There are just days to go until the southern end of the Brighton Main Line shuts for nine days during the school half term as work on a vital £67 million upgrade continues.
Up to 300,000 Southern and Thameslink passengers a day will benefit in the long-run as Network Rail carries out the biggest refurbishment of the line between Three Bridges and Brighton in more than 30 years.
Partly funded by the Department for Transport as part of a wider £300m programme, the project will tackle delay hotspots and boost reliability on one of the busiest and most unreliable parts of the network.
The work will renew and upgrade track junctions and signalling, shore up embankments to reduce the risk of landslides and introduce new technology that not only detects potential problems before they occur, but can help the railway recover faster if there is a fault.
There is also extensive work within four Victorian tunnels to stop leaks and drainage issues, which have caused significant delays for passengers in the past.
In a special passenger survey monitoring the quality of information for this scheme, independent watchdog Transport Focus said awareness of the closure remains high, while three quarters of passengers are considering alternative travel arrangements thanks to the travel advice tool at BrightonMainLine.co.uk and via www.nationalrail.co.uk.
John Halsall, managing director, Network Rail South East route, said: “This work is absolutely critical as this stretch is one of the most unreliable parts of the network, accounting for half the delays to trains arriving from the south into central London.
“We know it’s never a good time to close the railway, but the only alternative would have been to close the line for 84 weekends over the course of two years.
“Doing the work over this nine-day period means we can achieve so much more and deliver the punctuality and reliability benefits to passengers much sooner, plus the railway is much quieter during the school holidays.
“Working with our colleagues at Govia Thameslink Railway, we are making every effort to enable those passengers who need to travel during this period to do so comfortably.”
Rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is diverting what services it can and laying on a massive rail replacement bus service, unprecedented in scale [see editor’s notes] to keep passengers moving.
This is supported by the temporary conversion of the Three Bridges station car park into a bespoke bus hub, equipped with toilets, a customer information point, refreshments and extra staff on hand to help passengers.
Keith Jipps, GTR’s Infrastructure Director, said: “While we are putting on over 200 rail replacement buses and bringing in hundreds of additional staff, I’d urge passengers to consider alternative routes, working from home if possible or travelling outside the rush hours. It will take much longer to make your journey with travel times extended by as much as one hour.
“The train via Littlehampton is the best alternative to and from Brighton and for other journeys we’ll have buses and coaches in circulation every day on nine core routes, many of them connecting with a dedicated bus hub at Three Bridges.
“While we will be very busy travelling to and from Three Bridges and London at peak times, there will be less demand for trains and buses to the coast and Brighton outside the rush hour.”
Together, Network Rail and GTR are making the most of the time the stations are closed by investing £800,000 into essential maintenance and repairs at Balcombe, Haywards Heath, Wivelsfield, Burgess Hill, Hassocks, Preston Park, Plumpton and Cooksbridge.
Keith Jipps added: “Passengers at these eight stations will be particularly inconvenienced which is why we’ll be carrying out all sorts of works, from deep cleaning or giving them a lick of paint, to replacing footbridges and repairing roofs.
“We’ll also be litter picking hotspot areas, tidying up plants and hedgerows and doing lots of other minor work to brighten the stations up for passengers when they return."
Notes to editors
Our passenger management strategy for the nine-day blockade is designed to accommodate the 15,000 peak time passengers travelling from the blockade area into London during peak times.
There will be no direct trains between Three Bridges and Brighton or between Three Bridges and Lewes from Saturday 16 February to Sunday 24 February. All surrounding services will be affected as fewer trains will run.
Brighton services will be diverted along the coast, via Littlehampton, to London, adding an hour to journeys. Passengers from other locations will be diverted to routes that are open, in many cases by rail replacement bus.
Some areas of the car parks at Balcombe, Three Bridges, Lewes, Burgess Hill, Hassocks and Haywards Heath are partly closed during the engineering works.
To enable the bus hub to be built at Three Bridges, the station car park will be fully closed from 23.59 on Friday, 8 February through to 06:00 on Monday, 4 March. Balcombe car park will also be fully closed from 23.59 on Friday, 15 February until 06:00 on Monday, 25 February.
GTR are providing alternative parking for season ticket holders at Gatwick Airport for passengers who wish to avoid the rail replacement buses. Applications can be made through this email address firstname.lastname@example.org
During the closures tickets will be accepted on a wide range of rail and bus services.
For more information and to sign up for free alerts, visit BrightonMainLine.co.uk or follow @brighton_line on Twitter. To plan your journey visit nationalrail.co.uk
The rail replacement bus and coach service features:
- 530 drivers
- 9 core routes
- 45 suppliers, some from the Midlands
- Over 240 buses and coaches in circulation every day
- 50 bus controllers
- Over 200 additional customer assistance staff
- Fitters, spares and recovery vehicles on site at Three Bridges
Network Rail information:
Before this blockade, this team of engineers has completed work over ten weekends, handing back on time, every time. During these works, they have delivered track renewals, high-output ballast cleaning and conductor rail renewals; signalling preparation works and infrastructure renewals.
Network Rail’s operations team have been out in force over the past nine months to check and enhance the reliability of critical contingency routes, which are vital for passengers to continue travelling during engineering work. This includes inspecting the railway by helicopter, using high-tech thermal and visual imaging equipment to inspect large areas and identity faults quickly.
The improvement work is focused on four Victorian-era tunnels – Balcombe, Clayton, Patcham and Haywards Heath – and the railway which runs through them.
The work will:
- Renew and upgrade track junctions and signalling
- Improve drainage to prevent water damage to electrical equipment
- Shore-up cuttings and embankments to reduce the risk of landslides
- Introduce new technology that detects problems before they occur but also enable the railway to recover if an incident does happen
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.
These statistics are based on 515 face-to-face interviews and 220 online surveys with passengers representing all five routes impacted by the closure.
76% of passengers say they will take action, either working from home, taking annual leave or travelling earlier or later in the day to avoid peak times.
47% of passengers are satisfied with the information provided
52% of passengers support the works
Govia Thameslink Railway
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services as follows:
- Thameslink – cross-London services between Bedford/Peterborough/Cambridge and Brighton/Horsham/Littlehampton/East Grinstead, and between Luton/St Albans and Sutton/Wimbledon/Rainham; plus services between London and Sevenoaks
- Great Northern – services between London and Welwyn, Hertford, Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn
- Southern – services between London and the Sussex coast (Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bognor Regis, Hastings) and parts of Surrey, Kent and Hampshire (Ashford International, Southampton, Portsmouth)
- Gatwick Express – fast, non-stop direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria