Transport Secretary Chris Grayling would be “delighted” to see the Uckfield to Lewes railway line reopened.
He made the comment in response to a question from Lewes MP Maria Caulfield about the government’s new rail strategy.
The government’s plan calls for a more “integrated railway” by re-opening some lines closed in the 1960s but does not mention the Uckfield to Lewes route.
Mr Grayling said in a document: “This will include continuing to look at opportunities to restore capacity lost under Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s, where this enables new housing or economic development, or eases congestion elsewhere on the transport system, and offers value for money.
“We will also bring more private sector finance, funding and expertise on board to help provide capacity for the future.”
A number of potential schemes are mentioned by name but not East Sussex’s missing link.
Ms Caulfield asked Mr Grayling in the House of Commons: “Can I ask specifically about the line reopening, because we have the Lewes to Uckfield line in my constituency, with the BML2 scheme, which could be opened very easily, improving connectively and putting towns such as Seaford and Newhaven on a main line for the first time?
“We have private investors willing to put up over £15 million to fund that. Will the Secretary of State use that scheme as one of the first to illustrate what can really be done?”
Mr Grayling responded: “My Honourable Friend knows that I met the investors who are interested in pursuing this project, I have said that I am very open to doing so, I’m waiting with interest to see as they come back with the first stage of work that they are doing.
“I would be delighted to see the route reopened, and I hope that the consortium pursuing the project will prove successful.”
Ms Caulfield commented afterwards: “I am pleased that the Transport Secretary has again pledged his support for the reopening of the Lewes to Uckfield Line and BML2.
“With this new rail strategy announcement and the Transport Secretary’s renewed support we are a step closer to the reality of a second Brighton Mainline into London, through Lewes and Uckfield. I will continue to work alongside BML2 campaigners to ensure that this vital new infrastructure project will go ahead.”
The Uckfield-Lewes link was closed on May 4, 1969 to enable a relief road to be built in Lewes.
The Wealden Line Campaign on its website notes: “Embankments, bridges and viaduct over the River Ouse are quickly cut or demolished for the Lewes Relief Road and the Phoenix Causeway completed in summer of 1969.”
Since then there has been pressure to re-open the line, studies have been carried out but all have failed to get the tracks reinstated.
‘More than a reopening’
The BML2 project, which has Uckfield’s Brian Hart as its project manager, has promoted reconnecting the town with the south coast, as well as linking again with Tunbridge Wells and establishing a new route to Stansted Airport and East Anglia from Croydon.
BML2 said its scheme was much more than a re-opening.
“This exciting project has enormous potential. That’s why we are attracting serious attention from highly credible investors,” the group said on Twitter.
The Wealden MP Nus Ghani picked out the government strategy report’s lack of any “extra money or commitments towards the electrification of the [present] Uckfield Line.
“The Gibb Report in June endorsed electrification of the Uckfield line, and this was an excellent opportunity to commit to electrification for the sake of the thousands of passengers who have had to put up with a dire service for far too long.
She said: “I will be asking for a meeting with the Transport Secretary to further push for electrification. While the new rail strategy is a welcome step forward, there is much more we can do and I will be working closely with the Department for Transport to make sure that happens.”
She welcomed other announcements in Mr Grayling’s new rail strategy including the dismantling of the Govia franchise which covers Southern, Southeastern Great Northern and Thameslink.
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