On Sunday May 20 Southern Railways and Southeastern Railways will bring into effect the most comprehensive changes to rail timetables in decades.
These changes follow Southern’s series of public consultations started in 2016 and meetings it has held over the intervening period with rail user groups from across the MarshLink. Its objective was to create a better service pattern for the public at large. The train operators have had to do this by juggling the services to fit in with infrastructure restrictions and other connecting or conflicting services.
The overall benefits are substantial with additional services, more capacity, better connectivity and new journey options although, regrettably, that is not the case for every service or for every member of the travelling public. For example, MarshLink services to Ashford and connection onto the Javelin are significantly improved for off-peak travel, not so at peak times.
It’s not just the train service patterns that are changing. In the background are alterations to the way the network actually operates – ie train working patterns, crew workings (although MLAG has issues with the re-defining of the role of the traditional on-board guard), all intended to create a more robust service. For the MarshLink two aspects of a robust service are trains operating on-time and, in the event of a unit failure, the speedy availability of a replacement. The issue of the location of the “spare” unit released by the shortening of the MarshLink service remains an issue of concern and will be pursued with Southern. With regard to on-time operations, Southern tell us they have refreshed their operational timings across their network so they know how long it takes between stations in the current, modern environment: as a result they are introducing a new precise timing system called Right Time (or RT). This is a statistic they will be judged on in the future – we wish them success in achieving good results for our mutual benefit.
The rail user groups will be travelling around the network in the opening week or so of the new timetable to see how the new service pattern settles in, if and how passengers change their travel plans, and to spot any unexpected issues and unintended consequences. MLAG’s particular interests are the Rye Shuttle, connections onto the Javelin service (peak and off-peak) and the operation of the Eastbourne Overlap (see MLAG’s recent press release on this route to Brighton). We also want Southern’s connection policy made public (its absence being something of an irritant over the years when a delayed train results in a near miss of a connection). The user groups have already arranged a meeting with Southern to review the practicalities of the new service and, if necessary, seek tweaks: but significant changes to the timetable will not be possible in the short term. MLAG has already listed some issues for discussion.
If you have not checked your new journey timings yet, you are strongly advised to do so. The new details are available on Southern and Southeastern’s websites, national journey planners, and pocket timetables (the MarshLink pocket timetable is now available at Rye station booking office).
There are other things happening beyond the new timetable with potentially significant future effects:
Network Rail’s Kent Route Study
Perhaps surprisingly, the MarshLink line comes under Network Rail’s Kent region and for a very long time now, Network Rail has been writing its proposals for infrastructure development across the whole of their Kent region – MLAG’s Annual General Meeting a year of two ago had a presentation on the draft study from Network Rail. The Study will hopefully include several infrastructure changes MLAG has been pursuing for a very long time – these include the extension of the Javelin service along the MarshLink; the removal of two level crossings at East Guldeford and re-routing of the A259; line speed works between Doleham and Ore (and, ultimately, the implementation of improved line speeds between Ashford and Ore, something we have been trying to get resolved for several years). We understand the Kent Route Study will be released in its final form in the next few weeks (although that timescale too seems a bit vague).
Transport for the South East (“TfSE”)
It was announced this week that a new regional strategic planning body called Transport for the South East has been established, managed by County Councils from Kent to Hampshire. The area involved is substantial with competing (but also, hopefully, common) demands. But to have a unified body to consider transport across this region has to be a positive move.
The TfSE comes with funding of £1m available to it – the permitted use of these funds is awaited but it is a minute part of the cost of infrastructure works contemplated: hopefully it will be a fund to enable studies to be started (and help plans to be realised).
We wait to hear details of TfSE’s objectives and operations.
Photo: Rye News library