Brighton mainline rail improvements to be axed in Tory cuts

Long-planned improvements to the London to Brighton mainline railway outside Croydon, including rebuilding East Croydon Station and unblocking a bottleneck near Selhurst, could be scrapped as part of government post-covid cut-backs.

Network Rail rates the lines around Croydon as the busiest and most congested part of Britain’s rail network, with 30 per cent more passengers and trains passing through it each day than Euston and King’s Cross stations combined.

The snappily titled Croydon Area Remodelling Scheme – or CARS – detailed Network Rail’s multi-million-pound plans to improve the Brighton mainline and transform East Croydon Station, and have been in the public domain for more than three years.

The “Selhurst Triangle” is a Gordian knot of a problem which Network Rail wanted to solve with a series of fly-overs and fly-unders. “Train punctuality on the Brighton mainline is the lowest of any major route as the bottleneck magnifies the impact of even the most minor incident or delay,” Network Rail said in 2018 when they revealed the first version of their plans.

Under the proposals, East Croydon was to get an enlarged concourse and two extra platforms and Norwood Junction was also slated for a significant upgrade.

The plans had cross-party political support, in Croydon and at Westminster.

Unblocking the bottleneck: Network Rail’s scheme for new bridges and fly-unders would transform the tangle that is Selhurst junction

But a report in New Civil Engineer at the weekend quotes the head of Network Rail stating that CARS will be dropped as part of the Department for Transport cuts to infrastructure spending, as the Tory government redirects spending projects to the north of England.

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said that he is expecting an updated Rail Enhancements Pipeline to be unveiled in the coming days.

Haines told a press briefing last week that some schemes will inevitably be delayed after being reassessed for a post-covid world. He specified that work on the Brighton mainline would be mothballed.

“As part of the process we have reassessed the schemes alongside the DfT,” Haines said. “Savings will be made from a number of areas, such as changing site access requirements and making the most of technology enhancements.

Mothballs: Network Rails’ Andrew Haines

“Some schemes will inevitably be changed or delayed due to the impact covid has had on them.

“Western access to Heathrow for example will not go ahead as early as previously thought as that relies on part-funding from the airport which is clearly not forthcoming now because of the impact covid has had on its finances.

“Likewise work on schemes such as the Brighton mainline will be pushed back as the benefits from it won’t be felt for a long period of time.”

The budget for the rail investment schemes was set at £10.4billion for the five-year period between 2019-2024. When first unveiled in 2019, the pipeline included 58 projects.

£1billion was shaved off of the investment pot in December as a result of cost-cutting measures due to covid-19.

Rail groups, including the Railway Industry Association and Rail Delivery Group, have already warned about the dangers of delaying or cancelling important infrastructure projects.

Read more: East Croydon expansion plans are to go online
Read more: 39 trains are stopped in the Croydon Bottleneck in two hours


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12 Responses to Brighton mainline rail improvements to be axed in Tory cuts

  1. mikebweb says:

    Sounds a good move, especially as the current station “improvements” have yet to be finished. Extraordinary to think that work recently completed could be demolished, however with reduced passengers, may be sense will overide?

  2. Lewis White says:

    My guess regarding use of railways is that usage will return within 2 years to about 2/3 of pre-covid usage, as office workers get bored with 5 days a week of home working, and seek a flexible, mixed working week, probably with 3 days in the office and 2 working at home.

    Whilst investment to make the transport sytems in the Midlands, North andf no doubt other areas is long overdue, another question is whether it is cheaper to do the CARS work sooner rather than in ten years, when interest rates will have gone up.

    The Operation London Bridge project with its Bermondsey flyover/under and the extar line through London Bridge has done a massive amount of good, making all the many years of hassle and delays outsoide London Bridge that we suffered before, worth it.

    CARS also seems to be a logical and beneficial scheme. I hope that in 3 years time there could be a formal review of its cost and benefit, in the light of actual, post covid rail travel demand.

  3. Jim Bush says:

    Like Mike, I think this is a good move. It was a hugely expensive and disruptive proposal that probably wasn’t going to make much of an improvement anyway. With reduced numbers of passengers at the moment/in future, trains are running half-empty but more punctually anyway, just as long as the train drivers turn up for work.

  4. Ian Kierans says:

    For anyone to state that a scheme should be pushed back or cancelled for the spurious rational ” as the benefits from it won’t be felt for a long period of time.” is somewhat disingenuous”.
    I would find it very difficult to find any railway project where the benefits are felt immediately.

    I agree that it appeared a best of poor and costly options. However it would have improved the routes using it and alleviated the bottlenecks. My concern then was that long term it would not meet future needs.

    The current covid related reductions in usage are unlikely to last. The usual traffic measures ( reduction in diesel cars, higher petrol costs, widening of ULEZ and Congestion charge and other related car cost for London) will push people back onto trains in ever greater numbers. – Home working has reduced demand and some of that will stay, but short of a general closure of Business across the capital and mass movement of work for those in the Commuter belt, that demand will grow from other areas. It always has. This remedy could have met met the immediate needs of long suffering and overcharged Southern region travelers and is a massive Government and National Rail betrayal of those customers.

    Sorry but this just smacks of opportunistic redirecting of resource and cuts by the Government o the southern regions detriment. But I am sure that National Rail can provide the data supporting their assertions and perhaps prove this wrong?

  5. The “Department for Transport cuts to infrastructure spending” are being inflicted on the railways while spending on new and bigger roads is unchecked. And it’s not DfT money, It’s ours. We’re being forced to pay for more planet wrecking schemes while those that would mitigate the climate emergency are abandoned.

    • The Department for Evermore Roads has been chocabloc with vested interests with the construction industry at least since the time of Dr Beeching, and definitely throughout Thatcher’s reign of terror, when strenuous efforts were made to shift freight off the nationalised railway network and on to environmentally damaging trucks and juggernauts. Clearly, that has not changed.

    • Anthony Miller says:

      From HS2 to crosscrail the government is spending as never before on new rail infrastructure. It’s just us that aren’t worth it.

  6. hammy42 says:

    The through traffic on the London – Brighton line probabily doesn’t require the improvements to the Selhurst Junction, especially with the expected post-Pandemic passenger numbers. More important though is to improve the local train services, especially with all the new residential building that’s currently underway. The two additional platforms at East Croydon are essential to cope with the additional passenger usage that will occur once building is complete and residents have moved in (estimated to be nearly 20,000 people) as I would expect many of these people to work in Central London. Otherwise the current services will be completely swamped.

    The other option of course is for more businesses to relocate to Croydon to fill the free office space and employ all the new residents.

    • But it clearly does require significant works.
      As the article states, “Network Rail rates the lines around Croydon as the busiest and most congested part of Britain’s rail network, with 30 per cent more passengers and trains passing through it each day than Euston and King’s Cross stations combined.”

      Any reduction in that amount of train traffic is only going to be temporary.

      And you can’t have one piece of the improvement works – such as platform extensions – without the other track remodelling without making the bottleneck even worse.

      • hammy42 says:

        If you were responding to my original reply – I certainly didn’t mean to indicate that the Selhurst Junction remodelling wasn’t essential. What I was implying was that in the near future, local services serving Croydon would be more important than the through services. Maybe West Croydon would be easier to redevelop than East Croydon and not require the extensive work?

  7. Chris Flynn says:

    Maybe if the South doesn’t like Tory decisions, it could stop voting Tory, in a bid to receive the ‘incentives’ the North are seeing. What’s the worst that could happen.

  8. Nick Davies says:

    For those who assert otherwise, the Guardian has that public transport usage is now 11% higher than in January 2020

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jun/30/uk-unemployment-drops-as-firms-hire-staff-amid-covid-rebound

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