BML2 Gang

Thumbs up for BML2 – time to fast-track this superb project and get those spades in the ground!


Despite so many restrictive difficulties during the current pandemic, sound progress continues to be made on the Government’s ‘Restoring Your Railway’ programme with BML2 in the ‘AEP’ category (Accelerating Existing Proposals).

With BML2’s London phase in abeyance, all resources are now focused on the easily-achievable and affordable Sussex and Kent phases (hereafter referred collectively as ‘BML2’) which will deliver immense and far-reaching benefits to struggling local economies so badly hit by the Covid crisis. Whereas the focus only a year ago was on urgently delivering far greater CAPACITY to the struggling, over-stretched South East rail network, the emphasis is now firmly on CONNECTIVITY which, make no mistake, is going to be the truly major challenge for Governments in the decades ahead.

Despite already being the most congested region of the UK, housing development pressure is increasing, as is the obligation to protect so many environmentally-sensitive areas throughout Sussex, Kent and Surrey. Yet we have to get around – for educational needs, to work, for shopping, leisure activities, tourism and all those reasons why trains were once packed-out – and will be again. We have to plan for tomorrow and cannot continue subsisting with the inadequacies of the South’s disconnected rail system. If ‘Reversing Beeching’ means anything then – after fifty years of lobbying and broken promises from successive governments – now is the time for action. So if it is honest about tackling all these serious environmental issues we’re constantly being told are confronting us and if it wants to “build back better and bolder”  then decades of dithering and prevarication must end now.

We now have the chance of significant funding being made available from the Department for Transport to produce a transport and economic case for BML2. This will be submitted at the earliest possible opportunity. We have a good basis given the quantity of previous studies by numerous consultancies, but principally Network Rail’s 2008 detailed Engineering Study. This concluded it was entirely feasible and beneficial, despite those in the driving seat at that time having ulterior motives. The project is extremely sound and easily achievable because most of the railway already exists and is now scheduled for electrification. Its two short ‘missing links’ – amounting to a rather paltry 12 miles of re-laid railway – will instantly connect major towns with large and expanding communities across these three counties. So is it really beyond our wit and wisdom to build what amounts to 0.75% of the cost of HS2...?

Further welcome news is that at a recent seminar Network Rail declared that third rail (750vDC) electrification is the only feasible option for the 25-mile branch truncated at Uckfield by the Labour Government in 1969. At last – common sense reigns and we can now move forward and make real progress! Sixty years after BR’s magnificent ‘Oxted Lines Electrification Programme’ was scheduled for introduction by 1964 and then catastrophically scrapped (in favour of a minor road scheme) the region has languished and paid a heavy price in worsening congestion, road deaths and enduring economic hardship. We now have the best-ever chance to put right this wrong which has been a running sore for half a century. Previous attempts at electrification have had poor business cases because the former main line was crippled in 1990 with partial-singling making it capable of only two trains per hour, whilst its strategic role has been weak, coming to an abrupt end 46 miles from London at Uckfield – just 7 miles short of the Sussex Coast network! The business case to reopen these missing links, turn the branch back into a main line again, re-double and electrify commensurate with the surrounding system is palpably extremely strong, blindingly obvious and must be given fast-tracked priority as a key infrastructure investment for the South East.

Recently, Network Rail’s Chairman Sir Peter Hendy perceptively observed that despite the current crisis which has temporarily reduced normal peak train usage into central London by two thirds, the road network has 90+% of normal volume. So there is no way we can build our way out of this predicament with more roads – we just don’t have the space, let alone public support to destroy and concrete over vast swathes of the South East. He is absolutely right in stating that the railway will always be the supreme form of mass transit.

We hope that Network Rail will live up to its name and co-operate with us in expanding our rail network. Why would they shirk at supporting an expansion of their business? Why would they not want to facilitate the running of new and popular integrated services linking severed communities who’ve been made to suffer ‘bustitution’ for fifty years!?

There is further good news that previous obstacles to pushing through truly worthwhile schemes such as BML2 will no longer be hindered by the over-complex, project-stalling GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects) as this process is being chucked in the bin. NR’s Chief Executive Andrew Haines has declared it is no longer fit for purpose, whilst Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris (who said that BML2 has “generated a high level of interest”) is demanding the industry’s planning processes be simplified. Three cheers to that – given that in 2008 NR announced that actual construction time, from start-to-handover, for the 7-mile Sussex link (Uckfield–Lewes) was just 27 months.

And more welcome news comes from West Kent where Sevenoaks MP Laura Trott, who is also Parliamentary Private Secretary to the DfT,has just declared her support to restoring rail services between Tunbridge Wells and Brighton/Lewes because “the re-instatement of this line would bring huge economic and environmental benefits to Sevenoaks and the surrounding areas of the constituency.” She is absolutely right and can see how this project will be a sound and worthy investment, especially for our up-and-coming generations. This view is shared by the business investment corporation ‘Locate in Kent’ which has said “Very excited about the Brighton-Tunbridge Wells link”.

With most of the area’s MPs in support – let’s finally get cracking on a truly beneficial project for the future prosperity and well-being of the South East region.