Thursday, 19 February 2009


Do you ever wonder what people in the future will make of our life today? We find it amazing now that our ancestors could have taken so long to abolish slavery, or to give women the vote. So imagine a history lesson in about 100 years’ time – what will gobsmack them about our life?

One of the things local historians will scratch their heads about is why the Uckfield to Lewes railway line was ever closed, and why it took so long to re-open it. I’m willing to be forgiving about the way it was closed – true, you could describe it as a form of authorised vandalism, but you have to take into account the climate of the time (1969). People thought railways were old hat and being superseded by the car, so if a money-losing railway line got in the way of a new road (in this case the Phoenix Causeway in Lewes), well you closed the railway, didn’t you!

But for the past 20 years, if not many more, we have known that railways hold the key to allowing us to get from A to B without further damaging the planet or congesting our roads. They represent a good option environmentally and practically, and those two arguments increase in validity with every new house that’s built in the Wealden area.

And not just Wealden. Can we really be serious that the whole of the south coast from Hastings to Littlehampton should be served by a single twin-track rail route from London? It sounds ludicrous, but that’s what we’ve got. And that’s what the re-opened Uckfield-Lewes line would eradicate.

This is not the place to look at why the line hasn’t been re-opened, but I find it a disgrace that a Labour government has not backed rail in this case, and some prominent people will have to eat humble pie when the line re-opens. For re-open it will, because re-open it must. And when it does, people will look back in astonishment at how long it took to re-open it and how some of the most valid arguments were tossed aside with fatuous counter-arguments.

On Monday a plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of the line’s opening will be unveiled at Uckfield station. Let’s hope it will be start of the final push to end 40 years of mealy-mouthed ‘oh, I’m not sure it can really be done’ arguments and get the most obvious rail re-opening in Britain off the ground.

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