Is high-speed out of date?

Back in the days when trains were crowded - and Southern forgot it was holiday time !

Our local MP Sally-Ann Hart was on the telly mid week saying what we all need to speed economic recovery in the area is the high-speed train being extended from Ashford to Hastings as this will bring “business” to the area.

However “business” seems to be waking up to the fact in lockdown that more people can work from home and the cost of huge offices and crammed commuter trains is not really necessary much of the time.

And the result is that DFLs (Down From London) are actually getting younger, are still in work, and want better surroundings – and have moved here during the continuing pandemic.

The world is changing, and may change more, as a result of the pandemic – but also as a result of “how we work, and where we therefore need to live, and Sally-Ann may well prove to be “yesterday’s woman”.

Kicked into touch

Indeed, having worked in Whitehall for nearly 20 years, high-speed to Hastings shows every sign of being “kicked into touch” as more spending reviews, assessments, and strategic considerations appear out of the woodwork – alongside (apparently) the cost and complexity of getting the high-speed trains from one side of Ashford station to the other.

However, if our MP is right, a golden opportunity emerges to solve two problems at once. Road problems in the area could be solved at the same time as high-speed arrives – and high-speed will involve some engineering works anyway as most of the line is single track and passing room at Rye station is limited.

Look around you in London – and in some other town centres – and you will see that roads have been built over railway lines. And a problem in the Rye area is that you cannot build houses (let alone by-passes) because of the AONB and SSSIs – Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest – and that was the headache spotted in the 80s when a by-pass was last considered.

Building over the top

But a by-pass could be built over the rail track (as it is in London in Notting Hill) and the work could be done at the same time, and in conjunction with the work necessary for high-speed rail.

So, thank you Sally Ann, you may have solved two problems at once by pressing for the high-speed and, who knows, we may learn absolutely no lessons at all from the pandemic – and life will go on as it did before.

Postscript: But one of the “joys” of climate change is that sea levels are rising – which must surely kill off plans for the proposed new tunnel under the Thames (and even closer to the sea) – as well as any thought that what Rye needs is a “by-pass” tunnel – given that most of the land here thought to be suitable in the 80s for a by-pass is former seabed.

However that issue (flood risk) may also kill off any dreams of “High-Speed” crossing the Marsh where desperate attempts are already being made to keep the sea at bay from what it once covered. But perhaps Sally-Ann could become the “Mermaid MP”? Or we could have a Marsh Tunnel linked into the Channel Tunnel?

Image Credits: J.Minter .


  1. Thank your this interesting opinion piece. An issue that seems to be the elephant in the room when discussing expanding high speed rail from Ashford to Hastings is the impact on property prices and housing development. If you are a homeowner increasing property value is mostly welcomed, but if you are hoping to purchase a property one day as a first time buyer, bringing more London dwellers to this area so they can commute to the capital, will for sure, make home ownership more difficult if not impossible for many local residents. It will also increase the pressure for more housing. And as we can see from current developments planned in Rye, none are including either social housing or more affordable housing. None. You don’t have to be a socialist to appreciate the need for a town that welcomes and supports people across the socioeconomic spectrum. How much more open land will Rye and district be forced to surrender for more homes when high speed rail arrives? Thus far I have not noticed our current MP or Rother Council showing any interest in this issue. Development is not neutral and needs to be considered more carefully and it is disappointing that Ms Hart has not shown any interest that I can see.

  2. I’d be most interested to see a (realistic) artist’s impression of a double width railway track with a large road on top of it going right through the lower part of the town. Does one exist?

  3. And, of course, they’d want to continue it right up the Rother Valley. Can you imagine what that would do to the landscape?

  4. Couldn’t agree more, bonkers as labours original idea to build HS2, a smart idea as Mr Harkness suggests is to build more roads, so more people can come to Camber in the summer and for more lorries to send out our locally grown produce to the continent, climate change ! What climate change!

  5. Charles Harkneses take on a doublef Decker line and road through the centre of Rye,made me smile,(what would they think of it in the Citadel) This single out of date line that has been the talk of the town for years, yes needs tearing up and a road put in its place,because people must be living in Cuckoo land, if they think millions will be spenton this line,which is shut for repairs more than its open,and must have cost Network Rail millions over the putting in a new road, with regular bus services, it will still attrack people to the town,without the disruption we have seen when its closed, of course out of the woodwork will come the masses condemning my post,but in the long run it will take the pressure off our other roads into town, especially if the roads are blocked through accidents and roadworks, which seem to have happened on a regular basis,over the last few years.

  6. I can’t let Charles get away with the old chestnut of putting a road on top of the railway! Surely he was here when the idea was floated in the 1980s, and a large campaign started against the Rye Through Road, as it was dubbed.
    Subsequent investigations showed it to be totally bonkers!

  7. A new road! But where? I’m struggling to see a route that doesn’t have massive adverse implications. It would take a lot of heavy traffic…..

  8. Although the idea of a high-speed train going from London all the way through to Hastings sounds very nice, at present the change over at Ashford is only a few minutes in either direction. The whole journey from Rye to London is around 1 hours 6 minutes. I came from London to Rye last week and it took 58 minutes. It’s not a big deal. Is it really worth spending millions of pounds and possibly years of upheaval to save a few more minutes ? The pleasure of the journey from Ashford to all the other stations through to Rye and on to Hastings is about appreciating where you are, the scenery, the change of pace. Why the need to rush through it ?

  9. The major problem with any significant improvement to the roads between Ashford and Hastings is that it would attract through traffic (particularly big lorries) which currently uses the M20 and M25. This would be disastrous for the Rye area. Leave well alone, it is fine as it is….


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