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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peers challenge the Government over BML2

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

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

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


‘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

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.
    

MORE SUPPORT BML2 AS CONGESTION WORSENS

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

“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

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

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

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