I am prompted top write this post by a local journalist who is investigating the problems.
The problems simply is this. None of the Sussex Coast or High Weald local planning authorities can wholly meet objective need within their areas. This is leading to pressure from developers around stations north of the South Downs, indeed some kind of New/Expanded town solution seems inevitable. The problem is the London-Brighton Main Line is at capacity and is very difficult to expand, you remove one bottleneck, such as at East Croydon Station, and it shifts to somewhere else, such as South of Three Bridges. A 2007 study looked at radical solutions such as Double Deck Trains/rebuilding Bridges, new tunnels etc. The problem was the main line would have had to close for six months and apart from the high cost it would have made the line slower due to extra time to load trains. A simultaneous study also looked
Uckfield to Lewes reopening study [Wealden Line]..Mott MacDonald was commissioned to produce the business case, but this concluded a poor business case (0.79 – way below the DfT’s minimum 2.0 requirement).
Yet again, the main disadvantage proved to be that trains entering Lewes would, today, face towards Eastbourne, rather than Brighton, because the previous Brighton-facing route (1868 – 1969) has been irretrievably obliterated. [bu a ring road]
Clearly if there is to be displacement North of the South Downs the sites have to be sustainable. If rail capacity problems shift development near the A23, as proposed in the ‘New Country Town’ proposal this could simply create unacceptable congestion on the A23, yet this has not even been seriously studied. Unless a solution is found to the transport capacity in the London-Gatwick-Crawly-Brighton Corridor then it will hold up local plans the length and breadth of the corridor.
There was hop last year when the Transport Secretary commissioned another London-Brighton Main Line Study, that would also look at proposals from Uckfield based rail consultant Brain Hart for BML2.
This (map below) involves:
Buildings a new tunnel under the South Downs so that trains can get from Brighton to Uckfield, hurry up the Uckfield line to Sanderstead, onto a re-opened line from Sanderstead to Elmers End and from there head onto the Hayes line. Services would thus reach London from Brighton without encountering the bottleneck at East Croydon. South of East Crotdon would be a new interchange station potentially combing existing stations. Although part of this ‘disused line’ now the Croydon Tramlink,
The BML study is now apparently ‘on the ministers desk’ and should be published within a few weeks. It is unclear however if the modelling of demand including demand from the overspill need for the houses from Soith Sussex and the High Weald which must go somewhere. Nor is it it liukley to include urbanisation effects of expansion at Gatwick and Stansted, important as politically these are more likely to progress than a third Runway especially as the SE Runway study said first increase transport links to Stansted and Gatwick to use up their spare capacity. The BML2 proposes a ‘stanwick’ connection between Stanstead and Gatwick.
What next. Firstly when the study is published the LEPS in the corridor should get together and consider the consequences. They should also consider forming a PTE to take projects forward with money devolved through City Deal. They should then examine the options for increasing capacity and its phasing and how this effects the phasing of new housing. Increased cpacoty on the BML could allow for a Garden City in the Burgess Hill-Hatwards Heath Corridor, the Wealden Line is more iddficult because of the AONB however there is potential to expand the tiny old halt at Ickfield to a large village/small town to deal with housing shortages in Lewes and Wealden Districts.
Longer Term as well as the rail based solitions there should be a study looking at a parallel Bus Rapid Transit Corridor from Brighton to Gatwick, this would enable the closure of small awkward rail stations such as Hassocks which instead would become BRT feeder stations to Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath which could then have much faster express services to Brighton and London. Overall journey time would not decrease. Also I think in the longer term there is potential for a High Speed Rail line linking Cambridge to Brighton (supported recently by Lord Adonis) with tunneling between Stratford and the New Croydon Gateway station. As Crossrail showed the expensive bit is not the tunnel but underground stations and here there would be non except for one potential station under Canary Wharf. South of Gatwick this would followa new elevated route elevated in the A23 median in the large part before using a new tunnel under the south Downs. The only stop soith of Gatwick could be for a new Garden City. Using lightweight Aluminium ‘Shinkansen’ trains would allow for such a stop without losing headway capacity.