Changes in prospect on Marshlink train line

Changes at Ashford station hold the key to better services - as a MLAG meeting in Rye Town Hall was told in June

From Rye’s perspective, Amber Rudd’s transport summit this year (held last Friday, October 11 and, almost certainly, her last summit), provided updates on two slow-burning issues and the rejuvenation of a long-lost friend.

Connecting Rye to St Pancras
Being able to construct a link between the HS1 and the Marshlink lines is, to state the obvious, needed to enable a Javelin train service to operate directly between Rye and St. Pancras. Network Rail (NR) explained the evolution of the project and those who attended this year’s MLAG AGM will be substantially aware of the proposals:

  • an expectation (voiced at last year’s meetings) was to connect the HS1 line with platform 2 at Ashford
  • however, considerable complications arose with signalling which have proved difficult to circumvent – so a new track layout had to be found
  • the solution now proposed is to construct a new platform 2A (between platforms 2 and 3, taking out two of the three freight lines)

It should be emphasised this proposal has several advantages that are, perhaps, not so obvious:

  • the platform would be good for connecting to the Kent route as well as the Marshlink
  • it avoids the need for reduced speed at crossovers between tracks
  • it avoids having to change propulsion source whilst moving (i.e. from overhead power on HS1 to another power source on the Marshlink – see below)
  • and, very obviously, it provides Ashford station with an additional platform (much needed)

After NR announced their proposed track layout at the MLAG AGM in June, a meeting was held in Parliament in July at which NR presented their proposal to the High Speed Rail Working Group (formed and chaired by Amber Rudd and attended by the MLAG chairman as a member of the group).

This track layout solution has, so far, survived considerable scrutiny within NR and is now moving into new phases, costing and a formal proposal to the Department for Transport (DfT). It should be emphasised though that if this proposal satisfies the DfT’s demands, this would put it in the same position as many other rail schemes, needing financing.

For this reason there were presentations at the transport summit from East Sussex County Council on the financing issues.

Line speed upgrades
Again, as presented to the MLAG AGM, for any new service to be fully functioning, the Marshlink line needs to be upgraded with works between Ashford and Eastbourne, so it would not be cheap. These costs also need to be funded, requiring a strategic business case to be prepared.

Marshlink propulsion speculation
The upgrade most thought to be needed on the Marshlink over the past several years has been electrification. But the need for electrification has been brought into focus by recent references in trade press, including this month’s Modern Railway.

A broken-down train caused problems earlier this year

That stated that Govia Thameslink Railway’s (GTR) Turbostars (i.e. the Class 171 diesel units used on the Rye line) will be transferred to East Midlands Railways sometime after August next year and replaced by Electrostars (the train used between Hastings and London powered by third rail) after conversion to bi-mode capability.

It is interesting that Amber Rudd, about three years ago, suggested that Electrostars could be retrofitted to form a hybrid train and MLAG has questioned since why this appeared not to have progressed.

But, at the transport summit, GTR confirmed it is supplying engineers with one of its Electrostar trains to enable retrofitting to be tested. If this speculation comes to a positive conclusion, three-car Electrostars would also give us much needed additional capacity. MLAG will be pursuing progress with this proposal.

Meanwhile, on more current issues (but also announced at the MLAG AGM by Southern), there will be two changes to the Marshlink timetable from December

  • the 07:16 Rye – Ashford service will be re-timed to 07:06 arriving Ashford 07:28 to provide additional connections and
  • the connection time at Hampden Park from the Marshlink onto the Brighton service will be increased from 4 to 6 mins. This follows concerns expressed at the short connection period.

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird , John Minter , MLAG .


  1. Do not understand the emphasis on HS1 trains, won’t actually make much difference to overall travel times for anyone, unless your office is near Kings Cross or maybe Canary Wharf. Not much difference for those of us who work in “town”, if the Marshlink to Mainline, timings worked better.

    The retime of the 0716 to 0706 is a “close, but no cigar moment”, all it means for Mainline passengers is the usual prayer that the most convenient ChX train, (the 0727 in this case) is running later. Otherwise it is arrive at Rye earlier, to get to CHX at the same time on the 0743, as you do currently, with added “wait time” at Ashford. No doubt will be called “robust connection” because it’s my time being wasted.

  2. MLAG would suggest a wider perspective should be applied to the proposed HS1 project than just improving a daily commute to London – if the ambition was limited to that it wouldn’t be financially viable.
    The primary objective of the project is regeneration – to improve the economy of the Sussex coast, to improve communication along the route and onwards to the Continent as well as London and, arguably in time, perhaps, to the west of Rye further along the coast (maybe even to Brighton, who knows – and even beyond).
    And it should be recognised that improving communication with London also means connecting to the major transport gateways to places further north via the excellent connections at St. Pancras, Kings Cross and Euston.
    Returning to considerations more parochial and our existing local economy, the project is intended to produce additional local benefits resulting from:
    – two trains per hour – so this would improve connection opportunities for those wishing to travel to Charing Cross;
    – more capacity;
    – increased line speeds;
    – and even some improved safety features, for example, on the A259, the removal of two level crossings at East Guldeford.
    Meanwhile, I acknowledge the point made that travellers to Charing Cross will not share the benefits that travellers to St.Pancras will experience from the timing change to the Rye – Ashford 07.16 service (so it will run at 07.06 from 15th December).
    Stuart Harland
    Chairman, MarshLink Action Group

  3. Unless the track between Hastings and Ashford is dualled,it is a waste of time making improvements and putting extra trains on, with the gridlock we see each week,when the signal man keeps the gates down for long periods at times, extra trains will just exacerbate this irritating problem.

  4. Can I comment on new 0706 timing for HS1 commuter current 0716 currently connected fine to 0744 12 car HS1 service which waiting everyday on platform 6.

    This new timing offers no benefit fo HS commuters too as we are unable to leave London any earlier as none of the peak evening services has been changed. All this has done is add another 10 mins to our normal 4 hour commute.

    Please can Stuart and MLAG consult with regular commuters before suggesting any more peak timetable changes.

    I have spoken to Southern explained the issue with this change and hopefully it will now be reversed but this will not be to next timetable change in June.

    Rye Coummter Group


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