BML2 on NewsNow

BML2 RSS Feeds

Related Articles

Private Login

Latest 2018 BML2 Project Publication

Design2158 What BML2 will do for

Kent and Tunbridge wells

The 14pp report can be downloaded for viewing and printing by clicking on the image. Please circulate to friends and colleagues and if appropriate, to local Tunbridge Wells and Kent councillors.









BML2 – wired for speed

Wired for Speed


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

City backs Brighton Main Line 2


“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



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

Grove Junction Sold

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:
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

Overcrowded trains


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 ( 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.”

Rail Minister blocks Network Rail progress in South

End of the line


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

Grove Junction


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


Grove Junction


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

“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


 Clayton Tunnel


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.