A PLAN for the biggest rail investment project in half a century now has comprehensive support from the region’s leaders.

At a meeting yesterday, top politicians, civil servants and business leaders swung their weight behind a bid for £1 billion of new investment in the rail connection between London and Brighton.

The initial works would increase capacity at a crucial bottleneck by 20 per cent.

Brighton and Hove city council leader Warren Morgan said it “went without saying” he was in favour of the scheme.

A meeting of the Greater Brighton Economic Board heard from Local Enterprise Partnership chief executive Jonathan Sharrock, who explained Network Rail had acknowledged rail links to Brighton had suffered from years of under-investment.

His organisation, Coast2Capital, has been gathering support for its campaign, the Brighton Mainline Alliance (BMA).

The campaign is pressing to secure Government backing, at next autumn’s budget, for a specific scheme to invest money in the Windmill Bridge Junction just outside East Croydon.

The campaign already had the backing of some 40 regional businesses and business organisations, and had strong cross-party support from 16 MPs from across Sussex.

Yesterday the board gave its support to the campaign with a unanimous vote.

Mr Sharrock told the meeting: “We have the same rail infrastructure we had in the 1960s. We’re targeting a ministerial decision in 2019 for a scheme agreed by Network Rail, for investment in the Windmill Bridge Junction.”

He said it would be a “targeted lobbying campaign”.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Sharrock said the scheme would unlock close to a billion pounds of spending which would represent the biggest investment in the region’s rail infrastructure in half a century.

The proposed changes to Windmill Bridge would allow for more trains per hour at peak times, from 36 today increased to between 42 and 44, a jump of more than 20 per cent.

More trains at peak times would result in a significant increase in capacity.

Additionally Network Rail has said the plan would give it the opportunity to run new services, and increase reliability, addressing the “poor and unreliable condition” of the network as identified in the Gibb Report into Sussex’s poor train links.

Mr Sharrock said the BMA campaign did not “rule out” a separate campaign for a second line, but recommended the BMA should be the first and primary focus.

Brighton city councillor Geoffrey Theobald said further investment was welcome but said the first thing to focus on should still be a second Brighton main line.

Councillor Dan Humphreys, leader of Worthing Borough Council, spoke of the difficulties commuters had faced over the last two years “not knowing when they would get home to their families” and the “drag on the economy” Sussex rail problems had represented.

A Government report into Brighton’s rail problems identified industrial disputes, London Bridge improvement works and historic underspending on maintenance as key issues affecting service.