Brighton needs Brighton Main Line 2 says city MP
Published on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 00:00
Ever since his election, Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby has supported the Lewes–Uckfield re-opening and has initiated meetings with Ministers.
Now, wanting to learn more about the bigger picture and prospects, he met the promoters of BML2 to view the updated presentation. Project manager Brian Hart said: “Simon was an attentive listener and already appreciates the enormous problems confronting the busy Brighton Main Line.”
Network Rail’s 2007 Study into substantially increasing capacity on the Brighton Line concluded that spending £1bn on converting the route for longer trains or with new tunnels for double-deck rolling stock would actually worsen the current service. However, rather than investing in network expansion to handle more capacity, its 2011 ‘London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy’ proposes introducing a ‘Pricing Structure’. This means charging far higher fares for high-peak trains (08:00 – 09:00) in an attempt to deter demand and persuade commuters to travel earlier or later into work.
Brian told Mr. Kirby: “We clearly need more capacity on both the Brighton and Tonbridge Main Lines into London and BML2 can deliver this. People in the Home Counties south of London shouldn’t be punished for needing to get into work at a reasonable hour. We’re told we need High Speed Two for the extra capacity and the same is true with BML2 – but at a tiny fraction of the cost.”
Brian explained how BML2 would not only serve Lewes, but with its short link under the South Downs enable at least four additional trains to operate in the high peak hour between Brighton and London: “BML2’s advantage is that it can be phased – as suggested by Network Rail associates. Each stage brings more benefits, opportunities and increased capacity across the south. Everybody wins.”
Appreciating the importance of BML2 rather than just reopening Lewes–Uckfield which recently assumed a poor business case, Simon Kirby said: “Only BML2 can deliver direct train services between London and the AMEX stadium. This is just one of many reasons why Brighton needs this enhanced and sustainable transport link to the capital.”
The BML2 Presentation graphically illustrates how the project would not only vastly improve travel for commuters, but opens up infinite opportunities for business and tourism where rail has an increasingly important role to play, particularly across the many environmentally-sensitive areas throughout Sussex, Kent and Surrey.
Mr. Kirby believes BML2 will achieve many local goals: “It would firstly ease pressure on the congested Brighton to London commuter line. It would boost tourism and visitor numbers to the area and it would bring more jobs and economic opportunity.”
After the meeting Simon Kirby concluded: “BML2 will bring significant advantages and benefits to Brighton and the surrounding area” and encouragingly went on to say: “I recently met with the Minister [Theresa Villiers] to discuss this proposal and hope to meet with Norman Baker and Lord Bassam in the near future to see if a cross-party approach can bring the result we all want.”
Transport Minister: “Re-opening Lewes–Uckfield makes good railway sense”
Published on Monday, 23 January 2012 00:00
Transport Minister and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker wants a more strategic and regional focus to be applied to one of the UK’s top reopening projects. This week he told the Wealden Line Campaign “I believe that the sensible way forward regarding Lewes–Uckfield is to consider it in the context of the railway corridor from Brighton and the South Coast to London”. His comments come after reading a letter, published in February’s Today’s Railways, from a Network Rail employee who spoke of the “full-to-capacity Brighton Main Line”.
Simon Stoddart, who has many years of experience controlling trains at the BML’s busy Three Bridges panel, said: “Before we commit huge sums to a bottomless pit (High Speed Two) – how about attending to the bread-and-butter railway first and filling-in those gaps such as Uckfield–Lewes?” He also drew attention to the soaring success of the Uckfield line with the reintroduction of direct services to London, adding: “the glaring missing piece of this jigsaw is that few miles south to Lewes, with its huge potential for an equally well-used service to Brighton”.
Mr. Stoddart criticized the “excuse to sit on hands” by those who claim East Croydon would need additional capacity. He said merging Uckfield and East Grinstead services at Oxted would overcome this if the Uckfield line was redoubled, extended to the coast and electrified. *(1)
He also said “reopening would not be a challenging project”, believing the biggest obstacles were East Sussex County Council with its latest road scheme across the trackbed at Uckfield station and Government spokesmen such as Lord Attlee “ – yet another politician to change his views from opposition to Government”. With the Brighton Line so overloaded, Mr. Stoddart said the new Brighton–London route “will do very nicely, consolidating business to London and new patronage to Brighton from the Uckfield, Crowborough and Oxted area. There will be the additional benefit of an alternative route to the South Coast with the Brighton Main Line 2 project well worth considering too”.
Norman Baker said “It is quite clear that there is considerable pressure on train paths north from Brighton, particularly in the Balcombe area. The case for reinstatement of Lewes–Uckfield may well rest on the creation of an alternative line from the South Coast to London. That would indeed involve improvements to the line north of Uckfield, including electrification and re-doubling.”
Campaign Director Brian Hart said this was originally the aim of the 2008 Lewes–Uckfield Reopening Study – to show what reopening could do for the route in its regional context as part of a new main line in the south*(2) “However, the final outcome was a skewed study, weakly focusing only on local traffic between Lewes and Uckfield – but of course we know why that happened”.
Norman Baker ended on a positive note by saying: “I continue to believe that the re-opening of the Lewes–Uckfield line makes good railway sense and I have not entirely given up my aspiration to be present for the day this finally happens”.
“With increasing overcrowding and unreliability on the south’s overburdened network, BML2 can’t come soon enough” said Brian Hart.
*(1) “As well as the environmental benefits, electrification of the Hurst Green to Uckfield route would remove the need for the small fleet of diesel trains which currently operate the route. It would also enable joint running again with the East Grinstead services, which reduce the need for additional peak hour slots into London.”
*(2) “If this scheme was to be taken forward then it could be seen as another building block in the development of the Lewes, Uckfield, Oxted and London corridor. Later developments could include shorter journey time, redoubling any single-line sections, connecting into Tunbridge Wells and electrification.”
– Chris Curtis, Network Rail Project Manager Lewes-Uckfield Study. (These are among sections deleted from the final version published by East Sussex County Council in 2008).
BML2 “Time for action is now”
Published on Tuesday, 20 December 2011 08:00
-says Brighton MP Simon Kirby (Kemptown & Peacehaven) who met Rail Minister Theresa Villiers last week.
Simon Kirby has supported the project since his election. In June he wrote to Transport Minister and Lewes MP Norman Baker asking for a meeting with him. The Brighton MP said: “The re-opening of this line would achieve so many local goals. It would firstly ease pressure on the congested Brighton to London commuter line. It would boost tourism and visitor numbers to the area and it would bring more jobs and economic opportunity. I hope the Minister will see me, given his past support for this initiative, and we can work together in taking this matter forward.”
Unfortunately Simon Kirby was told the Government was not interested in supporting the project and that it was entirely up to the local authority (East Sussex County Council) to submit proposals. However, because the County Council now intends using the supposedly safeguarded trackbed for its own road-building ambitions, this seems somewhat cynical to say the least.
An undeterred Simon Kirby said he has regular discussions with both Brighton and Hove City Council and ESCC, adding “I will suggest to these bodies that serious consideration should be given to this matter. Opening the [Lewes-Uckfield] line would reduce congestion on the busy Brighton to London route and would bring extra capacity to bear on the rail network in our area.”
Now, following a “very constructive” meeting on 12 December at the Department for Transport with Theresa Villiers, Simon Kirby said “we also discussed how the initiative could fit in so well to the Brighton Main Line 2 Project” and has promised to continue pressing the matter with officials and ministers at every possible opportunity.
Subsequently, the Brighton MP has written to Lord Steve Bassam of Brighton, who is well-known as a keen supporter of BML2, suggesting a bi-partisan approach to raising the whole profile of BML2 within political realms. He said: "I was interested in Lord Bassam’s tweet and it occurred to me that a bi-partisan approach to this issue might have a great deal of impact. The re-opening of the line has been discussed for many years but little or no progress has been made. Interest in the project remains very high though and I pay tribute to those who have kept this issue alive. The time for action is now."
So successful has the new £100m Amex Stadium at Falmer for Brighton & Hove Albion been that another 8,000 seats are to be provided. The Albion says it will “fund an independent travel survey for a 30,000-seater stadium, which would look at how to get fans to and from the ground”. This would include sustainable transport options in the current disagreement about how and where parking for 1,000 cars might be provided.
BML2 Project Manager Brian Hart said afterwards: “Only BML2 can deliver direct train services between London and Falmer. This is just one of many advantageous reasons why Brighton needs this superior and sustainable transport link to the capital.”
Coalition’s commitment to Lewes – Uckfield questioned
Published on Thursday, 17 November 2011 21:28
Dissatisfied with the answers given last month by Earl Attlee, the Government’s Transport Spokesman in the House of Lords, further questions have been tabled this week by Labour Peer, Lord Berkeley:
He asked Her Majesty’s Government: “Further to the answer by Earl Attlee on 6 October, whether the route of the former Lewes – Uckfield line is safeguarded by Wealden and Lewes District Councils and by East Sussex County Council; and whether any new county road construction in Uckfield crossing the route of the line and proposed new station will use a bridge to enable the line to be reopened at a later stage.”
Responding, Earl Attlee said: “A Safeguarding Direction can only be issued by the Secretary of State. There is no such direction currently in place for the Lewes – Uckfield line.”
He went on to say: “However, the trackbed is protected from development by the planning policies of both Wealden and Lewes District Councils. Whether the proposed new road in Uckfield is built with a bridge over the trackbed is a matter for the County Council and the planning process”.
Campaign Director Brian Hart said afterwards “This statement should not only ring alarm bells in Network Rail – which said recently it will protect the route – but also among MPs and all those regional authorities between London and Brighton who support reopening this main line.”
Following abolition of County Structure Plans in 2004, the route’s only protection lies within recommended policies in the replacement ‘Local Development Frameworks’ of the much less-powerful District Councils. However, East Sussex County Council, as the local transport authority, will have no difficulty over-riding them.
Given the serious implications of this issue, as voiced by Transport Minister Norman Baker, a Safeguarding Direction should be issued immediately by Justine Greening, the new Secretary of State for Transport. Many people will hope Norman Baker will pursue this – as he did in opposition. We also think Wealden MP and Energy Minister Charles Hendry, in whose constituency the land falls, needs to speak to the Secretary of State.
In 1999 Norman Baker wrote to Labour’s Transport Minister Glenda Jackson, saying:
“Dear Glenda, You will have received a letter early in July from Brian Hart, of the Wealden Line Campaign, concerning a planning application to redevelop Uckfield station. Mr Hart feels that this application would prejudice the reopening of the Lewes to Uckfield Railway Line and I am writing to you to let you know that I share this view. I am also writing because it appears that the application is being pursued by Rail Property Ltd which, unless I am mistaken, operates under the British Rail umbrella. There is of course a moratorium on rail land sites in place, and I am at a loss to understand how this can be progressing, particularly as the implications of it are so serious. Could you please clarify for me whether this is being pursued by British Rail and if so what action you feel able to take to stop it.”
The ultimate irony is the Conservatives can only pursue selling this strategic railway land because they have the support of Norman Baker and his fellow Liberal Democrat MPs.
Villiers reaffirms interest in Lewes–Uckfield to Baker
Published on Thursday, 03 November 2011 10:04
In a letter about the threat of another East Sussex County Council road scheme slicing across the safeguarded Lewes–Uckfield trackbed, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers appears eager to reassure her departmental colleague and Coalition partner Norman Baker.
She told him “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 also made the point “I am very much aware of your long-standing support for re-opening the Lewes–Uckfield line” and said he was “correct that both parties in the Coalition have expressed support for protecting track beds where possible”.
She referred to the route being “safeguarded by both Wealden and Lewes District Councils” as part of the changeover towards “Local Development Frameworks”. This shifts responsibility away from County Councils following the abolition of County Structure Plans.
Mrs Villiers said she had spoken to the DfT’s Head of Property, Malcolm Twite who “assures me that the plans have been specifically designed to ensure that they would not prevent the Lewes–Uckfield line from re-opening in the future”. She had also been advised that “the proposal to move the road could actually make it easier to put together a case for re-opening the railway. This is because a re-opening would, in all likelihood, require a bridge to be constructed.” She continued “Although there was a level crossing when the line was formerly in use, you will appreciate that the current policy of Network Rail and ORR is not to introduce new level crossings. 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.”
However, BML2 project manager Brian Hart said “Firstly, we are advised that the County Council, as the Local Transport Authority with wide-sweeping powers, will be able to override any so-called ‘safeguarding’ by the less-powerful district councils, so I fear this is a hollow guarantee. Secondly, no one has ever suggested the old level crossing should be reopened because it’s quite obvious a bridge will be necessary. The problem is that the County Council intends slicing the critically-important station site completely in two with this new ground level road. This will worsen the business case for reopening because the road will have to be elevated over the station and railway, or moved elsewhere to allow trains to pass through. This is simply loading costs onto Network Rail.
Mrs Villiers also mentioned the impact a redevelopment of the site would have on the trackbed. She told Norman that the BRBR (the Rail Property Board) would “retain ownership of the freehold” – although this refers only to a narrow linear strip which would be used as car parking associated with the new buildings. “A term would be
Read more: Villiers reaffirms interest in Lewes–Uckfield to Baker
Peers challenge the Government over BML2
Published on Tuesday, 11 October 2011 01:00
In the House of Lords on 6 October, Lord Berkeley asked HM Government “whether they will safeguard Uckfield station and the rail track of the former Uckfield to Lewes route for possible future use to provide additional capacity to the main Brighton to London line”. Replying, the Government’s Chief Whip, Earl Attlee, said there were “no current plans to issue safeguarding directions” because the route was “safeguarded by both Wealden and Lewes district councils in their local plans”.
Lord Berkeley then asked if he was “aware that East Sussex County Council has plans to build a road across the formation” and whether he was also aware that the former British Rail Property Board, which is being abolished, is trying to sell off all its surplus land, including the former Uckfield station? Because this land is “essential to the reopening of the line”, Lord Berkeley further enquired “Will he [the Minister] instruct the property board not to do that and to keep this and other similar pieces of land for future reopening?”
Responding, Earl Attlee suggested one of the “benefits” of ESCC’s proposed scheme “is that it allows for the building of a bridge at a later stage” but omitted saying this substantial cost would be borne by Network Rail. He then claimed “the scheme makes it easier to open the line, should that be necessary, because to the west* of the proposed road crossing is a level crossing which would be unacceptable if you wanted to open the railway”. *[in fact it’s east - Ed]
Earl Attlee said the Government would not direct the BR Property Board to safeguard the station site “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.”
Lord Bradshaw then interjected: “Surely the land concerned should be vested in Network Rail, which in July last year pronounced the Uckfield to Lewes line of strategic importance”. He cited the enormous difficulties now faced by the ‘East-West’ reopening scheme between Oxford – Cambridge, made “almost impossible” because redevelopment required hugely expensive detours.
Earl Attlee agreed it was important to ensure lines could be reinstated, but said the Secretary of State for Transport could only issue safeguarding directions “only if it is intended to reopen the railway, not to make it possible”. He warned that to do so could “result in compensation to developers”.
Baroness Whitaker was unimpressed and asked: “My Lords, does the Minister accept that his words ‘at some point in the future’ are not very consoling to south-east commuters, of whom I am one, who regularly have to stand on overcrowded trains at certain times of the day?” Earl Attlee admitted she made an “extremely important point” adding that “We all know that at peak periods, the commuter railway lines south of London are all running at peak
Read more: Peers challenge the Government over BML2
Brighton Line urgently needs BML2
Published on Thursday, 06 October 2011 01:00
Following closure of the Brighton Line on 23 September, Transport Minister and Lewes MP Norman Baker said: “We’ve got one major line between London and the South Coast and it is particularly vulnerable at Balcombe Tunnel and Balcombe Viaduct, both of which are two-track. Clearly when an incident like this occurs the inconvenience to passengers is very significant and this re-enforces the need, which I have long argued for, for another line between London and the Sussex coast, namely the re-opening of the Lewes-Uckfield line.”
As with the recent calamitous flooding at Croydon, the vulnerability of the Brighton Line is woefully exposed at these times but, surprising as it may seem, this is not what BML2 is about. Of course, there are very serious implications with closing the Brighton Line, notably the absence of any realistic alternative to the lengthy and impractical detours through neighbouring counties. Network Rail reckons it costs £1m per day to close the line, whilst the costs to businesses, the local economy and people will prove inestimable. More disruption is likely as Network Rail engineers say replacement of tracks and damaged signalling cables at Croydon will be needed, whilst the metal ducting which diverts torrents of water which pour through the notoriously wet Balcombe tunnel require regular maintenance.
Let’s be clear, those who argue for another line between the South Coast and London at times of extreme emergency such as these aren’t wrong. However, the case seems tenuous, even though the number of other regular incidents such as weekend engineering closures, train breakdowns and delays, point failures, passenger accidents, weather conditions, etc, certainly go a long way to justifying another line.
The real predicament is lack of capacity and too much reliance on one core route whereby, when something goes wrong, chaos always ensues. It is a problem which cannot be solved by conversion to double-deck rolling stock or running 16-car trains, as Network Rail concluded in 2007. Similarly, quadrupling the whole line, even if it was possible, would only further exacerbate overcrowding at BML stations and confront us with new problems.
Norman Baker says the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) will now investigate the Balcombe incident, but this is an irrelevance all the while the underlying serious weaknesses of the BML continue to be ignored. Volumes of traffic on this major route between London, Brighton and the South Coast are fast becoming unmanageable and that is an inescapable fact. The ORR and the Department for Transport would be far better employed investigating how they can effectively solve the BML conundrum. But, as we have seen, they have no realistic solutions to offer and no credible case against BML2.
The Government’s continuing unwillingness to invest in strategically-important infrastructure outside London is causing serious harm to the South’s economy and recovery.
Network Rail defends BML2
Published on Monday, 05 September 2011 19:40
Network Rail looks set to defend the BML2 Project as best it can against a renewed threat of road development in the centre of Uckfield which is being pursued, yet again, by East Sussex County Council.
In early August, ESCC confirmed to Transport Minister and Lewes MP Norman Baker that it has now “taken the first step in a process” to build another road across the protected trackbed between Lewes and Uckfield. Rupert Clubb, ESCC’s Director of Economy, Transport & Environment, claims their new road is necessary to alleviate “unmanageable” congestion in the town centre from housing development which is yet to take place. Mr Clubb says his department’s ‘SATURN transport model report’ indicates that if an additional 1,000 dwellings are built in Uckfield then traffic congestion at an intersection near the railway station will need addressing.
Their scheme, now re-branded ‘Uckfield Town Centre Action Plan’, is a thinly-disguised revival of ESCC’s notorious and much-criticized ‘Uckfield Town Gyratory’ which aimed to swallow up the large site previously occupied by the town’s former railway station and breach the protected trackbed immediately west of today’s termination of the line from London. Quite apart from the consequences posed to reopening the gap in the main line to the coastal network, the town’s traders feared the ‘Newhaven effect’ where a similar ring-road scheme is blamed for completely killing the port’s town centre. In Uckfield, ESCC is now hoping to build a ‘northern relief road’ as well as a ‘southern relief road’ – the latter severing the trackbed. This renewed threat to the BML2 Project is just as serious, which is why Norman Baker has written to the Rail Minister, Theresa Villiers.
Should ESCC succeed then this will be the third breaching of the Lewes-Uckfield route by the County Council, the first occasion – the hugely-contentious ‘Lewes Relief Road’ – effectively causing closure, as Norman Baker told Parliament in 1998: “The line was closed in 1969 after more than 100 years of operation – not by the Beeching cuts, which destroyed so much of our rail network, but by East Sussex County Council. The council wanted to put a new road bridge into Lewes and forced the line to close, effectively, to achieve that. That was an act of stupidity and environmental vandalism. Although none of the officers or members involved are still connected with the council, I believe that that body has a moral responsibility to try to make amends and help to secure the reopening of the line. I am pleased to say that it is now doing so.” [Hansard 29/7/98]
The second instance began in 1978 with the proposed A22 London-Eastbourne bypass around the western side of Uckfield where plans showing a bridge over the protected rail route were changed at the last minute to save money. However, this was only allowed after conscientious councillors forced the County Council into the following agreement: ‘to pay the cost of a new bridge and other works over the Uckfield By-Pass should the Lewes/Uckfield Railway Line ever be re-opened.’ [extract from minutes 12/12/78].
ESCC’s heavy involvement and steering role in the recent 2008 Lewes-Uckfield Re-opening Study led us to predict its negative conclusion, whilst the subsequent shameful denigration of the rail scheme by ESCC representatives before an astonished All Party Parliamentary Rail Group in February 2009 should have removed any lingering doubts over the County Council’s position. Soon after, proposals to redevelop Uckfield town centre involving a new road scheme associated with a massive expansion of Tesco’s store raised further concerns. At a presentation to sell the idea to the public, ESCC officers from its highways and planning departments explained their proposed traffic management schemes connected with the development of the new superstore. One screen slide depicted a new road approaching from the south and cutting across the trackbed which prompted our single question: “By bridge or on the level?” to which the response came “At grade” – this means the latter.
Plans for the town centre are being deliberately kept secret and those involved tell us they are forbidden to discuss it. ESCC says “Consultation and Exhibition” will take place during
Read more: Network Rail defends BML2
Do-minimum won’t do
Published on Monday, 15 August 2011 09:00
‘It is in this part of the country where public transport usage is at its highest, the rail network in and around the capital is therefore fundamentally linked to the quality of life of large numbers of people and to the success of the economy of the country as a whole.’
So begins Network Rail’s London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy (L&SE RUS) published on 28 July. However, upon careful scrutiny, the underlying message among its 226 pages is that increasing numbers will have to stand on trains and pay substantially more for peak-hour journeys on main lines into London from Sussex and Kent. This is because the south’s trimmed-down network cannot meet today’s demand, let alone tomorrow’s. Nevertheless, Network Rail claims its strategy is ‘consistent with Sir Roy McNulty’s Value for Money study’ which demands they ‘avoid major capital expenditure unless absolutely necessary’.
In comparison with routes elsewhere out of London, the outlook for Sussex is particularly bleak. Even if all Network Rail’s strategy of lengthening trains on the Brighton Main Line to their maximum is implemented by 2020, they warn of a huge shortfall in capacity by 2031 ‘of some 3,000 passengers in the busiest peak hour, principally to London Victoria.’ All hope is pinned on the Thameslink Programme providing the longest possible (12-car) trains running through London Bridge to ameliorate the ‘peak standing regularly occurring as far as Haywards Heath’. It thinks the most heavily-loaded Brighton Line trains will be alleviated but, we suspect, understates the situation that overcrowding will not be ‘fully resolved’.
Unfortunately, Network Rail is not being honest about what the Thameslink Programme truly means for the Brighton Line. It says ‘The RUS strategy is heavily reliant on the new 12-car Thameslink rolling stock, which will be configured internally to maximise on-train capacity’. Since the new Thameslink carriages plainly cannot be any wider or longer, we know what it really means when they talk about the ‘design of the newbuild Thameslink rolling stock being more spacious than vehicles currently in use’. This disguises reality because their 2009 Kent RUS let the cat out of the bag by revealing these new trains will have ‘reduced seating and higher standing capacity’. Whereas a seated person takes up the space of two standing, this appears to be how they can claim that more capacity is on its way.
So, rather than sensibly rebuild strategic parts of the Sussex/Kent rail network to suit, the onus will be put on train operators who, Network Rail says, will be expected ‘to optimise service patterns, fare structures and rolling stock allocation, to minimise the numbers of standing passengers and the duration of such standing on a train-by-train basis.’ It then goes on to support its master’s stick-without-the-carrot approach: ‘In the meantime the review anticipated from the Department of Transport regarding ticket pricing structures may be one way of distributing loadings more evenly between individual trains across the day’. But commuters aren’t stupid, because if they were at all able to travel at less-busy and cheaper times of the day, then they would already be doing so. Is this really the best the DfT can offer? We’re told we must have the £34bn HS2 to increase capacity – so why doesn’t the same argument apply to the south?
Dismally, this L&SE RUS simply admits defeat in overcoming the principal and enduring BML problem by saying: ‘the major constraint through the East Croydon area will remain’. This is despite conceding that: ‘Many stakeholders felt that this was unacceptable and that additional interventions are required’. Instead, it attempts to talk-up its do-nothing approach by proclaiming ‘the strategy outlined herein for the BML is robust and will provide passengers on this route with a significant capacity improvement relative to today’. However, this is palpably untrue because it’s a clear contradiction of their 2010 Sussex RUS which said: ‘.. by around 2020 high peak crowding will still exist in the [Sussex] RUS area at roughly today’s levels - the interventions in this RUS mostly absorbing growth rather
Read more: Do-minimum won’t do
South East urgently needs a Rail Plan
Published on Tuesday, 02 August 2011 18:02
The chaos of the past two days, caused by a burst waterpipe in Croydon and which led to hundreds of trains being cancelled on the busy Brighton Main Line, has highlighted yet again the extreme vulnerability of the south’s busiest and most-congested rail artery.
The last few decades are littered with such incidents which is why the Southern Railway Company – that’s the real one (1923-1947) systematically invested in creating a marvellous and comprehensive electrified network. This was capable of responding to such emergencies, whilst the SR’s mettle was more than tested during the Second World War. Tragically, this progress was halted with nationalization, further modernization abandoned, followed by some truly foolish line closures. Then, in 1974, the closure of the Lewes–Uckfield section of the Wealden Line in 1969 was criticized in the House of Lords, particularly by Lord Teviot following the Balcombe derailments, who expressed his enduring concern at the Brighton Main Line’s susceptibility and the lack of alternatives when such catastrophic accidents occur.
During the past 48 hours we have been sent commuters’ experiences of their nightmarish and roundabout journeys in their efforts to reach home – some not until midnight. All have been unanimous in saying “if ONLY the Wealden Line’s connections were there!”. We sympathise. The cost to Network Rail will doubtless run into millions, not least in compensation payments to today’s separated privately-run train operating companies, whilst the knock-on financial cost to business will be significant.
Network Rail will excuse itself by simply claiming the incident is ‘exceptional’ and outside its control. Fair enough, but whilst we accept Monday’s occurrence isn’t in itself justification to start building BML2, what needs to be fully understood is that this particular landslide is just ONE of numerous and regular incidents which – in sum total – demand a plan of action. We need a proper rail strategy for the south, because train breakdowns, point failures, accidents, suicides, adverse weather, bomb scares, landslides, etc., are regular enough occurrences to warrant a more robust and comprehensive network that is capable of quickly responding to these emergencies. This is especially important given that two million people rely each day on the network to keep London working.
Many eminent people have already praised BML2 as the project for the south, because it would give two additional practical and valuable routes between London and Brighton, Lewes and the Sussex Coast – one via Oxted, the other via Tonbridge. Incidentally, the latter route would have been completely unaffected by the recent chaos. Others have pointed that BML2’s ‘Direct London Link’ – the reopened electrified railway between Selsdon (Croydon) and Lewisham would have proved its worth. Well, point taken, but we can easily guess what Network Rail’s response would be without asking them. Unquestionably, diversionary capability is an important and valuable factor – economically worth millions in keeping the trains running. However, BML2’s core and over-riding value rests within its ability to increase rail’s carrying capacity in the South East – that is the message we do not want to be lost in this latest catastrophe.
We feel it is time that our political representatives in the South East insist upon having a proper review of the situation on our rail network and its increasing (in)ability to cope with demand. The hype, as well as the pros and cons surrounding the controversial £32billion High Speed Two project, must not be allowed to consume all the Government’s time and interest.
Proper, realistic and long-term solutions for the Brighton Main Line are especially urgent, but so far we have seen nothing coming from the Department of Transport or Network Rail which inspires confidence, let alone hope. With regard to Network Rail’s London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy, we shortly intend commenting upon the final version which was published last week.