Network Rail recently published its Sussex Area Route Study following a rather low key consultation earlier in the year. Whilst the study does at least acknowledge the strength of support for re-opening the Uckfield – Lewes line, like a stick of rock, it has the wording ‘No’ as a common thread throughout the document.
Fundamentally, it reiterates that what it has planned is the right thing to do and any suggestions for improvements such as Uckfield – Lewes, speeding up the West Coastway, a new station at Stone Cross, etc, are quickly dismissed as too difficult, impractical or not ‘cost-effective’. In short it appears stuck in a mindset of a ‘cannot’ mentality, rather than a ‘can do’ one.
It also fails to fully explore the issues behind these requests or suggestions, looking at them in a very narrow economic perspective. For example, there are no opportunities to widen the West Coastway to four tracks to allow faster trains to overtake slower ones because of the amount of development alongside the line, so they say. However, to allow overtaking do we actually need four tracks or could it be done with three? In addition, there are places where there isn’t so much development and some widening could be accommodated which would allow overtaking in those sections. It might not be ideal, but if it allowed the services to be improved it should be properly investigated.
Finally, just because there is development near the line, it doesn’t mean that it cannot be widened. Just take the A27 through Worthing for example, where Highways England has no such qualms of suggesting options which involve widescale demolition of homes along the A27 to accommodate a widened dual carriageway through the town. Indeed, that is clearly their preferred option judging by what they offered up at a recent so called consultation event.
While it is clear that the rail network as a whole is dysfunctional and lacks accountability, whether a renationalised railway would resolve this is debatable. Fundamentally, it is the lack of local or regional accountability and the absence of a holistic transport strategy (locally and nationally) which is causing so many problems and wasting so much public money. There has to be a better way forward, but at the moment common sense appears to have hit the buffers as we appear to be travelling in completely the wrong direction.