Last week I invited Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to visit Ashford International to hear an update on my campaign to secure a high speed rail link between our communities and London St Pancras.
Specifically, I want to see journey times, which are currently around 100 minutes between Hastings and London, reduced to 66 minutes.
This was a very encouraging meeting. I am pleased to announce that the commitment has been made to supporting the development of a proposed track layout at Ashford International which would allow trains from Hastings, Rye, Bexhill and Eastbourne to travel direct to London St Pancras
Work will now begin towards the necessary track connections to join-up the Marshlink and the High Speed 1 line to London.
This change would help make possible the direct service to St Pancras with a journey time of 81 minutes from Hastings.
Last Friday’s meeting brought together local authorities (East Sussex, Kent, Hastings, Rother and Ashford), Network Rail and Southeastern. As a group we are committed to collaborating to deliver this project which will be so beneficial to our communities. This is the reason I established a working group in 2015, which has driven forward work to bring high speed rail to our towns so that we now have this commitment to take the first step towards this goal.
Accompanying the track changes at Ashford, hybrid rolling stock – trains running on diesel-electric or battery-electric power – would make these quick journey times a reality. I am working closely with Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman to push for the next South Eastern franchise, which begins December 2018, to deliver investment in this innovative technology.
Once these new trains are running direct between our towns and London St Pancras, the next stage will be to make improvements to the track between Eastbourne and Ashford. This would then allow the trains to travel at faster speeds, cutting journey times to my target of 66 minutes between London and Hastings.
This is the objective which I have campaigned for since my first term as your MP. I am excited for it to be delivered.