A new Southeastern franchise could include ‘essential’ high speed rail services to both Hastings and Bexhill.
The current contract is due to end in 2018 and passengers are being asked to share their thoughts through a Department for Transport consultation on how ‘poor’ services can be improved.
A high-speed rail link between London’s St Pancras and Hastings, Bexhill, and Rye via Ashford International has been mooted by politicians and campaign groups as a way of radically improving journey times between the South Coast and the capital.
These ambitions look to be closer to fruition this week as the option for high speed services was included in the DfT’s consultation document.
Meanwhile the project received another major boost as it is also included as an option in Network Rail’s draft Kent Route Study, which was also published for consultation this week.
Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye, said: “Securing this fast service, to bring journey times between our area and London down by nearly 40 minutes to just over one hour, has been a top priority for me since 2010.
“This is an essential project for Hastings, Rye and the surrounding area. It will bring enormous benefits to our communities, it will boost growth and regeneration, and it will offer people much greater opportunities for work and travel.”
She leads a High Speed Rail Working Group in Parliament with Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman.
It brings together East Sussex County Council, Rother District Council, Hastings Borough Council, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, Network Rail, chambers of commerce, and development and rail groups.
The group meets regularly to join-up each organisation’s work to strengthen the case for investment in the project.
Mr Merriman added: “The inclusion of High Speed 1 is a huge opportunity for Bexhill and our coastal towns.
“It is now essential that the entire community sends out the message to bidders of the Southeastern franchise that this service will be welcomed and well-used by responding to the consultation.
“Amber has worked tirelessly on this project and I am delighted to be at her side as we continue our campaign for a better rail service for our area.”
Ms Rudd added: “There is still more to do to make the case for investment in this project as strong as possible.
“I urge everyone who would like to see the enormous benefits that High Speed Rail could bring to our area to respond to the consultation.”
Peter Chowney, leader of Hastings Borough Council, has also welcomed the news.
He said: “This publication, ’Shaping the Future’, is vitally important for us, as it gives us the opportunity to comment on our train services going into the future when the rail franchise is re-let.
“It recognises that one of the challenges is to reduce long journey times, and actually uses Hastings as an example, saying: ‘We want to speed up longer-distance journeys which have a very long journey time relative to the length of the route, for instance between London and Hastings.’
“It goes on to say that ‘One option is to operate High Speed services between St. Pancras and Hastings, Bexhill and Rye via Ashford International’, which I think is incredibly significant.
“We have been developing a case for bringing high speed rail here for some time, and I am really pleased that this has been specifically acknowledged in this consultation document.
“I would urge everyone who wants high speed services here to comment on it.”
The consultation also includes various options for reducing journey times on the existing mainline route between Hastings and Charing Cross via St Leonards, Battle and Tonbridge. This could be achieved through reducing calls at less well-used stations.
The current Southeastern franchise is run by Govia, a joint venture between Go-Ahead Group and Keolis, which also operates Southern trains.
A spokesman for Southeastern said: “We welcome any changes to the Department for Transport’s franchise specification that will further improve services for passengers.
“We’re focused on delivering our current franchise and will continue to invest over £70million in improvements in the areas that matter most to our passengers.
“Our recent National Rail Passenger Survey customer satisfaction scores have risen, reflecting that passengers are noticing the improvements being made; but we know there is still more work to do and we will continue to work with Network Rail to improve the experience passengers have when travelling with us.”
A DfT public event to discuss the consultation has been organised at Hastings’ Muriel Matters House on Saturday, April 8 between 11am and 2pm. Entry is via the tourist information centre in Breeds Place on the seafront.
To comment visit www.gov.uk/government/consultations/future-of-south-eastern-rail-services.
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