The News


bringing important railway connections together

uplifted rails 

The reinstatement of this strategic main line must be brought forward because its need could not be more urgent.
Network Rail completed all the feasibility and engineering studies in 2008 – just get on and do it!

Transport for the South East (TfSE) has just released its Delivery Plan for implementing its programme supporting the economic and environmental wellbeing of the region in the years to come and which pinpoints the necessary ‘interventions’. Our interest focuses on the ‘corridors that fan out in the south to connect much of the Sussex coastline to the capital.’

There is a ‘Technical Advisor Team’ comprising three individual consultancies: Steer, Atkins and WSP. With regard to the Uckfield railway, all three have previously been involved in various studies around re-establishing the Lewes–Uckfield line, some going back decades, when East Sussex County Council was nefariously determining the conclusion it wanted. Alongside TfSE as ‘stakeholders’ are numerous bodies, notably Network Rail and the South Downs National Park Authority – both of which support reinstating the line with the latter demanding ‘greener’ access to this beautiful area.

It is highly encouraging to see the (re)connection of the ‘Major Economic Hubs’ of Brighton with Royal Tunbridge Wells being a key component, whilst, not surprisingly, reference is made to the region’s transport network being under increasing strain. The Plan’s premise suggests making mobility easier in ways other than just more and more unsustainable car usage. Nevertheless the colossal programme and equivalent budget for its aspired highways schemes appears distinctly incongruous. If we compare the £500m for ‘London & Sussex Coast Rail Reinstatements’ compared with more than triple that amount (£1,600m) for equivalent road projects in this area, the disparity is apparent. Have we really learned nothing in recent years?

Giving credit where it is due, TfSE’s Plan says: "The Railway Reinstatements Package brings back into use the Uckfield–Lewes railway and the Tunbridge Wells West–Tunbridge Wells (Central) railway. This will increase resilience of rail connectivity between the South Coast and London whilst creating a new east–west rail link between the Brighton Main Line and Hastings Line.’ As we all know, the current means of travel between these major places is possible only by road, primarily by car, so the need for ‘Enhanced connectivity from Brighton via Lewes and Uckfield to Tunbridge Wells’ is a bit of an understatement, whilst the conclusive result – a ‘Large reduction in carbon emissions’ is palpably a given.

Something of a red herring appears within its ‘Rail Thematic Plan’ in depicting Dr Beeching holding up his ‘Reshaping of British Railways’ report where it is mentioned: ‘Over the period 1963–1970, 4,000 miles of railway line were closed, including the Three Bridges to East Grinstead line, although the South East suffered less than other parts of the country.’ The inference that Beeching was responsible for closing Lewes–Uckfield does not go unnoticed; a historic fallacy, as exposed on YouTube by former Lewes MP Norman Baker ( who castigates East Sussex County Council for their culpability. Indeed, it was ESCC’s single-minded pursuance of their 1960s ‘Lewes Inner Relief Road’ which disastrously scuppered BR’s Oxted Lines Electrification Scheme of 1962 (Lewes–Uckfield–Tunbridge Wells–Oxted–South Croydon) and delivered us into the catastrophic mess the region still suffers today. Furthermore, whilst Kent remained unscathed by Beeching’s Report, thanks to its electrification during 1959-61, Sussex’s superbly comprehensive network enjoying fast-rising patronage was instead reprehensibly slaughtered.

Consequently the same old problems we’ve known about for donkeys’ years continue to blight the South East. The Plan says: ‘Resilience is relatively poor on the Brighton Main Line – almost every passenger rail service passes through a single bottleneck at East Croydon’ whilst it goes on to tell us what we’ve also known for decades: ‘Spare capacity is limited on the Brighton Main Line and the allocation of this capacity does not meet the needs and/or aspirations of all the area’s stakeholders.’

Another TfSE’s conclusion worthy of mention is: ‘Connectivity is relatively poor for communities served by the Arun Valley Line, East Coastway Line, and Oxted Line (especially when compared to the Brighton Main Line)’. If our friends in France should ever read this, then it will engender little sympathy from Antoine Hurel and Olivier Brousse, former directors of Connex UK Ltd, who indentified the solution way back in 2000. They proposed introducing the ‘Wealden Main Line’ and upgrading the Arun Valley Line in their ‘20:20 VISION’ franchise bid because they knew exactly the problem with the Brighton Line. Twenty-three years on we’re still stuck in this mire –“Quelle surprise mes amis.....”

However, no surprise is encountered when we discover in TfSE’s Thematic Plan: ‘there are gaps in the rail network (e.g. Uckfield–Lewes)’ – so who was responsible for that? Whilst the culprits have never come clean, we at least draw encouragement in having TfSE recognising the immense importance of reinstating the Uckfield branch to its former main line status. One facet of this is the Plan’s proposal of instigating a ‘2 trains per hour service for Lewes–Uckfield–Tunbridge Wells line stations to London.’

These laudable rail objectives do, however, need to be put into context alongside an astonishingly plethoric roads programme. The appetite for endless road building remains as strong as ever and it’s worth citing one pertinent example: the A22 Uckfield bypass. This sounds harmless enough as ‘improvements to the Uckfield bypass to reduce the amount of traffic diverting through the town’. Really.....? We doubt very much whether there is any evidence of this and it just sounds like a very tenuous excuse to comfortably sustain local authority highway planners and road-builders in business. The Plan drafted by the consultants for TfSE also shows that converting the bypass to a dual carriageway enjoys precedence over the Lewes–Uckfield railway in its timeframe slot. The dualling is ‘short term: 3–5 years’ whereas the reinstatement of the railway is ‘medium term: 10–15 years.’

If we are truly facing a climate crisis and need to change how we get around then we suggest our priorities really do need both urgent and stringent reappraisal. For TfSE to have any credibility it needs a serious and fundamental rethink – as do our councils, our Members of Parliament and civil servants in the Department for Transport. Reparations are long overdue for the enormous damage inflicted upon Sussex’s economy, its environment and today’s generations which continue to emanate from the injudicious actions of the 1960s.

Time is running out mes amis......