The start of the year has not been good for Rye rail users. There seem to have been an enormous number of cancellations: we calculate that by the end of last week [January 17], 38 trains had failed to run in the previous four weeks and 12 in that week alone.
There are two particular examples being reported to us. Let’s have a look:
- The four earliest trains of the day are timetabled to give commuters about six minutes to catch their connection to London St Pancras when they arrive at Ashford. This is excellent when the incoming train is on time, but currently the 6.08 is often late (and sometimes doesn’t run at all). If the connection is missed the commuter has a further delay of 30 minutes. The Marsh Link Action Group (Mlag) is trying to find out why this train is proving to have a problem.
- The Rye Shuttle, which operates between Rye and Ashford at peak times, has become very inconsistent, with conflicting views about how many services have been affected. There might be disagreement about the precise number, but the truth is that a lot of services have been cancelled. Mlag has always felt that the Rye Shuttle is the first service to be dropped when a diesel unit fails.
When asked to comment, Southern Rail replied: “As you know, the limited amount of diesel trains available means the fleet is worked particularly hard and, to provide the maximum capacity, our train plan only allows for six carriages to be ‘stopped’ at any one time, to ensure we are able to carry out essential maintenance and repairs. This means that any other issue will immediately leave us short of rolling stock.
“The 171 fleet has an underlying very good record for reliability, however a number of failures, along with some infrastructure problems, have resulted in disruption for passengers using our diesel routes.
“Currently we have a unit undergoing work on its electrics, another on its engine and the unit which hit the tree is at the depot in need of fairly significant repairs. All of the coaches were damaged in some way. The engine was punctured, part of the fibre-glass shell was ripped off and the nose was damaged. The coupler needs to be replaced and the wheels must all be reprofiled. This means that we don’t have the full number of carriages required for the planned service, but we are aiming to do as much of the routine exams and maintenance as possible over the weekend and off peak to allow for as many carriages as possible to be available for the peak services. Unfortunately, this means that there have been a number of cancellations and/or short formations although we are doing all we can to mitigate this.”
Mlag believes that if a service has to be cancelled then Southern should announce it at the earliest opportunity, not wait until its expected arrival time. Southern acknowledges the point and says this aspect is being looked at.
The Uckfield service – the other user of the diesel units – is also suffering issues at the moment. All we can do is continue to push Southern to restore a reliable Rye Shuttle service as soon as possible and resolve whatever is causing the delay to the 6.08.
Stuart Harland is chairman of the Marsh Link Action Group (Mlag)