Brighton Line crisis looms nearer while Baker joins fight for train paths.
Published on Tuesday, 21 August 2012 09:21
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.
Published on Monday, 06 August 2012 07:16
“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
Published on Monday, 30 July 2012 09:22
“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?
Published on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 01:09
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?
Published on Tuesday, 17 July 2012 06:52
“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)
Time to revisit Sussex reopening study
Published on Monday, 09 July 2012 10:50
With no practical long-term solutions on the horizon coming from Network Rail or the Department for Transport, London is on the fast track towards a major transport crisis on southern routes into the capital.
A warning over the looming predicament was recently sent to both co-chairmen of the Conservative party, Baroness Warsi and Lord Feldman by a Tunbridge Wells supporter of BML2. Seeking advice, the DfT has offered nothing, apart from lengthening some services using the additional fleet ordered by the last Labour Government.
Defending the coalition Government’s weak stance, DfT spokesman John Ashley said: “A promoter of BML2 will need to address the challenge of how additional trains could reach central London stations. The promoter will also need to demonstrate that the project is deliverable, affordable, value for money for the taxpayer and identify sources of funding for the capital cost of construction.”
Only last Friday, BBC TV and Brighton’s Argus newspaper reported that train overcrowding in Sussex and Kent is worsening, as revealed by new figures from the DfT, although commuters hardly need telling this. Rail watchdog, Passenger Focus, acknowledged that trains are increasingly operating above their capacity with overcrowding remaining a daily struggle for commuters into London, whilst a spokesman considered: “Significant, sustained, long-term investment is necessary to not only reduce overcrowding, but to ensure that it doesn’t get worse if passenger numbers increase as predicted.”
Unfortunately, those given charge of managing the rail network seem completely incapable of providing answers, whilst Network Rail’s Sussex Strategy offers no hope: “By around 2020 high peak crowding will still exist in the area at roughly today’s levels - the interventions [train lengthening] mostly absorbing growth rather than substantially improving existing crowding.” Informed sources believe this to be a serious under-estimation as rising demand accelerates beyond predictions.
A Southern spokesman said: “We appreciate passengers’ desire for a seat on what are very busy services and we are doing everything that we can to provide additional capacity where it is most needed, bearing in mind we have a finite amount of rolling stock and the very high demand at peak times.”
However, Labour’s Lord Bassam was distinctly unimpressed, saying: “Sussex commuters don’t just need extra seats on longer trains – we need additional route capacity across the south.”
An increasing reliance on just one core route between London and Brighton is at the root of the problem and the strain is becoming ever more evident. Without a phased plan to restore the parallel Uckfield mainline, which spiralled into decline following the axing of Brighton connection in 1969, there can be no meaningful rail expansion south of London. Redoubling of restrictive single-line sections, infill electrification and reopening southwards for more capacity between the South Coast and the capital are urgently needed, as Norman Baker said quite recently. However, all the while the DfT refuses to listen; people will railhead across to the Brighton Line.
The DfT argues “longer journey times” are reason to do nothing, but this is entirely unfounded. Furthermore, even if journeys were marginally longer, by five or ten minutes, the benefits far outweigh any misconceived disadvantage.
Only last Saturday, Tim Worstall writing for the right wing Adam Smith Institute, questioned the economic case for high speed rail. Whilst we have no strong opinion either way on this issue, we were struck by some of the valid points he made with regard to ordinary train travel – which is what most people can afford and have to endure every day.
Interestingly, Mr Worstall criticised those cost benefit analyses used by the DfT to assess rail projects, commendably pointing out that the case technology has changed. “Time spent stuck in a car really is unproductive; on a train, not.” he argues, suggesting that with on-train wireless internet and WiFi equipped carriages, the whole analysis changes and the Government really does need to catch up. “If people are productive while in a train then the benefit of getting them there faster disappears.” He concludes: “I have a feeling that doing these calculations properly will lead to something of a change in how we think about rail transport. It could well be that this all makes more local, regional, commuter, lines viable while reducing the case for high speed long distance passenger lines.”
Quite obviously, we want train journeys to and from work to be as speedy as possible, but here in the crowded south-east corner we face many problems such as the sheer intensity of services which have to operate on a very complicated network, insufficient seating (even standing room), as well as the rapid descent into chaos when something goes wrong.
Four years on, we hear that some Network Rail managers consider the 2008 Lewes-Uckfield Reinstatement Study is out of date. This claimed that, with the introduction of the ‘Seven Day Railway’, planned closures of the Brighton Line south of Croydon in excess of 8 hours would occur only twice a year. Because of this, it deduced: “no such benefit has been accrued to the business case for diversions resulting from planned engineering works”. No allowance was made for other circumstances, such as the calamitous occasions we’ve recently witnessed when unforeseen incidents at Croydon, Horley, Gatwick, Balcombe, etc, have closed the vulnerable route with no practical alternative.
Unquestionably, substantial amounts of additional capacity into London remains the principal reasons for BML2, but it gives us huge opportunities to expand and strengthen the network for the 2020s. As Lord Bassam said, following the latest chaotic incident last Friday involving a failed train north of Brighton, “BML2 would help take some of the pressure off BML1 and ensure that when there are disruptions to the network there is at least one extra pathway through to the south.”
Time for Network Rail to look again at its Study? An increasing number of people think so.
BML2 boost as public support reopening railway
Published on Monday, 02 July 2012 08:34
The results of East Sussex County Council’s public consultation seeking solutions for traffic congestion in Uckfield have shown strong support for the railway. In one of its ‘Repeated Comments’ sections an overwhelming number of respondents said: “It is important to have the rail re-opening”.
Overall, a substantial majority (51%) chose ‘Option B’ to provide a 130-space car park within the station site – something which ESCC has been reluctant to implement.
Believed to be the County Council’s preferred option, ‘Option D’ – a new road built on the trackbed – came a poor second (37%). However, even a quarter of those who chose this option considered it would make no difference to road congestion or even worsen it.
ESCC reports: “Within the consultation responses there was considerable support for the re-opening of the Railway line (Smarter Choices Question 3 showed that 70% were in favour), and there were a small percentage of respondents who were against it. The question of whether people were in support of the rail line was not asked as part of this consultation process; however, the schemes presented would not prevent the reopening.”
On this we disagree because ESCC could never afford to subsequently build the so-called Phase 2 of its Option D costing £15m - £20m (an enormous flyover across the railway). This cost would have to be borne by Network Rail and become another financial obstacle to reopening the line.
Nevertheless, the document ‘Uckfield Traffic Improvements: Consultation Results’ which is downloadable on ESCC’s website claims: “The County Council continues to support the reinstatement of the Lewes-Uckfield line, as set out in our Local Transport Plan, despite the outcomes of Network Rail's 2008 study which identified that although it is feasible to reinstate the line, there is not a strong enough business case for Government and the rail industry to fund the project.”
It also states: “The Lewes-Uckfield railway line is protected within relevant local planning documents and the County Council, along with other partners, will continue to make representations to the rail industry in support of reinstating the line.”
We remain unconvinced. However, if ESCC is genuinely dedicated to the line reopening, then it needs to make this a top priority – well above all other rail improvements. The council should be campaigning for the restoration of rail services between its heartland and the Sussex Coast which have been absent for over four decades. Equally, this should take preference over faster, or additional, rail services to towns which already enjoy a very good intensive train service. If such was the case then perhaps everyone would be more inclined to believe ESCC’s statement.
We are certainly not blind to the need for local road improvements and we are not anti-car by any means, but absolutely nothing must be done to impair the reopening of the railway, add more to its cost, or destroy its future prospects.
The economy and well-being of the south eastern counties bordering London depend more than anywhere else in the UK on rail because the region would come to a grinding halt without its rail network.
Above all, BML2 has demonstrated how critically important the Sussex Phase is; not just to the ‘bigger picture’ but to desperately-needed rail expansion across the region, embracing Kent and Surrey and especially London’s lifeblood connections, both south and north of the Thames.
We have a common goal – to deliver a modern transport system that facilitates growth in the economy, enables superior connections for its citizens and protects the south’s precious environments. The railway is supremely adept at providing this and no other mode can compete – which is the reason why, despite the severest recession in decades, we are witnessing, year after year, phenomenal growth in rail usage.
As Lord Bassam said recently, we should all be working for the greater good and getting behind BML2.
London & Continental Railways to secure land for BML2
Published on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 08:14
Following Lord Berkeley’s request that strategic rail land at Uckfield station should be transferred to the custody of Network Rail for future reopening of the Sussex route, Earl Attlee, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government has given a surprising response.
The Government now intends that the majority of the erstwhile British Rail Property Board (now BRBR) should be transferred to London & Continental Railways “This includes the site at Uckfield” confirmed Earl Attlee.
London & Continental Railways was established in 1994 as the company to build and operate the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now called High Speed One). It has been involved in several London regeneration projects at Kings Cross and Stratford and is now a company which is wholly owned by the Secretary of State for Transport.
Earl Attlee explained that Network Rail is not a Government entity, whilst only a small number of assets such as properties within the lineside fence; bridges spanning operational railways; test tracks and railway war memorials would pass into their ownership.
Fears that this strategic site, which remains under threat from an East Sussex County Council inspired road scheme, could end up with the Highways Agency appear to have been allayed. Nevertheless, a very close watch will be maintained on any further developments.
Earl Attlee gave this assurance to Lord Berkeley: “Strategic land ownerships will be retained under the control of the Secretary of State [Justine Greening] through London & Continental Railways.”
Peter Foot, Rail Operations Advisor at the Department for Transport told BML2 project manager Brian Hart that the Government’s ‘Impact Assessment’ is part of their consultation on the abolition of certain Government quangos; in this instance the British Railways Board (Residual) (BRBR). This consultation closes on 25 June 2012 and full details are on the DfT website at http://www.dft.gov.uk/consulations/dft-2012-11
Meanwhile, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers has signed off a departmental letter to Brighton & Hove MP Mike Weatherley saying that the Government’s position on Brighton Main Line 2 has not altered. It says BML2 is “not likely to attract central Government funding in the short-term or medium-term” because, despite several imaginative ways in which BML2 could get to the outskirts of London “they have not been able to find a credible solution that would enable BML2 trains to reach central London.”
The response continued: “BML2 trains might be routed via East Croydon or via Tonbridge” – a remark which Brian Hart believes reveals the DfT simply doesn’t understand BML2.
“We’ve never suggested BML2 trains could be routed via Tonbridge as the Kent main line is full” he said. “BML2 is all about solving severe overcrowding on both the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines by re-establishing a desperately-needed main line from Kent, Sussex and Surrey into London using currently under-used or closed railway assets.”
Mrs Villiers’ letter ends: “Should the economics of the BML2 proposal change in the future, of course we would be prepared to look at this again.” However, this is unlikely to quell the demand for urgent solutions from MPs and peers.
With nothing on the table apart from more and more overcrowding, ever-higher fares, airlines and the capital demanding more rail capacity, yet no investment in any new lines in the congested south, the Government’s complete lack of direction is being woefully exposed.
Instead of continually scratching around for desperate excuses, it should be investigating and assisting in ways to bring BML2 forward.
Lords want rail land transference to Network Rail
Published on Monday, 11 June 2012 08:37
As part of David Cameron’s much-vaunted “Bonfire of Quangos”, Transport Secretary Justine Greening last month signed-off an ‘Impact Assessment’ on the proposed abolition of the British Rail Board Residual (BRBR). This used to be the BR Property Board which owned large amounts of valuable land and other BR assets prior to privatisation and which have been variously disposed of, or sold for redevelopment.
Sussex’s former station site at Uckfield – which is critically important for expanding rail capacity and reopening of the main line to the coast – still remains at serious risk of being sold-off, partly to facilitate a local road scheme. It had previously been removed from the sales list in 2000 following a timely intervention by Lewes MP Norman Baker, who persuaded Labour’s Transport Ministers Glenda Jackson and Lord Gus Macdonald to safeguard the site for future rail purposes.
The Assessment says that most of BRBR’s functions, properties, etc, could be transferred to Transport Secretary Justine Greening whereupon “they would be managed by a team of engineers in the Highways Agency”. Although the Uckfield site is purported to have a price tag of between £3m - £4m, it is beyond monetary value in terms of forming a vital part of the only alternative rail corridor between London and the Sussex Coast.
Lord Bassam of Brighton is acutely aware of the implications surrounding this latest development, whilst today (11 June) Lord Berkeley is challenging this move by tabling the following question in the House of Lords:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, as part of the proposals to abolish BRBR under the Public Bodies Act 2011, it will transfer the current BRBR land holdings at Uckfield Sussex necessary for the reopening of the line to Lewes, new station and car park, to Network Rail so that it can be retained for a future line reopening in furtherance of Coalition policy to invest in infrastructure as well as providing more capacity on the London to Brighton corridor.”
We contacted Lewes MP and Transport Minister Norman Baker, as well as Wealden MP and Energy Minister Charles Hendry, suggesting they pursue this important matter with Justine Greening and insist this strategic railway land is placed in the custody of Network Rail for future development as Lord Berkeley wisely advises.
Uckfield’s MP Charles Hendry has not responded; however, Norman Baker replied immediately, saying: “In my capacity as a local MP, I agree with your idea and have lobbied [Rail Minister] Theresa Villiers accordingly. You will, I hope, appreciate, that a minister is not allowed to use his or her position to advantage their constituency unduly, but obviously the fact that Theresa and I are in regular contact doesn’t do any harm.”
In another recent development, we’re pleased to report that another Sussex MP, Brighton & Hove’s, Mike Weatherley, has joined other political figures by throwing his hat into the ring alongside that of Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby, by recently writing to the Transport Secretary seeking clarity over the Government’s intentions towards BML2.
Mr Weatherley says he is regularly contacted by the city’s constituents who are frustrated by overcrowding on trains on the London to Brighton line. In his letter, he has asked Justine Greening whether or not she thinks that Brighton Main Line 2 is a realistic project that is likely to come to fruition in the medium term.
He went on to say: “As a regular user of the slow and overcrowded Brighton main line, I am particularly interested in the BML2 campaign. Passengers pay huge sums of money and don’t get a fair return, so I hope that the Government will consider the enhanced main line as an option for investing in rail upgrades for the densely populated south coast.”
We await the response from the Government with interest.
Call for urgent review of Brighton Main Line 2
Published on Wednesday, 16 May 2012 06:55
In an exclusive interview with the UK’s leading rail transport journal RAIL (just published) Labour’s Chief Whip in the House of Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton calls for an urgent review of BML2 and goes on to praise the merits and potential of the project.
He told RAIL the scheme “offers some marvellous opportunities for London’s major airports and introduces greater connectivity between the capital and the bordering counties where many thousands daily commute.”
Fully aware that the entire BML2 project, principally the London Phase, involves significant amounts of planning and investment, Lord Bassam is keenly conscious of the need to get BML2 started as soon as possible. The Sussex Phase is a critical component, because no matter how much is spent on enhancements to lines into the capital, south of the Thames the Brighton Line remains the greatest barrier to growth. He explained: “We need the Sussex Phase to get the ball rolling and provide the capacity from the south.”
He believes the southern phase is sufficiently promising to form the initial stage, particularly as Network Rail’s detailed engineering assessment of 2008 proved there were no obstacles to reopening the route. Lord Bassam told RAIL the project remains “within reasonable funding parameters” and suggest how this might be achieved: “If it was within my authority I would be exploring a longer-term franchise to lever in extra funding, to ensure that the reinstatement formed an intrinsic part of the deal, thereby guaranteeing that we secure the rail connectivity the South East needs.”
Being a regular Brighton Line traveller over many decades, he is acutely aware of its enduring problems – ranging from rising congestion and overcrowding – to unreliability and misery when unforeseen incidents escalate into chaos. He believes this phase “would have a distinctly positive impact across Sussex the day the trains start running.” This is why he is keen to see an urgent and independent assessment – “free from the influence of East Sussex County Council.”
There is equal encouragement for Kent which is often sidelined by the notorious Brighton Line, but suffers just as much from the similarly constrained Tonbridge Main Line. Given the same growth barriers – rising demand on a dual-track line where expansion is impossible – the ease of reconstructing the former main line from London via Oxted into Tunbridge Wells West makes the case robust. And even before the London Phase is determined, both of the new BML2 routes between London and Tunbridge Wells and Brighton/Lewes would immediately strengthen the network in terms of reliability, increased operational flexibility, greater choice and opportunity.
He also praises the “innovative thinking” surrounding BML2’s approach to the London conundrum, echoing the opinions of others that “the project's strengths rest in the use of currently derelict and under-used strategic transport corridors” which, as we know, in the absence of blank cheques and in consideration of economic uncertainties “has to be the way forward.”
He also told RAIL he’s “seen nothing else from the industry or the DfT which equals the benefits of BML2 for the funding required” and this is why he intends doing all he can to move the project swiftly forward. It is his passionate wish that all industry partners such as Transport for London, London Overground and Network Rail should “work together to deliver BML2 for London and the south.” Recently he asked politicians of all parties to put differences aside and work together for the common good.
We know the London Phase will have taken some people by surprise with certain aspects of its ambition, but it’s essential to keep in mind the outstanding benefits this would bring. And there are even professionals who tell us this phase – far from being a daunting challenge – is actually BML2’s greatest strength and have suggestions of their own. For example, it was pointed out to us recently by an experienced London borough transport planner that BML2’s direct Stansted-Stratford-Canary Wharf-Gatwick service would also link into London’s City Airport – something we’d not fully appreciated. It was also explained that London was in reality two cities, being separated by the River Thames whereby any advantageous cross-links are to be eagerly welcomed. Given the enormous strain under which Thameslink will operate through Blackfriars, we concurred that ‘Thameslink 2’ across the developing eastern sector of the capital was a relatively straightforward and valuable opportunity.
RAIL gives good coverage to Lord Berkeley’s insistence that the strategic land at Uckfield’s station site must be fully protected. Despite having no jurisdiction over land not in its ownership, Network Rail remains anxious that any new road scheme incorporates a bridge over the trackbed, otherwise prohibitive costs will significantly worsen the business case – as East Sussex County Council well knows.
RAIL also sought comment from ESCC and a spokesman gave a typically carefully-worded response, saying: “The county council strongly supports rail travel as a sustainable travel option, and has long recognised the benefits of reopening the Uckfield-Lewes line.” But notice – that does not mean it supports reopening the line.
The statement continues: “ESCC has continued to support reinstatement if the economic case could be made, and our Local Transport Plan clearly states that this reinstatement is one of our aspirations.” Of course, ESCC is safe in the knowledge that its latest gyratory road scheme in Uckfield will not only retain the impossible-to-bridge High Street, but will also oblige Network Rail to fund a £20m road flyover should it attempt reopening the line. Mission accomplished.
As for reinstatement being an “aspiration” they’ve been saying this ever since they severed the railway in 1969 with their initial road scheme in the centre of Lewes, whilst their latest Local Transport Plan up to 2026 accords it the lowest-possible priority.
ESCC is not interested and remains hostile – as they have been telling the Wealden Line Campaign for over 25 years: “The County Council cannot assist you”- “No longer feasible”- “It is judged to be unrealistic” - “A dubious venture” - “Reinstatement difficult, if not impossible” - “Inappropriate to hold out any hope for the Wealden Line Campaign’s objectives” - “It is not in the County Council’s strategic transport interest” - “The County Council does not want expenditure to be diverted to the Lewes-Uckfield line.”
These are merely a few examples and this is why the Rail Minister Theresa Villiers should be more careful before signing off departmental letters which say: “It is therefore for East Sussex County Council to decide whether it wishes to promote such a scheme.”
It is also why London, Brighton and the South East should collectively wake up if it wants vastly improved rail services across an increasingly busy and congested region.