Commuters’ action group calls for improvements

A RAIL action group is calling upon the Prime Minister David Cameron to get a grip on services through one of the busiest parts of the rail network in the south east.

The move comes after scores of services from 1066 Country and elsewhere in the south east have faced disruption in the two weeks up to Christmas.

From December 9 train operators were forced to make unprecedented changes to their timetables to accommodate the redevelopment of London Bridge station.

East Sussex Rail Alliance (ESRA) said it has received reports of commuters who have suffered daily misery with some rush-hour trains operating up to one hour late, and many commuters suffering up to an additional three hours of commuting time in their journeys each week.

Ray Chapman, from ESRA, said: “While the importance of the London Bridge project is understood, the timetable and infrastructure that train operators First Capital Connect and Southern have been asked to operate is unachievable.

“The constant change of Ministers and the dilution of their roles is causing instability and crisis.

“We call on the Prime Minister to get a grip and invest in the London to Sussex rail routes and ask why, if south east England is the richest part of Europe, the coastal towns within it are now among the most deprived, with unemployment as high as one in four.

“Poor rail infrastructure would appear to be a major factor: those living within these areas are no longer able to sustain the long commute and exorbitant fares, leading to relocation back to the London suburbs - further pushing up house prices there while adding to the spiral of decline on the coast.”

ESRA wants to see the electrification and dual-tracking of the Eastbourne to Ashford route, which runs through Hastings, St Leonards Warrior Square and Bexhill.

It also wants new trains brought in to replace 40-year-old heritage rail stock given to Southern, some of which are used on the Gatwick Express and many South East Commuter services.

Mr Chapman added: “This stock is not fit for purpose on this busy commuter route, with only two narrow access and exit points per carriage and excessive restricted door opening at many stations.”

Belinda Fordham, chairman of ESRA, said: “It is clearly unacceptable that it is now quicker to travel from London to cities such as Birmingham, York, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester whose distance is three times greater than coastal towns such as Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings, let alone commuter towns north of London that can be reached in around an hour such as Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford.”