The News


bringing important railway connections together

BML2 Wealden Line in East Sussex

We have a green aspect and a green transport agenda.

Restoring important strategic rail links with a strong socio-economic case is now a top priority for the new Government.

BML2 will bring immense benefits across Sussex, Kent and Surrey.

Ten years after BML2 was unveiled, all the signals down the line are suddenly showing the green aspect.

A decision was made in late autumn by the Wealden Line Campaign to focus upon its Sussex and Kent phases in order to move swiftly ahead because these are relatively easily-achievable in engineering terms and would deliver tremendous benefits to the South East. For the moment the ambitious but nevertheless lucrative London phase is in abeyance simply because of the far higher engineering challenges as well as the financial aspects; however, this phase can still commence whenever the government wishes to become more involved.

Lewes MP Maria Caulfield has been extraordinarily helpful and constructive, both in the talks we’ve had with her as well as her personal and dedicated efforts to push BML2 centre stage. A few days ago she submitted the bid to the Department for Transport as part of its ‘Restoring Your Railway Fund’ which focuses primarily on rebuilding those lost links of the 1960s. This was the era when the Labour government under Harold Wilson rode to popular victory on a pledge of ‘halting the Beeching closures’ being proposed at that time. Yet Labour famously went on to close hundreds more miles of railway lines than the previous Conservative administration.

The closure of Lewes-Uckfield (which was on the verge of electrification in 1964 as part of the Oxted Line scheme) was a particularly vindictive political decision. It gave rise to the absurd fallacy which still persists to this day that this section was closed because nobody used it, when in fact quite the opposite was true. Failure to save the line was an unforgiveable biased decision which needs to be reversed – and the battle for that has continued as strongly as ever throughout these past fifty years.

The consequences of that fateful judgment made in the autumn of 1968 by Labour’s Transport Minister Richard Marsh (incidentally when the current Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was born) have proved disastrous and enduring. It led to the axing of Kent’s other main London line from Tunbridge Wells; the loss of the important and well-used rail connection between Sussex and Kent (Brighton–Tonbridge); and not least the withering decay and eventual singling of the remaining Uckfield stump. All these woeful calamities must – and can – be put right.

£500m is being made available by government to fund investigations and develop proposals. BML2 (Sussex & Kent phases) come under the DfT category of ‘Accelerating existing proposals’ and the timetable for this is swift. Those schemes which show substantial potential will then be scrutinized by a panel whereby those which are found to have a strong strategic and economic case will then be eligible for government support through a multi-billion pound fund as part of the ‘Moving Britain Ahead’ investment in new rail projects. During this summer we expect to hear the results of their deliberations.

The Wealden Line Campaign’s BML2 Project (Sussex/Kent) is miles ahead in many respects. All the moribund trackbed has been protected from hostile development over decades thanks to robust local authority planning procedure. Strict covenants are in place on former rail land sold by British Rail with ‘buy-back’ clauses in many instances. There are no engineering obstacles to overcome, whilst the necessary new infrastructure at certain locations comprises straightforward tried-and-tested solutions. Allowances for new stations, such as Uckfield, are already in place and reserved thanks to Network Rail, which has already completed most of the engineering and technical specification necessary to reopen the railway between Lewes and Uckfield.

The business case is extremely strong with a high BCR (Benefit to Cost Ratio) and we have the evidence for this, which will be revealed in due course. Across a wide range of strategic opportunities the case is rock-solid, whilst the socio-economic benefits cannot be bettered by any other scheme in the UK.

Support for reinstating fast and direct rail services between London and Lewes/Brighton via Uckfield and Tunbridge Wells has remained consistent throughout half a century. The public have more than demonstrated that their wishes need to be fulfilled across the decades and this shall be as much a political decision as one based on merit and sound economic and environmental grounds.

To prove this has been the case, the Wealden Line Campaign has just funded a new 32-page colour brochure entitled "Re-opening Main Lines in Sussex and Kent" which displays the ‘50-year political struggle’ towards their restoration to our strategic national rail network. Many will be astounded by the political twists and turns, the false dawns, and political betrayals of the past which are featured within.

The business case shall be wholly within the control of the BML2 Consultancy Ltd, whereby the right answers will be given to the right questions. There will be no more distractions or diversions from the core project for whatever reason.

Free from the jurisdiction of the European Union, we are no longer bound by absurd EU Directives which in recent years have imposed insurmountable obstacles. A case in point is the new Ashcombe tunnel through the South Downs to allow direct services to operate into the City of Brighton & Hove from the Uckfield line. The original cost (somewhere around £50m) based on Arup’s North Downs tunnel for HS1 was inflated four-fold to £200m by new safety standards for all European Railways set by Brussels in 2012. The irony does not escape us that Eurostar is operating through a 2-mile tunnel in Kent that is nowadays illegal under EU law. Such absurdities need to be swept away and common sense needs to prevail as the UK determines its own future.

Another important factor which is gaining increasing public awareness is the concern around climate change and the need to change our ways and habits. Public transport – and rail in particular – has to be allocated more importance and funding. This is especially so in the crowded South East where we also have so many ecologically sensitive areas and responsibilities towards the natural environment.

All in all, the time has come to restore these particular lost rail links, even if they were destroyed so wilfully some three years after the notorious Dr Beeching had departed British Rail and returned to ICI. His misguided legacy in this region should have been rectified years ago and it is shameful that the political will has not been found until now.

The time for shilly-shallying has passed; no more dithering around; we cannot afford to delay it any longer. We are going to succeed this time, no ifs no buts.