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Latest 2018 BML2 Project Publication

Design2158 What BML2 will do for

Kent and Tunbridge wells

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to revisit Sussex reopening study

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

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

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.


Uckfield Old Station Land


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

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.


Uckfield Station Site


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

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.



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


VILLIERS DUPED IN ROAD FIASCO

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: www.eastsussex.gov.uk  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