NEW GOVERNMENT MUST BUILD BML2 WITHOUT FURTHER DELAY
Published on Monday, 12 September 2016 16:30
A seat?!! – You’ll be lucky to get a space to stand!
An increasing number of business leaders, politicians and commuters are calling on the Government to create the sorely-needed second main line between London and Brighton. As we reported in July, the new Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, has long been aware of the growing problem and overall lack of rail capacity in the south. Equally aware was recently-departed Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who last year personally commissioned a £100k full-scale study into the Brighton Main Line 2 Project – which is still to be published.
On top of the worsening capacity crisis in Sussex – famously described by Network Rail as having ‘the most congested routes in the UK’ – we have had the worst disruption in decades. The industrial dispute has been badly handled and it seems there is no end in sight, but even if this was amicably resolved tomorrow, the fundamental problems and weaknesses in the south’s rail system will remain.
The South’s economy, too, has suffered enormously. Seasonal trade in coastal towns has plummeted, whilst the cost to London and its commuters has been severe, both commercially and in individual terms. The Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council, Cllr Geoffrey Theobald OBE, has expressed profound dismay as he says the City is on the cusp of so many exciting developments with investment in such attractions as the British Airways i360; campus expansion and development of a biomedical centre at Sussex University; a new conference centre; as well as Brighton & Hove Albion possibly making the Premier League next season.
BML2 would of course provide direct London services to Sussex University and the AMEX stadium but, most of all, relieve the terribly overcrowded and overburdened adjacent Brighton Line. “Yet, as the city grows in importance and population, the current rail service cannot cope, even if the trains are running perfectly, let alone for the future” says the Conservative Leader.
“To me these are some of the many reasons why we are crying out for an additional Brighton to London mainline – BML2” he adds. As he pointed out, BML2 would also directly benefit the heavily-populated towns along the Sussex Coastal strip. It would also improve rail services from busy key commuter towns, such as Horsham in West Sussex and Tunbridge Wells in Kent.
Geoffrey Theobald declared: “Fundamentally it’s about providing far more capacity into the network so that more trains can operate and hardworking people can rely on getting to work on time, comfortably and without delays. They may even get a seat!”
This view is shared by the Labour Party’s Leader Jeremy Corbyn who, when famously complaining he couldn’t find a seat, quite rightly said: “The reality is there are not enough trains – we need more of them”. Indeed we do. However, Mr Corbyn was lucky to find a corner in which to sit on the floor. On a regular basis Southern commuters think themselves fortunate if they find a space to stand and can actually clamber onto some services where the doors – operated by the driver or the guard – can just about be closed.
It seems yet more misery for Brighton Line commuters is the realization of reduced seating on the new Govia Thameslink trains, now coming into service. The Guardian recently highlighted the plight of long-distance Thameslink train travellers who are forced to stand for over an hour or even more. Those who do find one of the new narrower seats were dismayed there were no small fold-down tables for a laptop. Over two years ago, we warned about such metro-style conditions for long distance commuters http://www.bml2.co.uk/the-news/156-story-stand-up-for-the-brighton-line.html but nobody seemed bothered. As more of these ‘cattle-class trains’, as they’ve been described, come into service, bear in mind that they rely on the same old inadequate and heavily-overburdened system which needs radical investment.
Unfortunately, here in the South East, we can’t operate more trains as Jeremy Corbyn proposes – because we no longer have a big enough railway. Drastically cut back over decades by both Labour and Conservative administrations, successive Governments have so far – and despite pre-election promises to fix it – have resisted reopening any strategically useful lines here.
Instead, they remain fixated on pursuing controversial and hugely expensive high-speed schemes elsewhere. However, while the South’s beleaguered network creaks ever nearer towards looming gridlock, HS2 now appears to be falling out of favour, certainly among business commentators and serious investors. Only a few days ago Nigel Wilson, chief executive of Legal & General, one of Britain’s largest funders of infrastructure projects, urged Theresa May to walk away from HS2, warning “You can have big projects, but they have got to be the right big projects.”
Correspondents to the London Evening Standard have also said BML2 “needs to happen soon” – going on to outline its simplicity and relative ease of construction, whilst delivering massive economic and social benefits for the region and the millions who live here.
Brighton’s Conservative Leader described BML2 as “the only solution” and said he would wait with bated breath the new feasibility study commissioned by George Osborne and hoped that “the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will have the same interest as his predecessor in building a new main line in the south.” Confidence was also expressed in the appointment of Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby to Economic Secretary to the Treasury in Theresa May’s new Government, citing how Simon has been a vocal and long-standing supporter of BML2.
In praising BML2’s ability to offer so much opportunity for growth and prosperity across London and the South East, Geoffrey Theobald encouraged investors to bear in mind “Theresa May has been clear that post-Brexit Britain is open for business and investment on a global scale.”
He concluded by expressing the wishes of all of us by saying: “Whitehall must therefore grasp the nettle and move forward with BML2 without any more delay.”