Southern put the brakes on plans for a week-long rail closure in October

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Southern has changed its mind about a planned nine-day closure of the main rail link to London this October half-term.

It had planned to shut the line between Three Bridges and Lewes for two nine-day periods in October and February – affecting anyone travelling from Eastbourne and Polegate up to London – as well as weekend closures.

But company has decided to ‘revise’ the way its major improvement programme is carried out.

The improvement work – part of a £300m government-funded improvement programme to boost reliability for passengers on the Brighton Main Line and other key routes in the South East – will now be carried out in just one nine-day closure from February 16-24, subject to the rail industry’s usual assurance reviews.

The supporting 15 weekend closures between September 2018 and May 2019 will go ahead unchanged.

Some elements of the work as originally planned will now be deferred until the next five-year funding period, starting in April 2019.

Network Rail has taken the decision to revise the main body of work in consultation with the Department for Transport and Govia Thameslink Railway.

A Southern spokesperson said, “Passengers now have more time to plan ahead before the weekday closures in February next year, while allowing the rail industry to focus its immediate efforts on embedding the interim timetable from this Sunday, 15 July and delivering a more dependable service.”

During the line closures, no trains will run between Three Bridges and Brighton or between Three Bridges and Lewes.

Rail replacement buses will be in operation, as well as diverted train service between London and Brighton via Littlehampton. Passengers should allow considerably more time for their journeys during these periods.

John Halsall, Network Rail’s managing director for the South East route, said, “I know many passengers have had a really tough time since the timetable change in May. That’s why I asked for a review of all our planned maintenance and improvement work with GTR to identify any opportunities to postpone or re-plan engineering work to a later date.

“I’m pleased we’ve been able to re-plan the way we’re carrying out this long-overdue upgrade to one of the most unreliable parts of our rail network, meaning passengers will get almost all of the reliability benefits but with significantly less weekday disruption.

“I’d urge passengers to plan ahead and we’ll continue to work closely with the train operators, Transport Focus and passenger groups to make sure the travelling public get the best possible service during the closures.”

Keith Jipps, Govia Thameslink Railway’s infrastructure director, said, “This route is the most congested and intensively used in the country and Network Rail’s work is essential to give our passengers the reliable, on-time services they want and deserve.

“We’ll be ensuring there are many options for passengers to make their journeys, including alternative transport to other rail stations and with other train operators. However, passengers need to know that they will have significantly longer journeys when the railway is closed.”

The improvement work will focus on four Victorian-era tunnels – Balcombe, Clayton, Patcham and Haywards Heath – and the railway which runs through them. A major programme to stem leaks into the tunnels and provide reliable drainage away from the tracks will take place, while sections of the track, third rail power system and signalling will be replaced or upgraded.

Elsewhere, track will be renewed, sets of points, which enable trains to switch between tracks, will be replaced and fencing will be improved to deter trespassers.

Without this programme of work, reliability on the Brighton Main Line would deteriorate in the months and years ahead, leading to more delays for passengers travelling between London and the south coast – said a Southern spokesperson.