Is BML2 the same as reopening ‘Uckfield to Lewes?
No. It is important to appreciate that before the line was closed the route was worked with direct train services between Brighton and London – as well as Brighton and Tonbridge via Tunbridge Wells. The Lewes Inner Relief Road (Phoenix Causeway) destroyed this in 1969 whereby every reopening scheme since then has proposed using an old alignment (1858-1868) through Hamsey. Unfortunately this means trains could no longer run direct to Brighton as they would face towards Eastbourne.
Couldn’t trains reverse at Lewes?
They can during emergencies, as occasionally happens when the BML is blocked between Brighton and Wivelsfield. However, to have timetabled trains constantly reversing would cause huge conflicts between train movements because Lewes isn’t a terminus. It would also be time-wasting and unattractive. Consultants Mott MacDonald attempted to devise a turnback siding in 1997, but it simply wasn’t practical – and it would have cost £Ms. Lewes is also hindered by very severe speed restrictions, so London – Brighton journeys via Lewes would be frustratingly slow.
Couldn’t people just change trains at Lewes?
In theory yes, but that simply isn’t an attractive option as people want direct journeys whenever possible. This is why all the previous studies into reopening have foundered, because the direct route to Brighton which existed (1868 – 1969) was lost. We have to accept that it is Brighton which always drives demand and growth.
Is it true BML2 would bypass Lewes?
Most certainly not – despite what some people say. The Wealden Line Campaign would never abandon Lewes, Eastbourne, Newhaven and Seaford in favour of Brighton. Following the disastrous conclusions of the 2008 Lewes-Uckfield Reinstatement Study by East Sussex County Council and Network Rail, the project seriously faced oblivion. Going to Lewes is important, but we have to restore the direct services between the Uckfield line and Brighton. Even though we can’t go through Lewes town centre any longer, there is no need to do so.
So would you reopen the old Hamsey spur?
No. This connection was considered by Network Rail but rejected in favour of a new alignment avoiding nearby dwellings and running slightly further west. But this still has a greater impact on this tiny hamlet than is necessary. BML2 proposes a different connection into Lewes, well away from Hamsey although it is of the same curvature as the Network Rail plan, so it would support modern day operation. And BML2 will have less impact on Hamsey than simply reopening Uckfield to Lewes.
Is there any guarantee that Lewes wouldn’t be bypassed?
Yes. Network Rail says they wouldn’t build BML2 through to Brighton without a connection into ‘Mainline East’. It’s important for them that Eastbourne services can access the Uckfield line.
So why is BML2 so important?
It’s all about volume and additional capacity. It’s simply impossible to provide the necessary vast increase in the volume of trains and passengers between the Sussex Coast and London without BML2. Network Rail calculated that a reopened, double-track line south of Uckfield could support eight trains per hour each way (about one every 7-8 minutes in both directions). If you share these between Brighton and Lewes/Eastbourne etc, you can see how the volume is more than they actually require.
Doesn’t BML2 make it all too costly?
Absolutely not. For decades the accepted approach has been start small and build up gradually – start with the cheapest option, a basic single-line with diesel trains to avoid electrification costs. But this has failed time and time again as witnessed by the many studies and weak business cases. BML2 is business-based and focuses on demand and solving the rail industry’s problems on the adjacent BML. An approximate estimate for BML2’s Sussex Phase is £315m compared to £143m for reopening only to Lewes. As the Network Rail study showed, a local railway is not the answer and only a main line project can provide the capacity and volume needed. Its business case would be infinitely stronger. Unlike those who still argue for a ‘cheap’ scheme, we believe railways are extremely important and worth high capital investment.
How would the train service work?
People at Uckfield, Crowborough and stations north thereof would have direct services to Falmer and Brighton. Those wanting Lewes would board a direct service to Eastbourne. The Uckfield Line (BML2) would work in exactly the same fashion as the BML. The train operators might even split/join services at Uckfield into Brighton and Eastbourne portions in the same manner as happens at Haywards Heath. Heading north, Brighton people who want Lewes will board any of the many trains which go there, but if they want Uckfield line destinations and beyond then they have no need to go via Lewes. The new Ashcombe tunnel under the South Downs west of Lewes allows this to happen.
Isn’t a tunnel difficult and expensive to construct?
Not at all. New tunnelling methods have revolutionized construction – look at the huge machines building 42km / 26 miles of Crossrail tunnels under London. Based on what it cost to build High Speed One’s 2 mile North Downs tunnel (£70m) we know the 1½ mile Ashcombe tunnel through similar chalk – ideal tunnelling material (geologically the Seaford beds) (1.5mile) would be just over £50m. That’s less than the cost of 2 miles of the new Hastings–Bexhill link road.
Wouldn’t it be controversial?
There’s no sound reason why. The tunnel does not pass beneath or run in the vicinity of any houses, only downland and farmland. Both it and the trains it will carry would be concealed entirely beneath the Downs, whilst BML2 would only be visible at the northern end of the National Park for a short distance. At the southern end it crosses over the busy A27 dual carriageway and trains wouldn’t be heard above the roar of road traffic. Environmentally the railway is infinitely preferable as it wouldn’t slice through the downland creating a vast cutting – as occurred with the A27 Lewes bypass.