On 2 March 2017 the government published the long-awaited London and South Coast Rail Corridor study report. News headlines portrayed this as the death knell of a second main line to London, but in fact the study points the way forward for reopening between Uckfield and Lewes, and a new route between Stratford and East Croydon via Docklands. The diagram, taken from the report, shows the new approach recommended to justify re-opening Uckfield – Lewes.
The London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study was completed by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff in April 2016, but the report has been held back until now, perhaps awaiting a private venture initiative. The key points from the report are:
- The Network Rail plans to upgrade the BML to increase capacity and resilience should go ahead. This will remove constraints at East Croydon, Haywards Heath/Keymer Junction, Clapham Junction and Victoria, and increase capacity further by introduction of digital signalling.
- Based on that, provision of extra capacity by a new route such as BML2 will not be required for 30-40 years.
- Lewes – Uckfield reinstatement is not justified on the basis of transport need, but might be justified on the basis of economic growth. The study recommends that a new approach is required, starting with the LEP and local authorities commissioning a review of potential growth scenarios.
- Tunbridge Wells is a significant part of the Uckfield – Lewes - Brighton economic growth option
- There may be a case for a Thameslink 2 or BML2 London phase , but the strategic problems need to be more formally defined and evidenced. Any such solution would probably come after Crossrail 2.
- The alternative to a second route to Brighton via Uckfield is a new line mostly in tunnel.
Railfuture has been campaigning for reinstatement of the railway between Uckfield and Lewes, and building relationships with stakeholders to align them toward that goal. We have been advocating an incremental approach, which is the most likely to succeed within the constraints of Network Rail’s funding and delivery capacity, and be delivered soonest.
However the UK does not have enough skilled resources with rail experience for Network Rail to meet the increased demand for rail expansion, so prices have escalated and many mistakes have been made in the design, development and implementation of projects – for example Great Western electrification. This failure of Network Rail to deliver on time and budget has changed the game.
The government is now looking for innovative ways to finance, resource and share risk on more new rail infrastructure projects than Network Rail can handle. The National Infrastructure Commission gave a hint in its report on transport investment in London of a possible candidate – a ‘Crossrail 3’ linking the Lea Valley through Stratford and the Isle of Dogs to the Brighton Main Line. This is very similar to our concept for ‘Thameslink 2’, which is a separate but complementary project to Uckfield – Lewes.
Despite the conclusion that a new route is not required for 30-40 years, the Transport Secretary has met with and encouraged the promoters of London and Southern Counties Railway, a privately-funded consortium, to develop proposals for a new route linking Stratford, Docklands, and East Croydon with the Sussex Coast.
Railfuture supports this initiative which is similar to our Thameslink 2 concept and which may offer an additional route between London and Brighton.
The new approach to Uckfield-Lewes recommended by the study has the following steps:
- Identify growth scenarios (productivity, housing and employment)
- Define what rail service is needed
- Assess engineering feasibility and business case
It has been suggested that the first step by the consortium will be a feasibility study. However, as the study indicates, the consortium will have to take different approaches to building a business case for the routes north and south of East Croydon.
- North of East Croydon, the consortium will have to engage with the full range of potential stakeholders to define and agree the strategic problems that the route is intended to solve
- South of East Croydon, the consortium must consider the various possible objectives, and identify the objectives which give the best business case
- if the objective is major capacity relief to Brighton, then the timescales will be long-term and the solution may be very different to any which have been put forward before
- if the objective is a diversionary route via Uckfield to the south coast, then the consortium will have to take the lead on an economic growth study, and find a way to monetise the economic growth that it must create in the region so that will make a commercial return on the investment.
Government response to London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study
London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study report
Railfuture Thameslink 2 campaign
Railfuture Uckfield - Lewes campaign