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bringing important railway connections together

The truly green alternative. Mainline services between Brighton – London and Tonbridge last sped through here 50 years ago until closure between British Rail and the Labour government in 1969. Strictly safeguarded for reopening ever since, we cannot afford to leave it any longer, as Transport for the South East says – “better for people, better for business and better for the planet”.

The Times recently featured the notorious Uckfield – Lewes ‘missing link’ in Boris Johnson’s £500m “Beeching reversal fund” which they rightly observe is a drop in the ocean and will not go far. At the same time, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is believed to be keen on investigating BML2 following a conversation with Lewes MP Maria Caulfield in response to his recent parliamentary declaration to restore rail services withdrawn by the Labour government in the 1960s.

Sussex was devastated when main lines in the process of being electrified were thoughtlessly closed or cut back. The withdrawal of all rail services between Tunbridge Wells (West) and London in 1969 was a serious blow, especially as British Railways had big plans for the route. Even worse, the secondary London – Brighton main line, scheduled to be electrified by 1963, was severed at Uckfield, also in 1969 by Labour Minister Richard Marsh who shortly afterwards became chairman of British Rail. This has left today’s burgeoning City of Brighton & Hove wholly reliant on one heavily overloaded and restricted route, as is the Tonbridge main line, similarly at breaking point without the planned electrified third main line between London and the Sussex Coast. In 2003 the late Lord Richard Marsh told us he had “no reliable recollection” of his ministerial decision as he was there “only a few months”. We however have been left to suffer the enduring consequences for over half a century and which will never go away until this catastrophic mistake is finally put right.

As billions more are freely shovelled into the bottomless pit that is HS2, the incoming government must look very seriously at the critically overloaded railway in the South East. To his considerable credit, previous Chancellor George Osborne showed real interest in Brighton Main Line 2 and spoke up for the beleaguered region when he declared Sussex to be “ – a part of the country so often ignored or overlooked by politicians”. That continues to be the case.

Sussex’s short closed links give enormous ‘bang for your buck’ by reconnecting millions of people by rail.
Reopening just 7 miles of safeguarded trackbed will create a new main line between the Sussex Coast and London. £60m will build a new tunnel through the South Downs – providing a much-needed fast route from London, Surrey, Kent and East Sussex directly into Brighton. Another reopened short section opens a new main line between Tunbridge Wells and London, thus avoiding the heavily-restricted main line through Sevenoaks and Tonbridge. It all makes sense – economically, environmentally and benefits everyone of all ages.

Private investors are prepared to fund BML2; in particular its London Phase which will tunnel direct from Croydon to Stratford via Lewisham (for the proposed Bakerloo Extension) and Canary Wharf where thousands of commuters work, but who currently have to detour via London Bridge and ram the Jubilee Line. Investors waiting in the wings know this ambitious phase will provide a handsome fiscal return, as well as raise asset values across the capital – as commentators have declared – “pound for pound greater than HS2”.

We now have a new statutory body aspiring to take control – Transport for the South East (TfSE) – comprising many local authorities united in making a real difference to the region. It says: “Our strategy sets out a bold and compelling vision of South East that is better for people, better for business and better for the planet”. Seemingly hoping to address growing environmental concerns and Extinction Rebellion activists, it aspires to eventually “Cut the region’s carbon emissions to net-zero”. Alongside this it wants to double the South East’s economy from £183bn up to £500bn; create an additional 500,000 jobs and boost the quality of life and access to opportunities for everyone. It also talks about balancing economic, social and environmental priorities because that strategy is the only way to achieve truly sustainable growth.

TfSE’s Lead Officer Rupert Clubb reckons we have “much to feel good about here in the South East” and goes on to say: “Our economy is the UK's second biggest behind London. Our three million workers are among the most productive in the country. Our ports, airports and high-speed railway provide fast and efficient links with mainland Europe and the rest of the world. Our thriving research institutions include national and world-leading universities. Our beautiful countryside, coastline, historic towns and dynamic cities attract millions of visitors a year. But we face a real challenge. Despite these enviable foundations – and in some cases because of them – our transport infrastructure is operating beyond capacity and can't sustain ongoing growth. In many areas investment in our roads and railways hasn't kept pace and new housing provision is being hampered by the lack of adequate transport infrastructure.”

We wouldn’t disagree with any of that, whilst they assert they’ll be “focusing on large-scale investment in attractive, high-quality public transport”. However, they go on to warn “we will need to make some tough decisions about how, not if, we manage demand on the busiest parts of our transport networks”. Well, this sounds good, but many are convinced this just means ramming through contentious road schemes.

TfSE say they will do everything “in a way that is good for people, good for business and good for the planet, because our strategy is clear that balancing economic, social and environmental priorities is the only way to achieve truly sustainable growth.” This all sounds inspiringly ecological and we would not argue with these ambitious and admirable aspirations; however, we think there is a distinct and very profound credibility gap. This is because TfSE’s ‘Technical Lead’ officer Mark Valleley gave the game away when he was quoted by RAIL magazine as saying “the organisation wants to push for improvements to existing lines, rather than focusing on building new connections”. This translates as a direct refusal to either sponsor or assist politically in restoring those critical rail connections destroyed in the 1960s. This is not only astonishing, but unreservedly unacceptable, especially as he clarified TfSE’s position by saying: “A key theme for us is that there is a potential to make better use of the infrastructure which is already there.”

While this most crowded corner of the UK languishes under the mounting strain, Scotland, Wales and the North of England are lobbying hard for multi-million sums to be spent on their rail networks – and good for them. Contrast that with the woefully stale mantra our representatives are proposing – which says we don’t need any new lines, we’ll just carry on letting everyone put up with what we’ve got left post-Beeching and the 1960s. And over decades, yes decades, government ministers, DfT officials and Network Rail have been more than content to oblige such a sentiment.

This no longer washes with anyone. Where are our champions who will speak up for the Southern Powerhouse? We’ve all had more than enough of the excuses to do nothing, of the usual political pre-election platitudes, the piles of reports and useless studies which amount to doing nothing over 50 years. Let there be no misunderstanding, we are now in a real crisis. Although most of Sussex’s once-expansive rail network has been irretrievably destroyed, BML2’s links are capable of being restored.

Now TfSE is asking the question “What kind of place do we want the South East to be thirty years from now?” AND THEY PROMISE – “the answer to that question will guide the decisions we make about investment in our region’s transport network between now and 2050”. Let’s make sure they do.

Up until the closing date of 23:59 hrs Friday 10 January 2020, they are inviting everyone to ‘HAVE YOUR SAY’ at

So rather than suffering in silence or moaning day after day about your late train or non-existent service, or disrupting traffic, or super-gluing yourself to whatever, please do something helpful. Take part in this survey and encourage all your friends and associates to do likewise in support of BML2. Tell TfSE we need their genuine and unqualified political support in building the joined-up, efficient and really useful rail network we so desperately need in this part of the UK.