A weary traveller speaks out

A empty station as trains are cancelled again.

As a frequent user of the Southern train service on the Brighton / Eastbourne to Rye / Ashford line, I’d like to share my experiences in trying to leave and set foot in the lovely town of Rye. At a time when public transport has never been more important perhaps it’s the moment for more of us to speak out?

With rising petrol costs and limited parking in Rye, visitors might well decide that taking the coastal train, with the changing landscapes of sea and marshes, instead of the car, is an enjoyable and environmentally sound option – but you may just want to think again.

In what now seems like the good old days, the Brighton to Rye / Ashford service ran straight through, taking about an hour. That is until one day the powers that be decided they would drop what was a useful service and they’d make everyone change at Hampden Park to pick up a connection and you might well ask “Where is Hampden Park?”. On Eastbourne’s edge is the answer!

Seasoned travellers to and from Rye will know that when you alight at Hampden Park you just have time to sprint up the stairs and over the bridge to pick up other connections. But those with enormous suitcases or buggies often don’t manage to struggle up the steps and over the bridge in time. And the disabled are told they need to walk right around the station and Ryers visiting Eastbourne hospital have a lengthy walk (but easier than navigating the town centre). But all are subject to the apparent curse of Hampden Park.

Dreaded announcements

Recently, relieved that the train to Hampden Park was actually on time to pick up the Rye / Ashford connection, the announcement that we all dread came over the loud speaker: “The Rye / Ashford train is cancelled due to operational investigations.”  That’s a new one on me too! I have heard many others – Covid, lack of drivers (driving lorries instead?), strong winds, something on the line, bus replacements etc etc.

Frustrated passengers resigned themselves to a one hour wait in a bleak station with no toilets, no café and a very small waiting room on one side only. Mobiles came out with frantic calls to rearrange appointments and find alternative routes of travel.

On that day most of us chose to catch the next Hastings train, which was due in 25 min, and huddled together in the very cold open shelter.  At least Hastings has some facilities – though Covid did close the waiting room there – and Hastings can have its fair share of dreadful announcements.

But, back at Hampden Park, the London train chugged off into Eastbourne and then headed back to Hampden Park 20 minutes later so some who had stayed on it ended up where we started – but it was at least warm staying on the train!

Time to act?

A two and a half hour journey now from Brighton with the connection – and a terrible service frequently!  Surely this service must impact on the local economy in a tourist town as I can’t imagine many day trippers wanting to endure this too often. There are many causes to fight at the moment and perhaps we are all weary, but rather than just downloading yet another compensation claim form that won’t be sent off,  should locals, visitors and businesses be looking at fighting for something better?

Image Credits: Rye News Library .


  1. As a ‘weary commuter’ I sympathise entirely with Charles’ comments. It really is time to speak out about the terrible rail service we get from Southern.
    The main question is where are our missing trains? Pre-pandemic there used to be additional ‘shuttle’ services between Rye and Ashford at peak times Monday to Friday – 3 in the morning and 3 in the evening – meaning a half hourly service for those commuting to work or school/college etc. When travelling 5 days a week these additional services made such a difference, especially if a preceding train had been cancelled, as well as reducing overall weekly commute times by hours.
    Apparently Southern have no intention of reinstating these additional services. Why not? These services are vital to the town and those of who live here. How do we get these trains back?

  2. I don’t suppose it will ever happen but the real problem is who runs the line. It’s not profit making, it is heavily subsidised. It would be better if South Eastern ran it from Ashford, as far as Hastings. Better connections at Ashford. And make Hastings the change point, no SE trains beyond, only Southern. Yes, no direct trains to Brighton from Rye (as currently) but change the idiocy at Hampden Park. If Southern trains only had to run Brighton to Hastings that would make a great deal of difference.

  3. I can remember going to Brighton by train and having to change at Hastings and Lewis so am not surprised by this tale of woe.
    Good luck getting anything done, many have tried and failed.

  4. Reason there are no Rye shuttles is that stock has been used to make 4 car trains for hourly service.

    Until our MPs successfully lobby for extra battery hybrid trains or electrification of marshlink line cannot see this ever changing.

    As now we have 4 car hourly service it has proven need for it.

    can only suggest Rye passengers drive to Bexhill they now have 4 trains an hour to Brighton the direct train from Ashford to Brighton was changed at request of Bexhill/Marshlink Action Groups-did try to fight it but lost as MPs was onside as election due

    Also extra 2 car diesel trains freed up by removal of direct Ashford to Brighton service was meant to make marshlink service more reliable but they have disappeared on to Uckfield line which also use diesel trains.

    Unfortunately it is all a bit of mess and need clear plan and some Department of Transport money to sort it out. Southern current contract does not give then any reason to provide any extra trains or services.

    Can only suggest emailing your MP as they are only ways with power to change anything.

    • Thank you for writing that there are 4 trains from Bexhill to Brighton. I never knew that. I thought my only option was the Hampden Park route. But I’m not sure why you suggest Rye passengers drive to Bexhill to catch the train. Surely Rye passengers / residents can catch the train from Rye to Bexhill and change trains? On a different note, I’ve noticed the train from Ashford to Hastings ( and presumably on to Eastbourne ) has on numerous occasions been reduced to just 2 carriages. This is causing more people to have to stand and be closer together in the age of COVID. Surely that makes no sense at all.

  5. The termination of the MarshLink service at Eastbourne was a long saga, discussed at length at the MLAG AGM of that time. The 2018 timetable drawn up by GTR Southern’s timetable planning team was designed for connectivity along the East Coastway, and was to some degree in response to sustained pressure from local rail users who were demanding that their MPs “do something” about the chronic overcrowding on the Brighton-Ashford service, which had become a victim of its own success. Another issue, now even more central to Government thinking, was the concern about operating diesel trains over electrified track.

    The easy option would have been for Southern to cut the service at Hastings, avoiding running over electrified track but removing much of the connectivity for communities along the line east of Hastings. MLAG and BRAG swiftly joined forces and were successful in, at least, retaining an Ashford-Eastbourne service.
    Looking at recent performance, much discussed at quarterly performance review meetings with GTR Southern, it is acknowledged that performance hasn’t been acceptable with a major factor being ongoing crew shortages caused by Covid impacting on the availability of diesel-competent crew. With decarbonisation high on the national agenda, serious consideration now needs to be focused again on electrifying the line between Ore and Ashford International, which would effectively streamline both units and train crews, making them more interchangeable, thus integrating services better and reducing the incidence of cancellations.
    Stuart Harland
    Chairman, MarshLink Action Group


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here