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Uckfield Lewes

Image Railfuture is campaigning for electrification of the Uckfield line to accelerate services and lengthen trains, and reopening of the rail link between Uckfield and Lewes to provide access from the Weald to the employment centre of Brighton and an additional route between the South Coast and London, relieving the Brighton Main Line.

Latest News

Influential support for the Uckfield line! Nus Ghani (parliamentary candidate for Wealden) and Tom Tugendhat (parliamentary candidate for Tonbridge and Malling) met with Chris Page and Roger Blake from Railfuture after visiting the worksite at London Bridge. Nus and Tom discussed transport investment and electrification and 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. "

More capacity for Uckfield line. Govia Thameslink announced in their stakeholder brief 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 call 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 and your 2015 election candidates to press the need for electrification - their contact details are here.

Network Rail publish draft Sussex Route Study. The Route Study, published 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.

Railfuture will respond to the Network Rail consultation proposing ways of addressing these issues, including step by step development of the Uckfield line as explained below.

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
  • Uckfield Line commuter services take 20 minutes longer than equivalent journeys on the Brighton Main Line
  • Newhaven needs regeneration but has only two through trains to London
  • Trains from Eastbourne, Lewes, Worthing, Hove and Brighton to London are overcrowded
  • The major employment and tourist centre of Brighton is dependent on a single overutilised rail line from London
  • 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 and London have been addressed in Control Period 6 (2019-24). Similarly the draft Sussex Route Study recommends 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
  • faster more reliable services between the Weald and London
  • direct trains between London and Newhaven, supporting regeneration
  • additional trains from Brighton, Eastbourne and Lewes to London, relieving the Brighton Main Line
  • visitors will still be able to reach Brighton when the BML is closed, maintaining the visitor economy
  • 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.

Image 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 Wealden District Council gave planning approval for the new car park at Uckfield station on 3rd July. The car park is expected to open late this year or early next.

2. Electrify. Electrification will enable longer trains to run on the Uckfield line without having to lengthen platforms at the smaller stations, will shorten journey times and will improve reliability. Local MPs, county councils and LEPs support our response to the ORR draft determination that electrification would be better value for money (refer para 9.95). Despite a commitment in the Invitation To Tender to lengthen trains by 2016, and plans to deploy more diesel stock, Govia Thameslink have not yet said when trains will be lengthened. DfT are unable to decide between AC or DC electrification, but they could be on the side of the angels - DC electrification of 36 miles of track can be achieved sooner and will release 44 diesel vehicles to relieve overcrowding in the north, a better ratio than most other electrification schemes that have been proposed.

3. LUcky Lewes Horseshoe. Recent events 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. 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.

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4. 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
  • 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, and would only require one additional 4-car diesel unit (offset by releasing the class 313 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 larger stations).

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

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 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 metro line is required. Providing a direct route between East Croydon and Docklands would reduce overall journey times and relieve congestion on both the London Bridge route and the Jubilee line. A possible metro solution connecting East Croydon with the Hayes branch (via tunnel to Addiscombe) and then by tunnel from Lewisham though Canary Wharf to Stratford, linking with the North London and West Anglia lines, should be explored. With a sixth track between South and East Croydon, this ‘Thameslink 2’ (or Crossrail 3) solution would allow some Tattenham Corner, Caterham and Redhill services to be diverted to Docklands, creating paths on the fast lines to London Bridge for other longer distance services, and avoiding the need for a tunnel from Stoats Nest into London. 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.

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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 that the Lewes - Uckfield rail route is 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 will argue for the benefits of access from the Weald to Brighton, in addition to Sussex Route capacity and resilience, in our response to the Sussex Route Study consultation. 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:
A seven page article in the December 2013 issue of Modern Railways 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 latest campaign leaflet or our previous campaign 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!




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