It appears that the Government don’t believe their own data on railways. We are all anticipating the conclusion of the proposals for an acceptable route for HS2 and George Osborne has raised the idea of HS3 which may in time prove to be more attractive and easier to deliver than HS2. As someone who spent my childhood in Liverpool, I can confirm that the challenge of travelling East across the Penines was always a much more difficult task than travelling North or South. There are bizarre stories of people being forced to travel South towards London, to then head North in order to get to places such as Leeds in a reasonably good time. However one of the strong arguments for HS2 is that the existing track does not have the capacity for more trains and so the solution is not faster trains along the existing route, but an entirely new West Coast route. I have no idea if this argument is backed up by the data, but the Government is committing many Billions to this end.
The desire for new track and new journeys is not unique to the North or the North West. Here in the South East there are also pressures which could be met by an investment in Railway infrastructure. One of these changes being requested by local residents, unlike HS2 where the residents seem opposed to the development is the reopening of the route from Lewes to Uckfield. This is a modest 8 mile journey, which would then create an alternative route from Lewes to London, taking pressure off the Brighton mainline. Brighton and its City region (yes we do have such things in the South) already has rail infrastructure that is creaking at the seams and when something goes wrong such as trespassing on the line or worse, the chaos leaves many 1000’s of commuters unable to get to work or get home. Yesterday it was a Trespasser on the line who held up a number of trains full of young families taking advantage of the Summer Holidays sitting and standing cheek by jowel with Commuters. Many of us are keen for the Government to produce some of the small change from the HS2 calculations to allow Uckfield to once again have its rail link to Lewes. However the news from the Government is not encouraging.
Simon Kirby, one of the cities MPs asked a question
Simon Kirby: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if his Department will reopen closed railway lines to improve (a) rail capacity between London and the south coast and (b) rail connectivity between towns in Sussex; and if he will make a statement.
Claire Perry: Following work recently undertaken by Network Rail, the emerging strategy for rail capacity on the Sussex route to 2024 envisages focusing investment on existing infrastructure, rather than reopening closed lines. Further detail can be found at: link This strategy will be further refined following the publication of the Sussex Route Study in 2015.
It is time that the Government got a bit of consistency – if capacity is an argument for investing Billions in HS2, it is surely an argument for investing a few Million in Lewes to Uckfield. An investment that has been shown to create jobs and increase the degraded transport infrastructure through rural East Sussex, as well as reducing pressure on the mainline route on the Brighton to London corridor.
If the Uckfield link is built, all sorts of grand people will be credited with its success. I am certain that Simon and friends along with Labour colleagues and Lib Dems will claim it was their contribution. Lets have a bit of action now from these people who are meant to be public servants. In the meantime my medal will go to a tireless campaigner called Roger Blake who has done a great deal more than most.