Rail strategy for Sussex criticised


A rail campaign group which has been fighting for an alternative mainline via Crowborough into London, has said Network Rail’s strategy for Sussex would make conditions worse for rail passenger and will hinder economic growth.

Network Rail has published its draft plan for the next 30 years and are encouraging members of the public to have their say during a 90-day consultation period.  The company’s Sussex Route Study covers some of the busiest sections of railway in Britain, around London Bridge, Clapham Junction and East Croydon.

But the group fighting for an alternative route from Sussex into London, called Brighton Main Line 2 (BML2) have criticised the plan, and has published a damming 4-page response response on their website.

In a statement BML2 said:

Elsewhere in Britain, politicians are promising new multi-billion high-speed lines, whilst Network Rail is already spending millions on electrification and re-doubling routes for greater efficiency and capacity, as well as re-opening links and building new spurs.  None of this is even being considered in Sussex – which they admit has the most congested and heavily-used railway in the UK.

Brian Hart from the BML2 campaign told CrowboroughLife:

The benefits for Crowborough would be substantial with far more frequent services to London, as well as important and nearby destinations such as Tunbridge Wells and the Sussex Coast.  For example, from Crowborough, Brighton would be a 30 minute direct train journey, whilst Falmer (Sussex University and AMEX stadium) would be just 23 minutes. BML2 offers the greatest-possible economic and social boost to our region.  Large towns such as Crowborough and Uckfield (about to have another 1,000 homes) urgently need far better rail connections.

Steve Knight, Network Rail area director for Sussex, said they want to ‘squeeze’ as much capacity out of the existing network:

Over the last twenty years the industry has been able to significantly increase the capacity on the railway, but we’re fast approaching the point where there simply isn’t any more space for more trains on the busiest parts of the network.  So we have to look at ways of increasing the capacity of our network further.

The plans we are proposing would provide the capacity for an additional 9,000 passengers every peak hour on the Brighton Main Line on top of the additional capacity that the Thameslink Programme will already deliver into London Bridge in 2018.  In addition, we and Transport for London are planning for growth on our suburban routes in south and south east London, which also need provision for longer, more frequent trains.

We are also looking at what kind of improvements we can offer in reliability and frequency by introducing new technology which will allow us to squeeze even more out of the existing network.

Sussex Area Route Study Figure 5.14 Uckfield - Lewis Diversion
Sussex Area Route Study Figure 5.14 Uckfield – Lewis Diversion

The Sussex Route Study concludes the reinstatement of the closed Uckfield to Lewes line is not a current priority, although Network Rail do accept at times of disruption on the Brighton Main Line, there would be some diversionary benefit in having the route open.

Network Rail’s planners say without other costly improvements the scheme would only allow one additional train per hour.  To deliver the full benefits they say:

  • the layout at Lewes would need to be addressed, so trains don’t have to reverse;
  • the single line sections would need doubling;
  • the line would need electrifying and the signaling upgraded.

Network Rail say this is beyond the timescale of the current study (2043), but protecting the route of the old line from development is a sensible approach for the future.

BML2’s solution to the layout problems with the track at Lewes, caused by redevelopment since the line was closed, is to build a tunnel beneath the South Downs leading straight into Brighton.  In their response BML2 said:

We can only conclude that NR’s planners imagine they’ve been very clever by pretending they’ve never heard of BML2 or that it doesn’t exist.  As such, they refer only to the less-than-satisfactory ‘Lewes–Uckfield’ reopening, which as we know has failed time and time again throughout forty-five years.  By implementing this ploy they are able to disassociate themselves with consummate ease from attaching any importance to it. Feeble excuses are then found that a total of 12 miles of the current Uckfield branch would need redoubling and it would, heaven forfend, need electrifying too.

As part of its new franchise Govia will introduce longer trains by Spring 2015.  The line to Crowborough is one of only three lines on the network operated by diesel rolling stock.  Network Rail say a study, due out shortly, will review the business case of electrifying the line from Hurst Green to Uckfield.

In conclusion BML2 said:

This isn’t good enough. It’s time to stand up for Sussex – not on its trains.

The public have until the 13th January 2015 to comment on Network Rail’s Sussex Area Route Study.

Brighton Main Line 2 proposed route via Crowborough
Brighton Main Line 2 proposed route via Crowborough


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  1. The BML2 proponents faith in an alternative main line to Brighton via Uckfield is misplaced. The Uckfield alternative is considerably longer and passes through sparser countryside than the current Brighton mainline (which serves Gatwick Airport and many major communities on the way). In addition, the BML2 proposals do not resolve the biggest bottleneck on the route – the line between South Croydon and Norwood Junction.

    Instead the BML proposals should focus its efforts on the value a reopened railway can play to the existing communities on the line in providing a more regular, electric link to London” Brighton on double track and possibly also to Kent. This business case would be greatly improved if the proposals included considerable house building in Uckfield, Crowborough and elsewhere to maximise traffic potential. Only then can its value as a diversionary route when the normal Brighton mainline is closed for engineering works or weather damage be considered.

    The BML2 proposals for a route to Canary Wharf and a new tunnel through the South Downs is fairy tale stuff that will never have the remotest chance of a business case. I would urge the BML2 proponents to have a long hard, realistic look at their proponents and ask themselves what is realistically achievable. This is how other projects elsewhere have been delivered.

    In the meantime we should support National Rail’s proposals for work to improve resilience and capacity at some of the flat junctions on the existing Brighton mainline.

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