It is now a year since the government published the terms of reference for the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study to determine the short, medium and long term investment priorities to address the capacity and performance issues on the Brighton Main Line. Railfuture met with the consultants to provide input. The results of the study have not yet been made public, although in answer to a question in Parliament by Hove MP Peter Kyle, Rail Minister Paul Maynard confirmed that the study is complete and that the DfT is committed to publishing the findings. This leaves the way clear for an announcement in the Autumn Statement next Wednesday!

Passengers on the route between London and the South Coast are suffering extremely crowded and disrupted services caused by both the Thameslink Programme upgrade works and the ongoing dispute over the role of the conductor/guard/on-board supervisor. When the Thameslink upgrade is complete and the dispute is resolved, the new fleet of Class 700 trains is expected to provide additional capacity.

Network Rail’s 2015 Sussex Area Route Study considered that the following enhancement packages would provide sufficient capacity to meet growth until 2043.
  • Two extra platforms at East Croydon, a sixth track between East Croydon and Windmill Bridge Junction to its north, and more grade separation (flyovers) in the area of Windmill Bridge Junction, to be delivered between 2019 and 2024. Commercial development above East Croydon station will provide part of the funding. This will allow eight extra trains per hour through East Croydon, but the constraints on Network Rail’s delivery capability mean that this will not now be complete until 2030.
  • Quadruple track at Wivelsfield, grade separation at Keymer Junction to its south, and track layout changes at Hove, to be delivered between 2024 and 2029. This would allow 3 extra trains per hour between Haywards Heath and Hove, but constraints on delivery capability mean that Network Rail now hopes to deliver this extra capacity through new digital signalling systems.
However, this was all based on the assumption that the Class 700s would provide the necessary extra capacity to 2043 by accommodating 4 standing passengers per square metre between Gatwick and London. By contrast the Invitation to Tender for the new South Western franchise starting October 2017 makes it clear that their similar new Class 707 trains, which have the same internal layout, will only accommodate 3 standing passengers per square metre, so the same standing allowance should be used for the Class 700. Meanwhile travel demand continues to grow faster than assumed by the Route Study; therefore the extra capacity proposed by Network Rail will be used up as soon as – or before – it is delivered.

Despite the government decision for an extra runway at Heathrow rather than Gatwick, air passenger numbers at Gatwick and therefore the need for better connectivity for Gatwick will continue to increase. An ongoing programme of infrastructure investment must therefore be planned now to deliver further capacity and connectivity enhancements well before 2043, otherwise growth in travel will rapidly outstrip the capacity available and performance on the route will fall again.

The London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study was set up to evaluate the options to provide that extra capacity, which include:
  • Thameslink 2. The report by the National Infrastructure Commission in March 2016 on the case for transport investment in London commented favourably on this concept of a route linking the Lea Valley line via Stratford, Canary Wharf, Lewisham and East Croydon. It would relieve the Brighton Main Line between East Croydon and London, provide direct connectivity between Docklands and Gatwick, and support economic growth in south-east and north-east London by overcoming the barrier effect of the River Thames. Additional tracks will also be needed between East Croydon and South Croydon (for the junction towards East Grinstead/Uckfield), and possibly Purley. Thameslink 2 could also provide extra capacity for trains on the South Eastern route, which will reach the limits of terminal capacity in 2024, providing a direct connection with Docklands avoiding Zone 1 and thereby avoiding the need for an extremely expensive and disruptive expansion of Charing Cross.
  • Further enhancements between Three Bridges and Brighton, with grade separation of the junction at Preston Park and some more sections of quadruple track. This would enable additional trains, improve performance and reduce journey times. Quadruple track throughout may however be prohibitively expensive due to the tunnels at Balcombe, Clayton and Patcham, and Balcombe Viaduct.
  • Automatic Train Operation. The Thameslink core between St. Pancras and Blackfriars will use ATO from 2018. This could be extended to the whole line between London and Brighton, enabling a significant increase in train frequency and therefore capacity.
  • Additional main line. Reinstating Uckfield – Lewes and redoubling the Uckfield line has long been proposed as a way to provide extra capacity to and from Brighton. However the Sussex Area Route Study makes clear that Network Rail do not view this as a ‘no-brainer’, as the journey time would be significantly longer than via Haywards Heath. Another possibility that has been suggested is to reopen the route between Shoreham and Horsham, but this would also suffer from long journey times, particularly as the line via Epsom carries frequent stopping trains. A new route roughly following the A23 might be possible, but would be extremely expensive.
Railfuture urges the government to commit in next week’s Autumn Statement to an infrastructure investment programme including Thameslink 2 and further enhancements to the existing Brighton Main Line including Automatic Train Operation. These are the only way to provide extra connectivity for Gatwick and Docklands, and extra capacity to areas where housing development is planned, for example at Shoreham and Wivelsfield. Implementing these enhancements is however likely to be very disruptive for commuters and business and leisure travellers on the Brighton line, who have already suffered significant disruption from both disputes and the Thameslink upgrade.

Railfuture therefore also recommends that this investment programme should include reinstating Uckfield – Lewes and redoubling, resignalling and electrifying the Uckfield line at the earliest opportunity, not primarily to provide extra capacity to and from Brighton, but to:
  • provide a diversionary route between London, Brighton and the south coast whilst major enhancements are undertaken on the Brighton Main Line, and for other planned and unplanned disruptions, and
  • provide local access to jobs, education and leisure in and around Brighton to support economic growth in East Sussex
The improved connectivity for Docklands and Gatwick should be used as an incentive to leverage private funding to accelerate the investment programme.

Related articles:
London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study
Standing Room Only
Train Staff Duties
Rail development reset
Airport capacity solutions must include rail

Thameslink 2 concept
Uckfield – Lewes campaign

Parliamentary reply to question by Hove MP Peter Kyle

National Infrastructure Commission report Review of the case for Large scale Transport Investment in London para 3.5 (page 41 of the pdf)

Network Rail Sussex Area Route Study