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DfT brands Brighton Main Line a ‘strategic priority’ but ditches BML2 scheme

The government has published its study into the London and South Coast Rail Corridor, which investigated the case to be made for improvements to rail links between London and the Sussex Coast and concluded that pursuing Network Rail’s improvements on the existing Brighton Main Line (BML) should be a “strategic priority”.

The report added that there was little strategic case for reopening the Lewes-Uckfield line for National Rail services between Eridge and Tunbridge Wells, shut in 1969 – though there could be a stronger case for this if work relied on harnessing the economic growth agenda rather than simply traditional transport benefits.

The study also said that there was no benefit to going ahead with the Brighton Main Line 2 (BML2) scheme that would link Croydon, Lewisham, Stratford and beyond. This is due to the high cost of such a change put up against little strategic need for the works to be done.

While concluding that there “is no case” for BML2 or reinstating the Lewes-Uckfield line, the study did acknowledge that “other interested parties, including local authorities and LEPs, may wish to progress work to improve the viability of such schemes”.

“One way that this could be achieved is through local communities accepting significant additional local housing and commercial development,” the DfT added. “In addition, the transport secretary has met with promoters of the BML2 concept and encouraged them to continue to develop their proposals for it to be delivered and funded privately.”

Responding to the report, transport minister Paul Maynard penned a letter outlining where the department would be moving forward on the recommendations, accepting that this section of the network required significant work.

“Train services in the region are among the busiest in the country, and passenger numbers are expected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decades. The study forecasts that passenger numbers between 8-9am, typically the busiest time of day, will increase by as much as 46-60% by 2043,” he said.

This growth will take place on a part of the rail network that faces significant current performance and capacity challenges. While performance has been particularly compromised in recent months, as a result of industrial action on Southern services and infrastructure faults, levels of on-time performance “have been among the lowest nationally for a number of years”.

Maynard also explained how the DfT had put in measures to tackle the network’s problems, including a £20m fund and the appointment of Chris Gibb to the improvement board to ensure the service continues running as efficiently as possible.

This January, the government also announced an additional £300m worth for Network Rail to boost the infrastructure on the BML.

“The central finding of the study is that Network Rail’s proposed upgrade of the BML, which would include unblocking known infrastructure bottlenecks around Croydon, could release capacity across the BML to meet passenger demand for at least the next 30 years,” added the minister.

“The Network Rail proposals would see the BML able to accommodate 44 trains per hour at peak times, up from 36 today. This would allow passengers boarding at East Croydon station to have access to a train to Central London every 85 seconds, in peak times.

“We accept the study’s recommendations. In the immediate future, we are acting on them by working with Network Rail on its proposals for upgrades to the BML.

“We can today confirm the DfT has agreed further work should be undertaken in making the case for the upgrade. £11.85m has been invested to date in developing Network Rail’s proposals and will we continue to support them in further developing and refining the proposals.”

Maynard added that the government will now ask Network Rail to confirm the study's findings that the BML upgrade could be delivered for £1.2-£1.5bn and that enough passenger benefits would be delivered to justify investment. Further announcements are soon to follow.

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Henry Law   03/03/2017 at 12:07

It might make more sense to reinstate Shoreham to Horsham, which serves a well populated area, including, Beeding-Steyning, Henfield and Partridge Green which have grown into small towns since the line was closed. The urgent need is to four-track the line south of Three Bridges, at least as far as Keymer Junction, and preferably all the way to Brighton. The diversionary route could be improved by constructing an east curve at Ford Junction. Then there is East Croydon, where, sooner or later some of the services are going to have to be put underground.

John Grant   03/03/2017 at 12:18

The main case for Lewes-Uckfield ought to be that it's an alternative route that can be used when the main mine is blocked, in the same way that the Hertford Loop is used as a diversion from the ECML.

Jason Grocott   03/03/2017 at 13:35

The Lewes - Uckfield line introduction has challenges about crossing the B2102 as introducing a level crossing will disrupt the road traffic. There will need to be disruption of the A22 as it was built across the redundant rail corridor. There may not be a real benefit for commuters as it adds a substantial journey time to get from Lewes to London. The idea of the Chord at Arundel was muted by Connex back in 2000 as a solution and given the recent Arun Valley signalling upgrade would provide relief to run for the mainline.

Lutz   03/03/2017 at 19:44

Ed: Is that the correct link to the study? The date on the document is April 2016 (though the document properties does indicate 2017-03-02).

Chris   08/03/2017 at 12:06

WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff sent the completed report to DfT April 2016 which is what the DfT has just published, and so the link is correct

James Miller   29/03/2017 at 13:15

The two Coastway routes should be updated and linked by an electrified or bi-mode route to Ashford, so that other lines which might be more convenient could take pressure off the BML.

Nonsuchmike   02/03/2018 at 17:06

The truth of the matter is that lines through East Croydon/Three Bridges/to Brighton are at virtual saturation point. Any further increases will cause overload unless: two more lines are built through Croydon now, with probable provision of underground lines in ten years time; there is an immediate start for the east chord @ south of Arundel; there is a start within the next Period in commencing clearing work on Uckfield/Lewes, with a view to complete the link during the following Period. Roads cannot have level crossings, so either bridges must be built over the rails for them, or tunnels/bridges for the railway as appropriate. If they can build a road/rail bridge from Denmark to Sweden and also huge civils like this in the Far East, surely we can make these piddling little extensions over 5-6 years!

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