Council leader slams closure

THE ongoing closure of the Hastings to London line is ‘not acceptable’ claims a council leader, who is calling on the Government to intervene.

Cllr Jeremy Birch, leader of Hastings Borough Council, has written to Network Rail and the Department for Transport asking that the railway line between Hastings and Tonbridge is given the importance it deserves.

Cllr Birch said: “We are very frustrated indeed that our main line to London remains closed because of a landslip at Whatlington, between Robertsbridge and Battle, despite an announcement that it would reopen on March 3.

“Over a week later, the line remains closed. Indeed, we have not had a full train service on this line since before Christmas. Quite frankly this is not acceptable.”

Cllr Birch says he fears the ongoing closure will have an adverse effect on tourism in 1066 Country as Easter approaches.

He said: “ It is hard enough on local residents who commute to London, or who need to use the line for other trips, business and pleasure, but Easter will be upon us shortly, and we will then be into the summer season. No one wanting a day trip to the seaside will choose to travel on a rail replacement bus service, and the continued closure of the line could have a potentially serious effect on our visitor economy.”

Cllr Birch added: “It is our mainline, our rail lifeline to the capital. Although not as high profile as the Great Western main line, it is nevertheless vital to us.

“I have said in my letter that I hope that the line has not been given a lower priority just because the Whatlington landslip is not as photogenic or as accessible as the line at Dawlish which was washed away by the sea.”

Cllr Birch said he was not critical of the staff and contractors who continue to work in difficult conditions on the site, but hit out at Network Rail’s ‘lack of maintenance and planning’.

Cllr Birch added: “The Prime Minister said money would be no object to deal with the aftermath of flooding. As I have said before, on this key infrastructure route that brings so many visitors to our town and allows commuters to get to work the weather has caused just as much damage, and we need action now.

“For a main line to be closed indefinitely with no firm date set for its reopening is just not good enough.

“Our town, our residents and our visitors deserve better.”