Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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What is the BML2 Project?

Private sector leading the way on Brighton Main Line 2

Increasing the number of train services and providing large amounts of additional capacity into London from the south is a thorny conundrum. A few days ago a staunch champion of BML2, Lewes MP Maria Caulfield, was returned to Parliament with a substantially-increased majority and says she remains utterly determined to assist in securing the project for Sussex. Not so fortunate was Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby who lost his seat to Labour candidate Lloyd Russell-Moyle who declared he is also a supporter of a second main line.

In the run-up to the General Election, Labour’s manifesto committed itself to ‘build a new Brighton Main Line for the south-east’ – although whether this specifically meant BML2 was not made clear. This was welcome news – if only that it demonstrated political parties had finally acknowledged the vexing predicament seriously affecting the region. It was also the first time the project had ever become an election pledge.

Industry journal Construction News contacted Labour, seeking clarification and informing readers: ‘– the most likely solution is the Brighton Main Line 2 proposal, which has been in development for the past few years. With passenger numbers only expected to increase, the need for solutions to the overcrowding on the Brighton Main Line will grow over this government and the next. And whether under a Labour or Conservative government, through public or private money, built partially or completely, the construction of a new multi-billion-pound rail line in the South-east could be a likely solution.’

Labour’s undertaking apparently came as a bolt out of the blue. ‘Shock as Labour manifesto backs BML2 scheme’ wrote Walter Cronxite, political editor at Inside Croydon, who declared BML2 ‘would need to bulldoze through homes and businesses, parkland and even the much-admired tram network.’ In fact, most of this was simply alarmist and wholly untrue. Furthermore, over the last nine months the BML2 scheme has been radically transformed with private sector partners now heavily involved in developing a truly beneficial project, not only for Croydon, but right across the South East.

Because all railways within South East London are notoriously jam-packed, back in 2010 we had no alternative but to propose rebuilding the former railway between Selsdon to Lewisham as the only means possible of channelling more trains into London. Admittedly there were substantial engineering obstacles to overcome to revive this once fully-functioning electrified line which was closed in stages between 1983 and 1994, but there was nothing else on the table. However, all that changed last year and, given its massive cost and far-reaching scope, we now have a serious and valid project, which could only have been envisaged and proposed by those with the means in the private sector.

As Rail Professional reported in March, the consortium proposes building a new tunnelled link into London, commencing south of Croydon and enabling all feeder lines access. In fact, this was Network Rail’s ‘ultimate capacity generator’ to which it longingly aspired some years ago, but knew it could never afford, or persuade the Government to fund. BML2’s tunnel would continue to East Croydon for interchange, before proceeding to Lewisham where further interchange with the forthcoming Bakerloo Line extension will be possible. The hugely successful commercial centre of Canary Wharf (Crossrail connections) is planned to be next, followed by Stratford (for Crossrail and HS1 connections). The fast new route would then continue to serve East Anglia and onwards to link up with Stansted airport.

Over the past few months numerous meetings between seriously interested investors, legal experts and developers have been going on behind the scenes. The BML2 Project Group has also met with engineers and construction companies who have approached us with a view to offering their expertise in developing and delivering the whole scheme. Confidence is such that detailed design work is on schedule and anticipated to commence later this summer. As we are always being reminded, it is an enormous project, whereby we have taken a back seat and allowed the professionals to get on with the task ahead. Nevertheless, we hope to bring news as matters progress on what is set to be a leading construction project wholly funded, designed and built by the private sector and with the backing of the Government.

Meanwhile – and quite aside from the continuing problems in Sussex on the Brighton Line – yet further evidence of the urgent need for BML2 continues to come with the publication of Network Rail’s latest Kent Route Study. It says: ‘The capacity for any additional services into London from Kent is extremely limited. Making the best use of the network to provide the maximum capacity possible per train path is critical to meet the growth projections going forward. When train lengthening opportunities have been exhausted there are no clear or simple options to provide additional capacity into London.’

It warns that projected growth on the Tonbridge main line simply cannot be accommodated with train lengthening alone, whilst even adding just one additional train would be challenging because of the congested two-track sections south of Orpington. Station capacity is also an insuperable obstacle with both termini at Cannon Street and Charing Cross ‘effectively full’. An old siding near Cannon Street is believed capable of squeezing in just one extra peak hour service, but that’s as good as it gets.

Blackfriars will be completely full with the Thameslink services operating high-density rolling stock which is capable of carrying more passengers provided they don’t object to standing. Farringdon is confidently predicted to become the UK’s busiest station – an operational challenge in itself, even with new digital signalling control, with a train in both directions every 150 seconds. As an industry insider famously commented ‘Fingers crossed all round I guess’.

Network Rail anticipates the highest passenger growth in Kent to be on the Tonbridge line. Among its primary concerns are ‘capacity issues’ at Tonbridge where conflicting train movements occur on converging lines; the two-track route between Tonbridge–Orpington, which has a mixture of fast/stopping services; and notably restricted platform availability and train length constraints at busy Tunbridge Wells.

Even today it is a difficult enough job attempting to operate a reliable service and we are aware how unpopular lowest-scoring train operator Southeastern remains among commuters. But the really grim news for Kent’s rail travellers is the revelation that to cater for this rising growth in the decades ahead, a total of no less than FIVE additional train paths via Tonbridge are needed. As Network Rail admits, these simply cannot be accommodated and comments – ‘Once the opportunities to lengthen existing services have been exhausted, there are no obvious or clear infrastructure solutions to meet the capacity conditional outputs.’

This is why BML2’s Kent Phase is of such critical importance because it would rebuild the former main line from London via Oxted into Tunbridge Wells (West). Unfettered by the unalterable short platforms and consequential conflicting movements at Tunbridge Wells station on the Hastings line, let alone busy Tonbridge, the opportunity to provide four additional trains per hour into London would be the biggest boost imaginable to the network and the region. Furthermore, since vast numbers of commuters already struggle with great difficulty and time-wasting frustration to reach Canary Wharf via congested London Bridge, this enduring daily obstacle would be removed. Described as ‘a pig of a journey’ by one borough luminary, BML2 would instead provide fast and direct trains between Kent and Canary Wharf. 

Overall, and as with all such route studies, it seems to us that there is a glaring inability by these strategists to look beyond a regional or administrative boundary and consider the bigger picture. Because BML2 crosses these boundaries and links up counties and regions – as railways do – no consideration is given to the immense benefits it could deliver.

Of equal importance and apart from the commuter market, Network Rail’s latest study quite rightly points out: ‘The leisure market is important to the economy as well as to passengers’ and goes on to say ‘Improving accessibility to higher education establishments and social infrastructure such as health care and community facilities is important to the strategic goal of improving quality of life for communities and individuals.’

Regrettably the pressing and long-overdue need to reconstruct the important arterial routes connecting Kent with Sussex between Royal Tunbridge Wells and the City of Brighton & Hove is absent, despite the fact that the Universities of Sussex and Brighton are so near – yet so far.

As the United Kingdom stands on the threshold of a new era outside the EU and open to global markets, there has never been a better time for all concerned to come together – private investors, construction companies, the rail industry and politicians of all parties and get behind Brighton Main Line 2.

 

What is the BML2 Project?

Since its inception in 2010, the BML2 Project has evolved and even now is being further developed and enhanced.

Its principal aim is to substantially improve and enlarge the South East’s rail network by introducing new main lines whereby more services into London may operate. These new services would also usefully connect counties on both sides of the Thames by passing through the rapidly expanding eastern side of the capital.

So, despite what its name suggests, it is also a great deal more than just relieving pressure on the country's busiest and most congested rail route – the London-Brighton Line. Additionally, BML2 would not only be of great benefit to hard-pressed commuters, but would also restore valuable strategic rail links across Sussex, Surrey and Kent.
 
The BML2 Project can be summarised in three phases:-
 
Sussex phase:
Restoration of Sussex’s second-most important main line. This requires reopening the seven-mile ‘missing link’ between Uckfield and Lewes to provide a new direct route from Eastbourne, Seaford & Newhaven to London via Uckfield.
The construction of Ashcombe tunnel beneath the South Downs to deliver a fast, direct link into the City of Brighton & Hove, thus making it possible to operate many more trains between London and the Sussex Coast.
Put Falmer – the home of Brighton & Hove Albion (Amex stadium) and the University of Sussex – on a main line to London. This would make these important and expanding destinations more accessible from Sussex, Surrey, Kent, London and East Anglia.
Considerably reduce pressure on the Brighton Main Line to provide better conditions for travellers rather than forcing people to stand in crowded aisles for long parts of the journey.

 
Kent phase:
Re-instatement of the former main line into Tunbridge Wells (West) from both the north (Ashurst) and south (Eridge) directions, thus linking the borough and western Kent fully into the core BML2 route.
Develop Tunbridge Wells (West) as a major commuter station and thereby reduce pressure on the Tonbridge Main Line into London. This route is similarly one of the most congested rail lines in the country, over which Network Rail says it is not possible to operate any more services into London at peak times.
Give Tunbridge Wells, which continues to be a fast-growing centre of commuting, direct train services to Canary Wharf but without today’s need to travel into central London and out again. 
Open up Tunbridge Wells for business, tourism and trade from Brighton and across a wide area of Sussex and Surrey.
 
London phase:
This is the most ambitious of the three phases and will easily be the most expensive – but it has the greatest potential and reward for all involved.

International investors are backing BML2 and in 2017 upgraded the project through London. In place of the original proposal to attempt reopening the partially-redundant rail corridor from Selsdon (south Croydon) to Lewisham via Elmers End, funding is now available to build a completely tunnelled fast line from Croydon into London. This has been termed by the London & Southern Counties Railway Consortium (LSCR) as ‘The London link’

Their proposal is a new subterranean line commencing south of Croydon (connecting all lines from the Sussex Coast); a new station in central Croydon (for interchange with East Croydon) then running fast to Lewisham to connect with the forthcoming extension of the Bakerloo Underground line. Interchange with North Kent services would also be possible.

Canary Wharf would be the next stop, for Crossrail and Jubilee line services and Docklands area.

Stratford comes next where interchange with Crossrail, Stratford International HS1, London Underground and national rail services would be possible. Further enhancements are being planned by LSCR and will be revealed at a later date.

  
CLICK HERE for a larger version of the updated BML2 Project Route Map
 

BML2 does not merely provide faster journeys between Brighton and the expanding areas in London – commuters from many towns across the South East will directly benefit from increased destinations. Towns such as Eastbourne, Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Seaford, Horsham, Chichester and many more, will be more accessible by train and have greater access to other places. Relieving the pressure of overcrowding will also benefit Hassocks, Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath, Horsham, Crawley and Croydon, etc. Nearby towns will also benefit from increased business, particularly those involved in tourism.
 
Gatwick is the country's second busiest airport which needs better rail links and services into London. BML2 would deliver a superior connection to Docklands and Canary Wharf. It would also be possible to introduce direct rail services to Stansted airport from the south, enabling both airports to work together with superior services through the expanding Docklands area. Other services to central London termini would continue as now.
 
With vastly-improved cross-London connections, commuters and tourists will find it easier to explore a greater part of the country – not just Sussex and Kent, but also Surrey, East Anglia and beyond.


The BML2 Project has its own dedicated website at www.bml2.co.uk where more information can be found.

BML2 London Phase FAQ

Is BML2 going to avoid East Croydon?
East Croydon has been described as a ‘bottleneck’ and a ‘major barrier to growth’ by Network Rail. That is why the project originally proposed routing some services to London via a reopened railway between Selsdon and Elmers End. Instead, the international investors backing BML2 are prepared to invest millions in building a far better railway for London and the South East. This will be a completely new tunnelled line between Croydon and Stratford for direct fast services. The tunnel is proposed to commence south of Croydon with a new subsurface station serving East Croydon. From here the next stop will be Lewisham. Here, BML2 will be able to link up with North Kent services, the forthcoming extension of the Bakerloo tube, as well as links to the Tonbridge main line. The next stop will be Canary Wharf for Crossrail services east and west, as well as the Jubilee line. After this comes Stratford, for Crossrail services and access to HS1. Further enhancements and proposals are currently being developed.

Will there still be trains into central London?
Of course, we do not propose taking any services away, but increasing the number of trains into London through making new travel opportunities available.

Why Canary Wharf?
Once Thameslink has been completed there will be no more train paths available into London Bridge. Network Rail will attempt operating 24 trains per hour through Blackfriars and Farringdon, that’s one every 150 seconds, but this depends on precision timing with no delays having a knock-on effect. Serious doubts as to whether this can be achieved, even with new digital signalling systems, have been expressed.

Some truly immense benefits come with a new railway across the eastern Thames connecting Croydon and Lewisham with Canary Wharf and Stratford. Terminating services in London take up space and capacity so it’s better to go through the capital – which was the basis for developing Thameslink over thirty years ago.

Canary Wharf is already a key destination for commuters and with Crossrail will become even more significant. Many thousands of people could be spared the wasted time, frustration, cost and so on of needlessly travelling right into London and back out again to Canary Wharf. The cost/benefit ratio would be impressive.

What is ‘Stanwick’?
A key benefit of BML2’s London Phase is physically joining London’s Stansted and Gatwick airports with one continuous railway which could operate a dedicated shuttle service. This could operate as Gatwick – Canary Wharf – Stratford – Stansted. There would still be airport services into central London as now, but BML2’s additional services would boost the capital’s international connections in a huge way.

BML2 Kent Phase FAQ

Why would Tunbridge Wells commuters use BML2?
Network Rail has long said that the Tonbridge Main Line (TML) is a ‘major barrier to growth’ whilst the 2017 Kent Route Study concludes no more services can be operated into London during peak times. 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.

Current proposals are to introduce higher-density rolling stock which means more standing room in the aisles and vestibules. These new trains are unpopular because people resent being forced to stand for long distances and travel to work in cramped and uncomfortable conditions every day. We believe commuters and all rail users should be treated better than this. That is why we have always fought for a proper long term solution for increasing rail travel into London.

Tunbridge Wells is the principal generator of commuter traffic which is why its former main line from Tunbridge Wells West (TWW) to London via Oxted needs to be reopened. As an integral part of BML2, Tunbridge Wells would gain direct services to Canary Wharf which is where many of its commuters work. This would also avoid worsening congestion at London Bridge.

What about Sainsbury’s?
The store currently occupies part of the trackbed, but the company gave a written undertaking to remove any buildings (and at their expense) should the line ever reopen. However, we’ve always believed there exists a wonderful opportunity for Sainsbury’s to improve and even enlarge their retail operations and be partners in this great development. At the moment the site’s value is mostly wasted on open-air car parking, but multi-storey parking, along with an enlarged store, as well as mooted new housing development would take full advantage of the new main line with all the business and benefits that would generate.

What about the Spa Valley railway?
These main line rail connections to Brighton (via Lewes) and London (via Oxted) should never have been closed. It was a dreadful decision for which we continue to pay dearly. These routes are badly needed to support intensive services on the national operating network. We’re not against preserved railways or people having fun at weekends, but the route currently performs no transport function and is far too important to remain out of use.

Do the local authorities support reopening?
Both Wealden District and Tunbridge Wells Borough councils continue to protect the trackbed for future reinstatement with services to Brighton via Eridge. However, there is no active promotion for reopening, whilst neither council appears to comprehend the value of the Ashurst link so trains can run direct to London from Tunbridge Wells West.

What is Network Rail’s position?
Although NR maintains a lukewarm interest and says protecting the routes should continue, it currently has no plans for reinstatement. It has also said it is not against reopening the Tunbridge Wells line.

Isn’t the tunnel at Tunbridge Wells a problem?
Not at all. Grove tunnel would doubtless be opened out and rebuilt for double track anyway, whilst the formation connecting the West and Central stations was engineered throughout to take double track.

Would the large station building at TWW be taken back?
It is certainly a magnificent structure and far more impressive than the cramped and somewhat dingy ‘Central’ station which struggles to serve the Royal Borough. The regeneration of the Pantiles area, close to the West station, is thankfully beginning to happen as Tunbridge Wells seeks to grow and prosper. From a railway operational aspect the important asset is the space TWW offers. Its generously-long 12-car platforms could be rebuilt and there is space for at least 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. Sadly here in England we appear to have lost the ability to do 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 constraints 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 identifies as a ‘constraint to growth’. It all comes down to the undeniable fact that we need to operate more trains into London – that’s the important thing – and only BML2 can do that.

Aside from commuters, what other benefits might there be?
We would gain regional services to Lewes, Brighton, other Sussex Coast towns and of course the University of Sussex at Falmer and the AMEX stadium at Falmer. All would become within easy reach by train. Such traffic would also flow into Tunbridge Wells, not only from Sussex but also Surrey and Kent. 

BML2 Sussex Phase FAQ

Is BML2 just a fancy name for reopening the Uckfield to Lewes link?
No, it is a much better project which will achieve the goal of reopening this link. Before this section of line was closed, the route was worked with direct through services running between Brighton and London, as well as between Brighton and Tonbridge via Tunbridge Wells. The link was NOT closed as a result of the Beeching Report and British Railways had no intention of relinquishing this important secondary route between London and the Sussex Coast. It was closed as a result of East Sussex County Council’s ‘Lewes Inner Relief Road Scheme’ the first stage of which required the closure and removal of the Uckfield line through Lewes town centre in 1969. Every reopening scheme since that time has only ever envisaged using a version of the early Victorian alignment (1858-1868) which ran via Hamsey between 1858 and 1868 (when the ‘improved’ direct line to Brighton through Lewes was opened 1868-1969). However, the big drawback with this old Victorian spur is that it would bring trains into Lewes ‘the wrong way’ – that is they would face towards Eastbourne rather than Brighton.

So why can’t we just reverse the trains at Lewes?
They can during emergencies, as occasionally happens when the BML is blocked between Wivelsfield and Brighton. However, to have timetabled trains constantly reversing would cause perpetual conflicts between train movements because Lewes isn’t a terminus. It would also be time-wasting and unattractive to rail users. Consultants Mott MacDonald attempted to devise a turnback siding in 1997, but it simply wasn’t practical. 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 is a very unattractive 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 was lost. We have to accept that the City of Brighton and Hove is the principal driver of demand and growth.

Is it true BML2 would bypass Lewes?
Most certainly not – despite what some keep trying to suggest. 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, this great project faced oblivion. Going to Lewes is equally justisfied, but we have to restore those all-important direct services between the Uckfield line and Brighton. Lewes would be overwhelmed if all rail traffic was sent through here.

Would the old Hamsey spur be relaid?
No. This connection was considered by Network Rail in 2008 but rejected in favour of a new alignment avoiding nearby dwellings and running slightly further west. BML2 proposes a slightly different connection into Lewes and a bit further away from Hamsey although it is of the same curvature as the Network Rail plan, so it would support modern day operation.
 
Is there any guarantee that Lewes wouldn’t be bypassed?
No one, including Network Rail (as they have told us) would build BML2 through to Brighton without an equal connection into Lewes. It’s important that Eastbourne and Seaford 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 we have accepted the incremental approach – start small and build up gradually – beginning with the cheapest option, a basic single-line with diesel trains to avoid electrification costs. But this has failed every time without exception – as witnessed by the many studies and resulting weak business cases. BML2 is business-based and focuses on demand and solving the rail industry’s problems on the adjacent BML and elsewhere. It has been accepted that the 2008 Network Rail study showed beyond doubt that there was no economic case for a low-cost local railway. Only a main line project can provide the capacity and volume which a commuter-based economy needs. 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, Oxted, and all stations north thereof, as well as Tunbridge Wells, would have direct services to Falmer and Brighton. People wanting Lewes would board the direct services going to Eastbourne, or possibly Seaford. Heading north, Brighton people who want Lewes will board any of the many trains which currently go there, but if they want Uckfield line destinations and beyond then why would they want to go into 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. The 1½ mile (2.4km) Ashcombe tunnel would go through chalk – ideal tunnelling material (in geological terms this comprises the Seaford beds) It has been estimated that the entire tunnel and associated connections could be done for less than the cost of 2 miles of East Sussex County Council’s Hastings–Bexhill link road (£120m).

Wouldn’t it be controversial?
There’s no sound reason why. The tunnel would run only under downland and farmland. Both the railway and the trains it will carry would be entirely concealed beneath the undulating South Downs, whilst BML2 would only be visible at the northern end of the National Park for a very short distance. At the tunnel’s southern portal it crosses almost immediately over the busy A27 dual carriageway and trains would not be heard above the constant roar of road traffic. Environmentally the railway is infinitely preferable as it would not carve through Sussex downland creating a vast cutting – as happened with the nearby A27 Lewes bypass.