The Uckfield Line has been used as a case study to show how rail travel has been “transformed” through investment.
It outlines the changes made and the results for passengers..
The study states:
“Before 1969, the line continued south through Uckfield onto Lewes and Brighton, but British Rail removed the link to Lewes.
“Services and stations went into a steady decline, and while a basic commuter service of two trains between Uckfield and London remained in the morning and evening peak, all other journeys required a change of trains.
“This meant local residents had few practical alternatives to the car, and commuters often needed to drive for half an hour to Haywards Heath for a fast connection to London.
“Since 2003, services on the line have been transformed by Southern, the local train operator.
“The change began with a £50million investment in new diesel trains, replacing old locomotives and slam‐door carriages from the 1960s.
“Nine two‐car trains and six four‐car trains were introduced between 2003 and 2005, along with a brand new timetable with direct services into London Bridge throughout the day.”
It goes on to outline the effect on passengers numbers which more than doubled from 1997 to 2006 from just under 90,000 a year to 218,000.
The boom in passenger numbers “helped make the case for Network Rail to lengthen platforms all the way down the line, as well as investing in new and refurbished station buildings”.
Longer platforms came in 2016 and Southern invested in more trains, bringing a 50 per cent uplift in capacity for morning peak services.
“This second investment helped accommodate a further doubling in passengers as they rose to over 451,000 in 2018. That’s a 400% increase since Southern’s investment programme started,” the report published by the Rail Delivery Group says.
It also points out that there is huge pride for towns and villages along the line, with one of the most active community rail partnerships in the South East.
The Rail Delivery Group is the organisation which brings together the companies which run Britain’s railways into one forum.
Therefore, it is no surprise that such a glowing picture should be painted of the Uckfield Line, writes Paul Watson.
It is true: The 170 class trains used on the line are far better than the old slam-door ‘Thumpers’.
Services are more usable because of the connection with London Bridge, instead of having to change off-peak at Oxted (Sundays excepted).
The 170s are more comfortable than many of the modern trains found on the network – think Thameslink.
Over-crowding has been eased by having ten-car services.
However, regular commuters can still rightly complain of late-running, services where the number of carriages is below the optimum (short-forms), cancellations and the infamous Crowborough reverse where passengers for Uckfield and Buxted are turfed off the train so that it can keep to time on the way back to London.
An acknowledgement of these problems, which need addressing, would not have gone amiss in this study.
The infrastructure on the line is being gradually improved but it was in quite a sorry state.
Also, the long sections of single-track make it difficult for services to “recover” time when late, as services have to wait on occasions for the single line to clear.
We might also have hoped for a nod towards reconnecting Uckfield with Lewes and the BML2 project.
Yes the trains are better. The investment has paid off.
There is much still to do.