation Strategy. This study even contemplates withdrawing all stopping services from Dunton Green, Knockholt and Chelsfield stations. It also says that ‘Schemes such as advanced signalling systems and other infrastructure enhancements have been considered, but no evidence has been found that additional trains could run on this route as a result’; whilst concluding: ‘no viable scheme has been identified which would increase the peak level of service on the Tonbridge Main Line.’
Offers for the Tunbridge Wells railway land are being sought by 30 November by London agents Lambert Smith Hampton, whilst The Courier reports Railway Paths’ Estates Director Howard Jones saying: “We’re aware of the interest in reopening the line, though I don’t know how likely that is to happen.”
Lord Berkeley’s application for the land to be transferred to the Secretary of State for Transport and thus the nation is in the public interest. Strategic and nationally important rail corridors cannot be left in the weak custody of local authorities where the evidence clearly shows they are incapable of safeguarding them – even if they are minded to do so.
This matter must not be brushed aside or fudged by either the Rail Minister or the Secretary of State for Transport and we trust the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition Government will act swiftly and decisively in acting upon Lord Berkeley’s request.
Regional rail triumphs over local road
Published on Thursday, 01 November 2012 06:25
“It is one of the few corridors that is largely unbreached” – Network Rail
The worrying threat of an unpopular local road scheme breaching the trackbed of the only alternative to the overloaded Brighton Line has been quashed. Following its public consultation, East Sussex County Council has withdrawn a plan to build a new road across the all-important station site in the centre Uckfield. A letter in July from the British Rail Board Residuary, confirmed that ESCC “has recently decided not to proceed with this.”
Instead, joint efforts are now underway to provide, as soon as possible, a large temporary car park containing 139 spaces in the former goods yard. It is anticipated that work should begin in early spring, subject to approval from the local planning authority – Wealden District Council – which is strongly backing the proposal.
The land, currently in possession of the soon-to-be-abolished ‘quango’ the British Rail Board Residuary (a company owned by the Secretary of State for Transport) is due to be passed to London & Continental Railways (a company also owned by the Secretary of State for Transport). However, Network Rail has recently asked for ownership “for operational reasons and to safeguard future rail capacity needs” whereby efforts are now being made to persuade the Government and senior civil servants at the Department for Transport to sensibly hand over the land to Network Rail.
Only last month, Lord Berkeley tabled a question in the House of Lords, asking the Government to accede to Network Rail’s request so that progress can be made, not only in protecting future capacity needs between London and the Sussex Coast, but help ease the plight of commuters on the Uckfield – London services. Unfortunately, Earl Attlee, speaking on behalf of the Government, declined.
Nevertheless, East Sussex County Council and Wealden District Council are firmly behind Network Rail’s bid and proposals, whereby Wealden MP Charles Hendry has told the councils he will facilitate a meeting between them and the new Rail Minister Simon Burns so they can press their case.
Detailed plans for the car park have now been drawn up whereby access will be via the original entrance to the station yard and in front of the historic pub, which is also saved from demolition following the abandonment of the original damaging road scheme.
Revised plans showing an eventual road bridging a reopened railway have been produced by ESCC which now appears to appreciate the importance of doing nothing to hinder reinstating the railway. During its public consultation in the spring, people from across the region made it very clear that restoration of train services to Brighton, which ceased in 1969, is of prime importance. The new plan allows sufficient room for Uckfield’s station to be relocated to its original site, west of the High Street, which Network Rail said was the preferred location in its engineering assessment in the 2008 Reinstatement Study. This shows two 12-car platforms, a footbridge with lifts, as well as the new station building re-erected in a new position.
However, whereas welcome progress in the right direction is at long last being made in Uckfield, there has emerged this week another potential threat – this time in Tunbridge Wells.
Here, a section of the strategic corridor linking the former West and Central stations in the Borough has suddenly been put on the freehold market with London property agents Lambert Smith Hampton who describe it having “Potential for amenity use or development subject to consents”.
This used to be the principal main railway connection between Kent and Sussex, but was gradually run down by British Railways after the impending Oxted Line Electrification Scheme of 1962-3 (South Croydon-Oxted-Lewes-Tunbridge Wells) was unexpectedly abandoned when Ernest Marples was Minister of Transport.
The route’s function was further seriously weakened with the closure of the Uckfield – Lewes section and the withdrawal of direct services between Tunbridge Wells West and London in 1969. Although the remaining cross-border Tonbridge – Uckfield line shuttle service proved useful locally, the policy of closure by stealth was continued until it was deemed expendable in 1982 by British Rail, finally closing in 1985.
The route’s strategic potential remains, despite being vastly unappreciated, whilst its current ignominious function is operating at weekends for enthusiasts, with Sainsbury’s making very poor use of the expansive site at the Borough’s still-glorious Tunbridge Wells West station, itself humiliated into a themed pub.
In April 2001, the remaining link eastwards joining into the Hastings Line was transferred from the British Rail Board Residuary to a registered charity called Railway Paths Ltd for the nominal sum of £1. The deeds contain a covenant “not to develop any former railway formations which form part of the Property in such a way as materially to prejudice the reopening of the line for public rail use in the foreseeable future at a commercially viable cost” etc. But, as we have rued so many times in the past, councils are very reluctant to spend money standing up to a developer’s QC arguing the finer points of just what constitutes “protection” whereby the integrity of such routes can be virtually destroyed.
Railway Paths Ltd lists amongst it aims the preservation of former railway structures on its land and to make these routes available for walking, horse-riding, etc. It also supports Sustrans and, furthermore: “has an undertaking with the Secretary of State to safeguard for potential future public transport use the disused railway lines in its ownership.”
Quite why it is now apparently hoping to profit, possibly handsomely, by selling this important public asset which it obtained for £1, is a question worth asking. Perhaps Greg Beecroft, one of Railway Paths Trustees, who is also ‘Director of Property Sales and Management’ at British Rail Board Residuary, can elucidate.
In July, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council was presented with a ‘Town Plan’ by an advisory panel of councillors, influential local experts, architects, etc. We were pleased to read the following statement: “Do not give up hope that a potentially significant positive gain could be achieved by reinstating rail links to the south of the town via Tunbridge Wells West, even if the present national government has not yet committed to it.”
Among the panel’s key recommendations: “Support any opportunities to restore rail links to the Southern/Sussex hinterland.”
Further on it encouragingly explains: “Improvement of rail links to the natural hinterland south of Tunbridge Wells, especially Crowborough, an expanded town which is a natural satellite to Tunbridge Wells is seen as desirable. Reinstatement of rail links via Tunbridge Wells West (severed only in 1985) would seem a target worth pursuing in a period of unprecedented growth in rail travel. Long term reconnection to Lewes and Brighton would tie Tunbridge Wells into the large South Coast population where road connections are presently fairly poor.”
It should also be appreciated that we are not just talking about restoring useful rail links southwards into Sussex. As part of the BML2 Project, Tunbridge Wells would be a key beneficiary, regaining its principal main line station at the West with direct services via Oxted to London’s Canary Wharf following the pursuance of BML2’s London Phase.
Reopening the main line out of Tunbridge Wells is the only realistic way of relieving the Tonbridge Line, one of Network Rail’s ‘Major barriers to growth’, overcoming the insurmountable problem of the restricted Tonbridge – Orpington section.
We hope TWBC will now take greater interest in developing its rail connections, whilst a good start could be the purchase and safeguarding of this vital transport corridor.
Transport Minister condemns new railway through his constituency
Published on Monday, 15 October 2012 07:28
The South Down’s Clayton tunnel is just one constraint to increasing capacity on the BML south of Three Bridges.
But Transport Minister Baker insists there’ll be no new tunnelling in his constituency.
The major feature on Brighton Main Line 2 in RAIL magazine by BBC award-winning transport journalist Paul Clifton reflects increasing and widespread interest in the project. His thought-provoking analysis included comment from Network Rail, Passenger Focus, East Sussex County Council and the Campaign for Better Transport. However, Transport Minister Norman Baker’s comments have proved most contentious.
The Lewes Lib Dem MP told Paul Clifton: “I don’t think Brian Hart’s grandiose scheme has a hope of happening.” He also said “I think it [BML2] undermines the case for Lewes – Uckfield being reinstated because it is not realistic.”
The 2008 Reinstatement Study, managed by East Sussex County Council’s ‘Rail Project Board’ in association with consultants Mott MacDonald, produced a very weak business case for reopening. But the Minister told RAIL “If you put that study in computer terms, it was a case of putting rubbish in and getting rubbish out.” Well, he should know.
Norman Baker was given a principal role on the Rail Board, with full voting rights assigned to him throughout the process. However, when the highly-supportive pro-rail councils of Lewes, Crowborough and Uckfield asked for similar authority, he supported ESCC’s decision to exclude them – conceding merely ‘observer’ status. And this was despite all three towns having jointly contributed £50,000 – representing 40% of the Study’s cost – and double the amount from ESCC (which it afterwards attempted to claw back).
Although the Study’s conclusions are still disputed, the argument from the DfT and the rail industry against reopening Uckfield to Lewes remains ‘trains would face the wrong way’ – towards Eastbourne instead of Brighton.
Network Rail says it cannot back schemes which don’t have a business case, such as reopening Uckfield to Lewes, although its Lead Strategic Route Planner for Sussex, Chris Rowley told RAIL: “We recognise that there could well be need for it in the future” – suggesting the mid-2030s.
Even so, there was cold comfort for those anticipating Network Rail’s urgent attention to problems in Surrey, Sussex and Kent because they are concentrating resources on South West lines out of Waterloo. Rowley said: “So the Brighton Main Line might not be the highest priority for new relief routes south of the River Thames even when we get to 2030.”
Meanwhile, the Brighton Line’s predicament just worsens. Back in 2007, Network Rail investigated converting the route for double-deck trains, calculating £2 billion for the rolling stock and infrastructure involving seven new tunnels, including one through the South Downs at Clayton near Brighton. An alternative scheme for operating extremely long (16 car) trains had a similar price tag, due to extending platforms, relocating points, signalling etc.
Worse still, either scheme would be hugely disruptive, requiring a complete six-month shutdown of the Brighton Line during conversion. This alone would cost £183m in penalty payments to train operators, whilst Network Rail’s conclusion? – even slower services with still no additional or alternative route.
BML2’s £315m Sussex Phase is reasonably affordable and would take pressure off neighbouring routes. It also needs just one tunnel – not at Clayton, but six miles east at Ashcombe – enabling the under-utilized Uckfield line to be extended directly into Brighton, providing the shortest alternative route and serving a developing corridor with useful connections elsewhere. BML2 radically improves the business case, whilst Lewes and Eastbourne also gain an alternative route on the back of the bigger project.
Despite this, Norman Baker remains as hostile as ever towards BML2, telling Paul Clifton: “He [Brian Hart] likes drawing lines on maps, which causes a huge amount of money to be deployed and causes huge amounts of controversy.”
He said: “I’m getting complaints from Lewes about tunnelling under people’s houses. That’s not going to happen in a million years.” But he knows the proposed Ashcombe tunnel, to facilitate increased services between London and Brighton, goes nowhere near housing and passes entirely beneath chalk downland.
His position is not only regrettable but increasingly difficult to comprehend. We don’t know why he is so strongly against Brighton having a direct secondary/alternative main line to London.
At a fringe event at the recent Lib-Dems’ Conference in Brighton, the Birmingham Mail reported: ‘High speed rail will be good for the environment and the economy, Transport Minister Norman Baker has insisted.’
And only last month he told BBC Sussex Radio: “The high speed line is not about saving journey time, it’s about the capacity issues north of London and the high speed line is actually the best answer to capacity issue.”
The merits or otherwise of the £34 billion High Speed 2 project isn’t the question, but Norman Baker also told BBC Sussex listeners that BML2’s proposed 2½ mile link towards Brighton (£84m) would be “very, very expensive” and would also be “very controversial – and the last thing we want is a controversial line”.
So why is it controversial to tunnel under the South Downs for a moderately-priced ordinary railway, but not through the Chilterns or Cotswolds for a multi-billion high speed line? A case of not in my constituency?
As Transport Minister he is doing his utmost to deny everyone living in the centre of East Sussex, west Kent and eastern Surrey the benefits of direct, fast services into Brighton. Students could reach the universities by train and residents quick access into the city for shopping, entertainment and leisure. Sports fans (even from as far away as London) would have direct trains to Falmer’s hugely-successful Amex Stadium. But maybe it’s no surprise because Norman Baker also notoriously opposed Brighton’s stadium being built there.
Clearly, he would rather people drove through Lewes and is intent on denying others the wonderful convenience of a direct, super-efficient railway into Brighton. He told his conference delegates “Actually, growth of the economy comes largely from green investment.” But in his world that evidently applies only to high-speed lines elsewhere and not conventional railways in his patch.
He insists Uckfield line passengers should have to go into Lewes and then change onto another train to reach Brighton and vice versa. How incensed he would be if Brighton’s MPs demanded all trains should go into Brighton with none bypassing the city by running directly between Haywards Heath and Lewes.
BML2 is extremely important for the south east for all manner of reasons: relieving the Tonbridge and the Brighton main lines; opening up new routes into London’s business heartland; improving Gatwick’s links and connecting with Stansted as one dedicated shuttle; for growth and prosperity through London’s eastern sector; building upon Crossrail’s success; opening the way for ‘Thameslink 2’ and relieving the Blackfriars core.
But for that we need leaders with political vision – and a modicum of business acumen.
BML2 – will it ever happen? RAIL investigates!
Published on Tuesday, 02 October 2012 07:09
“There is simply no room on the tracks to squeeze in more services.” – Paul Clifton
This week, the UK’s highly-successful journal RAIL features a major investigation into the Brighton Main Line 2 Project.
Paul Clifton, BBC South’s Transport Correspondent, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and for many years a leading contributor to Rail Professional has now joined Britain’s biggest-selling modern railways magazine.
His extensive six-page well-illustrated, in-depth feature is published on Wednesday 3 October. As Clifton says on RAIL’s website:
“The Brighton Main Line is pretty full. That much is obvious to any passenger who travels in the peak.
To train drivers, the evidence is even more glaring. Take a cab ride from Brighton at 0730, and you are unlikely to see even one green signal all the way to London. And for much of the journey, the train in front will be clearly visible. This is what a train jam looks like… and it is just as serious as the traffic jam on the parallel M23.
There is simply no room on the tracks to squeeze in more services. Once Thameslink’s delayed Siemens trains arrive, almost all services will have 12 carriages - the maximum length possible.
Modifying several junctions and fitting in-cab signalling could help slightly. But Network Rail believes it will merely delay the day when one of Britain’s most congested railway corridors reaches bursting point.
For 25 years Brian Hart has campaigned for the more-or-less parallel route through Uckfield to be reinstated as an alternative link between London and the South Coast. Now a branch line, it used to connect to Lewes. But the idea was squashed by a 2008 Network Rail report that said there was no viable business case.
Hart was deflated, but not defeated. With the route through East Sussex constrained by a lack of capacity closer to London, it was reinvented as a new scheme, with major changes north of East Croydon.
What Hart now proposes is far more grandiose - and far more costly… Brighton Main Line 2.”
Paul Clifton has interviewed Network Rail; Passenger Focus; the Campaign for Better Transport; and East Sussex County Council who speak about BML2 as well as the enormous problems confronting the south’s overburdened and overcrowded rail network.
However, whereas Lord Bassam of Brighton is backing the project for the enormous benefits it would bring – not only to the ever-popular City by the Sea, but to the whole South East – the Lewes MP and Transport Minister Norman Baker is scathingly critical about BML2.
Project Manager Brian Hart said: “Many people will be disappointed when they read about Norman Baker’s deep-seated opposition to people who live in the centre of East Sussex, Western Kent and Eastern Surrey enjoying the enormous benefits of having direct trains into Brighton. Similarly, he rules out a direct alternative line to London for the City of Brighton.”
We will comment further on the Lewes MP’s stance and people’s reaction once they have read Paul Clifton’s excellent analysis.
Network Rail takes first step towards BML2
Published on Monday, 24 September 2012 07:50
Uckfield station shortly before closure in 1991 and looking towards Lewes (the current single-line terminus is behind camera). All buildings were demolished in 2001 and today the site is wholly overgrown. Had the 2008 Reopening Study proved positive then a new station with dual-track and two 12-car platforms would have been built here by Network Rail.
‘It is our view that for operational reasons and to safeguard future rail capacity needs, a number of properties proposed for transfer to London & Continental Railways should be transferred to Network Rail’
Land essential for Brighton Main Line 2 will once again be an integral part of national rail infrastructure. Cross-party political representation is urging the Government to obligingly grant ownership of the strategic Sussex site to Network Rail following its formal application to the DfT.
Uckfield is among just five key locations in England and Scotland which Network Rail has specifically asked the DfT to transfer into their custody from the former British Rail Property Board, which is one of the ‘quangos’ being abolished by David Cameron’s administration. A submission from NR’s London headquarters says Uckfield, in their view, is required “for operational reasons and to safeguard future rail capacity needs”.
This is tremendously welcome news, not least because it finally removes the threat of non-rail redevelopment which has been hanging over this land for almost thirty years. This began back in 1985 when the station was still open and a planning application for a massive 20,000 sq ft superstore was lodged, whereupon East Sussex County Council prepared to rescind the trackbed protection policy. However, the Wealden Line Campaign urged councillors to continue safeguarding the route and, by a narrow majority, the application was refused. Once the station was moved across the road and the site became derelict, subsequent attempts to build houses and flats have all been fought, whilst the most recent threat has come from ESCC’s own road scheme.
In May, ESCC held a consultation on local traffic solutions for Uckfield, one of which controversially involved building a new road right across the station site, but the public’s overwhelming message was reopening the railway must take priority. In June, we had an informal meeting with a senior ESCC director to find common ground where alternative proposals were suggested, aimed at providing a proper transport hub around the reopened railway.
This initiative resulted in a wider meeting in mid-July between various councils at which ESCC conceded that severing the trackbed would be tantamount to “political suicide”. Network Rail then revealed its intention regarding the station site. Suddenly the concept of creating a transport hub for integrating trains, buses, taxis, etc, as well as accommodating ESCC’s aspirations for improving local traffic, was universally welcomed and deemed the way forward.
Wealden District Council has since written to Transport Minister and Lewes MP Norman Baker seeking his support and influence, pointing out the “unique opportunity” to facilitate Uckfield’s growth, provide a local traffic solution, as well as “the potential to ease what is becoming a significant issue for all users of the London – Brighton line and other Southern rail services due to overcrowding.”
The letter also mentions the District and County Council’s support for reinstating the railway and not permitting “any development which would thwart that objective”. Whilst accepting there appears to be no business case at the moment, it recognizes “the evidence is clearly mounting” to find alternative solutions to congestion on the rail network.
We commend Wealden District Council for adopting this strong position and speaking warmly of Network Rail’s application, saying this could “really begin to lay the foundations” for reopening and “providing a deliverable alternative to the resolution of problems on existing critical rail links between the City and the South Coast.”
In the House of Lords, Labour Lord Tony Berkeley has given support by tabling the following question: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following its consultation on the proposed transfer of properties from BRBR to London and Continental Railways, whether it will accede to Network Rail’s request to receive the Uckfield station lands in order to safeguard future rail capacity needs there.”
Upon Network Rail taking possession of the land, the first step would be the provision of badly-needed temporary commuter car parking within the former goods yard. Network Rail says it already has the finance in place for this to proceed and would be best-placed to safeguard the railway route through the site, ensuring no encroachment.
In order to stress the importance of this transfer happening as soon as possible, Wealden District Council’s Head of Planning Policy and Environment has written to Uckfield MP Charles Hendry, asking him to facilitate a meeting between the new Rail Minister Simon Burns and a small delegation. Meanwhile, in a communication from Network Rail, Charles Hendry was told “Network Rail is indeed keen to re-acquire the old Uckfield railway station site.”
We trust there will now be a swift and positive response from the Minister, bringing to a close over twenty-seven years of uncertainty, as well as anxiety for all those who want rail services restored.
BML2’s project manager said: “Ownership of Uckfield had to be the first major step, whilst it’s blatantly clear that only BML2 can deliver substantial new rail capacity into London. Once this premise is accepted, we can start building towards a greatly enhanced and more robust Southern network.”
£315m to start Brighton Main Line 2
Published on Monday, 17 September 2012 19:36
Due to unprecedented interest, the Department for Transport had to extend its consultation for the new franchise combining Thameslink & Southern. However, great things must not be expected because no train operator can provide the fundamental improvements the network requires.
Until the Government through the DfT invests significant sums of money in the region, the underlying intractable problems cannot be solved. The enduring weaknesses of both the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines – Network Rail’s ‘major barriers to growth’ – are exposed by the DfT’s warning that the system cannot support any increase in services.
Recently-displaced Rail Minister Theresa Villiers admitted the Thameslink Programme was no long term solution – but this is what the railway desperately needs. So the overwhelming problem of insufficient track capacity remains unresolved.
A 30% increase in demand by 2020 from rail and air passengers using the Brighton Line looks increasingly like a serious underestimation. A fortnight ago, the Office of Rail Regulation reported a 5.4% increase in passenger journeys on London & South East services during April-June, whilst the number of passengers travelling ‘in excess of capacity’ has risen by 3.2%.
Of course, more people using trains should be wonderful news, because all political parties encourage this, but the Government and its Ministers – who insist having control over our railways – are failing the south and here’s why.
The DfT admits there are many problems with this franchise. For example it warns: The BML timetable pattern and the volume of service is dictated by the Thameslink core through Blackfriars. (Effectively capping growth on the capital’s north – south corridor).
No room to run any more trains than operate today. (That’s unacceptable – growing demand needs to be accommodated).
The constraint of the two-track only Brighton – Three Bridges section. (Clear evidence that a second Brighton main line is urgently required).
A need to improve performance and reliability on the BML. (Quite impossible until the strain is eased with BML2).
The continuing vulnerability of the BML during emergencies and the absence of an efficient and effective diversionary route. (Having no solution is a glaring failure).
The DfT also says: “The Government believes good connectivity with our major airports is essential” – but this is impossible to provide on the BML, which is why BML2’s London Phase linking Gatwick and Stansted with direct shuttle services through Canary Wharf and Stratford needs investigation.
So what needs to be done? We believe political short-termism is seriously harming the railway. Until far-sighted schemes are in place, the refranchising process risks being a wasteful, irrelevant and unpopular label-changing exercise.
Lack of capacity, the need to tackle constraints and bottlenecks with solutions which work are challenges for Government and rail industry, whilst those contracted to run our trains should be looking to tap into vibrant new markets.
The 2008 Study needs reappraising, but will reach the same conclusions unless Network Rail factors in BML2. The project’s direct link into Brighton changes the entire business case, making it extremely robust. We’re advised the phasing should be: Sussex, Kent, and then London.
The Sussex Phase alone achieves an immediate increase in capacity whereby BML2 trains could start at Brighton. Better utilisation of the Uckfield line’s six peak hour paths into London would be just the start, as this table shows:
This has no detrimental impact on East Croydon or London terminals. Having all 12-car trains start from Brighton is purely illustrative, some could start from Eastbourne, or 8 cars from Brighton and 4 from Eastbourne might join at Uckfield. With Phase One open, Sussex would instantly gain the fastest and shortest alternative route.
The future opening of the London Phase would enable a dramatic increase in services operating widely across Sussex, Kent and Surrey.
COSTING THE INITIAL SUSSEX PHASE:
All are ‘base case’ figures used in the 2008 Study which do not include Network Rail’s 30% for ‘contingencies’ or the DfT’s insistence on adding a 60% ‘optimism bias’.
This Phase requires the redoubling of single-line sections (totalling 12½ miles) on the Hurst Green – Uckfield section, electrification, and extending direct routes into Lewes and Brighton.
Redoubling and electrifying Hurst Green – Uckfield (25 miles) would cost £85m. Reopening Uckfield – Lewes (7½ miles) as electrified double track would cost £143m.
Using these same infrastructure costs, the new 2½ mile electrified double-track link towards Brighton would cost £87m. The costliest item is Ashcombe tunnel (£53m – based on Arup’s North Downs tunnel on HS1).
Altogether this totals £315m. To this, Network Rail would add 30% and the DfT 60% thus raising it to £656m. This provides a new main line between London and the South Coast. Put into context, remodelling and upgrading Reading station is costing £895m, whilst the Birmingham Gateway project is £600m.
An early political decision favouring BML2 is needed, but an immediate first step must be Network Rail securing strategic land at Uckfield – as urged back in June by Lord Berkeley.
Planning the Kent Phase must also start, as should exploration of BML2’s London Phase. This strategic corridor through eastern London as part of Crossrail’s further development at Stratford is essential. The entire BML2 scheme could then be in place well before 2030.
Squandering £Ms on re-branding trains, stations etc, does absolutely nothing for everyone who daily struggle on overcrowded lines into London.
DfT says “Innovative and exciting” BML2 would need ‘Major Project’ funding
Published on Tuesday, 11 September 2012 07:16
A fresh approach, renewed vigour and innovation are given as reasons for David Cameron’s reshuffle whereupon Transport Secretary Justine Greening and Rail Minister Theresa Villiers have been replaced by Patrick McLoughlin and Simon Burns respectively.
But, halfway through this administration, should we really expect any noticeable difference, or more of the same? One thing is for certain, we certainly need far-sighted strategists with imagination and ideas for lasting solutions to combat the growing crises on main lines feeding into London from the south.
The Department for Transport’s recent statement that BML2’s visionary Lewisham – Canary Wharf – Stratford connection “might just have such a case” has brought its London Phase sharply into focus within the capital. The Mirror Group’s publication The Wharf recently featured BML2, reporting: ‘Trains linking Canary Wharf direct to Gatwick and Stansted could be the next step of the area's transport network.’ Even so, a DfT spokesman told The Wharf they currently had no plans for this to happen and it would be up to the rail industry to make the case for BML2.
Meanwhile, although fully acknowledging widening public support for the “innovative and exciting” project, the DfT says this “would move the scheme into the ‘Major Project’ category, competing for funds with other cross-London tunnelling schemes.”
Well, that’s perfectly true, but BML2 is a key project for London and the South East – on both sides of the Thames – and deserves genuine Government interest and involvement. The DfT contends: “It is precisely because no affordable solution has been found that BML2 is not being taken forward by any of the railway industry bodies.”
But an “affordable solution” will have to be found – whilst nothing else comes anywhere near delivering BML2’s enormous range of benefits.
In June, the now-departed Minister, Theresa Villiers, signed-off a feeble response to Brighton and Hove MP Mike Weatherley which clearly misunderstood BML2. This said: “The London routes to which the promoters propose to connect BML2 are already full – at peak times at least. BML2 trains might be routed via East Croydon or via Tonbridge. However, in either case, they would have to replace existing trains between Croydon/Tonbridge and London.”
No they wouldn’t.
BML2 services would use the closed former main line from Tunbridge Wells via Ashurst/Oxted to London, thus relieving the Tonbridge Main Line which is Kent’s ‘major barrier to growth’ according to Network Rail. Similarly, BML2 can also bypass the notorious ‘Croydon bottleneck’ by reopening the hugely-important link through South East London to Lewisham. Back in 1900, when Redhill similarly became a congested bottleneck, the Victorians acted swiftly and decisively by building the 7-mile non-stop ‘Quarry Line’ – effectively speeding trains through to London and Brighton.
Theresa Villiers’ letter also said: “The BML2 promoters have suggested several imaginative ways to reach the outskirts of London. However, they have not been able to find a credible solution that would enable BML2 trains to reach central London. Without such a solution it would not be possible for BML2 to find a role as a relief to the Brighton Line.”
That is another misunderstanding of the project’s strategy.
Where exactly is “central London”? Is it Victoria? Is it Waterloo? Is it perhaps London Bridge, or Paddington, or Liverpool Street? Or even St Pancras International?
As we all know, commuters use numerous termini and then often have to travel miles across London by tube, bus, taxi, cycle, etc, to their place of work. However, thousands are obliged to journey many miles into “central London” in order to reach workplace destinations such as Canary Wharf.
With the arrival of Crossrail, the whole picture changes as the emphasis on first going into “central London” will alter. We would even go so far as to say that BML2’s north–south route through the eastern sector of the capital (Stratford – Canary Wharf – Lewisham) is critically important for Crossrail’s success because London’s continuing eastwards expansion and redevelopment will depend on having this ‘Thameslink 2’.
We wish both Patrick McLoughlin and Simon Burns well in their new posts, but they will need to bring with them the fresh approach, vigour and new ideas we have been promised. They need to look afresh at BML2 and understand its potential in relieving the South’s heavily-congested main lines; opening up new development opportunities in eastern London; directly linking Gatwick and Stansted with speedy air-rail shuttles; opening the way for a Thameslink 2 to cross the eastern Thames; supplementing the already busy Thameslink route through the Blackfriars knot and breaking through Network Rail’s seemingly insurmountable ‘barriers to growth’.
And yes, BML2 will need ‘Major Project’ funding – but are not major infrastructure projects precisely what the Government is saying we require to build our way out of the deep recession we’re in and to “kick-start” UK economic growth?
Baker dismisses BML2 while blaming Brighton Line congestion on competition
Published on Thursday, 30 August 2012 09:43
In a BBC interview on Radio Sussex on Bank Holiday Monday, Transport Minister and Lewes MP Norman Baker was questioned about the worsening capacity crisis on the Brighton Main Line and his Government’s lack of a lasting solution. Beyond lengthening all trains to 12 cars, the current administration has nothing to offer, except charging ‘super-peak’ fares to discourage people from travelling by train between 8am and 9am.
The Lib Dem Minister said: “The line is very full at some times of the day, there is no spare capacity and there’s basically a train at every signal and clearly that’s not sustainable.”
When questioned about his allegation of bias towards Brighton over other Sussex towns, he laid the blame squarely on competition, saying: “At the moment there are two separate franchises, one for Southern and one for First Capital Connect and they’re competing for business to Brighton and that means in my view the overlaid services to Brighton.”
Whether such a fundamental policy view on competition is shared by his fellow Conservative ministers and Brighton MPs would be interesting to know.
Asked about the Brighton Main Line 2 Project, Norman said: “Brian and I have slightly different views on what should happen. I want to reopen the Lewes-Uckfield line, Brian is talking about something brand new which is effectively from Uckfield to Brighton which is not quite the same thing, but I think Lewes-Uckfield does make sense and I’ve asked each of the five companies that I’ve written to, to set out their position on that.”
The Wealden Line Campaign has always been clear that it remains firmly behind rebuilding exactly the same railway south of Uckfield and running into Lewes. The only difference is that BML2 incorporates a new 2½ mile link directly towards Brighton, most of which is in a 1½ mile tunnel beneath the South Downs.
Turning to the debate on attaining more capacity in the south, Norman said: “My view in the medium term is that we need to have an alternative line from the Sussex Coast to London because the capacity issues are such that you can only get so many trains on the Brighton Main Line, even with new signalling and everything else and if you had a line which went from Seaford up through Lewes, up to Uckfield to East Croydon and to London that way, that would provide extra capacity.”
The BBC interviewer then asked about BML2 – “the new line from Falmer” which heads through a South Downs tunnel, suggesting: “– there’s no chance of this happening, is there?” to which Norman responded: “I don’t think there is, no, I don’t think there is.”
Sounding more like he was talking about HS2, Norman claimed: “It would be very, very expensive, it would also be very controversial and the last thing we want is a controversial line. We want to get public support united for reopening Lewes-Uckfield, which is what we have got by and large; people are very supportive of that concept and the matter of increasing the cost and increasing the controversy isn’t the way to get this line reopened.”
The BBC show’s host referred to a caller, who was frustrated by conditions on the BML and compared the billions allocated for the proposed HS2 between London and Birmingham “to save 20 minutes” and who then asked why such money wasn’t being invested in the south.
Norman Baker responded: “The high speed line is not about saving journey time, it’s about the capacity issues north of London and the high speed line is actually the best answer to capacity issues.”
He finished by saying: “I’m very hopeful that one of my key demands may well be met which is the ending of the splitting of trains at Haywards Heath which, if we did manage to get rid of that, would cut journey times to Lewes and Eastbourne and Worthing by eight to ten minutes.”
Way back in 1987 the Wealden Line Campaign tried promoting the idea of a new fast main line between London and Seaford, whilst in 2000 Connex suggested diverting Eastbourne services via Uckfield on a new ‘Wealden Main Line’. However, the DfT and rail industry have persistently said the case is too weak because trains on a reinstated Lewes–Uckfield link would face towards Eastbourne, rather than Brighton. That is largely why the 2008 Lewes-Uckfield Reinstatement Study failed.
Project manager Brian Hart said: “I’m rather fond of Seaford, but it plainly isn’t Brighton. The world has moved on since the Campaign started in 1986 and Norman was just a district councillor. Rail demand has rocketed dramatically and to such a point that the Brighton Line is now in very serious trouble. We have to answer today’s problems and that’s why BML2 was developed and is so necessary.”
Campaign chairman, Cllr Duncan Bennett agreed, saying: “Brighton & Hove is the South Coast’s premier destination and for many thousands of people it is an exciting, vibrant place to live, work and visit. Fast new rail connections into and out of the city as well as a direct relief line are needed – not forcing Brighton commuters and day trippers to get out and change trains at Lewes.”
BML2’s additional link through to Brighton could be built for less than £100m whilst the whole of BML2’s Sussex Phase – redoubling, electrifying and opening the Uckfield line directly into Lewes and Brighton would be half the cost of other schemes rejected by Network Rail.
Duncan Bennett said he was dismayed Norman Baker appears unable to see beyond his own constituency interests, rather than the greater good for Sussex – “In this instance he needs to be more the Minister than the MP”.