Why would people from Tunbridge Wells use BML2?
Network Rail says the Tonbridge Main Line (TML) is a ‘major barrier to growth’. The Tonbridge – Sevenoaks – Orpington section is only double track, but at peak times has to carry 12 – 15 trains per hour. The route cannot be quadrupled but a solution is necessary. Tunbridge Wells is the main generator of commuter traffic which is why its former main line from Tunbridge Wells West (TWW) to London via Oxted needs to be reopened.
However, as part of BML2, Tunbridge Wells would gain direct services to Canary Wharf and interchange with Crossrail, avoiding congestion in London Bridge.
What about Sainsburys?
The store currently occupies part of the trackbed, but a written undertaking was given to remove any buildings – at company expense – should the line ever reopen. We think there exists a great opportunity for Sainsburys to improve and enlarge their operations – as Morrisons have done next to Tunbridge Wells Central station. The site’s value is mostly wasted on open-air car parking and multi-storey parking, along with an enlarged store, would take full advantage of the new main line with all the business that would generate.
As illustrated below, three 12-car and one 8-car platforms are easily possible at Tunbridge Wells West, providing superior direct connections to Central London and the Sussex Coast.
What about the heritage lines?
These rail links to Brighton and London via Oxted should never have been closed – the routes are essential for the national operating network. We’re not against preserved railways, but they perform no transport function and this route is far too important to surrender.
Do the local authorities support reopening?
Both Wealden District and Tunbridge Wells Borough councils profess to protect the trackbed for future reinstatement and services to Brighton via Eridge. However, there is no active promotion and neither council appreciates the value of the Ashurst link so trains can run direct to London from Tunbridge Wells.
What is Network Rail’s position?
NR maintains an interest and supports protecting the routes even though it currently has no plans for reinstatement. It also says it is not against reopening the Tunbridge Wells line.
Isn’t the tunnel a problem?
Not really. Grove tunnel would doubtless be opened out and rebuilt for double track anyway, but the connection between the West and Central (Grove spur) was engineered for double track. One role would be to usefully keep platforms clear at Central station.
Would the large station building at TWW be taken back?
That would be nice – it’s an unappreciated gem. Operationally, the important asset is the space TWW offers. Its long 12-car platforms could be rebuilt and there is space for three platform faces – giving the railways all the capacity and flexibility we need for future network expansion. Developed alongside a new Sainsburys, it would be a new transport hub for Tunbridge Wells and benefit everyone. Unlike our European neighbours, England isn’t very good at joined-up thinking.
Couldn’t we just reopen the old spur between the Tonbridge – Redhill and East Grinstead lines?
Although there is spare capacity on the Redhill route, that would be a longer, roundabout journey to London. However, the capacity problem at Tonbridge would remain, but even worse we couldn’t solve the insuperable blockade which is Tunbridge Wells (Central). TWC is the big problem, not just its short platforms necessitating ‘selective door opening’, but conflicting train movements using its reversible lines, as well as the turnback itself which even Network Rail say is a constraint to growth. We need to radically increase volume – that’s the important thing – and only BML2 can do that.