High Speed rail getting closer?

Rail representatives, councillors and MPs in the Mermaid

There was a boost to securing rail improvements between the East Sussex coast and London St. Pancras in an announcement at a conference held last Friday at Cooden Beach Hotel organised by Hastings and Rother Rail User Group (HRRUA, which includes the MarshLink Rail Action Group). Also announced was increased capacity on the Marshlink at weekends during the summer months

HRRUA invited senior rail industry executives; Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle; Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye; Councillor Keith Glazier, chair of Transport for the South East and leader of East Sussex County Council; councillors from East Sussex County Council and Rother District Council; and other interested organisations to participate in the “Improving our rail services – Investing in the future” event, chaired by Huw Merriman MP.

Network Rail (NR) told the meeting of local stakeholders that the Department for Transport (DfT) had asked them to prepare an outline business case for works at Ashford which would connect the HS1 line to the Marshlink.

The proposed works to evaluate the “Ashford East” project would involve the removal of one of the through lines at Ashford International Station to accommodate an additional platform for the through services, and the DfT has now requested Network Rail to submit a summary outline business case for the project.

The future of Marshlink? Maybe one day

NR are hopeful that this will lead to a request for a full business case, which would take between 6 and 8 months to evaluate. NR have designated the programme, the Kent & East Sussex Connectivity Programme.

The train companies, GTR (Southern) and Southeastern, each gave presentations on how current services could be further improved for much-needed connectivity, at the same time looking ahead towards future Javelin services from St. Pancras to Rye, Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne.

Southern also announced there would be increased capacity on the MarshLink at weekends during the Summer months (more details awaited) and on Victoria services via Gatwick Airport.

Four car train at Rye Station

In closing the event, Huw Merriman highlighted the very significant increase in station usage across the East Coastway, east of Eastbourne, evidencing the success of the introduction of the 2018 timetable.

Huw said: “It is encouraging to see such an increase in demand for rail travel at our local stations. This confirms just how important it is for us to improve our local rail services to increase the efficiency, speed and reliability of rail to East Sussex.

“I was very pleased to hear of the positive news of our high speed rail project and I am now working with all MPs who will see the positive benefits of the improvements at Ashford to press our case with ministers at the Department for Transport.”

Some of the executives then travelled to Rye for a working lunch at The Mermaid with Sally-Ann Hart MP and Michael Boyd, mayor of Rye, and then on to Ashford International to view the current and proposed infrastructure improvements necessary for the introduction of the Javelin services.

This was an important, high-level event with transport bosses seeing for themselves the importance and value placed on the connectivity which good, reliable rail services need to provide for the Marshlink’s economy. Sally-Ann Hart commented, “It was really encouraging to meet many of the local organisations along with the train operators, Southern, Southeastern and Network rail, to hear that the drive for fast rail from London to Hastings to Eastbourne is still very much a priority. It is very good news that Network Rail has been asked to prepare a business plan by the Department of Transport for this route, and as the local MP I will do all that I can to ensure we see improvements to our rail infrastructure. These improvements will encourage business growth and improvements in our education infrastructure.”

Representatives of the rail industry will be invited to the MLAG annual general meeting (yet to be arranged) to provide members with an update and answer questions.

Image Credits: MLAG , Rye News library , Kevin McCarthy .

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