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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Government utterly lost for Brighton Line solutions

Transport Minister Theresa Villiers has again told Brighton Kemptown Conservative MP Simon Kirby that reopening the Lewes–Uckfield line cannot be a priority for the Government at the moment.

 

This news will greatly disappoint her Coalition counterpart, Lewes LibDem MP, Norman Baker, who said shortly before he, too, became a Minister at the Department for Transport: “Reopening will be good for the economy, good for the environment and good for social mobility. It is one of my political ambitions to be there for the reopening, indeed to help cut the ribbon. I am beginning to believe I might just make it.”

 

Meanwhile, an undeterred Simon Kirby said valiantly: “I am, and will continue to be, very supportive and will do my best to continue to press the issue in Parliament.”

 

BML2’s Project Manager Brian Hart had told Mr Kirby: “Whilst London-end capacity at termini is undoubtedly a limiting factor on the face of it, we must remember that long-distance (e.g. Brighton) trains compete for pathways through East Croydon and slots into London platforms with trains performing shorter suburban journeys. Connex, for example, proposed replacing some Caterham branch trains with new Eastbourne-Lewes-Uckfield-London fast services.” Appreciating that this would cause conflicts with suburban services, he added that nevertheless: “there ought to be some scope where we decide upon a balance and what is most important and delivers the greatest benefit.” Indeed, such sentiments are now being expressed by Gatwick Express, faced by the hopeless congestion on the Brighton Line with no spare pathways.

 

Brian Hart also pointed out “Even if we ignore the London end, it is a fact that a reconnected Uckfield line to Lewes – and directly into Brighton via a new Ashcombe tunnel under the Downs – would still be able to deliver more capacity in the south by better utilisation of existing Uckfield/Oxted line pathways. It is also true that whenever the BML is down (as seems increasingly common now) or has to be closed for engineering works, then all Brighton services could be easily diverted via Uckfield with only about ten minutes added to the normal journey. This has to be better than transferring thousands onto replacement buses or telling people to make a vast detour via Littlehampton or Hastings.”

 

However, Mrs Villiers warned of “serious consequences in terms of crowding” if any suburban trains were removed because of the “limited tube network south of the river”. She said the Government needs to concentrate limited taxpayer funds to deliver more capacity for further growth over the next few years, adding “Our priorities for Network Rail’s Control Period 5 (2014 to 2019) are therefore mainly focused on the provision of additional capacity on the existing network.”

 

This shows the Coalition Government has no idea how to plan ahead because railways need far-sighted vision. There is no additional capacity left on the Brighton Line, it is full-up and the south needs a new main line. Theresa Villiers admitted only last month that Thameslink “will not on its own, provide a long-term solution.”

 

Capacity shortfall on the Brighton Main Line is now notorious and the Sussex Phase of BML2 (reopening Uckfield–Lewes, along with a tunnel under the South Downs into Brighton) would have an immediate beneficial effect on the BML – and could easily be delivered by 2020. Even without a ‘London-end terminal solution’ – having two main lines between London and Brighton would completely transform rail’s overall efficiency and capabilities throughout Sussex, Surrey and Kent.

 

Mrs Villiers finished by saying: “We will continue to consider the re-opening of former railways where they are able to make an immediate contribution to the capacity shortfall – as East-West will do for Oxford and for Milton Keynes.” She added: “Sadly the reopening of the railway between Lewes and Uckfield cannot do this and it cannot therefore be a priority for Government investment for the moment. Of course we are prepared to revisit such issues where evidence emerges on changing passenger demand.”

 

What kind of emerging evidence would that be then? Waiting until we see long queues at Uckfield station for a train service that doesn’t exist?

 

In another letter to the Minister for Decentralisation and Cities, Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark – who has problems of his own from constituents suffering the equally-overburdened Tonbridge Main Line – Mrs Villiers said the DfT had studied the plans for the road development in Uckfield and “have concluded that they would improve, rather than harm” reopening the line. This was because ESCC would divert the road away from the former level crossing “to a position in which a bridge over the railway would be much easier to construct”. She is, we presume, unaware that ESCC intends retaining the High Street – where the level crossing used to be – to form an integral part of its gyratory ring road.

 

“It is not possible to construct a value-for-money case to re-open a railway line that could only be of use at off-peak times or when blockages occur on the Brighton Main Line. Even as an off-peak railway it would be of dubious value because journey times would be much slower via BML2 than via the existing Brighton Main Line.” she said.

 

Presumably then, since the advent of High Speed One services, no one uses the considerably slowed-down Ashford-Tonbridge-Charing Cross services any longer? And if, or when, we get HS2, the currently overcrowded Midlands main lines will become empty?

 

Astonishingly she said: “It might be a viable proposition if it were to become part of an alternative railway route from the Sussex Coast to London.”

 

A perplexed Brian Hart said: “That’s precisely what everyone has been suggesting for the past 25 years – perhaps the penny has finally dropped.”

 

“I think such a re-opening is unlikely to happen in the short term” she said, a sentiment a great number of people will heartily agree with – all the while this muddled, lack-of-direction, going-nowhere and stuck-for-solutions Coalition Government holds on to power.

   

Norman Baker’s view was not sought.