The News


bringing important railway connections together

web118360Befuddled Boris has been badly bamboozled by his blinkered boffins at the Department for Transport. Only recently he fancied he would bolster his flagging popularity and impress everyone by proclaiming: “Green is good. Green is right. Green works” – yet he is proving the government he leads has neither the nous nor the get-up-and-go to steer through re-opening a trifling 7 miles of moth-balled railway in Sussex.

Such a measly commitment to mending once-and-for-all this enduring, notorious and thoroughly miserable breach in the South’s rail system would have delivered a sorely-needed new main line between the Sussex Coast and London. But far more than that, it would have kick-started the creation of a renewed rail network, linking Sussex, Kent and Surrey, with essential strategic connections across the insufferably over-crowded, traffic-choked, over-developing, congestion-ridden South East.

In January, Lewes’s feisty MP Maria Caulfield and her dedicated parliamentary team capably prepared the case to take forward both Sussex and Kent phases of BML2 as part of the Government’s Third Round of ‘Restoring Your Railway’. This would re-open the principal connection between the counties of Sussex and Kent through busy Tunbridge Wells, re-open the dormant Uckfield–Lewes link and, along with its new Ashcombe tunnel through the South Downs, deliver a swift and direct route into the buzzing city of Brighton & Hove. Totally transforming the former main line truncated at Uckfield in 1969, BML2 would simultaneously provide the fastest and most viable alternative to the nearby beleaguered Brighton line. A double-whammy winning project.

Instead, Boris’s Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris feebly signed the DfT’s conventional rebuttal declaring: “Our discussion and assessment found that your proposal did not set out the case sufficiently for it to be recommended for further funding. The enclosed feedback aims to help you explore this further and my officials will be happy to provide additional clarification. There are currently no further Ideas Fund rounds planned for the foreseeable future, however, it is my aim that the feedback will help you re-consider your proposal so you are ready to take future opportunities.”

Maria’s submission was magnificently supported by cross-party parliamentarians who deserve our grateful thanks – Mims Davies MP (Mid Sussex); Sally-Ann Hart MP (Hastings); Green MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion); Huw Merriman MP (Bexhill & Battle); Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton Kemptown); Tom Tugendhat MP (Tonbridge) and Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne). All are more than mindful of the network’s steadily-worsening struggle to cope in recent years. Now the fall-off in peak-hour demand is in reverse and already showing signs of strong recovery, it is a looming crisis that will unquestionably blight us again. But perhaps even more important will be the need to use trains far more as the world approaches an increasingly daunting future.

After such a long struggle, now lasting well over half a century, it should have been a united front, but disappointingly and for reasons known only to them, Wealden MP Nusrat Ghani and Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark both declined supporting their fellow parliamentarians. We also learned that the latter even requested no mention be made of his pre-election quotes in favour during 2018 – “I would be delighted to see BML2 go ahead as the re-opening 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. I’m therefore thrilled to see that work continues at pace. Re-opening lines closed in the 1960s and 70s is also an important part of the Government’s new rail strategy and the Secretary of State for Transport has warmly welcomed the BML2 consortium’s endeavours.”

Just recently the excellentSussex Express admirably articulated the utter frustration of us all – ‘Government drags its feet about an alternative London rail link’ saying it is ‘shocking’ that still there remains no alternative. Warning its readers of the impending chaos and misery in 2022 when Network Rail shuts down the Brighton Line for nine consecutive days next February (cutting off all London trains serving Brighton, Hove, Lewes, Eastbourne, Seaford, Polegate, Worthing etc) it declared: “Any government with common sense would have taken BML2 – the Lewes-Uckfield-Tunbridge Wells-London proposal – seriously. Most of the work is done”. Precisely – and our esteemed Sussex newspaper, which has covered the ‘bane of Sussex’ for over 50 years knows how deeply this debacle has blighted the region by diminishing its economy and making difficult the lives of its voters across all generations.

It would be difficult to find a re-opening scheme that is easier – and certainly one that would deliver such enormous benefits, not only for its people and local economy – but above all its outstandingly-beautiful fragile environment. Fourteen years ago in 2008, Network Rail’s comprehensive engineering study confirmed it could reconstruct the 7-mile route inside 27 months, including new bridges, earthworks, alignments, track-laying, electrification and signalling. Had it been given the go-ahead and with all other procedures complete, then services were due to commence from 17th August 2016.

So what’s happened to “Build Back Better” Boris – or are these simply yet more vacuous slogans which you foolishly imagine will impress all the voters down here? As for your previous sound bites “Shovel-ready”, “Oven-ready” – blah, blah, blah. We defy you to show us a more worthwhile project anywhere – and most certainly one offering “More bang for your buck”!

As the youngsters on the telly plead – “What’s it gonna take for you to DO something....?”