Hopes that the Lewes to Uckfield railway line will be re-opened have been given a major boost.
Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin has asked Network Rail to examine if the return of the link will meet the demand for the future growth of rail travel.
It’s a significant move for campaigners for the re-instatement of the much-lamented line and has been described by Lewes MP Norman Baker as “wonderful news”.
It presents the prospect of a new route to London for travellers from Seaford and Newhaven and would relieve overcrowding on the Brighton Mainline.
The Government’s Rail Investment Strategy already requires additional rail capacity to be delivered between Uckfield and London Bridge by 2019. This is likely to be achieved by adding more carriages to trains running on the route.
Now the new study commissioned by the Secretary of State is looking at rail provision between London and the South Coast further into the future and as part of its terms of reference will re-examine the case for a new line linking Lewes and Uckfield.
Mr McLoughlin said: “I am alive to local interest in re-opening this line and wider concerns about rail capacity between London and the South Coast and this is why I have commissioned this study.
“It will help us to understand exactly what the issues are and build upon previous work that has looked at these questions.”
The Secretary of State visited Lewes Railway Station on Thursday last week where he met local MP and Transport Minister Mr Baker to discuss rail provision in the constituency.
The study will feed into decisions on the future funding of the railways. The current Rail Investment Strategy outlines funding priorities until 2019 and this work would inform any business case for changes to rail provision in the area beyond that date.
The line linking the two towns was closed in 1969 but there is a keen local appetite to see it brought back into use.
Recent moves to devolve decision making for local transport schemes will also give greater freedom to local councils and enterprise partnerships to determine priorities and allocate funding accordingly.
Mr Baker said: “I have been campaigning for the link to be restored for a quarter of a century and we are finally getting somewhere. It’s the first time the project has received endorsement from the top of the Department of Transport.
“I’m confident that when this is properly looked at the case is a strong one.
“The Brighton main line is full up and you can’t do anything with structures like the Balcombe Viaduct. Passenger numbers are predicted to double in the next 30 years - so we desperately need the second line to London.”
Mr Baker continued: “It should be looked at as the corridor from the South Coast to the capital, and this is the first time there has been a buy-in from a senior politician, which makes it a new ball game. This is very good news for Lewes in terms of the local economy.”