Oh for a Brunel to tackle railway line woes

Comment by Observer

You will probably be aware of the phrase: “knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”.

It sprang to mind when reading proposals for Network Rail’s strategy for the South East over the next 30 years. Consultation on the document is now open (details at the end of this article).

The Uckfield line gets plenty of mentions, as does the pressure to reinstate the route south to Lewes and Brighton.

What one fails to see is a grasp of the “big picture”.

Reinstating the line is seen as a reasonable idea . . . BUT.

That’s when the cheese-paring, carping begins as reason upon reason is stacked up to kick the idea into the long grass.

The end of the line at Uckfield Railway Station

The end of the line at Uckfield Railway Station

It is, for example, considered as a “diversionary” route for the Brighton Main Line.

The idea is dismissed because there would only be room on the line for one extra train per hour without re-doubling the line all the way to Hurst Green, upgrading signalling and electrification.

Surely that work is needed anyway?

Here are some other relevant sections of the document.

The report says:  “The scale of such a scheme would not be justified on diversionary benefits alone, this is due to the relatively low number of delay minutes that would be avoided in major incidents by having the route available and the length of the diversionary route itself.”

“The conclusion is re-enforced (sic) therefore that Lewes – Uckfield adds value only when combined with a new lines scheme north of Hurst Green/ Sanderstead. On the current understanding of demand growth, it is outside the timeframe of this study to determine what shape such a scheme would take, save to recognise that protection of the existing Lewes – Uckfield alignment is a sensible approach for the future.”

New lines north from the Croydon area? BML2 offered that solution a long time ago.

“… with a long term new lines solution in mind, safeguarding of the Lewes – Uckfield alignment was sensible…..noted a number of significant issues with making best use of the alignment in future to relieve the BML.”

“A key challenge with rehabilitating that route has always been that it does not automatically relieve the key demand centres on the BML. Whilst new services from the East Coastway and possibly even Brighton might be routed that way (in the latter case quite probably at a significant journey time cost), there may be limited benefit to the West Coastway and most of the key population centres on the existing BML itself.”

Everything appears related to the Brighton Main Line. There is no concept of a railway line serving rural East Sussex and west Kent. There is no concept of the demand for services south to Brighton (a city that is not particularly car friendly).

Uckfield Line train

Uckfield Line train to London Bridge

As I understand it, more passengers headed south from Uckfield when the line to Lewes was in place than those who went north.

My guess is that HS2 will swallow all the money leaving none for perfectly sensible schemes such as Uckfield-Lewes-Brighton.

Where is the dream, where is the vision? This is a very timid document. I have three words to say to these pen-pushers: Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

*If you want to know more about this study and wish to comment, click here and follow the links.


My column last week pleading for the infrastructure before the houses struck a chord with many of you. Thank you for adding to the debate on this site’s Facebook page and some longer comments published here. I was glad to read that I am not alone in my views.

See also:

Morrisons plan refused

Your comments of the week

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