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Mend the Electrification Gap

Now’s the time to ‘Mend the Gap’ – and get back on track!

 Network Rail is to press ahead with electrifying the Wealden Line as a top priority according to an important announcement by the Southern Region’s Managing Director, John Halsall.

Commencing at Hurst Green Junction (Oxted) in Surrey and passing through West Kent before terminating at Uckfield in East Sussex, the 25 mile-long Wealden Line will now be electrified on the 750vDC third rail system, thus making it entirely compatible with the rest of the Southern Region network. Such an eminently sensible and practical decision is heartily welcomed by the Wealden Line Campaign as a distinct step forward towards restoring the route to its former main line status. Furthermore, it endorses what the Rail Safety and Standards Board concluded not long ago:‘Third rail remains a cost-effective solution for electrification and decarbonising the railways when these railways are close or adjacent to existing 750vDC top-contact third rail electrified lines.’

From the railway industry’s perspective, Mr Halsall said its electrification will open up the route for operation by their very large fleet of ‘Electrostar’ units and enable the withdrawal of the current ‘Turbostar’ diesel trains which must now be phased out as part of the Government’s ongoing decarbonisation strategy towards its ‘Net-Zero’ ambitions.

The Sussex electrification is 60 years late in happening, having been originally programmed by British Railways (BR) as far back as 1962, to immediately follow on from the immensely successful transformation of Kent’s network. The catastrophic decision to cancel the ‘Oxted Lines Electrification Scheme’ (Croydon–Tunbridge Wells West and Lewes via Uckfield) was forced upon BR whose modernisation programme was disastrously stopped in its tracks by East Sussex County Council. The local authority’s dogged pursuance of its highly-contentious ‘Lewes Inner Relief Road Scheme’, of which only the Phoenix Causeway was built before the rest was abandoned, brought about the closure of the railway between Uckfield and Lewes. This action rendered the whole main line into an almost purposeless branch petering out at Uckfield. At the time, the town’s County Councillor, Major Pickering, lambasted ESCC’s Highways & Transportation Committee in saying:“The axing of the Lewes–Uckfield railway was the most retrograde step this century.”

Five years ago the Gibb Report advocated that overhead AC electrification should be pursued, despite this being incompatible with the surrounding system, so we are pleased that the right conclusion has now been reached. Nevertheless, we do hope that Gibb’s other recommendation, involving new train depots at both Newhaven and especially Crowborough, will be taken up in due course. These will not only create employment but will ........................

Continue and read the full article on the BML2 Wealden Line website