Southern Rail excuses fall flat

Train timetable changes will affect some commuters

Rolling stock failures have marred the Marshlink line this year, so we invited a speaker from Southern Railway to address the annual meeting of the MarshLink Action Group. But fate intervened. As David Walker, the head of Southern’s revenue development, made his way to Rye Town Hall for our meeting on March 20, his own “rolling stock” failed – a flat tyre  – so there was no one from Southern to explain the current failings.

It was at our annual meeting last year that Network Rail first presented its ideas for extending the existing Javelin service from London St Pancras to Rye, Hastings and Bexhill. Since that time the project has developed and the current thinking was presented by Lisa Goodman, senior development manager of Network Rail.

The basics of the project are largely as presented last year, with line speeds generally expected to be 60-90 mph from Ashford to Doleham and 40-60 mph onwards to Hastings. But the big question is whether the power source would be a third rail (as we would prefer) or overhead.

Another major factor is the large number of crossings along the line. Some might need to be assessed from a safety point of view. The installation of footbridges at some of these locations was not thought to be very appealing. Potentially, two crossings of the A259 at East Guldeford would have to be rerouted and two crossings in the centre of Rye – at Ferry Road and Rope Walk – would require extensive works.

Present at this year’s annual meeting were three Parliamentary candidates for Hastings and Rye: Amber Rudd, the defending Conservative MP, who has been instrumental in getting the project to its current position, Sarah Owen, Labour, and Nick Perry, Lib-Dem. All three voiced their support for the project.

Faster service to Southampton?

Looking further into the future I explained why we and other rail action groups in East Sussex had joined forces under the banner of the East Sussex Rail Alliance. It will enable us to put matters of mutual interest to the train operating companies in the recent vastly enlarged new franchise region called Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, of which the Marshlink is now an even smaller part than it was of the previous franchise region.

Ray Chapman, chairman of the alliance, told the meeting that, with the Javelin service in place – assuming this happens – there is the possibility to expand the service, potentially to Southampton and Exeter. This could lure passenger traffic off the busy and congested A27/A259 to rail.

Currently, the major concern of Rye commuters is the poor performance of the diesel trains on the Rye Shuttle services and the many cancellations with little or no notice. Things are not expected to improve much when Southern leases additional diesel units in a few months’ time because they have been allocated to the Uckfield line – the only other diesel-operated line in the vicinity.

Amber Rudd issued a press release on the day of the AGM “calling on the Secretary of State to allow Southern to reallocate a number of these [diesel] units to the Brighton-Ashford service [to benefit the Marshlink line].” We await the Government’s and Southern’s response.

Not all our members use the Javelin service from Ashford, but take the service to Charing Cross. This has its own issues at the moment with major development works taking place at London Bridge that will continue for a few more years. Network Rail issued a statement on the eve of our meeting, saying: “The last few weeks have seen unacceptable levels of service and overcrowding at London Bridge station for which we are very sorry. Network Rail and the train operating companies serving London Bridge station are putting in place a detailed action plan to create a better environment for passengers.” The vital task ahead, it added, was the “transforming and rebuilding [of] this busy, congested station.” We wait to hear what those changes will be but expect that more pain is likely before any gains are felt.

Our action group has many more issues to raise with Southern, including:

  • Connections at Ashford We would like to see a policy reintroduced to enable late-running trains to meet their connections if the delay is within a specified number of minutes
  • Line speeds Following track improvements over the past few years, when will these be used to improve line speeds, timetabling and, indeed, enable a connectivity policy to be reintroduced?
  • Late train The current last westbound train leaves Ashford at 22:34, but we urge the introduction of a later service

See also
An expert eye on Javelin’s future, a report by Nick Taylor, and
‘You must lobby’ for rail upgrade

Photo: Mark Gostling

Image Credits: Rye News library .