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The case for a second Brighton Main Line – BML2

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2015

BML2 project manager Brian Hart discusses south-east England’s rail network.

London and south east commuters can take heart from the chancellor’s recent demand for a full study into a second Brighton Main Line (BML2), rather than just reopening the Lewes – Uckfield link in Sussex.

Since former transport minister Norman Baker – a particularly vociferous opponent of BML2 – was unseated, Lewes’s new MP Maria Caulfield has learned quickly, showing considerable mettle by pushing the project not only with rail minister Claire Perry, but now George Osborne.

The south east’s rail network has some particularly intractable and fundamental predicaments affecting performance, which go back many years. If it is to successfully manage ever-rising demand, then many are coming to the conclusion that it requires a project on BML2’s scale. Put simply, the problem is not the trains, but the railway and its infrastructure – to which unfortunately GTR’s (Govia Thameslink Railway’s) new Siemens Class 700 fleet will also fall victim.

Worn-out equipment, insufficient track capacity and satisfying demand remain the difficult challenges facing both industry and the government, but now there is new hope, with Osborne’s determination to look at the bigger picture. The announcement coming from the chancellor, rather than the transport secretary, shows more than anything else that BML2 is just as much about the economy as transport. It comes at a time when transport consultants are increasingly warning that Sussex will quickly grind to a halt without radical solutions, whilst central London’s congestion shows little sign of improving.

In basic terms, BML2 comprises three segments. Sussex sees the Uckfield Line redoubled, electrified and reopened to the coast. One route heads into Lewes and Eastbourne, whilst TBMs create the all-important new tunnel through the South Downs. This provides the quickest and most viable secondary route possible directly into the city of Brighton & Hove.

The Kent phase reopens the main line into Tunbridge Wells from the west, thereby relieving the critical capacity ceiling imposed by insuperable Tonbridge Main Line constraints.

The London phase – also termed ‘Thameslink 2’ – is the most ambitious, but is easily the most financially rewarding. This is because TL2 creates an immeasurably valuable main line across the eastern Thames through the capital’s commercial heartland. Linking Kent, Sussex and Surrey with East Anglia, vast amounts of commuter and off-peak traffic could avoid time-wasting, expensive and frustrating central London congestion.

South East England's rail network

TL2 would employ the former Selsdon – Lewisham route, then tunnel under the Thames to emerge at Stratford International. Lewisham, Canary Wharf and Stratford would be key interchange stations, complementing Crossrail’s east-west routes.

BML2 enables fast services to avoid Croydon’s major bottlenecks, whilst a new connection across to the BML, similar to Redhill’s Quarry Line, allows all trains coming up from the south coast the ability to bypass. The value of a purpose-built interchange termed ‘Croydon Gateway’ at this location is something to be explored.

Sections of Tramlink currently using the former heavy rail route can be diverted or shared; similarly, the proposed Hayes conversion can be accommodated. London cannot afford to be ‘boxed in’ with a mere Bakerloo extension – the rail corridor is too strategic.

Gatwick’s future success depends on BML2. Irrespective of a second runway, the airport wants growth, being a major employer and contributor to the local and national economy. As the Airports Commission pointed out, its Achilles’ heel is its inadequate rail connections compared to Heathrow. For Gatwick to defend its position, TL2 is an absolute necessity; otherwise the Brighton Line will seal its fate.

Strikingly, Commission chair Sir Howard Davies recommended Heathrow because of Crossrail’s forthcoming connections to east London.

However, he didn’t mention that getting to Canary Wharf and Stratford incurs 13 station stops through congested central London. That’s hardly business class.

TL2 would trump that, particularly if the ‘Stanwick’ concept is achieved, where dedicated rail/air services shuttle between Gatwick and Stansted through Canary Wharf and Stratford International, obviating many of the existing capacity problems at London terminuses and places such as Clapham Junction and East Croydon.

We strongly suspect the involvement of the chancellor means more than meets the eye, and believe Osborne both realises and appreciates the economic value of BML2. To begin with, nothing else currently on the table can match the huge amount of high-peak capacity it would deliver, whilst its value to the industry, the public and the southern ‘powerhouse’ economy as a BML diversionary is inestimable. It also goes way beyond most transport proposals by having an extremely robust business case. This is because trains on the new routes would find eager customers as they tap into new markets all along its busy and expanding corridors off-peak and weekends.


Andrew Gwilt   06/11/2015 at 13:20

I like how this maps shows with the new BML2 to be discussed and possibly planned to be built around 2020's with the new safeguard route that could go to Stansted Airport and Stratford which could connect with Crossrail 2 at Tottenham Hale and Crossrail at Stratford with other routes that could be planned in the near future.

Nigel Taylor   14/11/2015 at 12:39

The case for a BML2 is a strong one. Likewise a Thameslink 2 via Stratford. But they should not be linked. The bigger the project the bigger the risk of the failure of one project, killing both of them. But the idea of using the Selsdon – Lewisham route makes no sense. Firstly this route it in use by the eastern arm of the Croydon Tramlink network. It would need to be closed or rerouted. Why not just build a new railway and leave the Tramlink alone. Sharing tramlink would also be difficult, as the trams are frequent and keep stopping. The crash worthiness of a tram is different from a main line train so would be a problem (i.e. speed restrictions around tram trains in Germany). The current Selsdon – Lewisham line is twin track and has stations. If it forms part of the BML2 it needs to be able to handle nonstop trains. So would need to be 4 tracks. Also in your plan the only way from the new BML to Victoria would be through Croydon. The way to London Bridge would be either by Croydon or the Lewisham – New Cross routes both of which are full. Also the Selsdon – Lewisham route would not link into the other routes which currently serve the area west of Croydon to Thameslink 2. All these changes would cause massive disruption to the routes affected during construction for no benefit in the end. A separate Croydon station also makes no sense as we need transport integration not fragmentation. If we are serious about addressing the problems you describe they need to be separate projects. • Thameslink 2 would be mainly in tunnels. Extend them to meet the existing lines near Lewisham, Brockley and Queens Road Peckham stations and connect into their respective lines. • Build the BML2 from Selsdon to Lewis as you describe. • Build new fast tunnels under Croydon from about south of Purley to Selhurst and Norwood Junction area with underground platforms at East Croydon. Link them to the fast lines down to Redhill. • Build new fast tunnels from about Hither Green to New Cross to relieve the Lewisham bottle neck. Link the schemes but don’t make them dependant on each other. There is a much better chance of them being approved incrementally. The new fast tunnels will take the fast trains off the surface lines and leave the surface lines for the local trains. New Tunnels are better as they minimise the disruption to the area and railway. This has been a common approach in Europe. Putting the existing fast lines in tunnels will improve the existing service and they avoid a lot of surface junctions.

S Sadrudin   18/11/2015 at 10:03

Electrification of the BML to 25kV AC standard would resolve a lot of issues in terms of capacity with trains being able to travel a lot quicker and move away from "pinch points". Whilst I am not advocating not having a BML2, I believe, this has to go hand in hand with AC electrification. It is the only way of ensuring we have a railway for the future.

B.Smith   23/11/2015 at 09:10

When I see headings such as BML, this says 'Bournemouth Main Line' in BR Engineers Line Reference terms, which are still valid under NR today.There's already a BML1, BML2 & even a BML3. Victoria to Brighton is the more common term for the Brighton Main Line within the industry, VTB1, VTB 2 & VTB3 being the various ELR's. Why reinvent the (rail) wheel with made-up acronyms?

Robert B   24/11/2015 at 13:58

I think the southern should be allowed to continue with 3rd rail since most of the network is standard and the infrastructure need not be dramatically altered. Taking a point from the electrification of the lines out of Paddington, the ground teams have already run into difficulties establishing where the signalling and communication cables are and the delays have been huge in moving the project forward. A few transformer and rectifier cabins placed at appropriate locations will cause the smallest disruption and 3rd rail could be completed in a very short time. As for the rolling stock, most of the SR units are capable of being dual voltage and several batches have already been so fitted. Keep the projects simple and manageable and move it forward to everyone's satisfaction.

Henry Law   25/11/2015 at 07:55

It is not made clear why the present main line cannot be quadrupled south of Three Bridges. Was this not commenced in the 1930s, and completed as far as the north end of Balcombe tunnel? And east curve at Ford would provide useful resilience and could be added quickly. There is also a need to reinstate Horsham-Shoreham, both to provide another through route but also to serve all the places in between which have grown in the past 50 years.

Barry Coward   08/12/2015 at 20:43

I have a lot of respect for Brian Hart and his Wealden Line campaign. reopeneing Uckfield-Lewes and Eridge-Tunbridge Wells makes sense. However the rest of his BML2 route is problematic and expensive. Bypassing Lewes with a tunnel under the South Downs, constructing a new line betweeen the former Selhurst station and Elmers End ( the former railway now forms part of Croydon Tramlink) where it would join the Hayes line to Lewisham and then an entirely new line to Stratford, much of it in tunnel , would in my humble opinion be far more expensive thatn quadruping the exisiting Brighton line. I agree with Henry Law. It would alos be worthwhile negotiating with the Bluebell Railway for reinstating Copyhold Jctn to East Grinstead (Bluebell own the trackbed between Ardingly and East Grinstead) as a diversion from the Ouse Valley viaduct.

PETER WESTON   09/01/2016 at 18:57

I cringe every time new rail plans for the London area are mad as it involves the boring of yet another tunnel !!!!! E.g. Crossrail 2 & 3. Bakerloo & Northern line extensions. Surely isn't London in danger of collapsing into the complicated labrynth of existing used & disused tunnels provided for heavy rail, sub surface/deep level tube, sewers, rivers etc.

John Ashdown   01/12/2016 at 14:24

For BML2 to happen,I cannot agree with Nigel Taylor on many of his comments,especially about the Selsdon line,as this is the most crucial part of the concept. There are already way too many tunnels in and around London and no new railways can be built in and around that already overpopulated Croydon area. The Croydon bottleneck is the biggest spanner in the whole south east rail network and must be bypassed. Many trains all over the country run down two track corridors at great speeds, so thatvwill not be a problem,although the dwellings that now sit on the old Selsdon platforms and the ones on the old Coombe Road embankment will require CPOs and demolition and re-instatement the railway bridge.. But in the light of the recent tram crash, I agree with Nigel Here.Running it parallel with the trains is a very bad idea and could contribute to another disaster.running it down suburban streets to bypass the rail tunnels it occupies would be miserable for residents. In short, it's a choice between one or the other. NB:BML2 or not, never rule out those four disused lines being used again in the near future. Tramlink rent that South Croydon section off Network Rail. Attempts to buy sections of those lines in the past have all been turned down.Otherwise why is NR so keen to hang on to all this land?

Mike Townsend   29/03/2017 at 00:56

I recently travelled from Eastbourne to Southend and was very disappointed that I had to go to Brighton and catch a replacement bus to three bridges and get to Victoria that way! What a long pointless journey it was after a long wait for a train to London! All because engineering work between lewes and Haywards heath! It could have been avoided if we left lewes and traversed a junction north of lewes tunnel and onto the Uckfield line! Oh no NR and ESSC would interject because it would put a further ten minutes into London! Well the journey from on the bus replacement from Brighton and an eventual train at three bridges wasted seventy minutes! These two bodies have wasted so much of our money on study reports for which they already decided to fail the results before they even began the survey and kept the money! Enough procrastination by these organisations who don't have to use public transport as they have their limos and private helicopters! We need the lewes to Uckfield line reopening now,, if they would only be truthful to say that the line will never see trains again and build roads and housing on the line as ESSC desperately want,, well the line is for our use as its us who'll pay for it as we've spent enough with no positive gratitude! They've had their time dragging this into a tar pit, now it's our time and give us the lewes to Uckfield line reopening! And with the highest appraisal to the marvelous Mr Brian hart who has the vision and common sense of a situation that NR and ESSC ignorantly cower from.

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