Winter rail upgrades may hit passengers

TRAIN passengers in Hastings should not have to pay for track upgrades to help the network run during the winter, according to campaigners.

Many trains ground to a halt when the big freeze hit and there was chaos at stations as stranded passengers were left to fend for themselves in the freezing conditions. A report into the problems caused by the snow concluded that the third rail system which serves Hastings is susceptible to sub zero conditions and may need replacing.

Heating the third rail is one possible solution, but some 2.500 miles of track would need to be upgraded. The alternative – replacing the whole system with overhead lines – would cost an estimated £800,000 a mile.

The chief executive of consumer group Passenger Focus said commuters might have to decide between seasonal disruption or a further hike in fares, with passengers here already facing an eight per cent increase in the New Year.

But Martin Woodfine, of the St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement Programme (SHRIMP), was adamant that rail users should not be penalised.

He said: “I think it is up to the train companies to absorb the costs. Customers have been paying over the odds for years on end to cover improvements but people in this area have not seen any improvements whatsoever. The problem is also that heating the third rail will not solve all the problems with the snow.

“The ultimate solution would be to replace it with overhead rails which would be mega expensive. Maybe then commuters would have to cough up a little bit more.”

Mr Woodfine added that short-term solutions could be funded thanks to a European funding programme known as the Trans-European Network- Transport programme.

“We think it is a scandal that everybody knows about this money but nobody has ever applied for it. We have been talking about it since 2006 and are going to keep pushing that button because this stretch of line is eligible for a grant to upgrade the infrastructure,” he said.