Double blow for train travellers

POLITICAL leaders are stepping up the fight for better train services to and from Hastings after a double-whammy this week.

Any hopes for major investment in the network in and around Hastings seem to have been dashed after Network Rail published its draft Route Utilisation Strategy for London and the south east which sets out major financial projects for the next 20 years. It did not mention Hastings once and Cllr Jeremy Birch, leader of Hastings Borough Council was flabbergasted with the town’s omission. He said it was “vitally important” to improve train links to and from 1066 Country and has written to Network rail outlining his concerns.

He said: “I reminded Network Rail that Hastings is the most deprived town in the south east and the second most deprived seaside resort in England. Our connectivity is poor and, with little prospect now of significant road improvements in the near future, our rail links become even more important.

“I have urged Network Rail to give improving the rail infrastructure on routes to Hastings the significance and importance it deserves,” he said.

His concerns were echoed by Martin Woodfine of The St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement Programme (SHRIMP). He said: “They keep putting more and more services onto a line from the 1950s and it is close to breaking point.

“This really would be a missed opportunity.

Meanwhile Amber Rudd MP has vowed to make sure Hastings passengers are better served when the next franchise agreements are handed out in 2014. Southeastern has had its franchise extended for two years despite narrowly meeting its punctuality targets and amid huge passenger unrest over the company’s performance during this winter’s snow.

Ms Rudd was part of a delegation of MPs who went to see rail minister Theresa Villiers in February to outline their concerns about Southeastern’s performance, and she has promised to work on hammering out a better deal for local train users.

She said: “Hastings commuters deserve better. I will be working with local action groups, particularly SHRIMP to influence a better franchise from 2014.

“I believe we need longer franchises, that call for specific investment and clearer goals regarding improving the service. This is what I will be campaigning for to get a better service for us all.”