Southern Railway has not been known for its ability to run an efficient service over the last few years and the Marsh Link with its single line track and old unreliable rolling stock, regular breakdowns and cancelled services, has been no exception to this.
This week, on Tuesday April 23, the 08:44 service to Hastings arrived on time, left on time and managed a good 50 yards before coming to a literally grinding halt. It turned out that the brakes had seized in the ‘on’ position and, despite the best efforts of the driver to release them, remained resolutely stuck, as, indeed, was the train.
Meanwhile, the train having halted close to the level crossing gates, the gates remained in their closed position and, because of the automatic safety system, could not be released from the signal box.
Traffic started to build up and it was not long before queues stretched back up Udimore Road and turned Winchelsea Road, the Strand and South Undercliff, Wish Ward and the lower end of Harbour Road into a car and lorry park with nothing able to move.
But back at the station….by now another train had arrived and connected itself to the back end of the stuck one. Whether the purpose was to try and push it out of the way or to use its extra pneumatic power to try and help release the brakes or whether it was just the 09:44 arriving, we do not know. However the upshot was the good news that Rye now had the 4-car train that has been wanted for a long time but the bad news was that it wasn’t going anywhere.
As the queues of vehicles grew, a lone police car managed to find its way to the crossing, doubtless to prevent the possibility of frustrated motorists trying to get to work, from tearing down the crossing gates.
At the same time a nice man from Network Rail, dressing in the obligatory hi-viz clothes and hard hat, arrived to open the gates and after about 15 minutes playing with the electronic controls, he managed to override the safety systems and the gates finally rose, allowing the traffic to move.
Or, more accurately, allowing some of the traffic to move. On arrival, Network Rail had parked their van in the road at the head of the queue and outside the old Granary Club building, thus blocking one lane and turning a fairly narrow road into, effectively, a single lane one, leaving traffic from the Station Approach side, to continue remaining stationary for a while longer.
Meanwhile a specialist brake-releasing engineer had been summoned from the maintenance depot at St Leonards West. It took him a long time to arrive….apparently there was a traffic jam on the approaches to Rye.
This was not the first time this week that Southern have inconvenienced passengers. Over a perfect Easter weekend it was predictable that the town would be overflowing with visitors, both to Rye itself and Camber. A suitable occasion for a four-car train service, as Southern have said they would arrange on busy weekends.
However only two carriages were in use for home-bound passengers on Saturday and Sunday, with the result that many were left on the platform, with no room in the train and an hour’s wait ahead of them. Hardly an incentive for them to come again. The carriages themselves were so crowded that people were squashed against doors and windows. One London-bound passenger commented that it was certainly as bad, if not worse than the London Underground at the height of a busy rush hour.
Rail group MLAG hopes to discuss the problems at its forthcoming AGM.
Image Credits: John MInter, John Minter.