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.  Photo by Roger Blake for Railfuture Railfuture is campaigning for reinstatement of a rail link between Uckfield and Lewes to support growth with sustainable transport and provide quicker, higher-capacity and more convenient access between the Weald and the employment centre of Brighton.

It would also be an additional Sussex Coast-London route to relieve the Brighton Main Line during disruption.

We advocate electrification of the Uckfield line to improve reliability and accelerate services. This became a recommendation of the 2017 Gibb report.

New approach to Uckfield

On 2 March 2017 the government published the long-awaited London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study report, dated April 2016. News headlines portrayed this as the death knell of a second main line to London, but in fact the study pointed the way forward for reopening between Uckfield and Lewes, and a new route between Stratford and East Croydon via Docklands. Whilst the study found that there was not a transport-driven 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 local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) commissioning a review of potential growth scenarios.

The Department for Transport also gave guidance on the criteria by which a Market Led Proposal similar to our Thameslink 2 concept would be assessed.

Therefore there are two possible ways forward:
  1. a new approach to an incremental solution, justified by a review of economic growth scenarios led by the local authorities and LEPs
  2. a commercially funded never-never approach delivering a double track electrified main line
Irrespective of who takes the lead, the local authorities and LEPs are key to the process as it is they who must agree the economic development and housing plans which will underpin the growth scenarios and so the business case for services on the Tunbridge Wells – Uckfield – Lewes – Brighton axis.

Railfuture has presented the case to local authorities in 2018 and in 2022 (see also Minute 40) that to encourage modal shift towards more sustainable modes of travel, housing growth must be focused in locations which either are already, or could be, served by rail stations. Development of a "LUcky Garden Village" in the area served by the line would meet the need for new homes to satisfy Brighton's growing employment market, relieve pressure on community services elsewhere and justify reinstating the railway between Uckfield and Lewes to serve it. Land Value Capture, pioneered by E-Rail, is a method of funding this new rail link, leaving conventional developer contributions still available for other options.

Working with the shadow sub-national transport body Transport for the South East, Railfuture were successful in getting Brighton - Tunbridge Wells identified as a strategic economic corridor. TfSE's draft Strategic Investment Plan includes, as part of the supporting Rail Thematic Plan Package J, bringing the Uckfield - Lewes and Eridge - Tunbridge Wells West - Tunbridge Wells railways back into use to increase the resilience of rail network connectivity and a new east-west link. Railfuture's response to the recently-closed public consultation can be read here.

Railfuture will continue to bring together the promoters and stakeholders to achieve a successful outcome.

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 over-utilised 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 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 (south of Purley) and London have been addressed in Control Period 6 (2019-24). Similarly the Network Rail Sussex Area Route Study recommended safeguarding of the Uckfield - Lewes route; the Railfuture response to Sussex Area Route Study consultation argued for the benefits of access from the Weald to Brighton, in addition to Sussex Route capacity and resilience. 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 Brighton Main Line 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, Tunbridge Wells is a key destination, and Hastings has a high level of unemployment. His 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.
The 80-page report Access and Connections: East Sussex - Opportunities to align railway investment to the economic growth requirements of East Sussex by JRC (view or download) was a significant input to the East Sussex Rail Strategy and Action Plan, the WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study report, and the London & Southern Counties Railways initiative. See the JRC presentation in July 2013.


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 promoters and stakeholders that reopening Tunbridge Wells West-Uckfield-Lewes-Brighton 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.

East Sussex County Council's Rail Development Strategy has made electrifying and redoubling the Uckfield line and Marshlink its two priorities in the final version of its Rail Strategy and Action Plan.

Whilst the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study study focused on the transport investment case, a complementary economic (jobs and housing) investment case must be developed by the local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

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