Why would Tunbridge Wells commuters use BML2?
Network Rail has long said that the Tonbridge Main Line (TML) is a ‘major barrier to growth’ whilst the 2017 Kent Route Study concludes no more services can be operated into London during peak times. The Tonbridge – Sevenoaks – Orpington section is only double track, but at peak times has to carry 12 – 15 trains per hour. The route cannot be quadrupled but a solution is necessary.
Current proposals are to introduce higher-density rolling stock which means more standing room in the aisles and vestibules. These new trains are unpopular because people resent being forced to stand for long distances and travel to work in cramped and uncomfortable conditions every day. We believe commuters and all rail users should be treated better than this. That is why we have always fought for a proper long term solution for increasing rail travel into London.
Tunbridge Wells is the principal generator of commuter traffic which is why its former main line from Tunbridge Wells West (TWW) to London via Oxted needs to be reopened. As an integral part of BML2, Tunbridge Wells would gain direct services to Canary Wharf which is where many of its commuters work. This would also avoid worsening congestion at London Bridge.
What about Sainsbury’s?
The store currently occupies part of the trackbed, but the company gave a written undertaking to remove any buildings (and at their expense) should the line ever reopen. However, we’ve always believed there exists a wonderful opportunity for Sainsbury’s to improve and even enlarge their retail operations and be partners in this great development.
At the moment the site’s value is mostly wasted on open-air car parking, but multi-storey parking, along with an enlarged store, as well as mooted new housing development would take full advantage of the new main line with all the business and benefits that would generate.
What about the Spa Valley railway?
These main line rail connections to Brighton (via Lewes) and London (via Oxted) should never have been closed. It was a dreadful decision for which we continue to pay dearly. These routes are badly needed to support intensive services on the national operating network. We’re not against preserved railways or people having fun at weekends, but the route currently performs no transport function and is far too important to remain out of use.
Do the local authorities support reopening?
Both Wealden District and Tunbridge Wells Borough councils continue to protect the trackbed for future reinstatement with services to Brighton via Eridge. However, there is no active promotion for reopening, whilst neither council appears to comprehend the value of the Ashurst link so trains can run direct to London from Tunbridge Wells West.
What is Network Rail’s position?
Although NR maintains a lukewarm interest and says protecting the routes should continue, it currently has no plans for reinstatement. It has also said it is not against reopening the Tunbridge Wells line.
Isn’t the tunnel at Tunbridge Wells a problem?
Not at all. Grove tunnel would doubtless be opened out and rebuilt for double track anyway, whilst the formation connecting the West and Central stations was engineered throughout to take double track.
Would the large station building at TWW be taken back?
It is certainly a magnificent structure and far more impressive than the cramped and somewhat dingy ‘Central’ station which struggles to serve the Royal Borough. The regeneration of the Pantiles area, close to the West station, is thankfully beginning to happen as Tunbridge Wells seeks to grow and prosper.
From a railway operational aspect the important asset is the space TWW offers. Its generously-long 12-car platforms could be rebuilt and there is space for at least three platform faces – giving the railways all the capacity and flexibility we need for future network expansion. Developed alongside a new Sainsburys, it would be a new transport hub for Tunbridge Wells and benefit everyone. Sadly here in England we appear to have lost the ability to do joined-up thinking.
Couldn’t we just reopen the old spur between the Tonbridge – Redhill and East Grinstead lines?
Although there is spare capacity on the Redhill route, that would be a longer, roundabout journey to London. However, the capacity constraints at Tonbridge would remain, but even worse we couldn’t solve the insuperable blockade which is Tunbridge Wells (Central).
Tunbridge Wells (Central) is the big problem, not just its short platforms necessitating ‘Selective Door Opening’, but conflicting train movements using its reversible lines, as well as the turnback itself which even Network Rail identifies as a ‘constraint to growth’. It all comes down to the undeniable fact that we need to operate more trains into London – that’s the important thing – and only BML2 can do that.
Aside from commuters, what other benefits might there be?
We would gain regional services to Lewes, Brighton, other Sussex Coast towns and of course the University of Sussex at Falmer and the AMEX stadium at Falmer. All would become within easy reach by train. Such traffic would also flow into Tunbridge Wells, not only from Sussex but also Surrey and Kent.