What to do with the Marshlink Fleet stock?

London to Brighton railway line at Burgess Hill. 27/02/18. Pic Steve Robards SR1805669 SUS-180227-095706001
London to Brighton railway line at Burgess Hill. 27/02/18. Pic Steve Robards SR1805669 SUS-180227-095706001

From: Martin Woodfine St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement p/o East Sussex Rail Alliance

The Marshlink (Eastbourne, Bexhill, Hastings, Rye, Ashford) service has been at the mercy of unreliable rolling stock and under-capacity for too long, but there has recently been industry confirmation that the entire fleet is to be relocated to another rail operator in Autumn 2021. Which presents the issue of what rolling stock Marshlink will get to replace it.

Whilst there is the emerging technology of hydrogen power, this is still in early stages and may not be advanced enough for our service in under two years time. The more likely scenario is a form of dual power electric/battery propulsion for which there have already been some trials elsewhere on the network. But that time frame of under two years to deliver a replacement fleet of 20 vehicles is a challenge within an industry that takes a long time to achieve anything.

We extend our gratitude to outgoing MP Amber Rudd for agreeing to press the industry for a clear picture and decision. In response, GTR have stated “To confirm, we will retain the Class 171 fleet until a suitable replacement has been identified and is available, there will be no interruption to services”. Whilst this is helpful, it does not actually answer how the industry is planning to address the issue.

We would appreciate her successor, of whichever political persuasion, to recognise and continue with this urgent challenge.

Next, High Speed services to London St Pancras via Stratford and Ebbsfleet, the latter of which is destined to be of increasing strategic importance in coming years not least as a potential employment hub. It is now clear and well known that the original project to bring High Speed (HS) services direct to Hastings & Bexhill has had to be completely rethought. The process of evaluation of a new scheme must begin and there is no clear time frame within the industry to do this.

Of high importance is to ensure that line upgrades between Ore and Rye are implemented as a matter of priority in advance of any progression of the HS project, so that the line is fit for both it’s current purpose and any HS services in the future. Again, our incoming political representative should recognise the need for and to go forward with this project.

We also have the on-going confusion and delays to the very existence of both our local Train Operating Companies. The SouthEastern franchise has been extended several times and the process of creating a new franchise has been abandoned. Over at Southern p/o GTR the franchise is due to continue until at least mid-2022, but there is as yet no indication from the DfT of the franchise being changed.

Add to this the far-reaching Williams review – which has the unusual backing of a proposed government White Paper based on its finding and recommendations – which could have a major impact on the whole industry when published. Of course, any change of political administration will have potential implications regarding any progression of it’s findings or recommendations.