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.










Hever Station


Shameful - the South East’s most notorious wasting asset.


Ahead of George Osborne’s own commissioned study into examining the Brighton Main Line 2 Project, Network Rail’s newly-published ‘Sussex Area Route Study-Final’ already reveals that BML2 gives Brighton & Hove, Lewes and Eastbourne the fastest alternative rail route to London.


The fastest direct trains between Brighton and London Bridge currently take 56 minutes (semi-fast services 64). However, NR says trains diverted via BML2 would take just 73 minutes, providing the fastest-possible second route between London and the Coast. Journey times to London Victoria are equally impressive.


BML2 is shown as being much faster than reversing trains at Lewes by 20 minutes (with only an Uckfield–Lewes link). BML2 is also faster and more convenient than building a ‘Lewes loop’ which would incur at least 8 extra minutes. This supposes that such a tight curve is feasible, or Lewes had the capacity for additional trains.


BML2 is, of course, infinitely faster than the current 2-hour alternative via Arundel – as Labour delegates had to endure on the party’s conference opening day in Brighton. Even a new ‘Arun chord’ costing up to £75m to avoid reversing at Littlehampton or Ford, would add an extra 50 minutes.


But NR thinks the South East can wait at least another three decades for BML2. Its author, ‘Group Strategy Director’ Paul Plummer says: “I am delighted to present the Sussex Route Study, which sets out the strategic vision for the future of this vital part of the rail network over the next 30 years”. However, commuters will not be delighted once they experience being crammed into very higher-density rolling stock with narrower seats and more standing room.


An attempt to cram more trains onto Sussex’s already grossly-overloaded routes is also planned. Although NR says Sussex lines carry more than 60,000 people in the high peak hour alone into Central London, unlike Scotland, no new or re-opened lines are planned, despite this being the most over-populated and heavily-used system in the UK. So these flash new trains will still be stuck on the same old railway, subject to as many delays and cancellations.


Even though BML2 is an outright winner on emergency diversion, NR says this alone cannot justify its case. However, its diversionary capability is just a big bonus – not the sole impetus – and typically, NR is incapable of seeing BML2 as a hugely-useful new main line in its own right.


NR and DfT officials don’t understand that thousands are forced to railhead to the Brighton Line and that’s why it’s in such deep trouble. The overall journey, from doorstep-to-workplace, would be even faster on BML2 in many cases. Falmer to London is an example, or consider how fast and easy Brighton to Canary Wharf Crossrail would be, avoiding bottlenecks at East Croydon, London Bridge and Blackfriars.
Not long ago New Labour’s Strategic Rail Authority (remember them?) told us relieving the Brighton Line was top priority. No use extending car parks – the trains are full. Can’t run more, or longer, trains – this would slow down the service yet more. Now, in a complete U-turn, they are extending Brighton Line car parks, encouraging thousands more to swamp the route, whilst according to Thameslink’s new boss these super German-built trains will be “more comfortable to stand-up in”. NR’s study reveals each of Southern’s current ‘class 377’ carriages can carry 99 people (60 seated 39 standing), whereas each new ‘class 700’ Thameslink carriage will carry 148 – half as much again (55 seated with 93 standing). The DfT has assisted by relaxing its stipulation of two people standing per square metre – to four.  


BML2 is also misunderstood. NR says: “The BML2 scheme would utilise the former alignment of the Lewes–Uckfield line but instead of connecting to Lewes would tunnel under the South Downs to run directly to Falmer and onward to Brighton via the East Coastway.” Importantly, it should read as well as connecting to Lewes”. More erroneously, it talks about a “double-deck track over Croydon Tramlink” – which has never been proposed and isn’t necessary.


NR boasts “The Thameslink Programme will have resolved the central London bottleneck” and is putting excessive faith in the developing ‘European Rail Traffic Management System’ (ERTMS) whereby, in theory, more trains can be digitally controlled. Only last January, NR’s computer modelling ‘proved’ that 22 trains per hour could operate through London Bridge – but we all remember what happened there.


All hope – for that’s what it is – is now being put into ERTMS operating 24 trains per hour (that’s one every 150 seconds) each way through the 2-track Thameslink core at Blackfriars/Farringdon. As Private Eye pointed out, they are relying on trains north and south converging in the right sequence with no delays. 


The much-respected journal Rail Engineer recently expressed grave doubts over the emerging technology, concluding: “Fingers crossed all round, I guess.” whilst Private Eye commented “The chance of delays on the Brighton line, and their far-reaching effects, would be eased if an alternative Brighton mainline were available; but the engineering involved makes that impossible before the **** hits the fan in 2018 or 2019.”


Perhaps not surprisingly, NR’s Final Sussex Study is narrowly focused on their own railway operations.  It fails dismally on what it calls its ‘conditional outputs’ (expectations) regarding sufficient capacity for the leisure market at weekends, appropriate connectivity and capacity for tourist attractions, access to higher education establishments and making the rail network more accessible to passengers.


So what shall be done? As others have said, the situation is seriously damaging not only the economy of Sussex, but a whole swathe of London and the South East. That is why the Chancellor’s sudden intervention is so very welcome and significant because he is sensitive to the hugely negative impact the current network has on growth and recognises the immense value and potential of BML2.


The project’s Thameslink 2 aspect has the greatest benefit, economic return, and usefulness after Crossrail. And let’s not forget that Gatwick is a huge employer/contributor to the South East economy (even though some seem to want it closed-down), but was seriously marked down by the recent Sir Howard Davies Airports Commission Expansion Report for its poor rail connections.


Rail Minister Claire Perry at the DfT has said she expects a study into BML2 to be complete by the end of the year, but what we don’t need is a rushed dismissal from officers anxious to shelve it.


George Osborne needs to be at the very heart of this because BML2 is as much about the economy as transport, and it is a project he needs to steer through with all possible speed.