Transport Secretary shows keen interest in Brighton Main Line 2
Published on Friday, 03 February 2017 18:21
Photo by kind courtesy John Wenham
Closed in 1969, Brighton’s second main line is now part of serious proposals to boost the rail network and the economy.
Throughout the past year the BML2 Project Group has been in discussion with a number of professional individuals who are attracted by the massive potential of the scheme. Their purpose was to scrutinize the proposal and explore the opportunities which BML2 could provide for growth in the capital, as well as improving and strengthening transport links for the many thousands of people who commute every day across London and the South East.
The culmination of these protracted discussions has been the creation of a limited company by the long-running Wealden Line Campaign (est.1986) in order to protect the interests of its project – Brighton Main Line 2. As a result, BML2 Consultancy Ltd will continue to play an important role in steering the project and working closely with other entities now preparing to carry through such a large-scale undertaking as BML2 in its entirety.
2016 brought about a seismic shift; BML2 is no longer an aspiration, but a tangible and serious business proposition, whilst a number of keynote meetings with various parties enabled rudimentary facts to be established. This was an important process because we had to cover fundamental aspects, such as hitherto route protection, likely engineering challenges, aspects of technical feasibility, exploration of investment opportunities, potential commercial benefits and, most important of all, substantial gains for passengers and the rail industry. Growing confidence led to a decision in November to approach the Government.
The initial step was a meeting with established and high-profile supporters of BML2 who would be in a position to allocate to the project sufficient serious attention. Lewes MP Maria Caulfield; Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby; and Cllr Geoffrey Theobald OBE from Brighton & Hove City Council were duly given a short presentation at the beginning of December whereupon the latest proposals were unveiled.
Although not needing any convincing about the substantial merits of BML2 at that meeting, Simon Kirby told the consultancy group that he would be pleased to take up the matter with the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling and seek a meeting at the earliest opportunity. Accordingly, on Monday 30 January, a delegation, including Sussex MPs and representatives from London & Southern Counties Railways (LSCR) the private sector consortium now seeking to take the project further, was able to meet with Chris Grayling to discuss in broad terms the proposals for new links, as set out by BML2, in order to strengthen the South East rail network.
A spokesman for the LSCR Consortium said: “The BML2 project group has done an excellent job in making the case for extra capacity on the Brighton Mainline route. A new privately-funded line would create additional connections for towns across the southern counties and benefit millions of commuters on one of the UK’s most overcrowded rail routes.”
He went on to explain: “These were initial discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling who was keen to learn more about the project. While the project is still at a relatively early stage, we are encouraged by the interest shown by the Secretary of State and look forward to further positive engagement with Department for Transport officials in the coming months.”
Simon Kirby MP said afterwards: “I was pleased to arrange today’s meeting and feel that it is definitely a step in the right direction. This project would bring significant advantages and benefits to Brighton and the surrounding area. It would ease pressure on the congested Brighton to London commuter line, would boost tourism and visitor numbers to the area and would bring more jobs and economic opportunity.”
Mr Kirby also highlighted a key strength of BML2 by adding: “I also welcome the prospect of direct train services between London and the AMEX Stadium”. As previously pointed out by Lord Bassam of Brighton, this would be equally beneficial for the University of Sussex at nearby Falmer station on the new main line, giving it superior direct links to central London and beyond to Cambridge.
Equal recognition was also made of the fact that BML2 would be in a prime position to support the parallel Brighton main line by relieving pressure and over-demand, as well as making it easier to carry out regular maintenance. Also noted was the construction of Ashcombe tunnel beneath the South Downs to allow BML2 to provide the all-important fast, direct access into the City of Brighton & Hove.
Equally positive was Lewes MP Maria Caulfield who has consistently championed the project, despite being heavily criticised for doing so by her predecessor, Norman Baker, who lost his parliamentary seat to her in 2015. She told her constituents that investors are looking to plough billions of pounds in the South East to provide a new rail link into the capital. Having lobbied the Secretary of State for many months over the issue, she said prior to Monday’s meeting: “I am grateful to the Transport Secretary for taking the time to meet with us. This is an excellent opportunity to make sure we put our case across and show just how much BML2 is needed for the South East.”
The project featured on BBC South East Today, as well as BBC Sussex who interviewed the MPs the following day. We also understand BML2 will be discussed on BBC Sunday Politics South East on 5 February 2017.
The BML2 Project Group is immensely grateful to Chris Grayling for agreeing to this initial briefing and to the Sussex MPs who have shown such commitment to the scheme. We would like to emphasise that, quite apart from its central role of improving transport, BML2 has an equally crucial role in supporting business growth and general prosperity. Railways are so important in this respect and have a particularly special role to play in moving mass numbers of people around in an environmentally-sustainable way. This applies in particular to the region where we have a number of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the South Downs National Park and large areas of Green Belt. In this context we would like to pay equal tribute to Brighton MP Caroline Lucas who has been equally committed in her support of BML2 and lobbying Government on behalf of her constituents.
Without doubt, 2017 represents a turning point in the long struggle to revive those lost rail links, as well as making new ones. Accordingly we look forward with renewed enthusiasm to the days and months ahead as BML2 looks set to finally become a reality.