RAIL commuters will face major disruption in the New Year as the Hastings to Ashford rail link is taken out of action for more than two months.
The line is set to close for nine weeks in January next year causing huge problems for passengers who will be hit by longer journey times and forced to use a replacement bus service.
No trains will be running while Network Rail carries out essential maintenance work on the mile-long Ore tunnel from January 9 to March 11, 2012.
Southern will provide a fleet of 50-seater replacement coaches, which will run at 30 minute intervals.
But these coaches will not call at Ore, so passengers to and from this station will have to take use a second shuttle service.
Cllr Jeremy Birch, leader of Hastings Borough Council, said: “It seems unnecessarily disruptive, and damaging, to close the whole line from Hastings through to Ashford when work is taking place in just one tunnel.”
Students, along with school children, are among those who will face the worst disruption.
Janak Patel, principal of Sussex Coast College Hastings, said: “The college, on behalf of its staff and students, is very disappointed that this closure will take place at such a crucial time in our students’ studies.”
At a recent public meeting in Rye, organised by Marshlink Action Group, Network Rail and Southern gave details of the plans for the works.
Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye, said: “Although I welcome the investment in this line, I have raised objections about the duration of the closure.”
Martin Woodfine, on behalf of SHRIMP (St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement Programme), said: “The bus replacement service plans by Southern seem to be based on inaccurate averaged passenger usage data, and we are extremely concerned that there will be problems, especially for students and school children in rural areas.”
The tunnel, which is 160 years-old, has been deteriorating because of water intrusion.
Network Rail plans to use the closure to carry out other upgrades, in order to reduce the necessity for future closures.