Solution for Uckfield-Lewes

PHO:Southern train in the distance on a railway viaduct The Railfuture proposal to reinstate Uckfield - Lewes and relieve the Brighton Main Line will take account of the constraints of both the Brighton and Uckfield lines, by defining phases which match Network Rail plans to address those constraints. This will allow an initial solution to be implemented relatively quickly (by 2022), rather than waiting until funding is available to implement a major programme including a cross-London link, for which 2043 is the likely timescale.

Brighton Main Line constraints:

  • London Bridge capacity - being resolved primarily by introduction of high-density Thameslink stock, not appropriate for medium-distance use
  • Victoria and Clapham Junction capacity - NR Sussex Route Study indicates this will be addressed in CP6, by improving access to Platform 8 at Victoria and by automatic train operation through Clapham Junction
  • East Croydon capacity - NR Sussex Route Study indicates will be addressed in CP6, grade separation at Windmill Bridge and Stoats Nest junctions, and extra fast line platforms at East Croydon
  • Gatwick - new platform completed to enable turnback of Gatwick Express without crossing from fast to slow lines
  • Keymer Junction - greater constraint than Balcombe tunnel/viaduct: each East Coastway (Eastbourne) train takes 2 slots whereas Brighton trains only take one. NR plans grade-separated junction after CP6; this will enable 3 additional services per hour
  • Balance of West Coastway and Brighton trains - too many trains run to Brighton and not enough to West Coastway (Hove and Worthing) because FCC/Southern competed for Brighton revenue. This causes excessive interchange at Brighton station. Will not be resolved until CP7 when development proposed at Hove to enable more trains to start/terminate.
The Network Rail Strategic Business Plan approach is to make incremental improvements first, then consider strategic solutions when incremental improvements no longer represent value for money.

Uckfield line constraints:

  • Capacity on BML - currently only 2 trains per hour available at East Croydon
  • Double track section Hurst Green to East Croydon - Uckfield trains constrained by East Grinstead stoppers, increasing the number of Uckfield line trains significantly would result in unacceptably long journey times
  • Single track sections between Hever and Uckfield
  • Spa Valley Railway - shares alignment at Eridge, potential opportunities and constraints for Tunbridge Wells service
  • Brighton facing route at Lewes no longer available - Railfuture have identified 6 possible solutions which allow direct trains from the Uckfield line to Brighton
  • Longer route - Brighton to London Bridge is 11.5 miles further via Uckfield, so Brighton to London times uncompetitive
  • Signalling - unreliable, due for replacement in CP7 (2024-2029) at earliest
  • Diesel powered - increases cost of operation, which constrains how far beyond Lewes services could be extended. Availability of stock limited.

Phased solution

The solution cannot be defined until we have gained stakeholder commitment to the needs, and funding for a review of solution options and the business case. However a possible phased solution meeting these constraints might be:
  1. During CP5 (2014-19), accelerate existing services by making alternate peak services limited stop. This may require some double track sections to be lengthened, or signalling improvements made to enable sections to be cleared more sharply, for which the Journey Speed Improvements fund in the Strategic Business Plan could be used. In conjunction with the train lengthening already committed in HLOS, this could help relieve the Brighton and Tonbridge Main Lines by attracting commuters to use the Uckfield line instead. Increase the off-peak frequency - this will increase traffic with little marginal cost.
  2. Also during CP5 approve funding for electrification (which should have a positive business case); this will improve acceleration, reducing journey times, so the attraction for commuters would be greater.
  3. CP6 (2019-24) is the first opportunity to lay new track - a single track extension to Lewes with connection allowing direct trains via Lewes to Brighton, achievable by 2022. 2 tph peak service within constraints of East Croydon - one Seaford limited stop, one Brighton all-stations. (Limited stop train is East Coastway, diverted from BML, because timing from Eastbourne/Lewes to London can be matched via Uckfield, whereas timing from Brighton cannot; nevertheless, capacity for West Coastway or Brighton is released. All-stations train runs via Lewes to Brighton to support local traffic from the Weald.)
  4. Optionally, increase Spa Valley line speed. Possible additional 1 tph Tunbridge Wells West to Brighton limited stop in peak flow direction, all-stations service in contra-peak direction.
  5. Redouble Hever - Lewes after constraints at East Croydon are resolved in CP6. This is best done in parallel with resignalling, which is expected in CP7 (or later). Electrify if not done in phase 2 or 3. 4 tph service - this is the maximum frequency that can be accommodated between Hurst Green and East Croydon without the Uckfield services being slowed by East Grinstead stopping trains - two Brighton stopping trains and two limited stop trains (two of Newhaven, Eastbourne or Brighton/London Road/Moulsecoomb/Falmer). If phase 4 option (Tunbridge Wells - Brighton service) has been implemented, one of the London - Brighton stopping services can be made limited stop.
  6. New cross-London link, possibly via Docklands, connecting to Brighton Main Line. This could be a project on the same scale as Crossrail 2, which would probably have to be scheduled to follow it, suggesting completion after 2043. However Railfuture propose a simpler metro solution utilising the Hayes branch with tunnel connections between East Croydon and Addiscombe, and between Lewisham and the North London/West Anglia lines at Stratford, via Canary Wharf, which could be completed sooner. Additional tracks between East Croydon and Hurst Green would then enable additional Uckfield line services to Brighton.
Railfuture have identified 4 viable route options which enable direct trains between Brighton and London via Uckfield. Our preferred solution is the 'LUcky Lewes Horseshoe', which follows the A27 Lewes bypass and the Cockshut. This 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 needed 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

Network Rail may find that the need for resilience justifies changing incremental sequence to put an electrified Lewes loop first, followed by reopening between Uckfield and Lewes.

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

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