Rail improvements promised as Hastings and Rother groups meet for big conference
Improvements to the local rail service were outlined when Hastings and Rother Rail Users Alliance (HRRUA) hosted a recent conference at the Cooden Beach Hotel.
It was themed ‘Improving our rail services – Investing in the future.’ and chaired by Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman.
The HRRUA comprises six rail groups covering all the stations and their communities between Normans Bay and Appledore, and had invited senior rail industry executives from Network Rail, GTR/Southern, and Southeastern to present to our local MP’s; Cllr Keith Glazier who is chair of Transport for the South East and leader of East Sussex County Council and other representatives.
Network Rail told the meeting that the Department for Transport had asked them to prepare a strategic outline business case for works in Ashford station which would connect the HS1 line from St. Pancras with the Marshlink line serving East Sussex via a new platform. The project is known as the Kent and East Sussex Coastal Connectivity Programme. Network Rail expect the business case to be completed before the end of this year, and the HRRUA will play a full part in assisting them since it meets HRRUA and other stakeholder aspirations for transport improvements to boost the local economy, both business and leisure, in our part of East Sussex.
Train operating companies GTR (Southern) and Southeastern each gave presentations on how current services could be further improved for much-needed connectivity, at the same time looking ahead towards possible direct services between London St. Pancras and Rye, Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne.
Southern were able to announce that there will be increased capacity on many MarshLink trains at weekends during the summer months, with some using four-car rather than the usual two-car diesel trains.
As part of the Gatwick Station redevelopment, also starting in May, off-peak and Saturday trains from Victoria via Gatwick Airport to Bexhill and Hastings/Ore would no longer split and join at Haywards Heath, and be longer trains. This would improve reliability and capacity, and reduce journey times between Victoria/Gatwick Airport and the East Sussex coast by up to eight minutes.
Southeastern confirmed that in response to public consultation they are no longer planning to withdraw the two morning weekday peak services from Ore to Charing Cross and Cannon Street and were seeking DfT approval to make this permanent.
In closing the event, Huw Merriman MP highlighted the very significant increase in station usage across the East Coastway, east of Eastbourne, evidencing the success of the introduction of the May 2018 timetable.
Huw said: “It is encouraging to see such an increase in demand for rail travel at our local stations. This confirms just how important it is for us to improve our local rail services to increase the efficiency, speed and reliability of rail to East Sussex.
“I was very pleased to hear the positive news for our high speed rail service project and I am now working with all MPs who will see the benefits of the improvements at Ashford to press our case with Ministers at the Department for Transport.”
Several of the delegates then travelled to Rye for a working lunch at The Mermaid with Sally-Ann Hart MP and Michael Boyd, Mayor of Rye, and then on to Ashford International to view the current and proposed infrastructure improvements necessary for the introduction of the direct High Speed services for East Sussex.
This was a significant, high-level event with transport bosses seeing for themselves the importance and value placed by local businesses on the connectivity which good, reliable rail services need to provide for the success of the area’s economy.
Sally-Ann Hart commented, “It was really encouraging to meet many of the local organisations along with the train operators, Southern, Southeastern and Network Rail, to hear that the drive for fast rail from London to Hastings and Eastbourne is still very much a priority. It is very good news that Network Rail has been asked to prepare a business plan by the Department of Transport for this route, and as the local MP I will do all that I can to ensure that we see improvements to our rail infrastructure. These improvements will encourage business growth and improvements in our education infrastructure too.”