2019 BML2 London Map

London is edging ever closer towards adopting BML2 – a fast new connection linking Croydon, Canary Wharf and Stratford.

Featured in the online Evening Standard, a new diagram has just been published by Cambridge University graduate Alastair Carr. This clearly shows how the TfL network would look with Thameslink, Crossrail (the Elizabeth Line) and proposed Crossrail 2 and 3 schemes.

The designer used the name ‘Crossrail 3’ to describe the new link between Croydon and Stratford, which is strongly backed by a variety of expanding London Boroughs. Lewisham Council has met the BML2 Project Group on numerous occasions and helped with suggesting practical solutions to the fast link across the Thames. BML2 has also met Croydon Council transport officials and is aware of the fast-growing borough’s eagerness to have connections with the capital’s principal growth area.

In 2011 the BML2 Project Group coined the term ‘Thameslink 2’ to aptly describe its London Phase. But whether it’s called ‘Crossrail 3’ or ‘Thameslink 2’ it’s all BML2.

Alastair Carr took his inspiration from a Government body, the National Infrastructure Commission, which appreciates what BML2 has to offer. In its report Review of the Case for Large Scale Transport Investment in London the Commission declared: ‘There is currency in the view that there is a case for a third Crossrail scheme and one version of this would be to extend the existing Lea Valley line southwards from its end-point at Stratford to the Isle of Dogs and then southwards across the Thames to connect with the national rail network, possibly connecting with the Brighton Main Line and providing congestion relief to it.’

Whilst Alastair’s diagram is an impressively executed piece of work, as with all diagrams it doesn’t convey the real picture because true geographical distances are grossly distorted and therefore the astounding transport advantages of this link cannot be properly appreciated. There will be enormous economic benefits with its construction, as many politicians and planners have perceived.

This is why the private sector has been showing such a strong interest. Similarly, as Alastair himself recognizes: ‘As tunnelling technology improves and space for new surface railways becomes ever-scarcer, it becomes more cost-effective to use tunnels to connect existing railways, rather than build lines with narrow tunnels and their own dedicated surface sections.’

To its credit, but without realizing it, Network Rail came close to answering to South East’s worsening rail crisis years ago when it said in 2010: ‘It is apparent that a scheme that removed Fast line services from the existing BML somewhere in the Croydon area would be the ultimate capacity generator as it would run conflict free from the existing Fast lines through East Croydon and Clapham Junction.’ It explained this would be a 15-mile tunnel starting somewhere south of Croydon and running to a London terminus. However, BML2 would be a cross-London line – just like Thameslink.

Last summer we met Network Rail to discuss the latest developments around BML2 as we understood the company was serious in its declared ‘Open for Business’ publicity – aimed at encouraging private sector investment and involvement. They were showed part of the business case being put together by international investors who have already spent fourfold what ex-Chancellor George Osborne committed to his £100k London & South Coast Study, published by the DfT in 2016.

However, Network Rail regrettably appears to view BML2 as a direct threat to their own scheme to install two extra platforms at East Croydon and rebuild junctions with flyovers and dive-unders. They misunderstand it as ‘bypassing Croydon’ whereupon we pointed out that the project will actually serve central Croydon, with connecting access to both East and West Croydon stations. Unfortunately, even after they have ‘untangled’ East Croydon, the railway will still only take people to Victoria or London Bridge – and for many thousands of commuters this is miles out of their way.

We were also at pains to stress that BML2 was not seeking to rival the Brighton mainline, or be any substitute, but bring relief, enhancement and benefit to it and the millions who rely upon the railway. The almost parallel Uckfield line was, after all, British Rail’s principal secondary route to Brighton until severed in 1969. Network Rail said that although they could not provide any finance, they fully supported BML2’s Sussex and Kent phases, which would see these closed main lines to Tunbridge Wells and the South Coast restored; however they still retained misgivings about its London phase.

In the past few months Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has urged the investors behind BML2 to come forward as soon as practically possible with their proposals. Similarly supportive is the Government’s Business Secretary Greg Clark who said he would be “delighted to see BML2 go ahead, as the reopening of Tunbridge Wells West would be a real boon to the town – bringing greater choice and more services both to London and other parts of Kent and Sussex”. He added that he was “thrilled to see that work continues at pace” while Chris Grayling has “warmly welcomed the BML2 consortium’s endeavours.”

At our meeting at Westminster in November with Sussex MP Maria Caulfield, she helpfully explained the Government’s particular interest in BML2; not just from a transport angle, but appreciating the potential it has in the capital for facilitating development and regeneration, especially across the expanding high-tech and commercial districts around Docklands.

This is an area wholly devoid of fast and direct rail services into it from the South East. Unfortunately, Network Rail seems incapable of thinking beyond its Victorian termini of Victoria and London Bridge and sorting out its next challenge at Clapham Junction. The world has moved on and London needs BML2 up and running as soon as possible. It should not be termed Crossrail 3 as this implies it must wait until after Crossrail 2 has happened, which could be decades away.

Other developments have recently brought BML2 nearer. A massive cultural and entertainment centre, the ‘MSG Sphere London’ is earmarked for the 5-acre site next to Westfield Stratford City. This is situated just north of the Thames where the BML2 line splits to serve the West Anglia and Great Eastern routes giving the development superb connections.

The other meaningful development is the £2.9bn share purchase of Gatwick by French company Vinci SA. The Sussex airport, now worth £8.5bn, will inevitably expand its operations and would gain superior connections to London’s Docklands and Canary Wharf with BML2.

But for any scheme to truly succeed with private sector investment it has to have the active support of Government. Investors have already said “it’s such a good scheme”, but they remain confounded by the apparent indifference to it coming from Westminster which appears to be incapable of focusing on anything other than HS2.

As we begin 2019, the time has come for a partnership to be forged whereby the Government’s time and resources can be devoted to delivering this project which has such profound advantages for the UK capital and the wider South East.