Since I became your MP it has been a priority for me to improve the rail links between our towns and journey times between the coast and London.
I want to see an extension of High Speed 1 arrive in Rye, Hastings and onto Bexhill. No other transport investment comes close to delivering economic benefits on the scale of this rail link – it will increase the scope of jobs available to workers, boost our coastline’s tourist economy, attract unprecedented levels of business investment and give a major lift to the housing market.
However, realising this ambition will not be easy or cheap. So I have set up a working group to help us deliver it. The group is formed of MPs, councils, Network Rail, business leaders and local development and rail groups, and it is campaigning strongly and pressing the Government for better rail services for our area. We held our most recent meeting last week and I can report good progress; we’re on course for faster journey times from Eastbourne to Ashford and onto London.
These improvements will be borne of innovative solutions such as hybrid or battery powered trains.
If we can achieve High Speed rail by new battery-powered trains, rather than the expected third rail or overhead electrification of the line, then we should do so. It would deliver the same outcome (fast trains) for lower cost.
However, these objectives mean little if we neglect current service issues.
Southern were underperforming consistently and for a long time before the recent severe disruption.
While the union must stop its unacceptable industrial action which is making life a misery for passengers, I have called on Southern to do more to bring the union to the negotiating table and to help people affected.
The new timetable to improve service reliability begins operating on Monday. There will be fewer peak time services between Hastings and Ashford International. But: 1) Southern tickets will be accepted on reasonable alternative Southeastern services; 2) There will be rail replacement bus services in place of the cancelled Rye Shuttle; and 3) I have asked Southern to look into whether the carriages which would have operated on cancelled services can be used to increase the size of the trains which will run. This would help alleviate overcrowding and I will be pressing Southern strongly on this.
None of this is ideal. Southern are juggling the dispute with the union with the needs of passengers. I have raised the issue of reviewing their franchise with the Rail Minister. I will continue to press her to look at whether they are fit to run this service to the end of their franchise in 2021. We need a much better and more reliable service.