‘Get behind rail project’

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I regret I was unable to get to Rye’s council meeting to hear the exchanges on the proposed extension of the Javelin service to Rye, Hastings and Bexhill  – I was at my own retirement party in London at the time – but I would like to comment on some issues that I believe arose.

It is important to understand that the driver behind this project is not the needs of Rye, although I would have liked to have claimed this project as a great achievement of the Marsh Link Action Group. The driver is that the Hastings to London line is in a poor state of repair and it is not economically viable to upgrade it to accommodate a modern rail system. Even if it was possible, the line feeds into the great rail bottleneck of London Bridge. So Network Rail is looking at the economic case for extending the Highspeed service from London St Pancras to Ashford, along the Marsh Link to Hastings and Bexhill (and Rye). I have no doubt Network Rail will be able to prove the economic case and therefore Javelin trains will travel along the Marsh Link line – but will they stop at Rye ?

To a large extent I think it is inevitable that they will because the intention is not to dual the whole length of the track – that would be unnecessary to provide the service and, therefore, incur unnecessary costs. They only need to dual the track where trains meet along the route. Fortunately for those who want to see the Javelin stop at Rye (rather than the train just travel through it), Rye is currently positioned as the crossover point for trains: so at least one of the trains will have to stop while awaiting the other, so may as well make it both trains to stop. But that is a rather put-upon sort of approach to life, an approach taken by some councillors, I understand, that if the service comes along the line then I suppose it can stop. Let’s look to see what the benefits of such a service area (OK, the disadvantages too). I wrote a long article on this subject a while ago so won’t repeat the arguments in this piece but am very happy to do so on another occasion.

So what rail service is envisaged:

  • One Javelin train an hour (starting at Bexhill, then Hastings, then Rye, then Ashford). The travel time to St Pancras would be 55 mins – currently between 72 and 85 mins. The reduced travel time is, of course, because of the direct route. But there are other associated benefits not having to change at Ashford for the disabled (avoiding having to change platforms) and every user not having to wait for a connection, or maybe just missing one
  • There will also be a second, all stations, electric train from Ashford to Brighton. Note, the importance of electric trains is that we are currently on a diesel line surrounded by electric trains. So if a unit fails there is no replacement immediately available and the rail workshop is in Selhurst, South London, a long way away. So electric trains means a greater reliability of service
  • There is a lot of concentration in this piece on the service to St Pancras but a lot of people want to take the slower route to London Charing Cross. For them, connection times at Ashford should be better because there would be two services an hour between Rye and Ashford.

But before we get to this position, there are several bridges to cross. The engineering case has to be provided, the economic case needs to be proved (this process is underway) and, not least, the funding has to be found. But I have every expectation the project will be built and I’m keen that the people of Rye, and the council, get behind it.

 

Stuart Harland is chairman of the Marsh Link Action Group