The News


bringing important railway connections together


These silly stunts fool no one. This comedy dressed up as part of Lewes and Wealden’s ‘Transport Plan’ would see an essential rail link forfeited for a leisure-based cycle path. Quite apart from the enormous difficulties in engineering, do they really want youngsters – who are always being warned never to play near railway lines – being in such close proximity to 750 volts of electricity, let alone being at risk from 90mph trains?

A £30,000 ‘Scoping Study’ to construct a cycle path on the long-protected trackbed between Uckfield and Lewes has now been approved by both Wealden and Lewes District Councils which are both controlled by the Liberal Democrats and Greens.

This hugely controversial move cancels out all their previous assurances and commitment in seeing this railway restored to its former main line status as a key route between London and the Sussex Coast, as well as between East Sussex and Kent through Tunbridge Wells.

A long-term supporter of the Wealden Line Campaign, Conservative Cllr Michael Lunn, was clearly exasperated and concerned. Speaking up for all those who, across many decades, have diligently fought for this railway’s restoration, he told officers and councillors the proposal was “a joke – a comedy – a Muppet show. You have absolutely no idea what you’re doing!”

Indeed they don’t, as subsequent comment brought to our attention reveals its advocates weren’t even aware the Uckfield line was once double track throughout. They argue ‘the functioning line has one, and there would be no point in having two from Lewes to Uckfield and one thereafter.’ They’re clearly ignorant of the fact that the Hurst Green–Uckfield section is 50% double track with three singled sections (installed in 1990).

Following objections raised by the Uckfield Railway Line Parishes Committee which represents the towns along the line, even the historic Trackbed Protection Policy is now under serious threat after it was said ‘Currently only a single track is preserved’ – well this is certainly news to us. When was this decided – and by whom? County Structure Plan CA/T8 states: ‘Development which would significantly prejudice the reinstatement of the former Uckfield to Lewes railway line (shown on the Proposals Map) will not be permitted.’ We think most will agree that a 3m/10ft-wide parallel cycle path represents a very significant hindrance.

The Wealden Greens are now contesting: ‘Installing a second track beyond Uckfield would surely add greatly to the cost and either delay the project for even longer, or lead to it not happening at all. Aren’t the campaigners for two tracks making the best the enemy of the good? Campaigners for two tracks might jeopardise the project.’

So let’s have some rational facts. As many will know, Network Rail said if Lewes–Uckfield was reinstated it would enable the ‘development of the Lewes, Oxted and London corridor. Later developments could include shorter journey time, redoubling any single line sections, connecting into Tunbridge Wells and electrification.'  Well, hear-hear to that, because this is exactly what ALL political parties in the South East should be vigorously striving to achieve. In fact, it is precisely what Transport for the South East announced last year in its development plan.

Network Rail’s Engineering Study says that even if a single line between Uckfield and Lewes was initially installed then all thirteen under-line bridge structures would be rebuilt – ‘All abutments would be constructed to permit installation of two tracks, but initially would be provided only with a single track deck’. However, it points out the difference in cost between single and double spans ‘may be sufficiently marginal such that a decision is made to construct a double-track bridge deck at the outset.’

Network Rail’s ‘Base Option’ costed in 2008 for the single-track option, including new passing loops at Uckfield and at Lewes (Hamsey Junction), amounted to £141m. Nevertheless, as Network Rail explains: ‘This limits the service to a maximum frequency of two trains per hour at 30-minute intervals in each direction.’

We now come to the all-important considerations of single-v-double track. Network Rail says: ‘The incremental costs for double track are limited to track structures and stations. The costs for all pre-construction activities and the majority of civil engineering work remain the same’ – in essence whether it’s single or double track.

The double track option added £25.5m – making a total of £166.5m. It is here that we find the critical factor in properly and adequately safeguarding the mothballed route because, for this increase in cost of 18%, Network Rail says ‘With two tracks throughout a maximum frequency of eight trains per hour could be provided in each direction.’ Now whereas reinstatement costs will have risen in the intervening years, as with all transport projects, the 18% extra remains the same – HOWEVER the route capacity of this new line between London and the South Coast would be increased by 300%.

As Network Rail articulated back in 2008 ‘It should be borne in mind that whilst this [double track] option would enable the frequency between Lewes and Uckfield to be increased substantially compared to the Base Option, the constraint on capacity north of Uckfield would remain.’

But we now have East Sussex County Council urging in its latest ‘Transport Plan 2024–2050’ ‘Electrification and dual-tracking of the line between Uckfield and Hurst Green’. In similar vein, Network Rail is now strongly recommending third rail 750vDC electrification for Uckfield as ‘the way forward as soon as possible.’To be perfectly honest, unlike these councillors, a primary school child could work out what needs to happen.

Network Rail and previously British Rail have both emphasised protection of the route, whilst not so long ago at a rail industry presentation in Tonbridge it was made quite clear that wherever works were being planned along routes – nothing should occur which would hinder future redoubling. Furthermore, as Network Rail said in 2008 ‘There are no physical obstructions which would preclude the rebuilding of the railway between Lewes and Uckfield’. That position must be rigorously maintained and all these two district councils had to do was simply continue that policy and look after the interests of the railway and the people of this region they were elected to serve.

One Lib Dem councillor has since resigned from Wealden, saying it’s being – “led by a left-wing Green Party ideology”. Rumour has it that the Lib Dems’ Prospective Parliamentary candidate for Lewes, James MacCleary does not support this ‘Greenway’ plan on the trackbed and is very unhappy about it; however, their silence so far is deafening.....

As for Norman Baker – who spent an enormous amount of his time and energy, as a Lib Dem councillor, MP and former Transport Minister in campaigning against BML2 and only for Lewes–Uckfield to be restored – we’re constantly being asked what he thinks about it. Why the embarrassed silence from these normally vociferous political high-fliers....?

Meanwhile, they insult everyone’s intelligence, presumably hoping they’ll convince voters of their ‘green credentials’ by performing perfectly childish stunts when attempting to ride a bike for 200 yards for a photo-shoot.