Anger at risk to longer Uckfield trains

An Uckfield line train pictured at Uckfield station
An Uckfield line train pictured at Uckfield station

Uckfield commuters who visited Uckfield’s Big Day on Saturday were angry to learn that longer trains they had been promised by December 2016 might not come into service.

National campaign group Railfuture told them operators Govia Thameslink were only able to say ‘additional capacity will be provided as soon as possible to relieve crowding on the busy Uckfield route. Timing will depend on when suitable diesel rolling stock becomes available (likely to be after electrification elsewhere in the UK).’

Railfuture say this could be resolved if the government announces funding in this year’s Autumn Statement to electrify the 24-mile Uckfield branch. Thirty-two Turbostar carriages, the same as taken recently by Chiltern Railways from crowded TransPennine Express services, could then be released to congested northern routes.

Railfuture vice-chairman Chris Page said: “The new franchise requires longer Uckfield line trains from December 2016 to provide sorely-needed extra capacity on this fast-growing route into East Croydon and London Bridge.

“This needs 14 extra diesel carriages from routes being electrified in the north where those trains are needed for growth elsewhere on their routes. But the new Govia Thameslink franchise cannot say when it might get any for the Uckfield line or commit to that December 2016 date. Everyone knows electrification of the Uckfield line is a higher-value long-term infrastructure investment than mere platform-lengthening currently planned.”

The 25-mile MarshLink route will be electrified in five years as part of Network Rail’s upgrade to extend Southeastern Highspeed services off HS1 from Ashford International to Bexhill via Rye and Hastings. That will release 12 more diesel Turbostar carriages, so northern commuters would get 44 modern diesel carriages to relieve crowding as soon as the two Kent and East Sussex routes are electrified.

London & South East vice-chair Roger Blake added: “If Network Rail and the DfT only argue about the type of electrification to Uckfield while no-one knows where any extra diesel carriages will come from, or when, then southern commuters will continue to lose out and northern commuters will repeat the anger shown when 18 of their TransPennine carriages were transferred to Chiltern. Third-rail electrification of the Uckfield line, like the rest of the Southern network, is cheaper and quicker than waiting for overhead wires and new electric trains roll off Derby production lines every week.”