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 London & South Coast Analysis 2015


The latest publication released by the BML2 Project Group in December 2015


The download file is approx 4.5mb



Why the South




Main Line 2


The download file is approx 3mb.



Why only BML2

can benefit Lewes


This brochure clearly shows why the BML2 Project is the ONLY viable scheme on the table that would reconnect the railway from Uckfield directly to BOTH Brighton and Lewes with the least impact of noise and visual appearance within the South Downs National Park.


The download file is approx 1.33mb.




Response to

Network Rail's draft

Sussex Area Route Study


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Latest BML2 Publication

London & South Coast Analysis 2015

London & South Coast Analysis 2015 

A 24pp in-depth analysis produced by the BML2 Project Group is now available to download for viewing or printing.

The file is approx 4.5mb in pdf format.


Click on image to start the download.








Labour Lords condemn rail-wrecking road by ‘greenest Government ever’

“The DfT must overrule this further attempt to block forever the extension of the line to Lewes” – Lord Berkeley

Following the Labour Lords’ Chief Whip’s denunciation of East Sussex County Council’s damaging road proposal at Uckfield, Lord Berkeley has roundly criticized David Cameron’s Government for not only its support for the Tory-led county council’s intended gyratory scheme, but also its disinterest in reopening the railway south of Uckfield.


Labour Peer, Lord Berkeley, CEng; MICE; FRSA; FCIT; Hon.FIMechE; Hon DSc(Btn); OBE;  has had a distinguished career in civil engineering with firms such as Wimpey and culminating in ten years with Eurotunnel – undoubtedly the greatest UK transport project of the twentieth century. As he remarked to us: “I am a civil engineer who has built the odd road and railway!”

Writing in the latest (June) issue of The Railway Magazine, he draws attention to the Government’s encouragement to Network Rail to increase capacity by reopening lines where strategically important and asks – “So why is the Government apparently hell-bent on resisting calls to reopen the Lewes–Uckfield line?”

Lord Berkeley told the Wealden Line Campaign this week: “I have always suspected the business case for the reopening” and, like many of us, understands how it was gradually narrowed-down until it focused primarily upon usage between Lewes and Uckfield, thereby obviating its obvious regional function.

He added: “This completely fails to take into account not only the growth in demand from this part of Sussex to London, but also the fact that even now the existing line is operating at capacity. How otherwise will the network cope with the expected 20% increase in passenger traffic over ten years?”

Rail Minister Theresa Villiers, who is noticeably coming in for increasing criticism, admitted only recently that the Government has no long-term solution for the overloaded Brighton Line. Other than introducing a swingeing congestion charge for peak-hour travel, it has no idea how to expand capacity on busy routes from the south into London. This is an extremely important issue because rail projects take several years to complete and require leadership and strategic planning.

Turning to ESCC’s destructive road scheme, Lord Berkeley said in the Railway Magazine: “It appears that East Sussex County Council only believes in roads (the more the better) and its preferred option of cutting off forever any chance of reopening this line is by driving a new road at formation level through the middle of Uckfield, a plan that appears to be supported by the Tory-led Government, presumably on the basis that myopic localism by its car-loving residents takes precedence over the greener travel ambitions of the rest of the country and beyond.”

Two years ago David Cameron claimed he wanted the new coalition administration to be: “the greenest government ever” – but here we have transport policies belonging to the Beeching era and the car-crazy 1960s.

Lord Berkeley advised: “In any design of a new road across the rail formation at Uckfield, it is essential that space is left for a two-track railway and 12-car station, and that the road must bridge the route of the line so that, if and when the line is reinstated, no changes to the road will be necessary.”

Uckfield New Station

As depicted here, Network Rail’s Engineering Study of 2008 shows how critical the station site remains to reopening the line to the Sussex Coast, not least because the present cramped, single-line terminus platform straddles the former Down Main Line.

Citing the Rail Minister’s backing for the road across Network Rail’s new station site and the trackbed, Lord Berkeley told us: “I cannot understand how Theresa Villiers can make these statements when it is clear that the line cannot be reopened with a decent station unless the County Council changes its ideas.”

Labour’s Chief Whip, Lord Bassam of Brighton, who has been similarly critical about ESCC, has said this week: “I believe Network Rail should be carrying out an urgent, detailed and independent assessment of BML2 – free from the influence of East Sussex County Council.”

ESCC Uckfield Road Scheme


Uckfield’s increasingly-contentious town centre road scheme has taken a surprise new twist which has made senior Government Ministers and Peers look distinctly foolish.

Last July, Rupert Clubb, East Sussex County Council’s Director of Economy, Transport & Environment, put forward its nonsensical argument for the road: “Traffic levels in Uckfield town centre will become unmanageable as a result of developments permitted on the basis of the Wealden Non-Statutory Local Plan. This has led to congestion centred round the Bell Lane/High Street traffic signal controlled junction.”

How congestion has materialized from cars belonging to houses which haven’t even been built defies us, but this is how Mr Clubb began the County Council’s third and latest attempt to sever the supposedly ‘protected’ Lewes-Uckfield railway trackbed with yet another new road. Now, having secured about £4.5m from local developers through Section 106 agreements, ESCC is confidently poised to proceed.

Lewes MP Norman Baker, once such a formidable and vociferous critic of ESCC and its pivotal role in closing the line in 1969, was alerted last June to this serious development. Since his elevation to Transport Minister in Mr Cameron’s government, it has not gone unnoticed that he has remained uncharacteristically silent; offering no opinion, let alone opposition, in the face of this determined threat from his own county council. In all current dealings with him, he has simply forwarded such concerns to his co-minister Theresa Villiers at the Department for Transport and ESCC’s Rupert Clubb.

As we reported last autumn, Theresa Villiers told Norman Baker: “Given the importance of the points raised by Robert Chubb [sic] in his letter, and my personal interest in this issue, there were various matters on which I asked for further briefing from officials.”

She said the DfT’s Head of Property, Malcolm Twite: “assures me that the plans have been specifically designed to ensure that they would not prevent the Lewes–Uckfield line from reopening in the future.” She then went even further by saying: “the proposal to move the road could actually make it easier to put together a case for reopening the railway” and reassured him: “I am advised that it would be easier and more cost-effective to build a bridge over the railway using the new alignment for the road rather than the current one” (the “current one” refers to the High Street where a level crossing once existed).

Meanwhile, following serious concerns expressed by Network Rail about this new road, Lord Berkeley asked in the House of Lords whether the Minister was: “- aware that East Sussex County Council has plans to build a road across the formation outside Uckfield which would, of course, completely prevent the line being reopened?”

Responding on behalf of the Government, Earl Attlee gave his authoritative assurance: “One of the benefits of the proposed scheme is that it allows for the building of a bridge at a later stage should that be necessary. In fact, the scheme makes it easier to open the line, should that be necessary, because to the west [it’s actually east] of the proposed road crossing is a level crossing, which would be unacceptable if you wanted to open the railway.”
Despite this, Lord Berkeley still considered instructions should be given to the DfT (which owns all the land) to safeguard the station site and trackbed. But Earl Attlee refused, saying: “No, we will not. It is not necessary. We are absolutely confident that nothing has been done that will compromise the ability to open the railway at some point in the future, should it be desirable to do so.”

Energy & Climate Change Minister and Wealden MP, Charles Hendry, in whose constituency Uckfield lies, has also been drawn in, following constituents’ concerns about the railway.  But he, too, provided reassurances – saying that ESCC’s proposals have been “- done in a way specifically intended to allow the Uckfield–Lewes rail link in the future, and indeed would make it much easier at the time to enable the line to be continued through the town, without the inconvenience and risks of a level-crossing.”

Similarly embroiled is Tunbridge Wells MP and Minister for Cities, Decentralisation and Planning, the Rt Hon. Greg Clark. After listening to constituents’ fears that restoring train services between Tunbridge Wells and Brighton could be jeopardised, he obligingly wrote to Theresa Villiers who gave this unequivocal assurance: “Dear Greg, We have studied the plans for the proposed road development in the area of Uckfield railway station and have concluded that they would improve, rather than harm, the possibility of re-opening the Lewes–Uckfield railway.”

She made the situation perfectly clear to him: “The proposal by East Sussex County Council to divert the road would move it to a position in which a bridge over the railway would be much easier to construct if ever the railway were to be re-opened.”

The County Council estimates the road scheme, which it intends pursuing – and for which funding is now secured (known confusingly as Option D / Phase 1) – will cost about £5m. Its confident Director of Economy, Transport & Environment, said last July: “Once a scheme has been approved by the Lead Member [of ESCC], it will be taken forward through the necessary statutory processes so that implementation can take place once funding is in place.”

However, we have since seen a statement from ESCC’s Transport Development Control Manager, Lawrence Stringer – who has responsibility for delivering the Uckfield road scheme – which states: “It is not possible to bridge the river and extended railway using the alignment shown in Phase 1.”

Consequently, this leaves all the guarantees from Theresa Villiers and her officers such as Peter Foot, her ‘Rail Operations Advisor’ and given to the House of Lords; various Ministers, MPs, and members of the public, every bit as worthless as the “protection” afforded to the railway’s trackbed.

Prior to her appointment to Government and succession as Rail Minister, Mrs Villiers wrote warmly in 2008: “Thank you for your briefing on the Wealden Line Campaign and the possibility of reopening the Lewes–Uckfield rail route as part of a renovation of rail services in Sussex, Kent and Surrey. I found your briefing both interesting and informative. This is an issue of high importance. I have visited Lewes to discuss the campaign to reopen the Lewes–Uckfield line and the Conservatives continue to press the Government to introduce a moratorium on building on any disused rail line still in public ownership. Please let me assure you that I will keep your points very much in mind as my Conservative colleagues plan the best way to deal with Britain’s current rail capacity problems.”

But despite telling her colleague, Planning Minister Greg Clark, “We have studied the plans” it’s doubtful whether DfT officers have actually shown Theresa Villiers the plans, let alone discussed the enormous implications for the railway. If nothing else, this is very poor ministerial handling, particularly as she assured Norman Baker of her “personal interest in this issue”.

This remains an extremely serious matter because a critically-important regional rail project is being threatened by a 100 yards of trivial road declared necessary to ‘solve’ localised congestion. The Minister needs to take decisive action because this level of incompetence at the DfT will be roundly condemned by many – not least by those who have been so misled.

BML2’s new London Phase creates Thameslink 2 and ‘Stanwick’

In the two years since BML2’s unveiling in April 2010, we’ve had formal and informal meetings with rail industry people, listening and learning about the difficulties caused by insufficient rail capacity on an increasingly busy network into central London from the south. We’ve also had the benefit of studying Network Rail’s informative Route Utilisation Strategies.

Neither the feasibility nor funding of BML2’s various phases has proved contentious, be it the Sussex Phase (reopening into Lewes and a new link to Brighton); the Kent Phase (reopening into Tunbridge Wells); or the London Phase (reopening the valuable Selsdon–Lewisham route). But until now, going further into London has understandably proved difficult, as Rail Minister Theresa Villiers explained: “For BML2 to be a strong contender, it would be important for you to develop your thinking further regarding how BML2 services could be integrated into the congested stretches of railway between New Cross and London Bridge.”
Meanwhile, the Department for Transport’s insistence that investment should be focused on the existing network has been viewed by many as an excuse to do nothing. This is because in some instances it is clearly impossible to extract the maximum benefit and usage out of the operational network without reintroducing certain closed links to attain that objective. We also believe it is essential for investment to reap rewards in usage, usefulness and financial return.

Because there has been some confusion over what constitutes BML2, we decided to publish an introductory 4-page brochure. It is now available on our Downloads Section, whilst 3,000 printed copies will be going out over the next few days.

‘WHY THE SOUTH NEEDS BRIGHTON MAIN LINE 2’ briefly explains the problems facing the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines and how BML2 can dramatically overcome these. Which phase should come first is not for us to determine – but each must happen as they depend on each other to achieve the desired result.

The easiest and least-costly are the Sussex and Kent phases, but it is the London phase which possesses truly astounding potential. It is admittedly ambitious and will be the costliest but – in view of what it delivers for London – it is still a relatively straightforward and inexpensive transport project for the capital.

In the brochure, Lord Bassam of Brighton says: “Crossrail will add massively to the argument for much greater rail connectivity” – and he is right. Commuters who work at Canary Wharf have to first go into London Bridge where the Jubilee Line station is regularly unable to cope with over-demand and has to be closed on safety grounds. But a short 5-mile north-south Crossrail connection between Lewisham and Stratford which connects with Canary Wharf would revolutionise rail not just in eastern London – where the focus of growth is moving – but connect East Anglia with Surrey, Kent and Sussex. Once that route is in place, huge opportunities suddenly open up before us.

It justifies a cross-connection south of Croydon whereby Brighton Line services can also run to Canary Wharf, Stratford – and beyond. That means Gatwick Airport can have dedicated direct rail services to Canary Wharf. As Arup’s recent report reminds us in its plea for providing high-quality rail services between London and Gatwick:  “For trips to the City of London Business District, Gatwick Express accounts for around 71% of passengers. Rail overall accounts for 97% of City of London business passengers travelling to the Airport.”

But BML2’s London Phase goes even further by enabling ‘Stanwick’ – as it will probably be dubbed. This allows dedicated express services to connect with Stratford and continue on to London’s third airport at Stansted – opening up even more possibilities for air-rail travel and superior connections to the very heart of the capital’s business sector.

To effectively manage the interconnection between BML and BML2 near Croydon, a new interchange station, perhaps suitably called Croydon Gateway, would solve Network Rail’s “major obstacle to growth” – the East Croydon bottleneck – and untangle the conflicts and competition for paths between stopping and non-stop services. All variations to suit passengers’ choice of destination and individual need could be catered for at this location.

Arguably even more beneficial than the Gatwick-Stansted link is BML2’s ability to create ‘Thameslink 2’ – an inter-regional link transforming rail travel both south and north of the Thames. Quite apart from relieving the extreme pressure that will inevitably increase on Thameslink’s solitary core route through Blackfriars, the eastern side of the capital gains a strategically-important north-south link which traverses London boroughs seeking regeneration and investment. Rail is supremely placed to effectively facilitate this function.

This modest brochure merely scratches the surface and is intended only as a layman’s guide to the project. However, a more detailed and technical report is being planned to elaborate and explain even more advantages which BML2 has to offer.

In this week’s ‘RAIL’ magazine (in newsagents Wednesday 18 April) its Business Editor Philip Haigh says BML2 – “now desperately needs a big backer” and suggests “Could Transport Minister Theresa Villiers take a leaf from her local mayor, Boris Johnson, by associating her name with a much-needed congestion relief scheme?”

And in his recent major article for Brighton’s ‘Argus’ newspaper, Lord Bassam of Brighton urged both Theresa Villiers and Boris Johnson to “get behind this project.”

As Philip Haigh rightly says, there’s a limit to how far we can push such a major scheme unassisted.

Government utterly lost for Brighton Line solutions

Transport Minister Theresa Villiers has again told Brighton Kemptown Conservative MP Simon Kirby that reopening the Lewes–Uckfield line cannot be a priority for the Government at the moment.


This news will greatly disappoint her Coalition counterpart, Lewes LibDem MP, Norman Baker, who said shortly before he, too, became a Minister at the Department for Transport: “Reopening will be good for the economy, good for the environment and good for social mobility. It is one of my political ambitions to be there for the reopening, indeed to help cut the ribbon. I am beginning to believe I might just make it.”


Meanwhile, an undeterred Simon Kirby said valiantly: “I am, and will continue to be, very supportive and will do my best to continue to press the issue in Parliament.”


BML2’s Project Manager Brian Hart had told Mr Kirby: “Whilst London-end capacity at termini is undoubtedly a limiting factor on the face of it, we must remember that long-distance (e.g. Brighton) trains compete for pathways through East Croydon and slots into London platforms with trains performing shorter suburban journeys. Connex, for example, proposed replacing some Caterham branch trains with new Eastbourne-Lewes-Uckfield-London fast services.” Appreciating that this would cause conflicts with suburban services, he added that nevertheless: “there ought to be some scope where we decide upon a balance and what is most important and delivers the greatest benefit.” Indeed, such sentiments are now being expressed by Gatwick Express, faced by the hopeless congestion on the Brighton Line with no spare pathways.


Brian Hart also pointed out “Even if we ignore the London end, it is a fact that a reconnected Uckfield line to Lewes – and directly into Brighton via a new Ashcombe tunnel under the Downs – would still be able to deliver more capacity in the south by better utilisation of existing Uckfield/Oxted line pathways. It is also true that whenever the BML is down (as seems increasingly common now) or has to be closed for engineering works, then all Brighton services could be easily diverted via Uckfield with only about ten minutes added to the normal journey. This has to be better than transferring thousands onto replacement buses or telling people to make a vast detour via Littlehampton or Hastings.”


However, Mrs Villiers warned of “serious consequences in terms of crowding” if any suburban trains were removed because of the “limited tube network south of the river”. She said the Government needs to concentrate limited taxpayer funds to deliver more capacity for further growth over the next few years, adding “Our priorities for Network Rail’s Control Period 5 (2014 to 2019) are therefore mainly focused on the provision of additional capacity on the existing network.”


This shows the Coalition Government has no idea how to plan ahead because railways need far-sighted vision. There is no additional capacity left on the Brighton Line, it is full-up and the south needs a new main line. Theresa Villiers admitted only last month that Thameslink “will not on its own, provide a long-term solution.”


Capacity shortfall on the Brighton Main Line is now notorious and the Sussex Phase of BML2 (reopening Uckfield–Lewes, along with a tunnel under the South Downs into Brighton) would have an immediate beneficial effect on the BML – and could easily be delivered by 2020. Even without a ‘London-end terminal solution’ – having two main lines between London and Brighton would completely transform rail’s overall efficiency and capabilities throughout Sussex, Surrey and Kent.


Mrs Villiers finished by saying: “We will continue to consider the re-opening of former railways where they are able to make an immediate contribution to the capacity shortfall – as East-West will do for Oxford and for Milton Keynes.” She added: “Sadly the reopening of the railway between Lewes and Uckfield cannot do this and it cannot therefore be a priority for Government investment for the moment. Of course we are prepared to revisit such issues where evidence emerges on changing passenger demand.”


What kind of emerging evidence would that be then? Waiting until we see long queues at Uckfield station for a train service that doesn’t exist?


In another letter to the Minister for Decentralisation and Cities, Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark – who has problems of his own from constituents suffering the equally-overburdened Tonbridge Main Line – Mrs Villiers said the DfT had studied the plans for the road development in Uckfield and “have concluded that they would improve, rather than harm” reopening the line. This was because ESCC would divert the road away from the former level crossing “to a position in which a bridge over the railway would be much easier to construct”. She is, we presume, unaware that ESCC intends retaining the High Street – where the level crossing used to be – to form an integral part of its gyratory ring road.


“It is not possible to construct a value-for-money case to re-open a railway line that could only be of use at off-peak times or when blockages occur on the Brighton Main Line. Even as an off-peak railway it would be of dubious value because journey times would be much slower via BML2 than via the existing Brighton Main Line.” she said.


Presumably then, since the advent of High Speed One services, no one uses the considerably slowed-down Ashford-Tonbridge-Charing Cross services any longer? And if, or when, we get HS2, the currently overcrowded Midlands main lines will become empty?


Astonishingly she said: “It might be a viable proposition if it were to become part of an alternative railway route from the Sussex Coast to London.”


A perplexed Brian Hart said: “That’s precisely what everyone has been suggesting for the past 25 years – perhaps the penny has finally dropped.”


“I think such a re-opening is unlikely to happen in the short term” she said, a sentiment a great number of people will heartily agree with – all the while this muddled, lack-of-direction, going-nowhere and stuck-for-solutions Coalition Government holds on to power.


Norman Baker’s view was not sought.

ESCC’s latest ‘Public Consultation’

In spite of the furore in 2005 over its proposed Gyratory Road Scheme, East Sussex County Council remains determined to build this across the Lewes rail link on Uckfield’s station site.

ESCC’s latest ‘Public Consultation’ exercise lasts until 23 April and the so-called options can be downloaded and commented upon from their website:  continue to ‘Uckfield Traffic Improvements’.

But Option D called ‘Southern Road Phase 1’ is the scheme which ESCC will build – unless it is stopped. This starts by demolishing Uckfield’s historic Railway Inn (now renamed ‘The Station’) to enable their new highway to sweep into the land once owned by British Rail.  Uckfield’s former station platforms will be razed, whilst the supposedly protected trackbed will be severed ‘at grade’ (on the level). The road will then cross the river to join Tesco’s roundabout where the retailer aspires to build a massive superstore.

ESCC will retain the existing section of High Street, where the level crossing used to be, before joining this in to complete its intended Gyratory.


Once complete, Uckfield will then become a permanent rail terminus and the Brighton Main Line will continue as the only direct rail connection between Brighton, Hove, Lewes, Eastbourne, Seaford, Newhaven and London.


The Department for Transport, which now owns the land, needs to call-in this scheme because we consider MPs, Ministers and Peers are being wilfully deceived.

To read our in-depth analysis of these implications, please Click Here

Council’s plan to wreck Lewes-Uckfield rumbled

In spite of the furore in 2005 over its proposed Gyratory Road Scheme, East Sussex County Council remains determined to build this across the Lewes rail link on Uckfield’s station site.

ESCC’s ‘Public Consultation’ exercise lasts until 23 April and the so-called options can be downloaded and commented upon from their website:  continue to ‘Uckfield Traffic Improvements’.

But Option D called ‘Southern Road Phase 1’ is the scheme which ESCC will build – unless it is stopped. This starts by demolishing Uckfield’s historic Railway Inn (now renamed ‘The Station’) to enable their new highway to sweep into the land once owned by British Rail.  Uckfield’s former station platforms will be razed, whilst the supposedly protected trackbed will be severed ‘at grade’ (on the level). The road will then cross the river to join Tesco’s roundabout where the retailer aspires to build a massive superstore.

ESCC will retain the existing section of High Street, where the level crossing used to be, before joining this in to complete its intended Gyratory. The ‘Inset’ on the diagram shows how this will be accomplished.


We have had to overlay blue and red dots to indicate more clearly the route of the railway through Uckfield

(To print out this graphic in a higher resolution Click here)

Once complete, Uckfield will then become a permanent rail terminus and the Brighton Main Line will continue as the only direct rail connection between Brighton, Hove, Lewes, Eastbourne, Seaford, Newhaven and London.

The Department for Transport, which now owns the land, needs to call-in this scheme because we consider MPs, Ministers and Peers are being wilfully deceived.

In the House of Lords last October, the Government’s Transport Spokesman Earl Attlee told a concerned Lord Berkeley that he understood redirecting the road into the station site “allows for the building of a bridge at a later stage”. This was because reinstating the former High Street level crossing would be “unacceptable if you wanted to reopen the railway” – a fact which no one, Network Rail, Southern, or the Wealden Line Campaign has ever disputed.

Similarly concerned was Conservative Minister and Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark who not only wrote to Rail Minister Theresa Villiers and DfT Minister Norman Baker, but also ESCC’s Director of Economy, Transport & Environment, Rupert Clubb.

Mr. Clubb told Greg Clark, the Communities and Local Government Minister: “It should be noted that within the ‘Network Rail Lewes-Uckfield Railway Line Reinstatement Study 2008’ Network Rail concluded that a bridge could not be constructed at the existing High Street and that one could only be accommodated to the west, in a position similar to one of our possible options. In addition, the cost of this bridge is included within the report’s overall project costs”.

Until now, it’s been assumed and agreed by the Government, Network Rail and most of us that a new road and bridge is required to replace the old High Street level crossing.

Network Rail’s Lewes-Uckfield 2008 Engineering Study shows a new station on the site, incorporating two very necessary 12-car platforms either side of double track for the growing town of Uckfield.

Network Rail’s route for the road and associated bridge and approaches costing £4.5m was based on the Town Council’s own suggestion. This fully protects the station site which includes ample space for desperately-needed car parking as part of Network Rail’s £108m proposal to reopen the railway and restore train services to the Sussex Coast.

Seeking further clarification, Network Rail tells us: “The 2008 very high level estimate for the basic elements of the new road bridge was: £3,623,918 [for the bridge over the trackbed/future railway]; plus £905,400 [approach ramps].”

They said this total of £4,529,318 represents “the cost of building the bridge and road – other project management, design and preliminary costs would have to be added to this. If you were to build the bridge in advance of the reinstatement of the railway line, you would be able to use any contractor, rather than a Network Rail approved construction company, this should reduce the costs significantly because you are not bridging an operational railway.”

At the County Council’s exhibition, we heard ESCC officers and representatives telling people that the option to reopen the railway would remain, directing them to their plan marked: ‘Option D - Southern Road Phase 2’.

But this isn’t a second phase at all – and isn’t intended to be. It is nothing more than an attempt to mislead those who are concerned with protecting the railway and seeing it reopened. It shows an extensive (some say deliberately over-engineered) flyover which ESCC puts ‘in the region of £15 to £20 million’. ESCC representatives were also telling people this flyover would be “paid for by Network Rail” if the business case for the reopening (which they reminded everyone had “failed”) were to improve. However, when challenged how adding £20m to the reopening costs would improve the business case they walked away.

Encouragingly, not just townsfolk but people we recognized from other towns, Tunbridge Wells, Lewes, Crowborough, Newhaven, were clearly mainly concerned about protecting the interests of the railway and having train services once more across the region.

ESCC is saying their road scheme is needed now to manage traffic congestion from houses which are expected to be built by 2027. But, as someone pointed out, these additional 1,000 homes will also need better rail links and services – as well as a properly-designed road scheme for the town. Let’s not forget that fast BML2 services from Uckfield would be in Lewes in 10 minutes, in Brighton in 18 minutes and in Eastbourne in 30 minutes. 


BML2 Project Manager Brian Hart said: “The feedback we’re getting reflects everyone’s concern that the County Council is the tail wagging the dog. A regional rail scheme cannot be jeopardised by a relatively insignificant in-town road scheme. People keep asking ‘Where’s Norman Baker when we need him?’ – I’m sorry to say I don’t know.”

Brian Hart added: “We know the level crossing will not be reinstated and we know a bridge and new road is necessary – we all want that. Unfortunately this scheme is ill-conceived, poorly designed and won’t even resolve the impossible – ‘solving’ traffic congestion. But given ESCC’s appalling record on Lewes-Uckfield, I suspect that’s probably not the real intention.”
Predictably, various so-called ‘options’ are presented in this window-dressing exercise, but most people aren’t as gullible as ESCC imagines. One (Option B) costing £1 to £2m, would provide 132 much-needed station car parking spaces on the site and would continue to leave the protected trackbed undisturbed for reopening.

He concluded: “This is railway land and it is needed for railway purposes. However, ESCC has no intention whatsoever of doing Option B – it’s just a cynical exercise. Nevertheless, I suggest everyone should vote for it. Everyone – parish, town, city councils, councillors, chambers of commerce, trade organizations – whoever you are, or know, then tell, email or tweet them to vote for Option B. If you support reopening the railway and want to do something for BML2 then send this message to East Sussex County Council that we shall continue fighting for the considerable improvements, new connections and train services that the south so desperately needs.”

Rail Minister admits Thameslink not long-term BML solution

At the Gatwick Hotel last year Network Rail chiefs told stakeholders:Sussex railways are the most congested in the UK. Landslides, tunnel closures, accidents and engineering blockades followed; then came Februarywhich commuters called amonth from hellas the Brighton Lines over-burdened vulnerability was exposed. Lord Bassam of Brighton wrote a compelling pieceSupport our plan to restore rail linebacking BML2, whilst last week headlines from fed-up citizens urged:Get behind BML2 if you want it to happen. Even March started badly with a major power failure near Gatwick which cut all rail connections between London and the Sussex Coast on Sunday.


Following last Septembers incident in Balcombe tunnel, Southerns MD Chris Burchell told us:We would like to have a more efficient diversionary route for the BML for times of major disruption and engineering work.At that time he said:the BML2 idea looks like it could help in these (hopefully) rare events of BML closure. Well, Chris, rare they havent been, as Network Rail, let alone thousands of unfortunate passengers, know to their considerable cost.


Chris Burchell also said:We would also like to have more capacity for trains from the South Coast into London such that a better balance for commuter services and airport services could be achieved for all routestaking into account improvements in capacity, performance, line speed and journey times.He added:Such idyllic aspirations can only be considered seriously if they are both affordable and viable.


Now, in a response to Brighton MP Simon Kirby, a keen supporter of BML2, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers acknowledges:The BML is one of a number of routes on which the provision of further capacity is difficult.She goes on to warn that the Thameslink 12-car trains when delivered in 2015will be a useful medium-term contribution to BMLbut says thiswill not on its own, provide a long-term solution.


We have seen several versions of how BML2 might connect to one of the main lines that could feed trains into a London terminusshe told Mr. Kirby, adding:Unfortunately none of these versions connect to a route that is not already completely full in the peak. There are no spare train slots into either Victoria or London Bridge at peak times. This means that the BML2 proposal, in its current form, fails to satisfy its primary purpose of providing rush-hour relief to BML1. Until or unless a solution to this problem is found there would be no point in carrying out a thorough review of the BML2 proposal.


Many will challenge this analysis, but we hardly expected to find spare train slots into London termini because there will always be services to fill any going spare. As someone said, there are no spare slots for HS2 trains into Euston, but that isnt a barrier to the Government. In the south its a matter of allocation, using available slots wisely and ensuring maximum value is obtained. But even without a London-end solution, BML2s additional routes to both Brighton and Tunbridge Wells would be of inestimable valueand not just during disruptions which now occur on a regular basis.


The whole point of BML2 is that it can run more trains and carry thousands more people from Sussex, as well as from Tunbridge Wells to within a few miles of the City of London. It circumvents all Network Rails insuperable bottlenecks andmajor barriers to growthalong the congested Brighton and Tonbridge main lines. It shrinks the massive long-distance problems to a more manageable short-distance solution.


Theresa Villiers expressed personal thoughts by telling the Brighton MP:Im sorry to send such a disappointing answer, but the bottlenecks into the big London stations do seem to pose a barrier which its not currently possible for the BML2 scheme to get over.


Thameslink 2015 is a stop-gap and Network Rail says by 2020 rising BML usage will cancel out this intermediate capacity, so conditions will be no better than today. Its just as bad in Kent where the TonbridgeOrpington section severely constrains growth.


BML2s Project Manager said:I do believe Theresa Villiers is genuinely concerned, but well willingly present our case if she is prepared to listen. We have to start planning now because time is running out. Double-deck and 16-car trains are ruled-out for good reasons, whilst there is nothing else on the table apart from pricing people off rush-hour trains in the vague hope of creating more room. It cant be right that only the well-off will be able to afford travelling to work between 8 and 9. The South is crying out for a larger and more robust network with new strategic connections, not just for when things go wrong, but supporting additional services so everyone can travel into work at a reasonable hour. Realistically, only BML2 can provide this affordable expansion. As for London-end connections, we have some ideas, so maybe the time has come for some radical solutions that could be spectacularly money-spinning.



South will stagnate without BML2

“There are many rail schemes, crying out for far smaller sums than HS2, which could offer a bigger impact pound for pound. An excellent example is BML2.”
- Christian Wolmar, Transport Writer and Broadcaster

Sussex railways are the most congested in the UK. Despite all Brighton Line trains being maximum (12 car) length in the next few years, demand is rapidly outstripping capacity. By 2020 even the longer trains – which will have less seating and more standing room – will be just as overcrowded as today.

Disruption on the Brighton Main Line (BML) will continue through train breakdowns, point failures, signalling problems, bad weather, accidents, suicides, engineering works, etc, etc.  It’s already impossible to run more trains, expand services to other towns, or offer passengers greater choice and much-needed alternative routes into London from the south.

Kent’s Tonbridge Main Line (TML), similarly described by Network Rail to be “a major barrier to growth”, is in the same invidious position. But between these two arterial routes into London is the former main line to Uckfield which, until 1969, ran directly into Brighton and into Tunbridge Wells. It is no coincidence that the BML and TML are now in serious trouble. The absurdly under-used Uckfield line is perfectly capable of being a main line once again and relieving both its neighbouring overloaded lines. It is a classic example of all that is wrong with short-term transport policy in England.

The blame rests squarely with Government intransigence. The Uckfield line is restrained by single-line sections due to ‘rationalisation’ in 1989 – approved by Mrs. Thatcher’s Transport Minister, Michael Portillo. This misguided attempt to avoid a growing backlog of track maintenance costs restricts the route to providing just a half-hourly service. Similarly, the stubborn refusal to electrify the 25 miles south of Oxted to Uckfield, let alone reinstate the seven miles to the coastal network, is another example of the Government seriously failing the south.

The Government is perfectly aware of how embarrassingly successful rail schemes have proved. Both Scotland and Wales have benefited enormously in the past decade. Every reopening and upgrade has far-exceeded the pessimistic passenger demand assessments.

Even the limited peak hour services running on the Uckfield line are now busier than they’ve ever been. Commuters have to increasingly stand in aisles, perch in luggage compartments, or drive elsewhere, but it’s pretty much the same everywhere. Some commuters head to Haywards Heath and other BML stations where they can park and have more frequent services. But railheading concentrates overloading and the BML can’t support any more trains – it’s a full-up railway.

Everyone seems to agree, train operators included, that more trains need to run between the Sussex Coast and London, as well as Tunbridge Wells and London to relieve the equally congested TML. Because the Government, the Department for Transport and Network Rail between them will not promote expansion of the south’s rail network, things can only get far worse as we head for stagnation.

The Government will not order any more new diesel trains to ease the crush. It won’t electrify, nor will it redouble the Uckfield line, even though it’s a trifling sum in transport budgets. It’s an unworthy don’t care attitude and a do-nothing transport policy. No vision, no ideas, no plan, no growth – and no hope.

Station parking at Uckfield hardly exists (approx 13 spaces) so commuters drive to the next station, Buxted, where they overspill into village streets and lanes. It is the same story at Eridge where most of the 220-plus cars park at crazy angles along the verges. At Uckfield, adjacent residential roads are clogged up. Nearby, the extensive goods yard and former station site has lain derelict for 20 years. This belonged to BR’s Property Board, now a ‘wholly-owned subsidiary of the Department for Transport’ – i.e. the Government. It has a price tag of between £3m - £4m but the Government says it wants the money from selling it to a developer – for housing.

Attempts to use the land for commuter parking have been consistently frustrated, not least by East Sussex County Council which will publicise plans in mid-March for a new road built across the trackbed as part of this development. A sop to commuters is the promise of a few public parking spaces (Network Rail discovered it was 38). This is for a town of 13,000 people. The site should be imaginatively developed for a proper double-track/two-platform station with multi-storey parking, an integrated transport hub with, most certainly, a new road, but one which includes a bridge over the railway. But this requires vision, good planning and consideration for the future.

This week it was announced that another 1,000 new houses will be built in Uckfield....

Network Rail told Tunbridge Wells Borough Council “Unfortunately High Speed One doesn’t put any more track into Tunbridge Wells.” It certainly doesn’t, but BML2 does. BML2 means reopening the Uckfield main lines into Tunbridge Wells and to Lewes, plus a new direct connection into Brighton and Falmer – the only way of relieving the Brighton Line. It is not just a reasonable and realistically affordable scheme, but one which supplies all the capacity the south needs. It also has practical solutions for opening new routes into London, new cross-connections and unlocking massive and exciting opportunities for future growth right across the south east as part of further Thameslink expansion.

But it seems the Government isn’t interested and won’t even listen to the case for BML2.

Instead, its preferred option is to attempt stifling demand by imposing punitive fares for travelling in the high peak hour. It’s an attitude which smacks of they’re only commuters after all and can’t do anything else but cough-up if they want to get into work.

Railways play a tremendously important role in the South East – outside as well as inside Greater London. Stifling growth and selling-off valuable assets for a mere pittance is not a transport policy.

It is no way to run a railway, let alone a country.

“BML2 good for London” says Lord Bassam

Chaos over three days on the Brighton Line causing widespread despair among passengers caught up in the turmoil resulted in Lord Berkeley, chairman of the Rail Freight Group and whose interests are transport and the environment, submitting two questions to Her Majesty’s Government.
The following day, on Wednesday 15, serious delays yet again occurred during Wednesday’s busy morning peak hours when over-running engineering works between Three Bridges and Wivelsfield caused long queues for replacement buses. Unfortunately, this was followed by further pandemonium late on Friday afternoon and the evening peak when a major power failure was reported in the Horley area which paralysed services between London and the South Coast.

Only the day before, Lord Bassam of Brighton wrote a powerful full-page article for the city’s Argus newspaper in which he set out his reasons for supporting BML2. He said the case for reopening “has never been stronger” and that the project “has a great deal going for it.” Those who have to pay top season ticket prices shouldn’t be forced to stand, he said, whilst he fears Network Rail’s predicted seating shortfall of 3,000 in twenty years’ time will come a lot sooner. Others have told us this, too.

Citing the “pull factor” of jobs in Canary Wharf and the City of London, he said: “Sussex commuters need an alternative route into London”, adding that Crossrail can only heighten this need and “add massively to the argument for greater rail connectivity”. BML2 would, he said “take pressure off the mainline and reduce the number of changes passengers have to make across London’s principal destinations.”

He is right of course, whilst many of us are left wondering how much longer commuters in the south will tolerate conditions on not only the overloaded Brighton Line, but the Tonbridge Main Line too.  

Appreciating how busy the railways have become throughout the day and at weekends, Lord Bassam perceptively explained how developments such as Brighton’s hugely successful AMEX stadium at Falmer have led to changing travel patterns, despite the transport system failing to keep pace. He suggests how much better it would be if on match days supporters could access the stadium via BML2. And, as we and others have pointed out, Sussex University would then be on a main line to London as well as major South East towns.

“If the Government wants to make an important environmental statement it could tell Network Rail to add the restored link into its plans and give rail the boost it needs” he said, roundly criticizing the “too narrowly cast” scope of the 2008 Study which, incidentally, lost its last shred of credibility by concluding passenger demand south of Uckfield could be satisfied with a 2-car train!

He drew attention to the enormously successful rail schemes in Scotland and Wales; the passenger estimates for which had proved “wide of the mark in seriously underestimating the popularity of new lines.”  
A passionate supporter in all that BML2 has to offer, not just across Sussex, but London and the wider South East, Lord Bassam threw down the gauntlet by saying: “The Government says it wants infrastructure investment because it helps to support growth in the economy. I argue that this is a perfect project for just that.”

In a further impassioned challenge to the Government to become involved in helping explore and develop BML2 he said: “For my part as an ex-Government minister I am happy to work for the greater good. I ask the ministers responsible, Theresa Villiers and Norman Baker, and those with an interest in transport like Boris Johnson to get behind this project because it is good for Sussex, it is good for our great city by the sea in Brighton and Hove and it will be good for London.”

Project Manager Brian Hart said: “The benefits of BML2 for London and the South East are truly immense and we would welcome the opportunity at any time to present these to Boris Johnson, Theresa Villiers and rail industry chiefs.” 

Labour’s House of Lords Chief Whip - “BML2 is a must”

Another chaotic peak-hour closure of the Brighton Line last Friday at Balcombe, followed by weekend closure for engineering works, has highlighted once again the strain on this vulnerable route and the many thousands who daily rely upon it*. A broken rail in Balcombe tunnel brought widespread delays with the media reporting many hundreds queueing for hours to board inadequate replacement buses.

Lord Bassam of Brighton and Shadow Chief Whip in the House of Lords, was frankly incensed by this latest incident and said passionately: “Government ministers say we don't need BML2 for at least twenty years. What do they know? They don't catch trains from Sussex to London.”

Network Rail will again face paying compensation to train operators. In 2007 the company revealed closing the Brighton Line amounted to £1million per day. Lord Bassam urged Network Rail to factor in the long term saving and the value of BML2 in being able to maintain rail services between the Sussex Coast and London.  

Last year he expressed deep concern that economic growth in the south was being held back. “The Sussex network is grossly congested, which is why we must have this second Brighton Line via Uckfield.”

He’s perfectly right of course. At the Gatwick Hotel last summer, stakeholders were bluntly told by Network Rail: “Sussex railway routes are the most congested in the UK”.

“For Sussex commuters BML2 is a must.” said Lord Bassam, adding: “For £100m we could have Lewes–Uckfield and an improved Sussex Coastal service.”

BML2 Project Manager Brian Hart said: “This would clearly get BML2 underway – a project which opens up enormous economic and travel opportunities across the South East.”

Now, Lord Bassam says he believes it is: “Time for Norman Baker to use his ministerial influence and get cash commitment to fund seven miles of track for a new full Sussex Coastal service.”

Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby also told those who contacted him over the weekend that BML2 would help the south by providing alternative routes when the Brighton Line is under such pressure.

Lord Bassam is urging everyone: “Do what you can to promote it. It's a project that works on a number of levels. Less pollution and better public transport links.”


* A daily average of 45,700 passengers use Brighton station and 1,890,882 season ticket entries recorded per annum (source Network Rail Sussex Route Utilisation Strategy and Office of Rail Regulation)