Firstly I would like to wish all of the readers of the Sussex Express a very Happy New Year. I have many aspirations for my constituency in 2017, and high on that list is an improved rail service.
As I write this column ASLEF is due to begin talks with GTR, and in a sign of goodwill have suspended industrial action including the ban on overtime. As someone that has continually called for all sides to get back around the table I very much welcome this move, and I hope that by the time this article reaches you, the two sides have successfully managed to settle any differences in the best interests of all involved, including passengers.
I have also been granted an Adjournment Debate in the Commons Chamber today (Friday 20th January), when the focus will be on the performance of Southern Rail in general. To watch this please visit my website.
Throughout this period of disruption on the southern network, while always speaking up for my constituents in the media, in the Commons Chamber and during meetings with Ministers, I have also continued to look at the bigger picture. This comes in the form of a second rail main line.
Currently there are many pressures on the southern network, and one of those is the volume of passengers. However, for decades investment in infrastructure to the South East has been severely lacking, and as we have seen in recent years, that is beginning to show.
For me the proposed second Brighton Main Line (BML2) is one piece of the jigsaw in righting that wrong, and as such I have been actively working alongside all relevant bodies in trying to make this a reality.
As well as modernising the rail services, this new line would re-open the Lewes to Uckfield link and would connect towns such as Seaford and Newhaven to the main lines, while also providing a direct link to Canary Wharf and Stratford International. It won’t therefore come as a surprise to learn that given the rail disruption that we have been experiencing on the Southern rail network recently, I have been strongly promoting this scheme – which has cross-party support - to the Government, both in the Commons Chamber, and during meetings with Ministers, and the message that I am getting back is beginning to look positive.
I have also recently had the opportunity to meet with possible private investors, who also see the many benefits that a second Main Line would bring to the South East, and are similarly keen to see plans progress.
I see this as a possible tipping point in what I hope to be the beginning of much needed investment in our infrastructure, and if given the go-ahead will be an important demonstration of commitment by this Government to my constituents, and the East Sussex economy as a whole.