THE OBSERVER this week decided to investigate the state of the Hastings to London Charing Cross line following numerous complaints from scores of readers.
For weeks commuters from 1066 Country have endured delays and train cancellations as landslips have crippled the route between Battle and Wadhurst, with the latest landslip occurring on Sunday at Stonegate.
Observer reporter Richard Gladstone joined Conservative leader Cllr Rob Cooke on his journey up to Tunbridge Wells on Wednesday (February 12) to see how bad the problems have been.
We arrived at Hastings station to catch the 09.25 service to Battle. It was a couple of minutes late departing but the rail replacement bus service was ready for us when we arrived in Battle. Other than Cllr Cooke and myself, there were only a dozen other passengers on the coach, which took a whole hour to traverse the countryside to its destination, Wadhurst station. People looked jaded and tired, which is to be expected after weeks of daily disruption. Some even fell asleep on the coach.
After another 15-minute wait at Wadhurst Cllr Cooke and myself arrived in Tunbridge Wells. Despite an uneventful journey it took us almost two hours to travel less than 30 miles.
Cllr Cooke, who works at Axa PPP Healthcare insurers in Tunbridge Wells, said: “It costs me £2,252 a year to travel between Hastings and Tunbridge Wells and to be treated like this is ridiculous. For commuters heading to London it takes them three hours and for me it’s taken up to two-and-a-half hours on some days. I was late for work several times last week, which was just hell. It’s usually a terrible journey back home. I’ve been travelling on the train for the last eight years and it’s got steadily worse. Staff at the stations do their best to provide information and help but they are like builders who have not been given cement.”
Abbey Chapman, from Battle, uses the line twice a week and goes to Etchingham every Friday. She described the current service as an ‘absolute nightmare’. A commuter from Eastbourne, who wished not to be named, said it costs him around £240 a month to travel to Tunbridge Wells, where he works. He said: “It’s been an absolute joke, taking me three-and-a-half hours to get to work.”
Network Rail said the affected line will remain closed for ‘several weeks’ and is not expected to reopen before March 3. It was closed on February 4 for urgent repair work at two landslip sites at Whatlington. Fiona Taylor, Network Rail’s route managing director, said: “We have got a massive job on our hands to rebuild the line at Whatlington, with at least 10,000 tonnes of stone needed to rebuild the embankment, all of which will be delivered to site by engineering trains. We realise this has caused more disruption, for which I am very sorry. The weather this winter has been incredibly challenging.”