On the last day of the consultation period for the Network Rail Sussex Route Study Railfuture joined with local parliamentary candidates, councillors and rail campaigners in a Rail Rally at Crowborough station to press for better services and more investment for the Uckfield line.
Commuters on the Uckfield line started the year with continued poor service and chaos at London Bridge, a poor reward for the New Year price hike. With services continuing to fall below standard, campaigners joined forces for a Rail Rally, to continue the pressure on Network Rail and Southern Rail for better services across the Uckfield line. Those present at the Rail Rally included prospective parliamentary candidates Nus Ghani (Conservative, Wealden), Tom Tugendhat (Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling) and Peter Griffith (UKIP, Wealden), local Wealden councillors Michael Lunn and Barry Marlowe, Wealden Line campaigner Brian Hart and Edenbridge and District Rail Traveller's Association representative Bob Howes.
Nus Ghani said "2015 started with commuters facing chaotic, delayed and cancelled services. Network Rail needs to invest in our local transport needs on the Uckfield Line. We need longer trains for more capacity, improved journey times and increased frequency. Journey times and reliability require electrification, new signalling and investment in double tracks. New carriages have been announced, but we are concerned about the timetable of their delivery on to the tracks".
Railfuture support the investment proposed in the Sussex Route Study for the Brighton Main Line, but consider that more investment is also required in the Uckfield line so that it can provide a fast, reliable service for local residents and, by extension to Lewes, improve connectivity with the Sussex coast which will increase the resilience of the network and deliver economic and social benefits.
However the Sussex Route Study is focussed almost exclusively on capacity to London, ignoring the local and regional transport needs promised by the earlier Network Rail Market Study. It interprets the passenger demand data in such a way as to justify passengers standing from Gatwick to London Bridge, a journey of around 35 minutes, in conditions as crowded as the London Underground at peak times, and unilaterally increases the target seat utilisation on trains leaving the South Coast to avoid the need for 'an unrealistic quantum of trains'. This has the effect of hiding the inconvenient truth that more trains than can be accommodated on the Brighton Main Line, and therefore an additional route, will be needed before 2043.
The Railfuture response to the consultation on the Sussex Route Study proposes that during the coming year Network Rail evaluate the combined, wider benefits case for a phased Wealden Line Extension (based on the range of possible re-opening schemes including through links with Brighton such as the Lewes horseshoe loop), including diversionary and additional peak capacity between London and the Sussex Coast, local traffic between the Weald/Tunbridge Wells and Brighton and Sussex Coast centres, and the wider economic benefits of every-day rail access to Brighton for jobs, education and the visitor economy.
Press coverage: Uckfield News
Backing for Uckfield-Lewes from Nus Ghani and Tom Tugendhat, identifying the priorities for development of the Uckfield line
See also the Railfuture Uckfield Lewes campaign.