Battle for Lewes-Uckfield line goes on, MP


The Lewes Uckfield Railway, the ‘Wealden Line’

In 1969, Sussex County Council forced the closure of the railway line between Lewes and Uckfield. This was to facilitate the construction of a new road bridge in Lewes. It left the line from London through Eridge straggling like a withered leg down to a stump at Uckfield, with an absurd gap of under 10 miles to the rail junction at Lewes. Ever since then, there have been vigorous calls for the line to be reopened, most notably by the Wealden Line Campaign, led by Brian Hart. Lewes MP, Norman Baker, has also been campaigning on the issue since being elected as a local councillor in 1987.

Now a Network Rail report about the feasibility of reopening the line has been published. The report was commissioned by the Central Rail Corridor Board, which the MP helped to set up. The Report concluded that while reinstatement of the line was certainly feasible in practical terms, and that it would even make an operational profit when up and running, the reinstatement costs could not be justified under the Department for Transport’s present cost benefit formula.

Norman Baker says that the battle to reinstate the railway line between Lewes and Uckfield goes on. It is good to have confirmation that there are no physical obstacles to reinstatement that cannot be overcome, and also that the line, when up and running, would be operationally profitable. These conclusions are in line with earlier sketchier assessments.

In respect of the conclusion that the cost of reinstatement cannot be justified, there are, I think, three key factors to bear in mind when considering the report.

Firstly, the Board decided very early on to cost a scheme that was as cheap as possible. While that obviously kept cost estimates down, it meant that what was being considered was a line from Lewes to East Croydon that was limited, because of the constraints of the existing line and East Croydon station, to two trains an hour maximum on unimproved track, much of it single track only. That meant that the benefits of providing an alternative line to London were limited, and the model showed that with this arrangement, most of the extra traffic would be going south to Lewes and Brighton. Given the need to create extra train paths at East Croydon anyway in the medium term, it would have been interesting to have costed a much improved, doubled, electrified line with extra capacity at the East Croydon bottleneck. That would obviously have been much more expensive, but the benefits would have been considerably greater too.

Secondly, the transport formula Network Rail is required by the government to use to calculate benefits is loaded against rail schemes, something which even the government recognises. There is in fact a full consultation on the NATA formula now underway and it would be interesting to have the scheme costed against whatever new formula emerges.

Thirdly, the terms of reference for Network Rail meant insufficient attention was given to the medium term factors that will undoubtedly make reinstatement more attractive. These include the projected increase in passenger numbers from Sussex to London over the next 15 years which there will not be enough capacity to handle, and the rocketing cost of oil which makes rail travel more attractive.

The MP concluded: It is obviously disappointing that it’s not full steam ahead, but there is enough in the report and coming down the track to conclude that the battle goes on.

The Network Rail Report, a management summary and various appendices, as well as the Central Rail Corridor Board’s review of the report are available as pdf downloads from a special page on the East Sussex County Council website.

4 Responses to “Battle for Lewes-Uckfield line goes on, MP”

  1. james birkett Says:

    As a frequent user of the London-Brighton line I believe that the re-opening of the Lewes-Uckfield link would take pressure of the main line and help to reduce over-crowding. Users of East Croydon will know that to the west of that station is a large empty plot whic I believe was once additional platforms, closed post-Beeching!

  2. Perry Says:

    Latest news.

    β€˜It is the simplest and most practicable re-opening scheme in all England
    – 7.5 miles of flat, protected trackbed which could join two busy commuter
    stations to create a new main line. How easy does a project have to be?
    If Network Rail cannot re-open a short gap in the busiest, most congested
    and overcrowded corner of the UK, what hope is there for anything else
    in England?’

    Click to access news_analysis_sept08.pdf

  3. Paddy Says:

    I have to get a party of people from Lewes to Uckfield. It’s not far and the most sensible way for us is by train. But not through Haywards Heath, Croydon etc. It takes 2 hours!!!!! So sorry, train company, you’ve lost my money. We are going in several cars and polluting the atmosphere instead.

  4. simon welch Says:

    Get this railway line reopened now and I will become a lifetime 1st class ticket holder
    from my town at East Grinstead. My money is waitng.

    Otherwise I will lay the tracks myself.

    And we want Uckfield Station back where it was. Stick a bridge over the trackbed so cars still can can still get into the town.

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