Capacity improvements on the London Bridge-East Croydon-Oxted-Uckfield corridor began on Monday 25 July 2016, a year after the previous Southern franchise ended and its network was absorbed within the Department for Transport's 2014-21 management contract for the combined Thameslink/Southern/Great Northern network operated by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR). See: The first 10-car train was the 07.05 from Uckfield to London Bridge. Over the coming weeks GTR plan to build up the Uckfield line's peak period services to five 10-car trains in the morning peak 'up' direction and six in the afternoon/evening peak 'down' direction.
Completion by Network Rail of platform extensions, including new passenger shelters and customer information screens, at Edenbridge Town, Hever, Cowden, Ashurst, Eridge (connection with Spa Valley Railway to Tunbridge Wells), Crowborough, Buxted, and Uckfield should enable the introduction of 12 x 20-metre-carriage electric trains in due course. Meanwhile GTR is introducing 10 x 23-metre-carriage diesel trains to boost weekday peak period capacity, especially necessary between East Croydon and London Bridge, following the transfer of four three-car Turbostar trains, owned by rolling stock leasing company Eversholt, from ScotRail. Following comprehensive refurbishment the 12 extra carriages have been re-formed as two four-car and two two-car trains, to be fully compatible with GTR's current fleet of Porterbrook-owned Turbostars which have operated the services since 2004 (and Brighton-Ashford International services too). Platform extensions at Edenbridge Town, which generates about one in five of the branch line's passengers, were ready and opened a month earlier on Monday 20 June.
Since today's Turbostars replaced the now-heritage 'Thumper' trains over a decade ago, the Uckfield line has been the fastest-growing route directly serving East Sussex stations. In the first full year of Turbostar services compared with the previous year the line's eight stations responded with a near-50% patronage increase, according to the official station usage estimates from the Office of Rail and Road. Over the decade the line has seen a three-fold increase in the number of passengers using it. As well as a direct connection with The City at London Bridge (except on Sundays) relatively slow journey-times have been mitigated by some lower fares than on neighbouring commuter lines. A First Class season ticket between Uckfield (seat guaranteed!) and 'London terminals', for example, costs less than a Standard season ticket from Tunbridge Wells, despite the appreciably greater distance! Similarly-comparable season tickets from Haywards Heath are almost 50% dearer than from Uckfield!
This is the second major investment by Network Rail in the Uckfield line in the past two years. In 2015 they opened a 174-space car park on the site of the former station in Uckfield - deliberately clear of the route alignment for reinstating the missing rail link via Lewes to Brighton and the East Sussex coastal destinations of Newhaven/Seaford and Eastbourne.
Also see Uckfield - Lewes and Thameslink-2
Read previous articles:
London and south coast rail corridor study
Sussex Area Route Study
Platform for growth
Reopening rural railways
Budget 2015 - Uckfield win