A service from London Bridge arriving at Uckfield past the extended platform (file photograph)

UCKFIELD LINE: Electrification proposed

Electrification of the Uckfield Line has been recommended to the government in a series of proposals which could transform the Cinderella service.

  • Out would go the unreliable diesel trains to be replaced by an electrified service
  • Some Uckfield Line services could serve destinations north of London
  • Crowborough would be the depot for trains on the Uckfield Line
  • There would be more seats with some trains having room for 1,000 people (including those standing)
  • Electricity supply to the trains would be by overhead wires and not the “third rail” used across much of the Southern network.
  • Electric trains could be running by 2021 with the Class 171 diesels, which have caused so many problems in the past year, banished to other parts of the country.

The proposals are contained in a comprehensive report on Southern by Chris Gibb, a senior figure in the rail industry, whose report was published yesterday (June 22).

All these proposals are unfunded at present.

Below is a detailed summary of the relevant parts of the Gibb report as they affect Uckfield.

THE CASE FOR ELECTRIFICATION

 

More seats would be available. A ten-car Class 171 [the current traction] has 674 seats while a 12-car electric Class 377 [as used on the Brighton Main Line] has 714 seats  – the longer platforms built last year on the Uckfield Line were designed to accommodate 12-car electrics.

The new Class 700 trains [coming into service on Thameslink] have 666 seats with space for standing for a further 1,088, the Gibb report states.

He said the extra capacity would be welcome on the whole route but particularly between East Croydon and London Bridge in the peaks.

The Class 377s and 700s have a through corridor connection between all carriages. A ten-car diesel is often made up of three units with no connections between each unit.

The electrified trains would enable passengers to move through to find spare seats and enable staff to prevent fares evasion.

Uckfield train at London Bridge

Uckfield train at London Bridge

SERVICES TO NORTH OF LONDON

 

Mr Gibb’s report states:

The two-trains-per-hour weekday peak East Grinstead – London Bridge services are proposed to form part of the Thameslink service pattern from 2018, continuing through London to Bedford and formed of Class 700 trains.

It may be possible to also extend several peak Uckfield – London Bridge services through the Thameslink core to destinations north of London, though this would need to be in place of other Thameslink services that have been proposed in the current 2018 timetable consultation.

“Whilst this would be welcome along the whole route, the main benefit would be providing additional peak services between East Croydon and Blackfriars / City Thameslink / Farringdon / St Pancras International, without requiring extra paths or infrastructure between Croydon and London Bridge.

“The services would need to be formed of Class 700 trains.

“I would not recommend running more than two or three trains like this, and only in the peaks, as I do not think the Thameslink performance should be dependent on a route with any single track, or for the general performance of the Uckfield Line to depend on Thameslink for the same reason.”

FARES DISPARITY

 

Mr Gibb highlights the sharp differences in fares between the Uckfield Line and South Eastern service from Hastings through Tunbridge Wells.

He said some of the Uckfield Line catchment area was shared with South Eastern’s Hastings – London route, and believed demand was influenced by a fares disparity.  He wrote:

“For example, an annual season ticket from Wadhurst to London is £4,680 (journey time to London Bridge 58 minutes) and Crowborough is £2,844 (journey time to London Bridge 68 minutes).

“The two stations are 15 minutes / eight miles apart by car.

“I think these prices have drifted apart since the Hastings line was electrified in 1986, and services steadily improved thereafter.

“The draft local plan for the Wealden District is for 19,950 new dwellings to be built between 2013 and 2037, of which 7,200 have been approved and allocated under the current plan.

“About half of these new dwellings are being built, or will be built, in the Buxted /Uckfield area.

“S106 funds [commonly known as the ‘roof tax’] arising are already earmarked for local road improvements. Other smaller housing developments are envisaged elsewhere on the route.”

The single line track between Uckfield and Buxted

The single line track between Uckfield and Buxted

DOUBLE OR SINGLE TRACK

 

The existing infrastructure can support a half hourly service, and the long passing loops offer a degree of flexibility to accommodate late running, the Gibb’s report states.

“I do not believe it is necessary to redouble the route: many single-track railways in Europe operate very reliably.

“The former track bed can be used to keep the necessary infrastructure for electrification within the footprint of Network Rail land wherever possible, keeping costs and timescales down.

“Should it ever be decided to reopen Uckfield – Lewes as a local service, the existing service, up to half hourly, can be extended on to Lewes and elsewhere without redoubling the sections between Uckfield and Hever,” he wrote in his report to the Government.

WHAT’S THE COST?

 

Mr Gibb notes stakeholders have been campaigning to reopen the line to Lewes, together with the BML2 bid to establish a new line between Brighton and London.

A review for the Department for Transport concluded earlier this year there was no case for BML2 and a poor transport case for re-opening.

Mr Gibb questioned the costs put forward in the review report on electrifying the Uckfield Line and redoubling of the single track, said to be £150m – £250m.

Mr Gibb states: “I believe the figures of £150m – £250m may have come from a past study of the costs of electrifying the Uckfield line, but also converting East Grinstead – South Croydon from third rail to overhead power supply.

“I do not consider this is necessary.

£75m – £95m

“Separate experts have suggested to me that a cost in the range of £75m – £95m is more likely for electrifying Uckfield – Hurst Green alone, whether this is with AC overhead or DC third rail.

“To this should be added the desirable signalling alterations at Crowborough and the construction of the sidings I am proposing.

“I think Network Rail or Parsons Brinkerhoff [the consultants who advised the Government on Uckfield – Lewes and BML2] could have examined a wider range of options to establish the benefits from Uckfield electrification.

CURRENT INEFFICIENCIES

 

Mr Gibb suggests that Uckfield Line trains should be kept at Crowborough, which would also have a crew depot. There is room at Crowborough for such development.

He highlighted inefficiencies with the current method of operation.

The existing diesel Class 171s have to return to Selhurst most nights for fuelling and servicing.

This means that early each morning a cavalcade of empty trains runs from Selhurst to Uckfield, starting at 04:30, returning in the evening, finishing at 01:44, and leaving a very short window for overnight maintenance of both trains and infrastructure.

“This is the opposite of the predominant passenger flow, which is from Uckfield / Crowbrough / Edenbridge to Croydon and London in the morning, and back in the evening.

Class 171 Uckfield Line train at Oxted

Class 171 Uckfield Line train at Oxted 

“One unit is stabled at Oxted, with the crew travelling by taxi to/from Selhurst.

“The whole operation is fundamentally inefficient and inherently unreliable. I believe that a policy of stabling and cleaning four 12 car electric trains at Crowborough overnight would save approximately 75,000 miles per annum of empty train mileage, with no loss of passenger revenue.

“Train mileage determines the costs of many elements of operation, such as drivers, train maintenance, fuel consumption and infrastructure maintenance, all of which would reduce.

“If one assumes a cost of £3.00 per vehicle km (cost of crew, rolling stock maintenance, fuel and infrastructure), and all the empty stock miles are for ten car trains, then the saving to the industry from reducing empty train miles would be approximately £3.6m per annum.

Crewing and Driver Only Operation

“Crewing can be more efficient.

“ The current Uckfield service is crewed by Norwood drivers and Selhurst conductors. As can be seen they spend many unproductive hours each day moving empty trains between Selhurst and Uckfield.

“The service is assumed by all previous studies to be crewed by drivers and conductors indefinitely, and the Class 171 units are not equipped for DOO.

“I propose that with electrification the service becomes driver only operated, with on board supervisors, as will be the case for the rest of the GTR network by 2021.

“I believe most services should be worked by crews based at Crowborough, recruited locally for the purpose, and with a close association with the communities they would serve.

Crowborough accommodation

“The shorter window of operations, from 05:00 at the earliest to 00:30 at the latest, would allow Crowborough crews to work efficient early and late shifts – for example 06:00-14:30 and 14:30-23:00.

“The current Norwood drivers have to work less efficient early, late and nightshifts, such is the time span of movements round the clock from 04:30 to 01:44.

rail

Nus Ghani welcomes Tom Tugendhat to Crowborough station. The photograph was taken before they were both elected to Parliament in 2015.

“I believe accommodation can be created at Crowborough station to support a small and efficient depot of approximately 30 traincrew, and several nightshift train cleaners. These are not additional people to current plans; they are 30 traincrew recruited at Crowborough instead of Selhurst / Norwood over the next four years.

UCKFIELD TRAINS CAN BE ‘DISRUPTIVE’

 

The operation of London Bridge, the Brighton Main Line between London and South Croydon and the service between London, Oxted and East Grinstead are all planned around accommodating the needs of the Uckfield line diesel fleet.

Mr Gibb states:

“Arrivals from Uckfield at London Bridge must form departures to Uckfield, both in day-to-day operations, including disruption, and in long term strategic planning.

“To maximise capacity for passengers arriving trains must promptly form departures, and the more rolling stock constraints present, the more difficult it is to maximise capacity for passengers.

“If the Uckfield line is electrified and operated by the large GTR [the franchise holder which owns Southern] dual voltage fleets this all changes.

London Bridge

“The operation is immediately more flexible when being planned, and when being delivered, as the electric trains can form any service on arrival at London Bridge.

“At present when there is any disruption trains turn round short of their destination, usually at East Croydon or Crowborough, to minimise delays to later services.

“I examined one four-week period this year and found that 43 trains in the London / East Grinstead / Uckfield service group had turned round short of their destination.

“Because of the dedicated diesel rolling stock it is impossible to “step up” rolling stock, for example at London Bridge, to use another train set to form a departure to Uckfield, enabling it to depart on time and run throughout. This means that service recovery after an incident usually takes longer on the Uckfield line than other routes.”

OVERHEAD WIRES OR 3rd RAIL?

 

Mr Gibb said he considered both options to provide electricity to power the trains. He said the rail regulator was not keen to extend the third rails system on safety grounds.

He said: “Popular opinion is that it should be cheap, safe and easy to extend third rail electrification.

However, I have found this not to be the case in respect of the Uckfield Line.

“The largest single item cost is the connection to the National Grid, and this is necessary for both third rail and overhead systems.

Feeder stations

“A third rail system would require feeder stations every 2-3 miles, whereas overhead may only require one feeder station for the 25 miles between Hurst Green and Uckfield.

“Given the availability of dual voltage trains on the GTR network for the foreseeable future, I believe the preferred option for electrification should be 25kV AC overhead electrification.

A ten-car train sits at the extended Uckfield railway station platform with an 07:05 service to London Bridge

A ten-car train sits at the extended Uckfield railway station platform with an 07:05 service to London Bridge

“I have been told by several experts that it should be cheaper than an extension of the third rail. I believe there will be performance benefits from an overhead system, particularly in winter, and a minor reduction in journey times from faster acceleration and DOO operation.”

BACKGROUND

 

Longer trains were introduced on to the Uckfield Line nearly a year ago following platform extensions to allow ten-carriage trains (12 for electric trains).

Many peak time trains are supposed to be ten carriages long but are not because of train failures.

Southern took on Class 171s from Scotland to strengthen the services but has found it hard to establish good reliability with breakdowns forcing cancellations and “short-forms”.

The Class 171s would all go from the Uckfield by 2021 under the Gibb report proposals.

He said if a development decision was taken this year, designs and costings could be completed in 2018 with completion three years later.

FACT FILE

 

Drawn from Mr Gibb’s report relating to the Uckfield Line

  • The stretch between Uckfield and Hurst Green Junction is 25 miles long.
  • In 1990, due to the poor state of the track, 12 miles of the branch were reduced to single track. Line speed is generally 70mph.
  • An accident at Cowden in 1994 killed five people when two trains collided on a single track after one train passes a signal at red. Mitigation measures have been since been installed to improve safety.
  • Forty-four Class 171 diesels are required for the route.

See also:

UCTC’s late bid for grant to support counselling rejected by town council

New contemporary dance classes to be held in Isfield

Former Uckfield firefighter writes about the tragedy of austerity

Find local businesses in our Uckfield Directory

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