Rail appraisal paints dire future for Haywards Heath
- Published: Wednesday, 05 March 2014 05:27
Haywards Heath commuters face fewer seats, Gatwick expansion – with or without a second runway – adding to the ever-increasing number of passengers on the Brighton Main Line, and an increasing number of rail infrastructure failures occurring because of insufficient time to complete essential maintenance work on heavily-used decaying assets.
The London and South Coast Rail Appraisal published by the BML2 Project Group repeats Network Rail's 2013 Sussex Route Plan warning that the Brighton Main Line is already at capacity in terms of number of trains and performance capability.
Previous proposals for restructuring the line to either run more trains or use double-deckers are technically challenging due to the landscape and existing infrastructure obstacles such as Balcombe's tunnel and viaduct as well as financially prohibitive with both options estimated to cost around £1billion and requiring the line to be closed for at least six months.
The report quotes Network Rail's 2010 Sussex Route Utilisation Strategy that railheading (commuters from other towns and villages travelling to a station for faster and more reliable services) continues to be a problem for Haywards Heath with Network Rail concluding that "There is no case to develop a whole series of new large car parks, as peak on-train capacity is likely to be reached between 2020 and 2026 on the BML."
Parking has long been a problem in the town and the landlady at the Fox and Hounds has recently introduced parking meters to deter ramblers and commuters after a year of seeing a full car park and little trade. As the pub is about 2 miles from the station and there are a number of car parks in between, it shows how much of a problem car parking is in the town either in terms of availability or the costs of using the council's crime-free car parks. Fortunately, the station redevelopment is still going ahead with the car park being turned into a multi-storey this Spring.
Stations on the Brighton Line continue to see an increase in passengers and Network Rail hopes new trains capable of carrying more passengers to be introduced in a few years time will help alleviate overcrowding. However, the BML2 Project Group points out that this is at the expense of seating and also abandons the Department for Transport's ambition of people not standing for over 20 minutes of their journey.
Commenting on the fact that London to Brighton via Oxted is an additional 11 miles, the BML2 report says "Most commuters say speed is not paramount in terms of saving five or ten minutes, but a direct journey is infinitely preferable. People detest having to change trains, particularly on journeys to work, trying to make their connection, secure a space to stand – let alone a seat, whilst everyone wants the least possible difficulty. It is also worth being aware that scheduled journey time spent travelling to and from work on trains is no longer perceived as wasted."
True, but fewer seats means fewer people getting their laptops out to work on their journey and therefore more people considering it as time wasted.
The report goes onto say that increasing individual train capacity is counterproductive and leads to additional railheading – undesirable on a line that is already at breaking point with little room for increasing capacity further. It would also increase pressure to build new housing. Haywards Heath Town Council recently opposed two planning applications for housing developments on greenfield sites after local opposition and a similar uproar is likely over Haywards Heath college considering selling its playing fields for housing development. There was also concern a few years ago that rampant housebuidling would merge the town with Burgess Hill resulting in either Burgess Heath or Haywards Hill.
Furthermore, the BML2 Project Group cannot see how the extra capacity on trains will cope with increased passengers at Gatwick. In the Sussex Route Plan, Network Rail said "Gatwick Airport is a major passenger hub for Sussex rail travel. The Gatwick Airport Master Plan published in July 2012 predicts an increase in the annual passenger numbers to 40 million by 2020/21 from 33.8 million in 2011/12 . . . Looking beyond 2020 it forecasts that by 2030 Gatwick Airport could be handling around 45 million passengers on one runway and perhaps more if a second runway is added."
A second runway at Gatwick is the only non-Heathrow option still on the Airport Commission's shortlist and West Sussex County Council has dropped opposition and now supports expansion in principle. The Airport Commission's recommendation will be published next year.
Network Rail admits that "The used life of track components in the Sussex Route [Brighton Main Line] is amongst the highest in the country - asset performance will continue to be a challenge, and incidents causing significant disruption are likely to continue.” This was demonstrated in 2012 when leaks in Balcombe tunnel led to the closure of that section of line for three days with the Rail Accident Investigation Board concluding that Balcombe tunnel is “a particularly difficult location to gain sufficient access for examination work. The long possessions required for tunnel examination were seldom available because of: an intensive daily train service; an overnight gap in services of less than three hours; and the lack of a diversionary route . . . even when the examination was marked as 'complete', the areas above the trays were often not examined due to a lack of time".
More recently, flooding outside Brighton and a landslip south of Croydon led to delays and cancellations both north and south of Haywards Heath. During that time, a landslip near Oxted caused cancellations and restricted services for over a week with commuters from Uckfield being bussed into Haywards Heath. Interestingly, the Sussex and Kent phases of the BML2 proposal would have enabled services to still run between London and Brighton via Uckfield and Tunbridge Wells. In that scenario, it could have been Haywards Heath commuters being bussed to Uckfield and not the other way around.
In addition to alleviating overcrowding and railheading, the BML2 solution opens up new direct destinations for travellers from Haywards Heath and many other towns in Sussex, Surrey and Kent with its London phase. Its solution for allowing more trains through Croydon includes the possibility of them going into East London: Lewisham, Canary Wharf and Stratford. This area is already the end destination for many commuters including business travellers coming in through Gatwick Airport and would remove the need to change onto even busier and overcrowded London Underground and Overground services. Services from Sussex and Kent could even run into Essex serving Stansted and further afield to Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire.
The BML2 Project Group hopes that Network Rail's latest study to be published this Spring will investigate their proposal fully and agree that it is the only sensible, viable, cost-effective solution to many of the current and forthcoming transport issues in London and the South East. It is calling for powerful political hitters to guide the project into implementation.
The full report London and South Coast Appraisal: Increasing regional route capacity can be downloaded from the BML2 website.
UPDATE 6 March 2014 - First Capital Connect has apologised to Haywards Heath commuters for recent overcrowding and late-running trains. It said that only 22% of late trains were due to them - the rest attributable to the bad weather - and say that the new trains to be introduced in 2016 will help alleviate overcrowding. No mention of the loss of seating and that it will not keep up with the rising number of passengers.