First, walk. Only then try to run

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Last week Amber Rudd held the fourth of her annual rail summits. There was much talk about the Javelin service in 2024 and improving the Hastings/London travel time and I have no doubt she and her fellow MPs in the local area are working hard on this and, I believe that she genuinely wants to see improvements in our rail services. However – and there is always a ‘however’ – if we are to see long term improvements in our rail communications, we surely must, first of all, go back to basics.

The Marsh Link would, in the pre-Beeching era, doubtless have been considered a branch line. And, in its own way, I suppose, it is, linking a variety of small communities with a few major stations that can then take passengers on to wherever they wish to go. It sounds simple, and surely it should be simple. All we need is a regular service with trains leaving when advertised and arriving on time at their connecting stations and at a time which gives only a modest waiting time between arrival and subsequent departure of the main line train. From that base a wider and more impressive service involving Javelins, bi-mode trains and the rest could be built.

But what do we actually have? A service of two-carriage trains which have, in the past (although current record is better) been subject to regular breakdowns, and which are two small for the number of passengers at certain times of the day, resulting in severe over-crowding. In addition there have been delays and cancellations for over a year due to industrial action, which surely is inexcusable. The operating company wails that the Unions are being uncooperative and the weak and inept leadership of the Department for Transport does little to help, saying it is a matter for the operators.

Next May a proposed new timetable is to be introduced. Hooray, one might think – at least a chance now to get connections with the main line services sorted out. Sadly not. There seems to be little positive change in timing to meet connections, but the one thing they have done is to recognise the popularity of the Ashford – Rye – Hastings – Brighton service. And the change they have made to help their passengers? Why, cancel the through service, of course!

The reason given is that it is too popular, so to discourage passengers from using it, the train will terminate at Eastbourne. Thirty five minutes later another train will (we can only hope) arrive and take the onward-travelling passengers to the stations between Eastbourne and Brighton. Some time ago I saw an old episode of Yes Minister where Sir Humphrey was praising the efficiency of a new hospital: zero waiting times, no bed-blocking etc. On being asked how this miracle had been achieved his answer was, “Its simple Minister, there are no patients yet, so it runs perfectly”. 

I find it difficult to believe that there are no four-carriage diesel trains anywhere in the country that could be made available for the Marsh Link – in fact I don’t believe it. Just as I don’t believe that with proper leadership the current strike situation could not have been resolved a long time ago.

The root cause, of course, of all these problems is that Southern are only contracted to manage the railway and, it seems, are paid regardless of results. The railway is ‘owned’ by the government, in the form of the Department of Transport, who quite clearly think the answer to everything is to blame Southern and to accept not one iota of responsibility.  

I am all for privately run railways through the franchise system – generally speaking the network and the trains that run on it have improved out of all recognition since the days of British Rail. And as a commuter from those days, I really don’t want to go back there. But, for heaven’s sake, all this talk of fast connections to the Capital whether by the Javelin or just faster standard trains is completely absurd if the Company concerned cannot yet run a simple branch line efficiently.

Please, Southern and DfT, learn how to walk, then you can begin to run.

Photo: Rye News library

Image Credits: Rye News library .

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1 COMMENT

  1. Agree completely even now I am hearing of more diesel trains being freed up across country. For too long the Brighton to Ashford line has been ignored and under invested in.

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