Poor train service exposed by MLAG


At the Marsh Link Action Group (MLAG) AGM on Tuesday June 18, attendees received updates from Network Rail on the proposed reconfiguration of the lines at Ashford International and from Govia Thameslink Railways (GTR) on on-going service reliability challenges.

Network Rail provided a recap on proposed track works at Ashford, which are championed by both Amber Rudd MP and ESCC, which would allow HS1 trains from St Pancras to run on to Hastings and Bexhill via Rye.

The original proposal (covered in Rye News) was to reconfigure the lines to allow for St Pancras HS1 trains to arrive at platform 2 at Ashford International and then onwards on the Marsh Link line to Hastings and Bexhill. On investigation, the difficulty of doing this became clear to the transport planners. It included the need to close Ashford completely for nine days and overhaul the signalling. The complexity and increased cost has led Network Rail to investigate an alternative solution. This involves building a new platform between platforms 2 and 3 in the space currently used by freight lines. While Network Rail’s presenter Andrew Wood was at pains to emphasise that it is still at the idea stage, the potential capacity benefits of this could be felt across the wider south east. ESCC have therefore asked them to explore this option and we hope to hear if it’s feasible before the end of the summer.

Andrew Wood, James Harris and Stuart Harland (l to r)

The AGM also received a presentation from Southern Rail’s James Harris who gave an overview on the poor punctuality of the Mash Link line. With 29 cancellations last month and a punctuality rate hovering around 50% the line scored badly. James recognised this was not good enough for a service where onward connections are a vital part of the service. On a positive note James confirmed that extra trains will be introduced on the line during summer weekends to ensure holidaymakers aren’t stranded at the station, as they were last year. James also announced that from December 2019 the 7.16am shuttle service would be brought forward and leave at 7.06 to allow Rye commuters to catch a 12-car train at Ashford International on to London.

The AGM was deftly chaired by MLAG Chair, Stuart Harland, who announced that the committee would welcome new members. If you are interested and have a passion for trains email info@mlag.org.uk for more information.

Amber Rudd this week hosted Network Rail in Parliament to press for progress of the high speed rail project in Hastings and Rye.

Speaking after the meeting, Amber Rudd commented:

“Making good on my commitment to bring better rail services for our constituents is one of my top priorities.

“We must press ahead with this project and I will be hosting further summits with Network Rail as well as local bodies including our Councils and Chambers of Commerce to discuss the best steps from here.

“People in Hastings & Rye should know that as their MP I will always take their concerns to the very heart of government, ensuring they get the best possible deal from government.

“I will continue to push for the rail improvements we need.”

The Transport Secretary committed the Government’s support for examining the track layout changes needed for direct journeys and said that the Department for Transport will jointly fund development work for the proposed track layout changes with local authorities.

During the meeting, Amber discussed the outcome of the feasibility study with Andrew Wood, Senior Commercial Scheme Sponsor South East Route for Network Rail, and Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle.

Amber Rudd and Huw Merriman are pictured with Andrew Wood of Network Rail

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird , Amber Rudd .

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  1. Amber trotting out the “HS1 is coming” line again. Must be an election in the offing.

    While the 07:16 being put back is welcomed, they should also be looking at moving the 17:55 and 18:55 back by 2-3 minutes to connect with the 17:20 and 18:20 from St. Pancras. Watching those two trains pull out as yours pulls in knowing you have a half hour wait for the next one is awful.

  2. I think I should try to apply some further perspective to Kevin’s report on Southern’s presentation of their recent performance statistics at the MLAG AGM last week.
    James Harris, speaking for Southern Railway, was making the point that they have changed their performance measure from one that is based on arrival time being within 5 mins of scheduled time (“PPM” being Public Performance Measure) to one based on arrival within 1 min of schedule (“OTR” being On Time Railway).
    Indeed, it was explained that OTR data over the month shows the Ashford – Eastbourne services have been at around 50% (i.e. arrived within one minute of schedule) which, James acknowledged, needs to be improved to achieve the connection reliability they have set themselves across the MarshLink service (i.e. for connections, in particular, at Ashford and Hampden Park). But the equivalent PPM figure (the statistic used in previous years) is about 98% and would normally be considered high across the rail industry.
    I don’t wish to put myself in the position of being Southern’s apologist but it should be acknowledged that a late train does not always result from a failure by Southern – delays are also caused, for example, by track and signalling issues which are outside Southern’s control. Our local rail infrastructure raises its own issues affecting journeys and therefore statistics: as we are well aware, our line is part single track meaning that if one train is late then the other (in the other direction) will also be delayed; and track junctions create complications with other lines and services also wishing to run on time creating delays at Bo Peep Junction at St. Leonards and at Eastbourne. So the shorter the length of the service, the fewer infrastructure issues impede progress – note that the statistics presented for the Rye Shuttle were 61% OTR and 100% PPM. But (apart from the Rye Shuttle) MLAG has argued against the reduction of the length of the MarshLink service, for example only last year when we argued against a cut in the service length from Brighton to Eastbourne.
    With regard to the cancellation statistics quoted, 29 in a month is a lot of cancellations. And if you are intending to catch a particular train then, indeed, that train’s cancellation is 100% of the services you’re wanting to catch. But it should be recognised that is 29 out of 1016 services is 2.8%.
    I will be writing a fuller report of the AGM proceedings for the forthcoming RyeNews.

    Stuart Harland
    Chairman, MLAG


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