MORE SUPPORT BML2 AS CONGESTION WORSENS
Published on Thursday, 28 July 2011 01:00
Following last winter’s cold snap and problems with snow and ice on the railways, some politicians on the Transport Committee have questioned the viability of the electric third-rail network in the south. Then, in June, a Network Rail director raised eyebrows by proposing converting the whole system to overhead wires, even though he cited speed as the principal reason for doing so. The proposal has been widely criticized, not least because millions of pounds have been invested since the 1920s steadily extending Southern’s generally very reliable third-rail network towards what we have today, an almost all-electric 750V DC system. A rather bewildered professional Network Rail technician told us that, quite apart from the millions spent on recent power upgrades for the new fleet of trains, such a conversion would “put us back to square one – we’d effectively have to start from scratch”. He explained that it wouldn’t just involve re-electrifying the south’s 2,500 miles of track with overhead gantries, but replacing the entire signalling system, too, because it would be incompatible and need to be immunised. “It would cost multi-billions!” he added.
Quite apart from the inestimable costs, the unacceptable and profound disruption it would cause and the amount of costly structural obstacles, the conversion suggestion does not stand up to serious scrutiny. Many have already commented upon the inherent fragility of overhead wires, saying these are no more reliable and indeed prone to all-year-round failures, such as high winds and summer heatwaves, as well as more common everyday problems – let alone ice and snow!
The Network Rail director’s complaint centred on the fact that the Southern ‘does not do 100mph well’, but we find this allegation disturbing because it suggests a worrying and fundamental misunderstanding of the south’s network. We also fear this could now be used as a convenient excuse by the DfT to continue delaying urgent and useful ‘in-fill’ third-rail electrification schemes such as the Uckfield line and its extension to the South Coast network.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear. The former Southern Region isn’t – and can never be – a high-speed railway. Unquestionably, overhead is supremely suited to the Inter-City routes north of London which were created in the 1960s when scores of intermediate stations, some even serving sizeable towns, were razed in order to introduce long stretches of high-speed running. The geography and far greater distances to the north and west of London are more favourable to Inter-City trains, whereas the comparatively small Southern Region is a complicated mish-mash of busy lines, interconnecting junctions, hundreds of intermediate stations and routes with sharp curves, speed restrictions and gradients upon which 70-80mph is about average top-speed and a bit of 90mph if you’re very lucky.
With a few exceptions to the South West, the Southern is really nothing more than an enlarged urban network in an increasingly congested corner of the UK and it has to be said that the third-rail system continues to serve it very well. Although Network Rail classifies some route sections capable of 105mph, such speed could never be reached or sustained because of headways, where lots of trains have to operate over busy sections, such as the Brighton main line. Another route, the South Eastern main line between Tonbridge and Ashford, runs virtually dead-straight for almost thirty miles and sits in this 105mph category. However, its 100mph-capable class 375 Electrostar trains trundle along at less than 60mph and do not even make up lost minutes along the way.
The South East desperately needs more rail capacity – and that is the overriding and most important issue which Network Rail and the DfT ought to be addressing. We need to know how they propose running more trains to augment overcrowded services on the full-up Brighton and Tonbridge Main Lines.
It is also a misconception that ‘the South East’ gets the lion’s share of UK rail investment, because it is only TfL (Transport for London) sponsored schemes which receive funding. Unlike Scotland, which is enjoying a spree of line reopenings, not one mile of track has been reopened in the Home Counties to facilitate more growth, whilst routes such as the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines just become slower, more congested and over-crowded.
We’re told the South East is neglected because Labour is reluctant to invest where there are no political gains, whilst Conservative governments simply display complacency with taken-for-granted large majority constituencies. So, not surprisingly, investment goes where the votes are and because we have a state-controlled railway, civil servants merely play into the hands of the politicians – and vice versa. There is no business focus, no vision towards expanding the railway, and no account of the uniquely important role that railways play in moving people around this clogged corner of the country. As someone once put it: “Compared to what we see today, it makes British Rail seem like gung-ho venture capitalists!”
But, as conditions steadily worsen, there are now growing signs of rebellion. In May, the Rail Minister Theresa Villiers told Wealden MP Charles Hendry “At present, the capacity of train services on the Uckfield line broadly reflects the level of passenger demand and no requirement has been identified for additional carriages to be provided in the short term”. Because the unelectrified Uckfield line operates short-formation diesel trains, these are frequently packed-out at peak hours. Standing for long journeys is becoming commonplace, whilst we now learn that some passengers are even unable to board.
Unhappily, Mrs. Villiers’ officials at the DfT don’t even offer a glimmer of hope, citing European Union directives on diesel emissions, so no new additional trains, with only the possibility of old diesel trains perhaps being released from elsewhere in the UK on lines which might be electrified. Dismally, they conclude: “This is, of course, a long, slow process”. Theresa Villiers also told Charles Hendry that his constituents would be “disappointed” to learn that Network Rail’s analysis published in 2009 indicated that electrification of the Uckfield line was unlikely to have a strong business case and therefore not a high priority.
Of course, the reasons for the Uckfield line’s feeble condition can be traced directly to its severance from the surrounding network in 1969 and left to wither as a dead-end branch, rather than remaining a through line and being electrified, as planned, in the early 1970s. Furthermore, Network Rail knows that re-opening the short link to the coast would lead to redoubling, electrification and a new main line status, because it said so itself. And only a few weeks ago Mrs. Villiers’ colleague at the DfT, Norman Baker MP, gave voice to this same viewpoint.
Mrs. Villiers also told Wealden’s MP that her department “is supportive of progressive electrification of the rail network” and that they will “continue to keep the case for further electrification under review”. Meanwhile, redoubling, electrification, reopening and upgrade schemes continue to happen across the country, whilst the South East still goes wanting. Why?
Let us remind everyone. Just a total of 12½ miles require redoubling, 7½ miles need reopening and 32 miles (Lewes-Hurst Green) require electrifying. BML2’s additional 2½ mile link going directly into Brighton under the South Downs would give the region another Brighton main line to London, whilst reopening and electrifying 5 miles of the former main line into Tunbridge Wells would relieve the Tonbridge main line. This would give West Kent the room for growth it needs and also open up substantial strategic opportunities and benefits for business and the regional economy. It’s a miniscule scheme compared to the multi-billion projects being announced elsewhere and it might reasonably be concluded that this government should be capable of getting the ball rolling in its political heartland. Well, increasingly, it seems others are thinking so too.
Following on from Newhaven and Uckfield’s declared support, Edenbridge council has just written to the Rail Minister to remind her of the booming Uckfield line “a victim of its own success” but urging that the line desperately needs redoubling and electrifying, as well as acknowledging the tremendous benefits with reopening the direct links to Lewes and Tunbridge Wells. Accordingly, it tells Mrs. Villiers “The Council calls on all concerned in local and national government to actively support BML2 and to campaign for its adoption.”
In similar vein, the Deputy Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council and Cabinet Member for Transport, Cllr Ian Davey, has very recently reiterated the City’s strong support to reopen the rail link to the Sussex coast, adding that it is “vital in achieving sustainable transport opportunities in this area”, not just in its importance as a new rail route towards the developing eastern environs of the capital, but in consideration of the environmental benefits which only rail can deliver. Cllr Davey also highlighted the important role of the Uckfield line in supporting the adjacent Brighton main line, concluding with “We also support proposals to increase the capacity on this route through double-tracking, and electrification to improve inter-operability of rolling stock.”
This is eminently sensible and this is what Network Rail should be concentrating upon – not hopeless fantasising about putting commuters into 15 mile-long tunnels from inside the M25 into London – or attempting to waste billions needlessly and uselessly converting the Southern to overhead electrification.
Baker says new London – South Coast main line needed
Published on Monday, 04 July 2011 01:00
“My enthusiasm for Lewes–Uckfield has not dimmed in the slightest and I can assure you I will do everything possible to move this forward”
A recent meeting between Norman Baker (Lewes MP and a Transport Minister) and Brian Hart (BML2 Project Manager) has not only clarified matters, but helped both towards understanding each other’s point of view.
Norman began by acknowledging “a need for significant enhanced capacity between the South Coast and London” and said that he fully recognized this fact and would shortly be looking at ways how this might be achieved. There was no disagreement over this problem, whilst the enduring capacity problems at East Croydon and London termini were equally pressing and required solutions.
Despite the spending cuts of the past year, Norman considered it an achievement of the coalition that major projects such as High Speed Two, Thameslink, Crossrail, further UK electrification and new train orders were still on course. Following the recent publication of Sir Roy McNulty’s Value for Money Review, he remains confident that significant savings could be made throughout the industry. Only recently, he told the Wealden Line Campaign that he will argue for these to be channelled into further rail investment and a better deal for the fare payer. In more specific terms he elaborated: “Part of the work we are undertaking into Network Rail will, I hope, drive costs down and mean that the reinstatement cost of a line such as Lewes–Uckfield per mile would be less than has generally been quoted. That is certainly one of the intentions of the exercise”.
In further regard to the transport project closest to him throughout his life in politics at a local and national level – and for which he is famously known – Norman was unequivocal in his determination to see the Lewes–Uckfield line reopened. This, he insisted, “has not dimmed in the slightest” and he was emphatic in his reassurance that he “will do everything possible to move this forward”.
Turning to the wider-focused Brighton Main Line 2 Project, Norman explained to Brian Hart: “I do understand why you wish to advance this, but you will understand that my fear is that every single addition to the re-opening of Lewes–Uckfield will increase the price and therefore potentially make the scheme less affordable. I am also concerned that BML2 potentially will generate more opposition than Lewes–Uckfield, not least from the National Park. I also believe there is a real risk that in order to keep costs down, a line to Brighton might proceed, but the spur to Lewes would not. Obviously that would be unacceptable to my constituents”.
In response, BML2’s Project Manager was equally at pains to reassure Norman of the Wealden Line Campaign’s continuing and unwavering commitment to seeing Lewes–Uckfield restored to the national network – nothing has changed on that score. It was a matter of some dismay and regret that a false notion had arisen in some quarters that Lewes and other towns along the East Coastway line were somehow being bypassed or sidelined. Nothing could be further from the truth and Brian Hart reiterated his passionate belief that BML2 actually made reopening south of Uckfield to Lewes, Brighton, Eastbourne, Seaford, etc., far more useful, worthwhile and financially attractive. However, he accepted it was best not to argue about individual goals, but instead share the common ground which existed between them. Norman agreed and felt that while they must accept each other’s differing opinion, it was important to concentrate on working towards the shared objective of re-establishing the Uckfield line’s connection to the South Coast.
With regard to the disappointing conclusion of the 2008 Lewes–Uckfield re-opening report, Norman said he believed the reason the study had failed was because “the ‘low cost’ scheme which was worked up by the County Council did not show sufficient benefits”. Consequently, he added, “there will have to be consideration as to what changes are necessary to ensure the scheme becomes viable as part of an alternative South Coast and London railway line”.
He further explained that the investigation had omitted taking into consideration the pressing need to fully-upgrade the route north of Uckfield. This would involve ridding the route of its restrictive single-line sections [carried out in 1990 by British Rail to save on track maintenance costs] and returning to double-line working with associated electrification of the 32-miles between Hurst Green in Surrey and Lewes. This would fill a strategic gap in an otherwise largely electric network. With higher line-speeds, faster and more intensive services would then be possible, whereby he believes train journey times between Lewes and London via Haywards Heath or Uckfield would be little different.
It remains his firm and long-held conviction that the problems plaguing the Brighton Line could be substantially eased by providing this additional main line between the South Coast and London, whereby East Coastway services would be able to switch to a much-revitalised Uckfield Main Line.
Brian Hart said he agreed with much of Norman’s analysis – most of which had originally appeared in Network Rail’s own confidential draft report – but which was subsequently deleted from the version approved by East Sussex County Council. He also agreed the Brighton Line’s capacity problems would be eased to some degree, especially if railheading to BML stations could be decreased; however, the BML2 Project Team is not convinced that simply re-opening Lewes–Uckfield on its own would ever address the severe and worsening capacity problems now facing the South East. Following the 2008 Lewes–Uckfield Study, Network Rail’s recent Route Utilisation Strategies and documents such as Planning Ahead have since revealed the alarming shortfall in capacity which is increasingly required by the network in the Home Counties south of the Thames. He also pointed out to Norman that Kent’s Tonbridge Main Line – between Tonbridge and Orpington – is now in an equally invidious position and identified by Network Rail to be ‘a major barrier to growth’.
Nevertheless, Brian Hart said afterwards: “I’m genuinely grateful for Norman’s invitation to talk things through and thereby clear the air so we each know where we stand. Although it appears I still have a long way to go to convince him about the widespread merits of BML2, I’m certainly not unsympathetic to his apprehension and obviously respect his position. We mustn’t forget we owe Norman an enormous debt because no other politician has so courageously stuck his neck out in pursuing the reopening of Lewes–Uckfield, challenging ministers in the House of Commons – and even the Prime Minister! Throughout my twenty-five years at the helm of this campaign I’ve dealt with many MPs and ministers, but no one has ever stuck to his guns and worked more diligently than Norman in seeing that this hugely important reopening scheme never got swept under the carpet. Neither has he spared those directly responsible for what happened in 1969 [when the railway was destroyed by a town centre road scheme in Lewes] and has openly criticised his own County Council for past blunders. This takes true courage and I admire him for his outspoken honesty and plain speaking in apportioning blame where it belongs.”
Whatever the next few months and years bring, we are confident that Norman will continue in the same vein by standing up for what he holds dear, whilst we are gratified to learn he accepts we must continue pursuing BML2, of which Lewes–Uckfield is a critically integral component.
BML2 and the bigger picture
Published on Tuesday, 21 June 2011 19:42
The latest comments from transport journalists and broadcasters in support of BML2 have been extremely welcome. Christian Wolmar, Britain’s leading transport commentator, recently spoke about BML2’s benefits being “pound for pound” greater than those of High Speed Two (HS2) and went on to question the different approach being taken to these projects.
Of course, there are some very obvious distinctions between BML2 and HS2. To begin with, BML2 isn’t a high speed project and therefore has none of the attractive prestige which lures politicians. And because BML2 isn’t particularly glamorous – because it’s fundamentally about vastly increasing capacity between London and the South East counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey – it lacks such appeal. It certainly doesn’t have the gargantuan price tag of HS2 and, by comparison, is an extremely modest project and costing (probably in sum total) about the equivalent of a new crossing over the Thames. Nevertheless, where HS2 and BML2 are identical has been spotted by Christian Wolmar who has drawn helpful comparisons. In commenting upon the Brighton line being “one of the most congested in the country” and alluding to the recent stymied attempt by Southern to put on just one additional service, he goes on to say:
“The case for BML2 looks, on the face of it, strong but, as Steve so aptly pointed out [RAIL 669], there is a very different approach between plans for the West Coast Main Line and for London – Brighton. Whereas the projected increased demand for West Coast is presented as the main reason why HS2 is needed, nothing is being suggested to cope with the rise in passenger numbers on the Brighton line. Now of course in an ideal world, both situations should be addressed, but we live in a time of severe cash constraint.”
Christian Wolmar isn’t convinced by the arguments for HS2 and doubts very much whether it would stand up to the same scrutiny if increasing capacity is the yardstick. Although we have no particular view either way about HS2, we do feel very passionate about BML2 because we know this is a project that would bring tangible and lasting benefits across the South East – which continues to become an increasingly crowded and congested part of the UK.
Politicians continue to tell us we must reduce our reliance on the car and opt for ‘greener’ modes of travel and favour rail. Yet, as soon as a truly effective project comes forward – and one which receives serious attention from commentators who know what they’re talking about – out comes the DfT’s book of lame excuses. We recently alluded to the current Rail Minister’s view that reopening the Uckfield line was “an issue of high importance” when she was opposition spokesman in 2008, whereas in Government Mrs. Villiers now tells Brighton Kemptown MP, Simon Kirby, her department has no plans to reopen the line. Why not? Surely, in the knowledge of continually rising congestion on the Brighton line – and now even on the Uckfield line – is this not a matter of even higher importance?
Read more: BML2 and the bigger picture
BML2 needs a Champion
Published on Tuesday, 03 May 2011 01:00
Support for BML2 is growing as senior politicians, transport journalists and associates in the rail industry increasingly realize its enormous potential, opportunities and wide-ranging advantages. Now, the popular and widely-read bi-monthly journal RAIL publishes an eight-page in-depth analysis of the project, written by one of the country’s foremost and widely-respected transport correspondents.
Following an interview with project manager Brian Hart, Steve Broadbent presents his thoughtful and compelling appraisal of the whole concept, suggesting that Network Rail, train operators and the Government should be taking BML2 far more seriously. He, for one, has come to the conclusion that the scheme “solves the BML conundrum” and has the potential to not only dramatically increase capacity, but improve performance and connections across an increasingly congested South East.
The railways are booming in popularity as never before, yet, paradoxically, the outlook is bleak. The Government, which retains its stranglehold over the railways, is facing a stark choice – either tactically invest in expanding the South East’s rail network to accommodate this growth – or massively raise fares to choke-off demand. Worryingly, at the moment, the latter option seems to have the upper hand, which has prompted a senior and influential Labour peer to voice his strong opposition. In January, Lord Bassam of Brighton, spoke at an event at the City’s busy station, saying “I don’t think we are getting value for money” and he tells RAIL that commuters shouldn’t be penalised as they drive the economy. He now expresses his staunch support for BML2, describing it to be “a highly commendable scheme”, not just because it’s the only way of relieving pressure on the Brighton Line, but essential in vastly improving Brighton’s connections and thereby opening up tremendous opportunities for the ever-popular city, as well as London and the South East.
Steve Broadbent explores possible opportunities to enable BML2 to significantly augment cross-London connections, not just as an integral part of Thameslink, but providing better access to Crossrail, which is currently under construction – and even a future HS2. Steve says: “BML2 has national implications and should be treated as a prospective High Level Output Specification project, or the Brighton Line’s problems will never be cured, save by pricing people off the trains”.
Read more: BML2 needs a Champion
BML2 – “a highly commendable scheme” – wins major political backing
Published on Tuesday, 26 April 2011 01:00
Labour’s Chief Whip in the House of Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton, has declared his full support for the Brighton Main Line 2 Project. In a forthcoming major feature on BML2, to be published in RAIL magazine, the Labour peer says: “For many years I have supported the reinstatement of the Uckfield to Lewes line and I believe the BML2 project, which would also introduce new services from London directly into Brighton and Falmer, is a highly commendable scheme.”
During his time as Labour’s Transport Spokesman in the Upper Chamber, Lord Bassam brought the Lewes – Uckfield reopening scheme to the attention of Rail Minister Tom Harris MP who was suitably impressed and told the Wealden Line Campaign’s delegation – “I think you have a very good case”.
The subsequent 2008 Lewes – Uckfield Reopening Study managed by East Sussex County Council started out well enough, with Network Rail spontaneously phoning ESCC’s Transport & Environment Department to say they “really wish to be associated with this work”.
The Campaign’s chairman, Duncan Bennett was an observer for Uckfield Town Council and well-remembers the enthusiasm: “At the outset, the scheme’s possibilities were received extremely positively by Network Rail and they subsequently undertook the engineering aspects of the study in a distinctly impressive, determined and professional manner. Everyone appeared very enthusiastic but, as we now know, the tenor curiously appeared to change as the weeks went by and, let’s just say, it became increasingly evident to many of us that perhaps not everyone involved was singing from the same hymn sheet”.
Three years on, the situation on the south’s railway continues to worsen, as Lord Bassam has explained in RAIL magazine. “Steady growth throughout the last ten years is causing overcrowding, but I am increasingly concerned over the absence of practical long-term solutions to solve this problem. To now propose that commuters should be financially penalised for using trains in the busiest peak hour is not only unacceptable, but would be highly damaging to economic recovery and growth.”
Read more: BML2 – “a highly commendable scheme” – wins major political backing
A Strategy for Growth now published.
Published on Monday, 21 March 2011 00:00
The launch of the BML2 Project last year and the publication of Network Rail’s various Route Utilisation Strategies (RUS) for Sussex and Kent focus attention on the south’s already “full-up railway”. Trains are increasingly badly overcrowded in the rush hours, so the aim is to lengthen them all, wherever possible, to 12-cars. But this is only a quick-fix solution, because commuter traffic is set to grow in the next twenty years in the London & South East region by 30%, whilst the train companies tell us some parts of the network already remain busy all day. So where is the bigger plan?
Lack of capacity doesn’t just mean too many people crammed into carriages. It’s really about finding more train paths, because there is a limit to how many services can be run on a section of railway and the necessary interval of minutes between these trains. The Brighton Line is a good example of a “full-up railway” with no spare train paths – and it’s going to carry on getting busier all the time. Wishful demands for more trains and much faster, more reliable services simply cannot be met, whilst closing routes like the BML at weekends for engineering works understandably causes great upset. And now we learn that the Tonbridge Main Line is in an equally invidious position.
Unhappily, the draft London & South East RUS, which will appear in its final version in the summer, currently offers no solutions to accommodate growth on the rail network across Kent, Sussex and east Surrey. These documents are supposed to be blueprints for the long-term, because providing the capacity so pressingly needed requires years of planning and engineering. Instead, all they can think of is choking-off demand by substantially raising fares in the busiest hours in the seemingly desperate hope that people will travel either much earlier or later to work. Forcing commuters to pay a lot more for nothing in return will rightly be condemned as a wholly inadequate and unsatisfactory proposition.
In fairness, it’s easy to criticize the railways, which are increasingly expected to provide a faultless 21st century train service on a 19th century framework which was badly neglected and even wrecked in places during the latter decades of the 20th century. With ‘stakeholders’ invited to submit comments about the draft L&SE RUS, we may anticipate unrealistic demands for all sorts of extra services, stopping at more stations – but still arriving in London much faster than today. This simply cannot happen. HS1 aside (because that operates as a spin-off from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link), we shall never see high speed services in this region – the southern simply isn’t that kind of railway. We must accept it will always be an intensive, closely-knit urban and relatively short-distance system with, if we’re lucky, a bit of 90mph running thrown in wherever and whenever possible.
Read more: A Strategy for Growth now published.
It's Grim Down South
Published on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 23:39
The London and South East Route Utilisation Strategy Draft for Consultation was published in mid-December and the pdf document may be downloaded from Network Rail’s website. The closing date for responses is 18 March 2011 and the final version will be published during the summer.
Network Rail says that the strategy, which we shall refer to as the L&SE RUS DC, was ‘developed closely’ with both the Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL). Disappointingly, though, it offers no cheer to the many thousands of rail travellers who daily endure the heavily-congested longer-distance commuter lines feeding into London from Sussex and Kent. Although over the next few years trains can be lengthened in an effort to mitigate short-term overcrowding, increasing demand will overwhelm the available space on trains and the network. Because rail usage has already surged back up to pre-recession levels, Network Rail is seriously worried about capacity because this word is mentioned a staggering 614 times in this draft consultation. Nevertheless, despite the numerous ‘challenges’ and ‘problems’ mentioned elsewhere, they appear prepared to blithely throw in the towel when it comes to the two busiest arterial routes feeding into London from these two Home Counties.
Read more: It's Grim Down South
With friends like these...
Published on Thursday, 13 January 2011 20:02
Our attention has been drawn to the ‘East Sussex Local Transport Plan 3 – Consultation Draft’ and although we were invited by East Sussex County Council (ESCC) to submit any comments, we refuse to take part in this charade. However, as comment has been made in the media that ESCC shows ‘continued support’ for the reinstatement of the Lewes-Uckfield rail link because it appears in this latest plan, it was decided to run through the 182-page document.
Despite the use of subliminal green ink, we remain unconvinced that this particular leopard has changed its spots, whilst the document is predictably littered throughout with tedious jargon. For example, we counted 49 instances of ‘challenges’; 70 of ‘partnerships’; 68 of ‘climate change’ and a wearisome 136 of ‘sustainable’. There were also 25 uses of ‘connectivity’ which is something we don’t need to be told that East Sussex lacks – most obviously the famous gap in the county’s rail network. However, this ghastly word is applied only once to railways with the 24 remaining associations being applied to ever-more expansion of the road system. What a surprise.
It all aims to sound very impressive and ‘green’, as in this example:
‘The LTP3 strategy will need to help improve access to employment centres. This in turn will help to maximise job opportunities, reduce the financial and social costs of unemployment and improve people’s quality of life. The challenge is to find and implement cost effective, innovative solutions which contribute most to reducing localised congestion and provide journey time reliability for both business and personal journeys. We must also recognise the importance of the strategic links to London and to interconnectivity between other employment centres in the South East such as Brighton, Worthing, Tunbridge Wells and the Gatwick/ Crawley areas.
Businesses will benefit in terms of reduced costs and a reduced carbon footprint, from the promotion of travel by non car modes through better information on travel choices and where appropriate as part of workplace travel planning solutions. This will also contribute to reducing congestion and therefore increasing journey time reliability.’
Of course, we all know what the real solution would be, but ESCC would have us believe it supports reinstating East Sussex’s former rail links to Tunbridge Wells and between the County Town of Lewes and the Uckfield Line:
‘The potential re-opening of the Lewes / Uckfield / Tunbridge Wells railway – despite the outcomes of the Network Rail study in 2008 on the Lewes – Uckfield reinstatement, which identified a low cost-benefit ratio, the County Council remains supportive of the reinstatement. The Council will continue to support and work with neighbouring authorities to lobby for the reinstatement of the line as part of the Route Utilisation Strategy process which is led by Network Rail and the wider need to deliver rail infrastructure capacity improvements in the south east over the next 15 years in order to meet increasing demand.’
Having witnessed for ourselves in 2009 ESCC’s ‘lobbying’ at the Houses of Parliament with the All Party Parliamentary Rail Group, we can be forgiven for wondering whether this is advisable, especially given the plainly evident self-satisfaction expressed that evening over the derailing of the 2008 Lewes-Uckfield Rail Study. Further on in the document we find this:
‘The County Council continues to support the aspiration to reinstate the Uckfield to Lewes railway line, which would significantly improve sustainable access to the major towns in the county and to London, although the most recent Network Rail study in 2008, concluded that although it is technically feasible, there is currently no economic case for rebuilding the line when appraised against the Government’s current major scheme assessment criteria. These criteria are currently being reviewed by Government in order to provide greater parity in assessing road and rail schemes. Work has recently been undertaken by a local campaign group looking at the benefits of a new railway line between Brighton and Uckfield and beyond to London, utilising existing infrastructure where appropriate. This work merits further investigation and this will be sought from Network Rail via the London and South East Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) process.’
We intentionally excluded ESCC from the BML2 Project, but from this statement we can be certain that BML2 will be afforded exactly the same treatment as ‘Lewes-Uckfield’ by this local authority. Of course, if ESCC was honestly committed to reinstating the rail link then it would be more than prepared to honour the documented pledge it made to fund the A22 road bridge over the re-opened railway. The fact that this was solemnly given to us and all concerned 32 years ago makes no difference whatsoever, but their word is not their bond, as we shall see again if they are allowed to have their way. This brings us to the nub of the matter:
‘In Uckfield, future housing growth is likely to further exacerbate the existing congestion problem in the town centre. Therefore, the implementation of a suitable town centre traffic management scheme will help to address this issue.’
The spectre of ESCC’s gyratory road scheme is raised yet again. This would swallow up the station site and effectively block the critical rail corridor between the South Coast and London. ESCC refuses to consider a bridge over the route and wishes to sever the trackbed, whilst it now intends to find a wealthy partner to pay for its road-building ambition in the centre of Uckfield: ‘As the traffic situation in the town centre will continue to deteriorate with further development, financial contributions will be sought to finance the implementation of a suitable scheme, taking into account any future reinstatement of the Uckfield to Lewes railway line.’
But ‘taking into account’ merely means acknowledging, with copious amounts of crocodile tears, that the 2008 Study proved reopening the line wasn’t justified. And no one should be fooled into a false sense of security by these honeyed words: ‘Investigate potential town centre traffic management options to facilitate the additional traffic generated by housing and business growth in and around Uckfield coming forward through the LDF, without prejudicing the future reinstatement of the Uckfield to Lewes line.’
We’ve heard it all before. We had that in 1978. You have been warned.
Increasing volume is the greatest challenge
Published on Friday, 01 October 2010 19:42
Despite current financial circumstances, spending reviews and all manner of economic uncertainties in the months and possibly years ahead, one factor appears certain – that demand for rail travel will continue increasing. Political short-termism has no place in railway planning and it is imperative that real vision for the considerable challenges which lie ahead is not encumbered. Encouragingly, recent figures from the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) show sustained growth, whilst the rail industry as a whole is preparing for a renewed surge in demand in the years ahead, particularly once the economy shows real sign of recovery. Unsurprisingly, much of this demand is centred on the London and South East commuter network where increasing volumes are already proving difficult to manage and present the greatest headache for planners desperate for realistic and lasting solutions.
Because Route Utilisation Strategies are long-term focused, it is therefore both timely and appropriate that Network Rail is currently embarking upon a London & South East RUS. As its title implies, this will have a regional aspect and look at far wider horizons than any of the extremely informative but rather limited RUSs individually produced (in this area) for Kent, Sussex and South London. The draft for consultation is expected to be published during December whilst, following a consultative period, the final strategy is planned to appear next summer.
Read more: Increasing volume is the greatest challenge
BML2 – A positive and constructive beginning.
Published on Friday, 01 October 2010 13:57
Since the public launch in April of the BML2 project, the summer months have been occupied with a busy programme of presentations to a range of bodies such as Southern; Network Rail; representatives from the Office of Rail Regulation and ATOC; as well as MPs and numerous councils in the region. The feedback from these events has been enormously helpful and encouraging, enabling us to further develop and refine the project, which has been our key objective. In the same way as the RUSs, BML2 can be evaluated to bring in fresh thought and ideas which allow us to continually improve upon the base case. The overall response has been far more positive than even we could have imagined. We also welcome the further challenges set by Theresa Villiers, the Under Secretary of State for Transport in demonstrating how BML2 could solve many of the severe problems facing the Brighton Main Line.
From the outset of the launch, we freely admitted that we did not have all the answers and that BML2 would require the collective strategic thinking and support of the rail industry to make further progress. At this initial stage it is a concept which looks at the seemingly intractable and worrying challenges facing both the Brighton and Tonbridge Main Lines in the 2020s and how we are going to keep the South East on the move with these two core routes operating efficiently. We made it plain that we were not about to embark upon compiling timetables, providing detailed engineering costs, or even attempt producing robust business cases. These will be tasks for those with the professional expertise, the technological skills and the considerably complex computer programming software needed to develop BML2.
Media coverage in journals such as Rail Professional and railway periodicals has been fair in its appraisal, whilst provincial newspapers have covered the project to varying degrees of seriousness. Our attention has also been drawn to some of the debate on various blogs; however, very little has been serious or of any intrinsic value. Invariably, there has also been undeserved comment from some who clearly have never read the project document, let alone understood its basis.
It is our intention to revise the BML2 project document which appears on the dedicated website because some of the content has been superseded by the feedback we have received from the rail industry. This has been both helpful and offered in a spirit of co-operation, thereby enabling us to periodically revise and improve upon the presentation itself. We have listened to the advice offered and incorporated everything as more information and constructive suggestions come forward.
No one should under-estimate the scale of the problem faced by those who have to daily move many thousands of commuters around the South East. Equally, the increasing strain on the network as public demand continues to grow on certain sections throughout the day and at weekends. The popularity of rail travel is something which should be welcomed and encouraged for a whole host of reasons. That is why we believe BML2 has such great potential in benefiting the South East and improving the quality of life for everyone.