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Latest 2018 BML2 Project Publication

Design2158 What BML2 will do for

Kent and Tunbridge wells

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









BML2 – will it ever happen? RAIL investigates!



Electrostars at Brighton Buffers


 “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


Uckfield Station in 1991 


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



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.


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




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

BML Overcrowded Train

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”.

Brighton Line crisis looms nearer while Baker joins fight for train paths.

Packed mid-week, mid-morning train


Network Rail’s Sussex Route Utilisation Strategy (2010) estimated peak capacity on the BML would be reached at the end of this decade, but a number of learned sources are now convinced this will occur much sooner.

The ‘breathing space’ offered by the Thameslink Programme, which plans extending all BML trains to 12-cars, is increasingly diminishing. These new trains, which ominously promise ‘reduced seating and greater standing capacity’, have not yet been ordered, whilst even Network Rail predicted this additional capacity would be swallowed-up by rising demand come 2020. In short, congestion on the BML will be no better than today. So what encouraging suggestions can we expect to see put forward as the DfT’s Consultation on the new Thameslink franchise ends on Thursday this week?

In Sussex, Eastbourne Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd launched his ‘London in 70’ campaign. He believes the current service is “slow, over-crowded and over-priced” and was recently given the opportunity to meet DfT officials to press his case. He urged them to cut-out stops and eliminate the practice of joining/splitting trains at Lewes and Haywards Heath so that Eastbourne could have express services taking no more than 72 minutes. Unfortunately, his proposal would not only remove the few through services to London for Seaford/Newhaven commuters, but have serious knock-on effects on the BML.

It’s an unhappy fact that commuter services in Sussex (and parts of Kent) are now slower than the mid-1960s, a criticism favoured by Lewes Lib Dem MP and Transport Minister Norman Baker. Back in 1965, Eastbourne’s fastest service to London was 88 minutes, whereas today the average peak hour journey time is 95 minutes. Lewes was 66 minutes, whilst today it takes 70. But nowhere has benefited unfairly, because even Brighton’s fastest services, once accomplishing the 50-miles in 60 minutes, now range between 65 and 75.

Norman Baker has recently written to all the chief executives of the five train operating companies bidding for the new Thameslink franchise with his views on what he wants done. These are reported as reducing journey times for his Polegate constituents to London; markedly reducing the splitting /joining of East and West Coastway services at Haywards Heath; reducing general overcrowding; tackling the East Croydon bottleneck; and working with Network Rail to reopen the Uckfield line. However, Norman is determined that only Lewes would be directly connected to the new main line and, contrary to popular belief, he remains steadfastly opposed to the Brighton Main Line 2 Project with its additional and vital link running straight into Brighton.

Nevertheless, he considers he has highlighted the key issues and told Brighton’s Argus newspaper: “I expect them to take my comments on board and ultimately, if they are the successful bidder, to provide a service for my constituents which improves travel conditions, increases capacity, provides faster services to the capital and ultimately provides a better service for local passengers.”

The Sussex Express explained that the Lewes MP has asked the bidders: ‘to commit to rectifying the bias which is currently given to the north – south mainline between Brighton and London at the expense of services to Eastbourne and Worthing’. These services have to combine at Haywards Heath because there are no spare train paths on the congested route, but Norman Baker says this is ‘over prioritisation of services between the capital and Brighton.’

However, strong disagreement was expressed by a spokesman for Brighton & Hove City Council who said the administration is ‘committed to ensuring that any new franchise gives consideration and priority to services to and from Brighton and Hove which must be maintained and free flowing.’   
It is only to be expected that MPs will seek to use their influence to benefit their particular patch but, as Network Rail is well aware, Sussex railways are now the most congested in the UK. Consequently, we’d be astounded if already scarce paths were handed over for dedicated Polegate and Eastbourne express services to the detriment of Brighton. The BML has no spare capacity for additional trains to run, whilst lopping 25 minutes off Eastbourne journey times is plainly unrealistic.

There are only three ways in which travel times between the Sussex Coast and London could be substantially reduced: 1) Spend many billions on an entirely new, non-stop high-speed railway: 2) Close virtually all intermediate stations on the existing Brighton Line and its east and west coastway feeder routes: 3) Drastically reduce the quantity of services so only very fast trains (which require extended headways) operate.

Clearly, none of this is ever going to happen.

The southern region is a complicated, inter-connecting network of lines, serving a large commuting population and has to operate intensive services carrying enormous volumes of people every single day. We also have London’s second busiest airport traffic to manage. Furthermore, quite apart from commuters, some routes are increasingly busy throughout the day and the growing strain is beginning to show. The south’s predicament is not a lack of speed, but a growing shortage of capacity and it is this problem, above anything else, which demands our utmost attention.

There is, of course, hope on the horizon with BML2 which is perfectly capable of delivering vast amounts of new capacity into London from Kent, Sussex and Surrey. More trains, a larger and more robust network, new journey opportunities, improved airport connections, new cross-regional services, an alternative route in emergencies – all would be possible and within reasonable funding parameters. It’s precisely the kind of infrastructure project to boost economic growth and stimulate investment, but it needs political vision and leadership.

As well as Lord Bassam of Brighton, two of the city’s MPs Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley have already shown interest, the latter asking us to produce a succinct and coherent plan addressing the Government’s concerns over BML2 – and in particular how Government could tackle the problems on the London end of the project. We’ll certainly do our best.

Meanwhile, criticism rumbles on over the paucity of any targeted investment in the south to address these issues within the Government’s recent £9.4 billion spending on rail. The knowledgeable columnist Barry Doe, writing in RAIL, observed: “despite the supposed interest of the local MP Norman Baker, there was not a crumb for Uckfield – Lewes, nor even electrification from Hurst Green.”

Similar sentiments expressed by Christian Wolmar clearly upset Norman, whilst our recent website piece ‘What price loyalty as Tories snub Baker?’ was taken as personal criticism of his position, prompting him to ask if we would accept a response which he has told us he’d like published with the same prominence.

(Journey comparisons quoted from current timetable and ‘Southern Travellers’ Handbook’ published by British Railways 1965)

BML2 could transform London’s air-rail connections.

Stanwick Rail

“The Government believes good connectivity with our major airports is essential.”  
– Department for Transport, May 2012

In a recent article in New Civil Engineer, Deputy Editor Mark Hansford considers the quandaries facing the airline industry and the Government in expanding capacity in the South East.

Contentiously, should a third runway be built at Heathrow? Should ‘Boris Island’ be built in the Thames Estuary? How long can a second runway at Gatwick be resisted? ; How can Gatwick and Stansted secure vastly-improved rail links to London? These vexing problems require answers – and decisions will be needed very soon.

Stansted is campaigning for faster rail services to London, whilst Gatwick commissioned consultants Arup to determine how future growth could be accommodated. Unfortunately though, Arup concluded the Brighton Line is inadequate and needs serious upgrading because the enduring obstacle here is the conflict with heavy commuter traffic on trains serving the airport, as well as the lack of additional train paths into London.

A long-term solution is necessary because, as Mark Hansford points out, Gatwick is the UK’s second largest airport. It has the busiest single-runway in the world, handling over 50 flights an hour and dealing with more than 33 million passengers last year. Hardly surprising then, that the airport’s new owners, led by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), are eager to expand and compete – and have the funds to invest. But, frustratingly for GIP, the railway on which Gatwick depends is increasingly over-stretched and congested, especially through East Croydon and further inward to London and some strategic decisions from the Government are sorely wanting. Only this spring, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers admitted the DfT still has no long-term solution on the horizon for the UK’s most congested railway. Network Rail has no room for manoeuvre; Southern is left struggling to balance demand between commuters and airline passengers, whilst GIP are understandably becoming impatient and are pushing hard for vastly improved connections.

There is a lot of debate and mind-changing going on at the moment over airport expansion. Politicians are nervous of opposition, but acutely mindful of the needs of the airline business and the importance of nurturing growth in an economy, which some economists warn is at serious risk of flatlining.

The ‘Heathwick’ proposal, involving building a dedicated high-speed rail link between Gatwick and Heathrow across Surrey, would be astronomically expensive, has limited support and would be difficult to fund. Accordingly, Mark Hansford contemplates the “gaining traction” behind BML2’s Gatwick–Stansted potential; whilst the recent “conceivable” comment from the DfT has stirred further interest and debate. He writes: “Key to it [BML2] is a new direct link between Brighton and the Uckfield line achieved by means of a new 2km long tunnel through the South Downs. This relatively small infrastructure upgrade would unlock a second route from Brighton to London.”

Arup will be aware of this, not least because its civil engineering sector has a proven track record, having constructed Kent’s two mile-long North Downs tunnel on HS1 on time and, even more impressively, under budget. Significantly, Arup is ideally placed to build Ashcombe tunnel for the Sussex Phase of BML2.

NCE’s deputy editor says enhancing London’s airport connections are critical – pointing to predictions that by 2020 numbers of airline passengers between London and Gatwick will increase by 30%, and non-air passengers by 29%. He says “Whether BML2 fits the bill has not yet been examined” but poses an intriguing question: “So is it really fanciful to suggest that a linked-up Gatwick and Stansted, with three runways between them, could be a serious contender against Heathrow?”

We wouldn’t proffer any opinion on the thorny subject of resolving the lack of UK airport capacity, neither are we certain that competition is necessarily a good thing between airports. However, we are convinced that, from a transport perspective, linking Gatwick with Stansted by direct rail is an eminently sensible proposition for a multitude of practical reasons. Rather than trying to increase exclusive train services starting and ending at different (and distant) London terminals from Gatwick and Stansted, a fast, frequent and super-convenient shuttle operating between these two London airports has undoubted benefits and attractions.

With Crossrail now well under way, the opportunity to have a hub at Canary Wharf on the axis of the Gatwick–Stansted link with super-convenient services appears irresistible. Whilst Victoria and Liverpool Street can of course continue to provide trains to these respective airports, the additional expansion required could well be facilitated by BML2.

This is just one more facet of BML2’s benefits for London and the South East.
“We should upgrade the rail links to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Dedicated, regular express services are a must.”Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP and former Transport Spokesman, July 2012.

BML2 London Phase “conceivable” says Department for Transport

“It is conceivable that a visionary scheme such as the Canary Wharf one might just have such a case.”

Everyone backing BML2 will be encouraged that there appears to be a flicker of interest from the Government whereby the scheme’s London Phase “might just” get off the starting blocks.

With world attention currently focused on the 2012 London Olympics at Stratford, the Department for Transport uses a suitably sporting analogy: “For BML2 to become a reality there are three hurdles to clear.”

It says: “The first is that the scheme must have a good economic case; in other words the benefits must exceed the costs.” Well, that’s perfectly reasonable and is precisely why BML2 was conceived to secure the widest possible benefit and highest financial return from the minimum investment. We know that if its opportunities are fully exploited then its value to the region will be immense.

Nevertheless, the DfT adds a note of caution by questioning potential demand from East Sussex to Canary Wharf over London Victoria. But this is a misunderstanding of the BML2 Project because it would not just benefit East Sussex, but additionally Kent, West Sussex, Surrey, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, etc to a new London Crossrail connection. Many millions would enjoy a far greater choice of destination, whilst the gains go way beyond commuter traffic.

Perhaps most outstanding of all, the London Phase introduces superior, fast and direct rail links between two of London’s hub airports – Gatwick and Stansted. Simultaneously, BML2 would create ‘Thameslink 2’ – an enormously valuable additional rail crossing of the eastern Thames, supplementing the Blackfriars core which will be operating at maximum capacity. Not only could severe congestion within central London be significantly reduced, but regeneration of vast swathes of eastern London, both south and north of the Thames will help expedite the Mayor of London’s ‘Olympic Legacy’.

The second hurdle facing BML2 is that it “would have to take its place in the queue for major project funding.” The DfT explained: “Government is funding several major infrastructure projects at present – Thameslink and Crossrail in progress; High Speed 2 and western access to Heathrow in the pipeline.”

However, rising numbers of the UK’s leading economists are becoming increasingly vociferous, criticising the Government for doing far too little to re-ignite the economy, stimulate business and steer the country back on the path to growth. Nothing helps regions regenerate more than new rail links and, once the Olympics are over, neglected boroughs around this Thames region will thrive with investment in new infrastructure. The construction industry is in the doldrums, whilst civil engineering needs to have new schemes on the horizon. BML2 is supremely placed to fill this absence.

“The third hurdle would be planning permission” says the DfT and believes there could be opposition in South East London for the “ambitious plan to drive a new railway from the Croydon area through to Canary Wharf.” We disagree, because in reality we are primarily reviving a former railway – in precisely the same manner as has been done elsewhere in London to widespread public acclaim and uptake. BML2 reopens a partially derelict railway and makes far greater use of a profoundly important strategic rail corridor between Croydon and Lewisham – there isn’t a surplus of these in South East London!

The DfT explains: “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 others in the rail industry believe the current approach is too timid, badly focused and far too lackadaisical; tinkering about with an extra platform here and there (perhaps in ten years’ time) when what is required is a far more radical analysis and a visionary programme to match. Indeed, one London Borough transport planner we met recently couldn’t have put it better when he told us they’d welcome new cross-connections because “London is effectively two cities – split in two by the River Thames”.

A relatively short north-south link at Canary Wharf and joining Stratford with Lewisham would deliver huge advantages for the UK’s airline industry and the nation. And that’s why BML2 – described by an industry admirer as “a stroke of genius” – deserves to be a winner.

New Thameslink franchise – a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?

As the Department for Transport has said, it is now consulting on “the biggest franchise that has ever been let” – one that annually carries over 217 million people.

Abellio; First Group; Stagecoach; Govia; and MTR will be competing to win the lucrative franchise for the seven year period (Sept 2013 – 2020) – but can we expect tangible improvements in such a short time? – or simply £millions wasted on flashy new liveries and signs? ‘Southern’ will be swallowed up, as well as parts of Southeastern – but will the rail system perform any better?

The DfT says “The consultation exercise will help inform what we include in the Invitation to Tender” and those interested in registering their views should, before the closing date of 23 August, go to:-


The winning train operator will be expected “to make better use of the existing railway in ways such as rewarding passengers who choose to use less crowded trains, which allows the railway to make better use of capacity.” Unfortunately, people don’t choose crowded trains, they simply have to be at work at the firm’s time – otherwise they might already be travelling on ‘off-peak’ fares.

We suspect this is where the ‘Super-Peak’ fare will emerge for the ‘privilege’ of travelling between 8 and 9am, although Transport Secretary Justine Greening said last week: “If people can’t afford to get on a train - that is the last thing we want to do”.

The DfT warns that bidders cannot run any more services on the Brighton Line, saying: “The total number of trains on the predominantly two-track section between Balcombe Tunnel Junction (south of Three Bridges) and Keymer Junction (north of Burgess Hill) should not be increased as this would significantly increase the risk that the train service becomes unreliable.”

Instead, the DfT will specify the amount of [jam-packed] Brighton Line trains that will run, merely allowing the bidders to tinker with the stopping patterns. This effectively means there will be a cap on train travel between the Sussex Coast and London. We know that operators see a market to run more trains, but they can’t because the south’s rail network is inadequate.

In regard to Gatwick the DfT is extremely weak and evidently lost for answers, it says: “The Government believes good connectivity with our major airports is essential.  If possible we would like to see improvements in these services. However, whether we can deliver such improvements depends on affordability and on striking the right balance between the needs of air passengers and those of commuters in relation to how we use limited capacity on lines which are amongst the busiest in the country.”

Only last week Gatwick bosses again urged the need for better rail links as they want more people to use public transport, whilst their plans to increase capacity are limited by the railway.

So shouldn’t the Government be investing in delivering more capacity between the South Coast and London? Railways are now such a vital component for growth and prosperity. Here in the south outside London we have seen no expansion of the Southern Region (in fact contraction in the last 40 years) whilst numbers of passengers has soared on a network struggling to cope with day-to-day demand.

Writing in the latest edition of RAIL, respected transport writer Christian Wolmar comments on last week’s Government fanfare over plans to spend £billions on the railways but expresses his astonishment at what he termed “strange omissions” particularly when regional TV presenters were emphasising well-known schemes which did not receive funding. “Given that he [Norman Baker] is a Transport Minister and as MP for Lewes has long campaigned for the reopening” Christian surmised it was “very odd” that he did not get his “pet scheme”.

As the DfT’s ‘Consultation on the combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise’ says: “The BML timetable pattern will be dictated by the timings of trains as they enter and leave the Thameslink core” – which means the Brighton Line is not only full-up itself – but opportunities for expanding rail journeys north and south of the UK capital across the Thames are restricted by the single Thameslink core.

Whilst BML2’s London Phase, which permits the creation of a major rail artery through eastern London, deserves detailed investigation, there is no reason to delay BML2’s Sussex Phase any longer. It can justifiably begin, because without it the south faces a poor future and London will suffer as a result.

Railways are supremely adept at moving huge volumes of people – and not just commuters. We want an operator – not a caretaker – who recognises the true potential of BML2 and the opportunities and benefits it will deliver to the south and the millions who live here. So far we’ve heard nothing from the bidders we’ve met to inspire us.
Stopping the new Thameslink-branded trains at Uckfield’s buffer stops in 2015 – seven miles short of the busy Sussex coastal network – is certainly no super franchise.

What price loyalty as Tories snub Baker?

“It is an absolute disgrace that the Government has failed to expand and improve the rail network in Sussex.” - Norman Baker MP (2003)

ITV reported that Sussex LibDem MP and Transport Minister Norman Baker was in Leeds yesterday (Monday) for the Government’s proclamation to spend £9.4 billion on railways. This was probably just as well, because none of this gargantuan amount of money is going towards expanding desperately-needed track capacity on the struggling and neglected South East network.

Norman Baker announced £560m would be spent on the ‘Northern Hub’ network – vastly improving rail links between Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, etc.  Network Rail says this scheme will add more than £4.2 billion of wider economic benefits to the north and create between 20,000 to 30,000 private sector jobs.

Meanwhile, alongside a smiling Nick Clegg, Prime Minister David Cameron claimed over £9 billion would be spent between 2014-2019 on “a fast, modern, reliable railway with more capacity and cleaner electric trains”. He then lambasted the previous Labour Government for “electrifying only 10 miles in 13 years” adding: “We can commit to over 850 more miles of electrified railway by 2019.”

However, sensible in-fill electrification is ruled out in the South East and people will have to put up with overcrowded diesel services because the Government won’t electrify just 25 miles of the Uckfield branch (or 32 miles if it is rejoined to Lewes and made a through main line once again). Consequently Southern’s over-stretched diesel fleet will continue to run over electrified lines for most of the journey in and out of London.  

Despite being described as “one of the biggest programmes of rail investment in the country” we know a great many people were anticipating Norman to deliver by ensuring that the South’s most-needed reopening project would feature somewhere – but they were sorely disappointed.

But no wonder Sheffield MP Nick Clegg is grinning from ear to ear. In May, Norman Baker announced £58m for a pilot scheme to run tram-trains around the city and said:  “Providing better connections between Sheffield and Rotherham’s city centres and residential areas will help to reinvigorate the local economy.” Now, as well as the Northern Hub, Sheffield will additionally benefit from the £800m electrification of the Midland Main Line from London.


Cynics may well be right in suspecting this is purely political manoeuvring – not just fears over marginal northern constituencies – but specifically aimed at keeping Nick Clegg and his coalition chums on board until parliamentary boundaries are changed when Norman Baker’s Lewes seat is carved up.

In 2010, when Norman Baker was unexpectedly swept into Government, the transport broadcaster and writer Christian Wolmar considered that a condition of Norman Baker’s participation in accepting ministerial office in the coalition should at least be the reopening of the 7 mile Sussex rail link because ever since entering the House of Commons in 1997 he seemed to spend most of his time spouting off about Lewes–Uckfield.

We know many people thought the South East stood a slim chance of at least a few crumbs from Justine Greening’s transport cake. But, as we know, when in opposition, the Conservative’s show all appropriate concern and do things like Rail Minister Theresa Villiers visiting Lewes to tell everyone “This is a matter of high importance”. And MPs such as Wealden’s Energy Minister Charles Hendry pour scorn on the (Labour) Government of the day by saying:  “It wants to build high-speed links between London and Edinburgh, when the real crisis in our rail system is in the overcrowded south-east.”

Tragically, yesterday’s announcement does nothing to avert the south’s acknowledged looming crisis on either the Brighton or Tonbridge Main Lines. Nor does it offer any solution to the problems of over-capacity, delays, lack of a much-needed alternative routes, etc and suggests nothing apart from pricing people off at busy peak times because the Government, which Norman Baker is sustaining by his collaboration, won’t invest in BML2.

Unfortunately, since taking office, Norman excuses himself from doing anything to help Sussex – as he recently reminded us: “You will, I hope, appreciate, that a minister is not allowed to use his or her position to advantage their constituency”. So that’s it then.

You might think that having become a Transport Minister he would garner some influence in his department and among his Conservative partners about a problem so great and profound which affects the lives of millions throughout Sussex, Surrey and Kent and about which he has spoken of so many times when in opposition.

But you must be the judge of that:-

“There is a severe problem with the train path capacity between Brighton and London. No more train paths are available because of the bottleneck at Haywards Heath and Balcombe. There is no way to get around the problem.” (2004)

“From the strategic point of view, the simplest and cheapest way to provide extra capacity between the south coast and London would be to reopen the Lewes-Uckfield line and use that link as an alternative route.” (2004)

“The case for reopening this line is overwhelming and any sane national transport policy would have achieved it by now.” (2005)

“It makes no sense, economically or otherwise, for the line from London Victoria to wind all the way down through Oxted to Uckfield, and stop just seven miles short of the Lewes junction.” (2004)

“It would make considerable sense from an integrated network point of view as it would link existing rail infrastructure at relatively little cost by means of new short stretches. That would improve the viability and profitability of the lines to which it connected.” (1998)

“I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the negativity of the Department for Transport, which refuses to recognise that there are now more rail passengers travelling each year than ever before, on a network about the half the size it was post-war, and react accordingly. Clearly we need more capacity on the network, and that must include reopening stations and sections of line that in most cases should never have been shut. Lewes-Uckfield is clearly one of those.” (2008)

“The reinstatement of the Lewes-Uckfield line represents one of my greatest ambitions. The logic is unquestionable and the issue won’t go away.” (2004)

“I have spent many years arguing for the reopening of this line which would have significant social, economic and environmental benefits to my constituents and I will continue to do so until such time as the Government sees common sense.” (2005)

“It makes absolute sense. It is something that the Government, in their wish to get real services back on track, should support.” (2004)

“Why is it so difficult to secure the reopening of a railway line which is relatively low cost and which would bring tremendous economic, social and environmental benefits?” (2004)

“Everyone who has looked at the matter in depth recognise the strategic value of the route. The proposal involves the most easily adaptable alternative route.” (2004)

“There is no doubt that the campaign to re-open is strong, because it makes so much sense. It is based on solid, common-sense arguments that the Government support as part of their policy.” (2004)

“The reopening of the Lewes - Uckfield line is something I have campaigned for locally for over twenty years. It is vitally needed, not just to link the two towns again, but also as a key building block in providing an alternative to the heavily congested Brighton main line.” (2010)

“It is my ambition to be at the reopening of the Lewes-Uckfield railway line. I intend to continue to raise the matter until such time as I am there when the ribbon is cut.” (2006)

“The Wealden Line Campaign has consistently put the case for the reopening for years. I congratulate those involved on their diligence and commitment in that respect.” (1998)

“The franchise process will fail if the Lewes-Uckfield line is not part of the successful bid. The Government must grasp this one-off opportunity to achieve a major improvement to the rail network in Sussex.” (2000)

“The Liberal Democrats will transform the railways with the biggest expansion since the Victorian age. This package will have huge benefits for communities across the country, including our own area, where the Lewes - Uckfield line is set to reopen if the Lib Dems are in a position of power after the election.” (2010)