Uckfield Lewes

Uckfield station is currently at the end of a non-electrified branch and is one of the few such lines in the south east. Railfuture hopes that the reopening of the Uckfield-Lewes line will see it the whole route electrified Railfuture is campaigning for reinstatement of the rail link between Uckfield and Lewes to provide quicker and more convenient access between the Weald and the employment centre of Brighton, and an additional route between the Sussex Coast and London to relieve the Brighton Main Line especially during disruption.

We are also advocating electrification of the existing Uckfield line, and its extension to Lewes, to improve reliability and accelerate services.

Latest News:

Railfuture welcomes the extra capacity being provided by Southern's longer trains on peak-hour Uckfield line services from 25 July 2016.
An explanation of the current issues around the role of conductors, which Railfuture understands do not directly affect this line's services, is given in our article Train Staff Duties.

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 Department for Transport published the terms of reference for their London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study on 15 October 2015. This followed the Spring 2015 Budget statement which provided £100,000 for a further study into reopening the Lewes to Uckfield rail line, and the Summer Budget on 8th July 2015 when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the scope of the new study would be extended.

The terms of reference focused on the demand for travel between London and the South Coast, rather than the opportunities for local journeys and diversionary capability previously identified as the focus for the Lewes - Uckfield study. Railfuture consider 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.

Railfuture met with the consultants WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff to put the case for Thameslink 2 and reinstating Uckfield - Lewes. The study has been completed but the DfT has yet to release the results; whilst these are awaited, Railfuture has charted a Next Steps guide.

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 had briefed Rail Minister Claire Perry on our campaign to reinstate Uckfield - Lewes by incremental development, and in partnership with a range of stakeholders, leading to our longer term proposals for Thameslink 2 which will release capacity on the Brighton Main Line.

Bridge the gap: connect Sussex

Travelling across or around Sussex isn't quick or easy. Roads are congested, bus services are slow and finish early, and rail routes do not all link up.
  • Wealden residents can only get work or education in Lewes or Brighton by congested roads and bus services
  • Newhaven needs regeneration but has only two through trains to London
  • The major employment and tourist centre of Brighton is dependent on a single overutilised rail line from London
  • Trains from Eastbourne, Lewes, Worthing, Hove and Brighton to London are overcrowded
  • Uckfield Line commuter services take 20 minutes longer than equivalent journeys on the Brighton Main Line
  • Journey times between Hastings, Brighton and Worthing are too long
The Department for Transport has published the Network Rail report on the Brighton Main Line, capacity challenges and options for improvements. The DfT agree 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 (south of Purley) and London have been addressed in Control Period 6 (2019-24). Similarly the draft Sussex Area Route Study recommended safeguarding of the Uckfield - Lewes route; so reopening is a question of when, not if.

Key benefits

An additional through route between the Sussex coast and London will deliver the following benefits:
  • direct train services between Kent, Surrey, the Weald, Lewes, and Brighton for education and jobs
  • direct trains between London and Newhaven, supporting regeneration
  • visitors will still be able to reach Brighton when the BML is closed, maintaining the visitor economy
  • additional trains from Brighton, Falmer, Eastbourne and Lewes to London, relieving the Brighton Main Line
  • connectivity between the Weald and Gatwick
  • faster more reliable services between the Weald and London
  • reduced traffic congestion around Lewes and Brighton.

Amassing the evidence

Railfuture put its money where its mouth is by engaging independent advisor Jonathan Roberts Consulting to assess the evidence of economic and transport needs in Sussex. Key points are that Brighton is the largest employment centre in the South East outside London, the Weald has a very high daily outflow of people for work, and Hastings has a high level of unemployment. The recommendations to promote economic growth in East Sussex are:
  • Uckfield-Lewes reopening to achieve affordable and effective journey times between the Weald, the Sussex Coast and Brighton
  • Faster travel and extra capacity between the Sussex Coast and Gatwick, Croydon and London
  • Electrification and other infrastructure which expands services and connections, reducing journey times - by through trains not changes
  • Electrification of Marshlink and provision of Javelin services via Ashford to achieve acceptable London-Hastings journey times
  • Investment in a direct Coastway connection between Polegate and Pevensey to reduce journey times to attractive levels along the main coastal corridor, between Brighton, the Sussex Coast and East Kent
  • Coastway Metro service linking Eastbourne and Hastings, with more stations.
Download the presentation or the full 80-page JRC report, which was a significant input to the East Sussex Rail Strategy and Action Plan.

Step by step

Reopening should not have to wait until a new cross-London link is built, after 2043. Other rail developments show new lines being delivered in phases, so Railfuture propose an incremental approach to improving services on the Uckfield line and extending services to the South Coast.

Railfuture banner fixed to the fence at Uckfield station promoting Railfuture's Uckfield-Lewes reopening campaign 1. Improve access. Improving access to stations, for example by building the new Uckfield station car park, will attract more passengers to use the route in preference to others, relieving the Brighton Main Line and increasing the profile of the line with the rail industry, politicians and the public. The car park opened in 2015. Read our article A Platform for Growth.

2. LUCKy Lewes Horseshoe. Events last year at Dawlish have shown the need for alternative routes to provide network resilience. A simple loop at Lewes, following the A27 Lewes bypass and the Cockshut, could be completed in Control Period 6 (or sooner) to provide an alternative route between Brighton and Haywards Heath without reversing, which would have enabled a service to be maintained when Patcham Tunnel was flooded recently, and would enable direct services between Falmer and London. It would also avoid reversing of the Lewes - Brighton shuttle service at Lewes, which might improve stock utilisation, and would facilitate services via a reopened Uckfield – Lewes line to Brighton. The radius of curvature is similar to that of the new curve on the East London Line Extension at Shoreditch, which operates without disturbing local residents.

Map showing the location of a possible loop around Lewes

3. Reinstate Uckfield – Lewes. Railfuture agree that the constraints of flat line junctions and fast line platforms at the London end of the Brighton Main Line need to be addressed in Control Period 6 (2019-24), but we contend that Uckfield - Lewes reinstatement can be progressed in parallel, early in Control Period 6. This would give:
  • 33% more peak East Coastway - London capacity without redoubling the Uckfield line, enabling direct Newhaven/Seaford peak services to London
  • a direct hourly service between between Kent, Surrey, the Weald, Lewes, and Brighton for education and jobs, using the Lewes Horseshoe
  • an off-peak diversionary route (along with the Arun chord) to enable uninterrupted access for visitors to Brighton when BML closed, protecting the Brighton economy. This would also make it much easier for Network Rail to plan and implement the maintenance work which is so necessary to keep the Brighton Main Line running.
  • reduced traffic congestion around Lewes and Brighton.
This simple proposal would not require any additional paths at East Croydon, could be progressed in advance of electrification, and would only require one additional 4-car diesel unit (offset by releasing the electric unit used on the Lewes shuttle). It would be achieved by extending the existing hourly Uckfield line service to/from Brighton, and extending the current peak service in the intermediate half-hours to/from Seaford (accelerating it by stopping only at the major stations). The diversionary capacity could be increased at times of disruption on the Brighton Main Line by using all the available diesel stock to operate a special timetable of 10-car limited stop trains shuttling between Oxted and Lewes.

4. Tunbridge Wells. An agreement with the Spa Valley Railway would enable direct services to be run between Tunbridge Wells and Brighton.

5. Electrify. Electrification will enable longer trains to run on the Uckfield line , will shorten journey times and will improve reliability. DfT are unable to decide between AC or DC electrification, but the delay to the electrification programme announced in June 2015 strengthens the case for DC electrification, because it can be achieved sooner and will release diesel carriages that will be needed to mitigate the increased shortage of diesel passenger trains which will result from the delay to the AC electrification programme.

6. Redouble. Clearing East Croydon and Clapham Junction bottlenecks and renewal of BML signalling scheduled by Network Rail for 2023 will allow 6 more BML trains per hour, 4 to Victoria and 2 to London Bridge. These London Bridge trains should run via a redoubled Uckfield line between London and the South Coast. Redoubling the Uckfield line (at the same time as resignalling in Control Period 7) would enable a more frequent service which would encourage more passengers to use the Uckfield line in preference to other routes. It would also give:
  • 33% more peak capacity for both East and West Coastway to London
  • direct trains throughout the day between London and Newhaven (avoiding splitting/joining Newhaven services at Lewes), supporting regeneration
  • a direct twice hourly service between Kent, Surrey, the Weald, Lewes, and Brighton for education and jobs, using the Lewes Horseshoe
  • a greater level of network resilience which would have enabled a service to be maintained when Balcombe Tunnel was flooded.
7. Thameslink 2. A significant proportion of the demand between East Croydon and London Bridge is passengers travelling between East Croydon and Docklands, who continue their journey beyond London Bridge via the Jubilee line. This is a symptom of the expansion of Central London eastwards, which is reflected by the latest version of the Central London tube map as displayed on tube trains. Network Rail predictions also indicate 400% traffic growth on the East London Line by 2043, mostly journeys originating in the London area. This cannot be met by development of the East London Line, so a new route is required. Providing a direct route between East Croydon and Docklands would reduce overall journey times, relieve congestion on both the London Bridge route and the Jubilee line, and create additional paths for both Brighton line and Uckfield line services. This link will need to be in service by 2043 to meet the predicted traffic demand without reducing the capacity per passenger as currently proposed.


A partnership for incremental development

Successful rail reopenings have been promoted by a partnership of key stakeholders, including local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, and the rail industry. This is essential to long term success and allows access to new local sources of transport funding. We are working to build a consensus amongst potential stakeholders that reopening Uckfield-Lewes is justified, credible and deliverable, and so inspire them to support and actively promote this realistic, evidence-based approach and ensure that a viable scope for re-opening is agreed with Network Rail.

East Sussex County Council has made electrifying and redoubling the Uckfield line and Marshlink its top priorities in the final version of its Rail Strategy and Action Plan. Railfuture urge 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.

Railfuture welcomed the announcement by Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin on 9th May 2013 that the Lewes - Uckfield rail route was to be re-examined by Network Rail, and have 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. More recently, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander described the Uckfield to Lewes line as important in the Parliamentary debate on National Infrastructure Plan, and the Network Rail study on Brighton Main Line was accelerated.

We have 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. The scope of the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study must capture the maximum benefits with a feasible solution which achieves best value for money. The simple initial solution can be funded because it is affordable, and can be delivered because it aligns with Network Rail planning and delivery processes. A business case meeting the combined needs can be made because it will enable economic growth, which is the political imperative across all levels of government. The reopening can be delivered within a decade, sooner than our aspiration for another cross-London link. More capacity can then be added incrementally over the next generation, in line with Network Rail plans for the Brighton Main Line.

Find out more!

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

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 current campaign leaflet 'Bridge the gap: two complementary projects'.
You can download our previous campaign leaflet 'Bridge the gap: connect East Sussex' and also our first leaflet 'Bridge the gap: link up Sussex'.
You can also download the banners displayed at Uckfield Festival's Big Day on 13 July 2013.
If you support the Railfuture campaign, wish to keep up-to-date with our activities, and find out more about how YOU can play your part, please join us at Sussex and Coastway.

Twitter Follow us on Twitter @Uckfield_Lewes.

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