Adonis champions Brighton’s Main Line 2
Published on Monday, 25 March 2013 06:12
“On any realistic analysis of capacity requirements over the next generation it is stark staring obvious that the second mainline to London is needed.”
– Lord Adonis, House of Lords Shadow Minister for Infrastructure.
Photo courtesy Guardian Newspapers
Lord Adonis, the last Government’s Secretary of State for Transport and now Labour’s Minister for Infrastructure in the House of Lords is championing the Brighton Main Line 2 Project.
A keen proponent of the national High Speed 2 rail link, Lord Adonis believes BML2 now needs to be taken seriously. In an interview in The Times last week he said that the big demand for investment is in the existing railway, not reopening rural lines of marginal importance. However, there were clearly a few glaring strategic closures deserving reinstatement and he specifically cited Brighton’s other main line to London (via Uckfield) which was destroyed forty years ago.
Now, in a statement issued today, he says:
“The loss of Brighton's second main line via Uckfield and the direct London services it provided was a massive error of the 1960s. It needs to be reversed.”
He then goes on to explain:
“Substantially increasing capacity into our cities remains the industry's greatest challenge. Brighton Main Line 2, by reconnecting Brighton with London as one seamless journey, has the potential to do this and is therefore a strong contender for serious investment because it would strengthen the existing overloaded network.”
With the media focusing on the fiftieth anniversary (27 March) of the 1963 Beeching Report which contentiously closed thousands of miles of railway and stations, the notion still persists that Beeching was responsible for chopping-out a seven-mile section of main line in Sussex. But the truth is even more tragic.
Beeching’s document proposed closing only certain stations; for instance Crowborough, Edenbridge Town etc, would remain open for commuters. Besides this, in 1960 the route was on the ascendant, scheduled for early electrification between South Croydon and Lewes – and into Tunbridge Wells.
In 1961 Transport Minister Ernest Marples – who had pecuniary interests in road construction and favoured rationalising the railways – announced in Parliament Beeching’s appointment as Chairman of BR. Meanwhile, road-favouring East Sussex County Council was pursuing its controversial ‘Lewes Inner Relief Road’ – a three-stage dual carriageway slicing through the heart of the County Town. Literally blocking its way was the Brighton – Uckfield – London main line which ESCC was reluctant to bridge at a cost of £135,000.
British Railways had no intention of closing the line, in fact quite the opposite, but following Marples’ approval of the road scheme with its 75% Government grant, BR sought a compromise by reopening an old connection into Lewes from the other direction (via Hamsey). Even though direct services into Brighton would be sacrificed – as trains would in future face east towards Eastbourne – at least the important Sussex Coastal connection would be retained.
In June 1965 Beeching left BR and returned to ICI, whilst Parliament granted powers to the British Railways Board (Act of 1966) to reopen the old Hamsey connection – last used in 1868. BR planned for train services to commence during summer 1967, thereby allowing abandonment of the direct Brighton connection through Lewes town centre.
BR expected ESCC to fund the £95,000 cost of the ‘Hamsey chord’, not least because £40,000 would be saved by obviating bridging the doomed town centre railway line. However, ESCC refused, objecting also to a railway bridge on aesthetic grounds, whereby a stalemate ensued. Confronted with being lumbered with a seriously-compromised branch line to Uckfield, BR consequently applied to close the entire network between Lewes and Hurst Green (Oxted) and Tunbridge Wells.
Meanwhile ESCC forged confidently ahead, bridging the river and building Stage One to both sides of the railway embankment it was determined to sever. Bulldozers finally breached it in 1969 when the new roadway (The Phoenix Causeway) was completed.
“It was a tragedy that this line was ever shut. It survived Beeching only to be closed by the County Council.
Now it needs to be reopened.” – Lewes MP Norman Baker speaking in Parliament, June 2004
The Brighton Main Line was now on its own and Brighton, Lewes and Eastbourne etc, were utterly reliant on just one route to London. Problems soon began manifesting themselves.
ESCC opened Phase One in July and just five months later decided to abandon Phases Two and Three of its highly-contentious road, built the Cuilfail road tunnel instead and eventually a bypass skirting around the south of Lewes. So Brighton’s useful second main line was sacrificed for a minor road in Lewes town centre.
The rest is history as they say, but the impact was utterly ruinous and the effect of this catastrophic closure still persists. The Uckfield line withered, subsequent electrification schemes were shelved as unviable, the valuable connections into Tunbridge Wells from both Brighton (via Eridge) and London (via Ashurst) were closed and in 1990 this former main line was partially singled – drastically reducing its capacity.
Lord Teviot led the first of many calls for the line to be reopened as Brighton and the South Coast soon began suffering the consequences of events so familiar today. However, every investigative study throughout forty years assumed reopening the old Hamsey chord, despite the considerable drawback of people having to change at Lewes. In 1997 consultants Mott MacDonald considered a turnback siding to reverse trains, whilst concluding any attempt to reopen the direct line closed in 1969 through Lewes town centre would be impossible. Another consideration involved a new tunnel through Cliffe Hill, east of Lewes, to achieve a direct connection to Brighton but the operational practicalities proved insurmountable.
In 2004 the Government believed the challenge remained overcoming trains facing “the wrong way” – as the Rail Minister Tony McNulty told Lewes MP Norman Baker: “ – the line would be limited by the proposal by the Wealden line group that trains should run into Lewes via the Hamsey loop—that is, heading east at Lewes. The station layout there would constrain through-running to Brighton and involve a shunt movement to gain the Brighton line.”
The latest industry documents clearly show that Brighton is not just the key driver of increasing demand, but there exists a pressing need to substantially expand capacity across the South to combat railheading. Network Rail says – “Sussex railways are the most congested in the UK”; The Department for Transport says – “The Brighton Line is one of a number of routes on which the provision of further capacity is difficult”; Southern says they want – “more capacity for trains from the South Coast into London” as well as – “a more efficient diversionary route for the BML in times of major disruption and engineering work.”
Revolutionary methods of tunnelling have made the economic and strategic case for Brighton Main Line 2 with its new direct link into Brighton under the South Downs west of Lewes and Ashcombe tunnel would repay its £50m cost many times over.
Lewes would connect into BML2 north of the new tunnel with services to and from Eastbourne, whilst Brighton would regain its second main line – absolutely essential for the city’s growth, prospects and economic health. And BML2 is considerably less expensive than previous unsuccessful investigations into expanding capacity on the Brighton Line.
Lord Bassam, a keen supporter of BML2, said the Department for Transport should begin seriously studying the potential benefits of BML2 whereby the unrelenting pressure would be taken off the Brighton Line by reintroducing this additional route. He said:
“BML2 will also bring extra gains by way of tapping into new revenue markets across a wide sweep of Sussex, Kent and Surrey, as well as providing a realistic diversionary route, new destinations and opportunities for people everywhere.”
He added that it is “terrific news” that his colleague Andrew Adonis is backing BML2 as he commands enormous respect and is seriously listened to by all parties and within industry.
Project manager for BML2 Brian Hart said: “The backing of Lord Adonis is an immense step forward for BML2. The greater project has a raft of major beneficial advancements for London and the South East. For instance, we believe Stratford, Canary Wharf and Lewisham should be joined on a new north-south axis across the eastern Thames so that Gatwick and Stansted may be directly connected by one unified fast rail link which simultaneously benefits London’s east-west Crossrail. This would also connect currently separated counties on either side of the river with a new Thameslink, as well as supporting the regeneration and development of East London. BML2 would deliver vast amounts of additional capacity into London with interchange onto Crossrail, avoiding the bottlenecks and critical ‘major barriers to growth’ specified by Network Rail.”
In a forceful message to both Lord Bassam and Brian Hart, Lord Adonis stressed:
“On any realistic analysis of capacity requirements over the next generation it is stark staring obvious that the second mainline to London is needed. Quite apart from the immense local benefits.”