The News


bringing important railway connections together

Decades of delaying tactics are no longer defensible. Excuses to ‘do nothing’ will no longer wash. We’ll have no more prevarication and distorted studies; no more falsification of figures; no more waffle and no more dithering. Those times are past – it’s time for real determination – and action. It’s time to ‘Get Back on Track’!

Further weekend engineering closures, as well as no trains between Three Bridges and Brighton/Lewes for 9-days will doubtless provoke calls to re-open the primary diversionary route via Uckfield. Whilst this is sorely needed, there are infinitely more critical reasons why the Wealden Line Scheme must be taken forward and the Great British Railways Transition Team has welcomed our submission to the Government’s ‘Call for Evidence’.

How many of us recall Prime Minister John Major promising us “a railway, the envy of the world” when he set out his privatisation plans thirty years ago? Since then we’ve suffered privatised Railtrack, then New Labour’s Strategic Rail Authority, followed by a re-nationalised Network Rail, plus all manner of franchising fiascos. Then came numerous reports into how we solve this chaotic mess of a fractured transport system, whereupon the Department for Transport is now promising us ‘GREAT BRITISH RAILWAYS’ (GBR).

The Government is making huge pledges – “the biggest reform to the railway in three decades, bringing it back together, after years of fragmentation” – well, exactly who did that we wonder? Now, under GBR, they’re undertaking to give us “a new public body that will run and plan the rail network, own the infrastructure, procure passenger services and set most fares and timetables.”

Alongside the commendable intention of rail becoming “the backbone of a cleaner, greener public transport system that will offer customers a better deal and taxpayers better value for money” they are promising us “an entrepreneurial mindset where the private sector – working in partnership with Great British Railways – is unleashed to generate value, drive efficiencies and promote business, innovation and investment in order to benefit passengers.”

Laudable aspirations indeed from Andrew Haines who is GBR’s ‘Transition Team Lead’ and we earnestly hope his enterprising mindset prevails, because we desperately need tangible improvements to the network – and a programme with radical proposals. However, the public will be justifiably incensed if this turns out to be just another costly re-branding exercise along with luxurious offices and over-paid executives. So let’s hope Mr Haines unerringly means what he says: “We will get there by placing customers at the heart of our decision-making and building a system that serves their needs – not ours.”

Among the eight “core goals that will define GBR” we’re told to expect a culture change – “not simply creating a bigger version of Network Rail”. Another attention-grabbing ambition is “Growing the network and getting more people travelling” – plus doing things quicker, driving down costs, and having a “can-do, not a can’t do culture”. Furthermore, GBR is determinedly set on “harnessing the best of the private sector” and seeing that the railways are “playing a critical role in the national shift to net zero.” We believe all these worthy aspirations apply expressly to the Wealden Line Scheme.

As part of this transition to GBR, the Department for Transport recently launched its ‘Call for Evidence – Whole Industry Strategic Plan’ telling us: “The UK Government has developed five strategic objectives for the Strategic Plan over the next 30 years: meeting customers’ needs; delivering financial sustainability; contributing to long-term economic growth; levelling up & connectivity; and delivering environmental sustainability.”

They go on to say: “We intend to put these objectives at the heart of the Strategic Plan and we are using them to guide all of the questions in this call for evidence”.

The Wealden Line Campaign has been around for a very long time – 36 years this summer – and we’ve stoically endured many false dawns. Nevertheless, because we’ve always believed the scheme to be of such fundamental importance, our determination has never faltered. Accordingly, we eagerly accepted this opportunity to respond to this ‘Call for Evidence’ and our 21-page submission can be viewed on our websites.

Last autumn, and following specific advice from within the rail industry, the decision was made to get the ball rolling by ‘phasing’ BML2. In this manner, the easy parts can be started because all the investigative engineering work was done by Network Rail in 2008. It’s an extraordinarily simple scheme and would immediately reap immense benefits for the South East by connecting very large towns and rail hubs.

Our answers have been directed to the Government’s ‘five strategic objectives’ rather than the less-specific and generalised sub-questions set by the DfT. This is because the plan needs to be properly understood by GBR, as well as enabling them to fully appreciate its benefits and the strong backing it has attracted over the years. This support has come from within the rail industry, political champions, local authorities as well as the private sector. We only have to ask ourselves, if this scheme had such little relevance or potential, then why has so much sustained interest come forth....?

Past errors – or deliberate falsification – deployed in ensuring the Wealden Line Scheme never got the green light are touched upon in our submission on pages 7 – 8. This had to be exposed; otherwise we risk the same mistakes – or wilful distortion – being made in regard to the project’s far wider strategic importance for the South East.

We’re now in the third decade of the twenty-first century and a different world from 1986 when we launched the Wealden Line Campaign in a spirit of optimism and trust. Today, we face different concerns and more challenges, particularly in regard to the environment, about which the younger generation express profound fears over what they shall inherit. Our belief in railways and faith in trains being the supreme mass-mover of people remain steadfast, so it’s encouraging to hear similar articulation coming from GBR.

The latter part of our submission outlines the need for the Wealden Line Scheme in sustaining the local economy, where young people struggle on the national living wage, while facing hugely disproportionate housing outlay and considerably higher costs of living in the South.

Equally important is the environment, where a now-disconnected rail network traverses exceptional countryside with so many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – coupled with all the responsibilities these AONBs impose for greener travel. Significantly far better access for all generations to higher education, employment, as well as recreational venues, healthy exercise, leisure and social pursuits, etc, is perfectly achievable with the Wealden Line Scheme.

Make no mistake, throwing £billions at the North while ignoring the South is a reckless political gamble which won’t work. It’s high time we started reinstating the Wealden Line – and we’d better get on with it!

End of the line for any more excuses!

A strategic main line destroyed – seven miles ripped-out in 1969 – just to save £120,000.