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Background to the Uckfield Lewes campaign

One of Railfuture's major campaigns is the reinstatement of the Uckfield-Lewes railway line that was closed in the late 1960s. Subsequently Uckfield station was moved north to allow a level crossing to be abolished. Restatement will require a bridge at this point Railfuture is campaigning to reinstate the Uckfield to Lewes railway line, which will create an additional through route between the Sussex coast and London. Much of our campaigning is behind the scenes, as we seek to align potential stakeholders to the benefits which this route will bring. However we have also built public and political support through the public events listed below.

2012

East Sussex County Council consulted the public, in Spring 2012, on plans to address the traffic congestion in Uckfield town centre, which included options for a new and larger station car park and a relief road in the town centre across the track bed of the line from Uckfield to Lewes. Railfuture asked ESCC to build a bridge for the relief road over both the river and the rail route, to ensure that the railway can open without another expensive hurdle to negotiate - see Bridge the Gap.

The results of the ESCC public consultation are published at: Uckfield traffic improvements - Consultation results. These showed a preference for the station car park option, and a desire for the railway to be reopened. This raises the opportunity to build, in phases, a transport hub around the old station site in Uckfield, providing connectivity between bus, rail, taxi, car and cycle travel, and easing the traffic flow. We are supporting ESCC, Wealden District Council and Uckfield Town Council in asking DfT to transfer the old Uckfield station site from BRB(R) Ltd to Network Rail (not London and Continental Railways) who are prepared to fund a new station car park as a first step toward a transport hub and reinstatement of the line.

Railfuture are pressing for a review of the business case to identify the most viable solution for reopening, that can be funded soonest, so that a positive business case can be established which all potential stakeholders will promote. See Uckfield business case for ways in which it can be improved. Railfuture placed an advertisement in the December issue of 'Modern Railways' (published week beginning 19 November) inviting Expressions of Interest from transport consultancies to indicate their approach to producing a new business case for the project. Download the Modern Railways advertisement.

The Department for Transport published consultation responses 27th November revealing widespread support for greater rail devolution. This gives local stakeholders including East Sussex County Council the opportunity to bid for funding to produce a new business case and then to implement the reopening of the Uckfield - Lewes rail link.

On Monday 10th December, the first day of Southern's new 'early-bird' service from Uckfield to London Bridge, Railfuture canvassed morning commuters at Uckfield station and received over 60 responses overwhelmingly in favour of developing a new station car park, transferring the former station site to Network Rail, and reopening the line from Uckfield to Lewes to deliver improved access to education, employment and training across East Sussex and so regenerate the local economy.

Also on 10th December East Sussex County Council agreed the next steps for the improvement of Uckfield Town Centre and the integrated Uckfield Transport Hub, including the new station car park. See also Uckfield Local Plan.

2013

On 1st January Lord Adonis, a Railfuture vice-president, wrote in his 'Beeching at 50' article in The Times that 'Some closures were shortsighted at the time, such as the dismantling of the ten-mile Lewes- Uckfield line, a diversionary route for the Brighton main line, one of the busiest in the country.'

Brighton and Hove City Council included support for Lewes - Uckfield reinstatement in their City Plan by passing this amendment at their meeting on 31st January:

Amend text to last sentence of para 4.98 to: "The need for rail service capacity and line improvements between the Sussex coast and London, including the reinstatement of the rail line between Lewes and Uckfield, are supported"

See Council minutes para 80.67, or download the Brighton City Plan Part 1 (pdf 6Mb).

31st January was the closing date for consultancies to respond to our advert in December's Modern Railways inviting Expressions of Interest in generating a positive business case for a project based on reinstating the rail link between Uckfield and Lewes. An informal briefing/information-sharing session for the consultants was hosted by Railfuture Vice-President Lord Tony Berkeley in the House of Lords on 21 January.

The February issue of 'The Uckfield Voice' included on p.15 an update on progress through the Town Council's partnership towards securing a railway car park for the town.

On 2nd March Railfuture committed money from its Fighting Fund to engage JR Consulting to start building a strategic alliance of stakeholders to promote a better bigger Wealden railway, including reopening the Uckfield - Lewes rail link. See press release and local coverage.

15th and 16th March saw a public exhibition in Uckfield Civic Centre - 'Town Centre improvements: help us to make it happen in Uckfield'. Responses to the proposals must be made by Friday 26 April - download traffic improvements and read about the proposals: consultation.

On 21st March we exhibited at the Lewes & District Enterprise Expo.

In January Network Rail had indicated in the Strategic Business Plan for CP5 that funders’ objectives are to make best use of the existing railway. On 29th April a press release from independent consultancy WSP, endorsed by Gatwick Diamond Business, showed why the Uckfield route cannot address all the issues on the Brighton Main Line (BML). Network Rail are seen as likely to increase capacity and improve performance on the existing BML, in particular by grade separation at flat junctions on the route - by evolution, not revolution.

Railfuture welcomed the announcement by Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin on 9th May 2013 that Network Rail would examine whether re-opening the Lewes - Uckfield railway line will meet the demand for future growth in rail travel, and offered the JRC report on travel needs in Sussex to help define a vision of regional economic growth enabled by better travel links between communities and principal economic centres - which is an objective of the Network Rail Long Term Planning Process.

Close-up photo of the Railfuture banner fixed to the fence at Uckfield station to promote Railfuture's campaign to reopen the Uckfield-Lewes railway line On 14th May, East Sussex County Council announced that Network Rail had agreed terms for the purchase of the old Uckfield station site for a new station car park. Space will be left for reinstatement of the track and platforms.

On Saturday 13th July we were at the annual Uckfield Festival with a Big Day stall on Luxford Field, where we launched our new campaign leaflet and found strong local support for our campaign. You can also download the banners we displayed.

On Monday 15th July we presented the JRC report to East Sussex County Council, then shared the recommendations at an open meeting at the White Hart Hotel, Lewes on Thursday 18 July. Download the presentation or the full 80-page JRC report.

On 4th September we submitted our response to the ORR draft determination which proposed (para 9.95) that the required output of longer trains on the Uckfield line be achieved by electrification - selective door opening and corridor connections between the Electrostar units would render longer platforms unnecessary at the smaller stations. Our proposal was supported by submissions from a partnership of local of stakeholders including East Sussex, Kent and Surrey County Councils, Sussex CRP, Wealden Strategic Partnership, Wealden and Sevenoaks District Councils, Wealden MP the Rt Hon Charles Hendry, Bexhill and Battle MP the Rt Hon Gregory Barker and Passenger Focus.

On 6th September East Sussex CC published their draft Rail Strategy for consultation. We participated in the symposium organised by ESCC to review the strategy, then submitted formal comments. The final East Sussex Rail Strategy and Action Plan was approved by Cllr Rupert Simmons, Lead Member of Economy, on 12th November.

The December issue of Modern Railways contained a 7 page article which explained the Railfuture campaign to reinstate the Uckfield to Lewes rail line, which is the missing link in the Sussex railway network.

In the Parliamentary debate on National Infrastructure Plan on 4th December, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander described the Uckfield to Lewes line as important, and the Network Rail study on Brighton Main Line was accelerated.

The DfT 'Tech connected' policy published 6th December is driving London/Oxford/Cambridge links and improvement to Brighton Main Line.

2014

On 8th January Network Rail confirmed their application for planning permission to build new Uckfield station car park, to open in the summer. They then cleared the site.

The ORR Final Determination committed Network Rail to increase Uckfield line capacity by lengthening platforms to accommodate longer trains - but left the option open for Network Rail to propose alternative solutions. The DfT Invitation To Tender for the Thameslink Southern Great Northern franchise required the new operator to provide these longer trains by December 2016. However in their draft CP5 Delivery Plan, Network Rail continued with the longer platform option, but not until March 2018. In our response of 30th January to the draft CP5 Delivery Plan we again proposed that longer trains on the Uckfield line be achieved by electrification and urged Network Rail to work with the franchise bidders and the local LEPs and county councils to jointly bridge the funding gap. We also proposed that since the Brighton Main Line has six of the top ten locations for reactionary delays, Network Rail use the Journey Time Improvement Fund to deliver Lewes-Uckfield reinstatement, Uckfield - Hever redoubling, and grade separation at East Croydon sooner than CP6, which is the earliest that would otherwise be possible.

On 3rd February BBC1 Inside Out featured poor road and rail networks in the South East, including proposals to reinstate Uckfield-Lewes and improve Marshlink.

Railfuture banner fixed to the fence at Uckfield station promoting Railfuture's Uckfield-Lewes reopening campaign On 1st April Network Rail submitted the application for planning permission for the new car park at Uckfield station, to open in the autumn. The old station site has been cleared for the car park, leaving just the old platforms and track bed overgrown. The track bed and platforms, with room to extend for 12-car trains, will be protected for future reopening to Lewes.

On 1st May the Department for Transport published the Network Rail report on the Brighton Main Line, capacity challenges and options for improvements. The DfT agreed with the recommendation that Lewes-Uckfield re-instatement could make a longer term contribution to capacity on the Sussex Route, after the constraints of flat line junctions and fast line platforms between Stoats Nest Junction and London have been addressed in CP6.

On 7th June we supported the Seaford 150 event organised by the Sussex Community Rail Partnership, highlighting the potential for alternative services from Seaford to London.

On 3rd July the Wealden District Council gave planning approval for the new car park at Uckfield station. The car park is expected to open later in 2014.

On 7th July Govia Thameslink presented their plans for the management contract to the Railfuture Surrey meeting. However they were only able to say that "additional capacity will be provided as soon as possible to relieve crowding on the busy Uckfield route. Timing will depend on when suitable diesel rolling stock becomes available (likely to be after electrification elsewhere in the UK)."

On 12th July we were at the annual Uckfield Big Day where we receive strong support for longer trains by electrifying the Uckfield line, and for reopening to Lewes.

On 16th August our campaign to reopen Lewes-Uckfield with the new Lewes loop was well received at the Open Day held by Lewes Town Council at the Town Hall for their Neighbourhoood Plan.

On 2nd September Railfuture asked its supporters who live in any of the parliamentary constituencies through which the Uckfield line runs to write to both their MP and their 2015 election candidates to press the need for electrification. We urged ESCC to seek funding in the SELEP Strategic Economic Plan to make up the difference between what Network Rail has available for platform lengthening and what will be required, so that electrification can be completed by December 2016 - see Electrify Uckfield.

On 14th September at the Lewes Racecourse carnival Norman Baker, the MP for Lewes, reaffirmed his support for our campaign.

In their October stakeholder brief Govia Thameslink announced plans to transfer four 3-car class 170 diesel units from Scotland to the Uckfield line. This is just enough for them to meet their franchise commitment to run three 10-car trains during the morning peak. The date for this is dependent on lengthening platforms at some stations, but we understand that more 8-car trains will run from July 2015. Railfuture is pleased for Uckfield line passengers, but note that this is at the expense of passengers in the North of England who are sometimes left behind because trains are too crowded. Railfuture consider that electrification of the Uckfield line is a better value proposition, and called on DfT to provide funding for electrification urgently and on Network Rail to include the line in the Electrification Rail Utilisation Strategy due to be published early in 2015. If you live in one of the parliamentary constituencies through which the Uckfield line runs and support this goal, please write now to both your MP to press the need for electrification - their contact details are here.

Influential support for the Uckfield line. On 2nd December Chris Page and Roger Blake of Railfuture met with Nus Ghani (parliamentary candidate for Wealden) and Tom Tugendhat (parliamentary candidate for Tonbridge and Malling) to discuss investment in and electrification of the Uckfield line Nus and Tom said "We were impressed with the investment and ambition for London Bridge, but there is more to do. We need to improve services on the Uckfield line and we are working with local rail user groups and Railfuture to keep up the pressure on delivering improved services. "

2015

On 13th January, the final day of the consultation period for the Sussex Route Study, Railfuture joined with local parliamentary candidates, councillors and rail campaigners in a Wealden Rail Rally to press for better services and more investment for the Uckfield line. The Network Rail Sussex Route Study, published in draft for consultation, explains Network Rail's plans for development of the lines to Victoria and London Bridge in Control Period 6 from 2019 to 2024, and beyond to 2043. However it focuses on capacity to London, ignoring the need to promote local economic growth by providing faster services between Chichester, Worthing, Brighton, Lewes, Eastbourne and Hastings, and access from Tunbridge Wells and the Weald to the South Coast for jobs and education.

The Route Study also moves the goalposts by changing the targets for standing; whilst for 2023 the target is for 85% seat utilisation, for 2043 the target is 100% seat utilisation, meaning that passengers can look forward to even more crowded trains. This hides the inconvenient fact that a further three 12-car trains in the peak hour (over and above the 6 extra trains in the peak hour which is the most that the Brighton Main Line can be expanded to accommodate), and therefore an additional route, will be required between the South Coast and London before 2043 to achieve the 85% target.

The standing allowance is also being changed; whereas 0.45 sq. metres of floor space is allowed per person standing on existing trains (for up to 20 minutes, measured to the most crowded point on the train's journey), on the new Thameslink class 700 trains the standing allowance is being reduced to 0.25 sq. metres of floor space per person. Passengers will get to know each other very well! DfT suggests that this change will increase capacity, but we know that capacity (which is determined by the length of the train and the loading gauge) will stay the same, each passenger will just get less of it. To maintain the same level of accommodation another extra 6 12-car peak hour trains, and therefore an extra route, will be required between East Croydon and London by 2043.

In the Railfuture response to the Sussex Route Study consultation, we proposed ways of addressing these issues, including step by step development of the Uckfield line as explained on the Uckfield Lewes page.

Railfuture's Roger Blake briefs rail minister Claire Perry at the Hastings Rail Summit on its campaign to reinstate the Uckfield-Lewes line and its proposed Thameslink 2 concept At the second Hastings Rail Summit on 30 January 2015 we briefed Rail Minister Claire Perry on our campaign to reopen Uckfield - Lewes by incremental development, leading to our longer term proposals for Thameslink 2 which will release capacity on the Brighton Main Line.

On 10th March East Sussex CC held a follow-up to their Rail Symposium of 2013. Network Rail explained some of rationale behind the Sussex Area Route Study, and confirmed that many of the consultation responses had called for Uckfield - Lewes to be reinstated.

Buried in paragraph 2.53 of the budget papers on 18th March was the statement that the government will provide £100,000 for a further study into reopening the Lewes to Uckfield rail line. Railfuture welcomed this success for our campaign - we argued for the scope of the study to be set to capture all the potential benefits, see Budget 2015 Uckfield win.

During the early part of 2015 services were frequently disrupted by the development at London Bridge - A Perfect Storm explained the reasons clearly and simply.

Proof that longer trains are on their way to the Uckfield line came in April, with video of 170s coming south and in London.

In his Summer Budget on 8th July 2015 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the scope of the new study he first announced in his Spring Budget in March would be extended. The details can be seen in Figure 1: Boosting investment across the UK on page 67, and in para.1.328 on page 69, of his Budget Report. This came only days after Rail Minister Claire Perry had written to the new MP for Lewes Maria Caulfield setting out her intentions for the new study, focusing on three key elements.

On 11th July we were at the Uckfield Big Day, receiving lots of public support.

Also in July Network Rail and Southern announced the programme of works to extend station platforms at all eight stations along the line. Although there will be periods of service suspension (with replacement buses in operation) these works represent the first significant investment in the line, and its capacity to accommodate the growing numbers of passengers in comfort, for several years. When completed in 2016 all stations will be able to handle 10-car Turbostar trains - and 12-car Electrostar trains!

In September Network Rail published its final Sussex Area Route Study, following consultation earlier in the year. Looking forward over the next three decades, it still belittles the contribution early reinstatement of the 'missing link' between the Weald and Brighton/Sussex coast could make to delivering transport and economic benefits within one decade to communities, commerce and colleges. We argued for the benefits of access from the Weald to Brighton, in addition to Sussex Route capacity and resilience, in the Railfuture response to Sussex Area Route Study consultation. It is ever more vital that the imminent DfT study takes more than a transport perspective.

Friday 25th September: local MP Tom Tugendhat officially inaugurated the programme of works to extend station platforms at all eight stations along the line. Although there will be periods of service suspension (with replacement buses in operation) these works represent the first significant investment in the line, and its capacity to accommodate the growing numbers of passengers in comfort, for several years. When completed next summer all stations will be able to handle 10-car Turbostar trains - and 12-car Electrostar trains! Further information from Southern and from Network Rail. In our view these are platforms for growth.

On Monday 5 October the new Uckfield railway station car park opened, providing an additional 174 car parking spaces for the town. Sited immediately across the road from the railway station, the car park has been built on the site of the old station which was closed in 1991. It will not only help to accommodate the growing numbers of passengers using the Uckfield line, but also play an important role in the wider improvements for the town which are being delivered by East Sussex County Council supported by Wealden District Council. Vicky Tilling, Network Rail Project Development Manager said: “With the improvements to Uckfield town centre taking place, it is essential that there is a convenient, safe and well-lit car park close to the station for the benefit of rail passengers.” Vicky continued: “Network Rail has worked very closely with East Sussex County Council, Wealden District Council and Uckfield Town Council, as well as Railfuture and the Sussex Community Rail Partnership to deliver this new facility for the benefit of not only Uckfield station users but also the residents of Uckfield.”

On 15 October the Department for Transport published the terms of reference for the 'London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study'. The terms of reference focused on the demand for travel between London and the South Coast, rather than on the opportunities for local journeys and diversionary capability identified as the focus in the letter written by Rail Minister Claire Perry to Lewes MP Maria Caulfield in June. Railfuture considered that all stakeholders must work together to identify the economic growth dividend which an enhanced rail network will provide, see our article London-south coast study, and met with the consultants WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff to put the case for Thameslink 2 and reinstating Uckfield - Lewes.

2016

On 10 March 2016 the National Infrastructure Commission published its report ‘Transport for a World City’. As our article Keeping London moving explains, this hinted at the possibility of a Crossrail 3 (similar to our Thameslink 2 proposal), supported by private funding, which could be progressed in parallel with Crossrail 2.

The London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study was completed in April 2016, but the DfT did not immediately release the results. whilst these were awaited, Railfuture charted a Next Steps guide.

On 9th July we were again at the Uckfield Big Day, where public support was strong.

Railfuture welcomed the extra capacity being provided by Southern's longer trains on peak-hour Uckfield line services from 25 July 2016. For much of 2016 services on the Uckfield line were affected by the industrial dispute with Southern Rail around the role of conductors, although no changes are envisaged in the method of operation of Uckfield line services. The issues are explained in the Train Staff Duties article.

On 10 October, in answer to a parliamentary question by Hove MP Peter Kyle, Rail Minister Paul Maynard stated that the London and South Coast Rail Corridor study was complete, the findings were being carefully considered by Ministers, and the government remained committed to publishing the findings.

On 16 November our article Investing for growth urged the Chancellor of the Exchequer to commit the government in the following week’s Autumn Statement to a long-term investment programme which would:
  • deliver improved connectivity for London’s growing economic hub in Docklands and for the UK’s second largest airport at Gatwick, and
  • meet continually growing travel demand between London, Gatwick and the south coast.
There was a hint in the National Infrastructure Commission report on Transport Investment in London (para 3.5 on page 41 of the pdf refers) that there is a case for a Crossrail 3 scheme linking the Lea Valley line southwards from Stratford via the Isle of Dogs to connect with, and provide congestion relief to, the Brighton Main Line. On 28 December we revealed that an investment consortium, London and Southern Counties Railway, was about to propose a scheme like this, with a key objective of providing connectivity between Gatwick and Canary Wharf. The scheme will be similar to our Thameslink 2 proposal, with a line in tunnel between East Croydon, Lewisham, Canary Wharf and Stratford. In addition the consortium would propose to reinstate Uckfield – Lewes and improve the Uckfield line as a diversionary route between Brighton and London.

2017


On 5 February BBC Sunday Politics South East focused on rail, featuring Railfuture director Roger Blake on the trackbed of the Lewes - Uckfield line.

The London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study report was finally published by the DfT on 2 March. The Transport Secretary also encouraged the promoters of London and Southern Counties Railway, a privately-funded consortium, to develop proposals for a new route linking Stratford, Docklands, and East Croydon with the Sussex Coast. Railfuture supported this initiative which is similar to our Thameslink 2 concept and which may offer an additional route between London and Brighton. Whilst the study found that there was not a transport need to reopen Lewes - Uckfield, it recognised that it might be justified on the basis of economic growth. The study recommended that a new approach is required, starting with the LEP and local authorities commissioning a review of potential growth scenarios.

For an independent view of needs and solutions for the Brighton Main Line, look at these articles on the London Reconnections website:
Reports from independent consultants:
Download a seven-page article in the December 2013 issue of Modern Railways which explains the Railfuture campaign to reinstate the Uckfield to Lewes rail line, which is the missing link in the Sussex railway network.

You can download our previous campaign leaflet 'Bridge the gap: connect East Sussex' and also our first leaflet 'Bridge the gap: link up Sussex'.

Read more about County Councillor Rosalyn St Pierre and Transport Minister Simon Burns' support to reopen the line

Listen to Norman Baker's support for electrifying the Uckfield line and reopening Uckfield - Lewes!

View Lewes MP's message of support

Everything Explained has some useful background.

Spa Valley Railway from Tunbridge Wells West now has connections at Eridge with mainline services between Oxted and Uckfield.

The Lavender Line has opened the first new station on the route between Uckfield and Lewes for over 140 years! Worth Halt, near Little Horsted which is just 2 miles south of Uckfield, is at the northern terminus of the Lavender Line, just before the River Uck.

Our national Missing Links campaign

Wealden Line Campaign

The Lewes - Uckfield Railway Line Reinstatement Study proved that reopening is technically feasible but failed to find a positive business case.

The Rail alliance of parish councils commissioned a review of that study in 2009.

Register your support for electrification and reopening Uckfield - Lewes here!


New approach to Uckfield | Success through incremental development | Need for Uckfield-Lewes | Solution for Uckfield-Lewes | Uckfield business case | Uckfield-Lewes campaign plan

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