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.
STOP PRESS: Electrify Uckfield!
Despite the commitment in the TSGN Invitation to Tender to lengthen Uckfield line trains, Govia Thameslink can only say that longer trains will be provided when diesel stock becomes available, but cannot say when that will be. Railfuture call on DfT to provide funding for electrification urgently, to give certainty on the timing of more capacity.
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) - so reopening is a question of when, not if.
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.
Step by step
Reopening should not have to wait until a new cross-London link is built, around 2039. 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.
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 later this year.
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, Govia Thameslink can only say that trains will be lengthened when more diesel stock becomes available. DfT could be on the side of the angels - electrifying 36 miles of track will release 46 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, would 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 will also facilitate services via a reopened Uckfield – Lewes line to Brighton.
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. 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.
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 8 more BML trains per hour. Two of these should run via a redoubled Uckfield line between London and the South Coast. Redoubling the Uckfield line 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.
This could be achieved sooner: in our response to the draft CP5 Delivery Plan we 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.
7. Thameslink 2. Network Rail traffic growth predictions indicate the need for a tunnel from Stoats Nest into a Thameslink 2 route through Docklands by 2043. Railfuture suggest that since most growth to Docklands will be in the London area a metro solution is required, taking some suburban services off the Brighton Main Line to give more paths for South Coast services.
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, to be considered in the Sussex Route Study which Network Rail are currently progressing. 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 a second main line feeding into a 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!
- Why our proposal will work
- Why the line is needed
- How our solution fits with Network Rail plans to improve the Brighton Main Line
- Why our simple approach will be viable
- The steps to make reinstatement happen
- The campaign so far
Listen to Norman Baker's support for electrifying the Uckfield line and reopening Uckfield - Lewes!
Reports from independent consultants:
- Access and Connections: East Sussex (report by Jonathan Roberts Consulting)
- Presentation of JRC report given at open meeting in Lewes on 18th July 2013
- Why improvements are needed on the existing BML route
- Why the Uckfield - Lewes business case is 3 times better than the 2008 study
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.
Follow us on Twitter @Uckfield_Lewes.