Passengers welcomed back on the Lewes to Seaford line in East Sussex after four days of successful Network Rail improvement work: Sunrise Newhaven Harbour

Tuesday 3 Dec 2019

Passengers welcomed back on the Lewes to Seaford line in East Sussex after four days of successful Network Rail improvement work

Region & Route:

Sussex passengers are seeing the benefits of a major upgrade programme this week as Network Rail finished replacing the signalling system on the route from Lewes to Seaford, via Newhaven, replacing a system controlled from three signal boxes dating back to 1879.

This week also saw the final weekend closure of the line between Barham and Havant, via Chichester, where a massive project of track replacement and station refurbishment has been underway since late October. Over 2km of track has been laid in that time, giving passengers a better ride.

The new signalling technology at Lewes is controlled from the state-of-the-art route operating centre at Three Bridges, delivering a more reliable service with fewer delays for passengers.     

As a result of the upgrade, during disruption on the Brighton Main Line, three times as many trains and passengers can now use the diversionary route for London to Brighton services via Lewes, helping to keep passengers on the move.

Track and points at Southerham junction, where trains switch track for Lewes, Eastbourne or Seaford had previously been renewed as part of the project, giving a smoother and more reliable ride.

Thousands of Southern Rail passengers who rely on the line each day returned on Monday to brighter and cleaner stations. Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) worked together to use the closure to carry out a series of improvements at Seaford, Bishopstone, Newhaven Town, Southease and Glynde stations. We work closely with our local communities and so we know these station improvements will be welcome.

John Halsall, managing director for Network Rail Southern Region, said: “I’d like to say thank you to the passengers who have been disrupted by this crucial work, which was needed to modernise the signalling system.

“I am extremely grateful that so many changed their plans for the four days to enable us to concentrate the work in this way. The alternative would have meant many more weekend closures for our engineers to achieve the same thing, so this has been much more effective for them as well as for us.

“The work means we can provide a more reliable service that passengers deserve and can depend on.”

Steve White, Chief Operating Officer, Govia Thameslink Railway, said:  “We’re pleased to welcome back passengers on the Lewes to Seaford line and I apologise to anyone that has been inconvenienced during these essential works. I am grateful for their patience throughout this project. 

“Colleagues from Network Rail, Southern,  and our suppliers have been a credit to the rail industry completing a significant  amount of work  whilst the line was closed. Customers will now benefit for years to come as ageing assets have been replaced with a modern alternative.”

Highlights of the engineering work completed include:

  • Resignalling of the whole area involved the closure of signal boxes at Lewes, Newhaven Town and Newhaven Harbour and the removal of 18A points which were replaced with 40m of plain line track
  • Station improvements included platform and canopy repairs, repainting, deep-cleaning and general maintenance at Seaford, Bishopstone, Newhaven Town, Southease and Glynde.

Notes to Editors

  • The line closure took place between Thursday 28 November and Sunday 1 December 2019
  • All routes via Lewes were affected with rail replacement buses operating instead of trains to keep passengers moving during the four days
  • There was a brief interruption in services on Monday when a cable failed at a level crossing. The problem was fixed within the hour.
  • A full communications campaign to provide advance notification of the works, travel advice and bus replacement options was carried out from May through to November across the affected region. This included online, press and media, in-station and on-train activity


The Seaford branch line is a rural railway line in East Sussex constructed in 1864 primarily to serve the port of Newhaven and the town of Seaford.

Engineered by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway’s Chief Engineer Frederick Banister, the first section of the line was opened in 1847 to aid the transport of goods to and from Newhaven.

The line was extended in 1864 to serve the holiday town of Seaford. There used to be extensive sidings at Newhaven Docks and even a railway swing bridge over the River Ouse to connect to the other side.

The line was electrified (750V DC third rail) by the Southern Railway in 1935. The line between Newhaven Harbour and Seaford was reduced to single track to save costs in 1975.

Lewes Signal Box

The Lewes signal box is Grade II listed, as is Lewes station. It is a Saxby and Farmer box built in 1888 by London Brighton and South Coast Railway, a year before the station itself in 1889. The Saxby and Farmer Type 5 signal box was the stylish culmination of the LBSCR designs.

Both Newhaven Town and Harbour signal boxes are also Saxby and Farmer boxes, built in 1879.

Key dates

  • September 1841: the London to Brighton Railway opens.
  • 8 June 1846: Brighton, Lewes and Hastings Railway Company start to run services between Brighton and Lewes
  • 27 June 1846: The line opens between Lewes and Bulverhythe (near Hastings)
  • 8 December 1847: The line between Lewes and Newhaven is opened for passenger traffic
  • 14 March 1863: There is a ceremony on the Dann Field in Seaford to mark the start of the building of the railway.
  • 25 May 1864: The Newhaven to Seaford railway line is completed and 40 navvies are treated to a supper at the Terminus Hotel, Seaford (now The Shore)
  • 1 June 1864: The Newhaven to Seaford line is officially opened.
  • 1904: The railway line between Newhaven and Seaford is doubled
  • 7 July 1935: The first through train is run on the new electrified line between London and Seaford. (Although steam trains run until the 1960s)
  • 3 July 1940: A train is attacked as it travels between Bishopstone and the station at Tide Mills. The driver is killed. This is the first record of a train being attacked by an enemy aircraft in the UK.
  • 1 January 1942: The station at Tide Mills closes.
  • 25 May 1943: The Brighton (London Road) Viaduct is severely damaged by a German bomber but is open again within 24 hours and fully usable in less than a month.
  • 1975: One railway line is taken up leaving a single line between Newhaven and Seaford
  • 2019: Lewes to Newhaven resignalling and recontrol.

Contact information

Passengers / community members
Network Rail national helpline
03457 11 41 41

Latest travel advice
Please visit National Rail Enquiries

Network Rail press office - Chris Denham
Media relations manager (Kent)
020 3357 7969
07515 626530

About Network Rail

We own, operate and develop Britain's railway infrastructure; that's 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK's largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country's train operating companies.

Usually, there are almost five million journeys made in the UK and over 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain's railway for their daily commute, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safe every day. Our role is to deliver a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the nation's railway network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand the railway has experienced - a doubling of passenger journeys over the past 20 years.

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