Commuters fear a planned closure of the Brighton Main Line in February next year will add to overcrowding on the Uckfield Line.
The engineering works have been put back from October and train operator Southern is said to be aware of the potential impact on services from Uckfield and Buxted, although no details of proposals to mitigate the effects have been made known.
News of the works comes at a time when an official survey revealed that in the spring of last year the most overcrowded peak train service in England was the 05:40 from Uckfield. It had 160 “excess” passengers, representing a standard class overload of 250 per cent.
What is described as the “critical loading point” was on arrival at London Bridge on the two-car train.
Since then, the service has been formed, generally, of four carriages and from May this year has been re-timed to depart at 05:31.
Brighton Main Line works
Network Rail said the planned nine-day closure of the route between Brighton/Lewes and Three Bridges had been planned for two nine-day periods, coinciding with the October 2018 and February 2019 school half-terms, in addition to a number of weekend closures.
The improvement work – part of a £300m government-funded improvement programme to boost reliability for passengers on the Brighton Main Line and other key routes in the South East – will now be carried out in just one nine-day closure from February 16-24, 2019, subject to the rail industry’s usual assurance reviews. The supporting 15 weekend closures between September 2018 and May 2019 will go ahead unchanged.
Some elements of the work as originally planned will now be deferred until the next five-year funding period, starting in April 2019.
The improvement work will focus on four Victorian-era tunnels – Balcombe, Clayton, Patcham and Haywards Heath – and the railway which runs through them.
A major programme to stem leaks into the tunnels and provide reliable drainage away from the tracks will take place, while sections of the track, third rail power system and signalling will be replaced or upgraded.
Elsewhere, track will be renewed, sets of points, which enable trains to switch between tracks, will be replaced and fencing will be improved to deter trespassers.
Southern has told councillors representing parishes covered by the Uckfield Line that it is aware of the potential impact on the line but has not, as yet, put forward proposals to accommodate these changes.
Overcrowding statistics – ‘treat with caution’
The Department for Transport issued a “health warning” on the data referred to above on over-crowded trains. It said:
“Work is ongoing to improve the quality and quantity of passenger count data collected and the outputs derived from these data.
“While we believe that aggregate statistics are of reasonable quality, statistics on individual services are not always robust due to the nature of the data.
“Passenger numbers on individual train services fluctuate from day to day and may vary across the spring and autumn count periods.
“Cases where passenger loading is based on a small number of counts may not give a reliable representation of crowding on the service over a period of time.
“Furthermore, passenger counts can be subject to measurement errors.
“For example with manual counts there is a risk of human error, particularly on busy trains.
Treat with caution
“When determining passenger loads using automatic counting equipment, assumptions are made which might not represent the true picture in every instance.
“Hence the figures should be treated with caution.
“As the figures included in this release are one-off snapshots from spring and autumn they do not provide a reliable, accurate guide to current overcrowding.
“In some cases extra capacity or timetable changes have already been introduced on some routes.
“In addition to the notes here, more detailed information is available in the notes and definitions document that accompanies DfT’s annual statistical publication covering passenger demand and rail crowding. This can be found here [external link]