In a recent article by the Chairman of MLAG, he indicated that new timetables to potentially be introduced in due course by Southern Rail could mean an end to the Ashford to Brighton through service. The reason for this was the inability to provide a four-carriage train which would relieve the overcrowding from Hastings onward. The result would be a change at either Hastings or Eastbourne for Lewes and then a further change for Brighton.
There are, apparently no suitable diesel units available (the only one that Southern could obtain – from Scot rail – has been sent to the Uckfield line), nor are their any bi-motor units and the possibility of retro-fitting a train to operate as a bi-mode has been refused funding from the DfT. The rarity of diesel units is,in part, due to an EU dictat that no more purely-diesel trains should be built (this follows on from the pressure to phase out diesel cars, and for the same reasons).
The answer is to electrify the line not yet electrified so that standard electric trains could use it. Network Rail are prepared to do this. However there is a problem: Network Rail do not want to lay a ‘third rail’ for safety reasons (despite the fact that the rest of the route derives its power from the electrified third rail system). They would prefer to use overhead wires on gantries. Leaving aside the eyesore of large gantries marching across the Marsh, the cost is unacceptable due to the extensive foundations that would be required for each gantry, given the subsoil conditions in the area. So, an impasse, and for the moment, at least, we are stuck with the existing two-carriage system, unless, of course, discussions between the train operators, Network Rail, the DfT and user groups can come up with a solution that might be acceptable to all parties – stranger things have happened.
In the meantime, the through service to Brighton has in any case been suspended. Southern have explained this by saying that the overtime ban and other disruption by train crews has made it impossible to run the full service. The train now stops at Eastbourne.
So what effect is this having on the passenger going from Ashford (or even Rye) through to Brighton or any of the stations beyond Eastbourne? First there is, at least, only one change and not two. However the good news stops there. Before the service was cut, the journey time from Rye to Brighton was 1 hour 30 minutes approximately. Now the time is just on 2 hours because, having reached Eastbourne, there is a 30-minute wait for the onward train. In addition, should you need, perhaps for business reasons, to reach Brighton Station by, say, 10.30am, the 8.55 train from Rye on the original timetable would get you there with a few minutes to spare. Now, however, to arrive by 10.30am you would need to catch the 7.45, arriving at 9.44. But there is a snag here, too. You are now travelling at peak time so Southern charges you £21 for a return journey instead of just £15 for the non-peak time train an hour later. An increase of journey time of around 30% and a cost increase of around 40%. Or, to put it another way, you are paying Southern £6 for the privilege of standing on Eastbourne station for 30 minutes.
This week we learned that after months and months of procrastination, the transport minister and unions have agreed to meet and the strikes called for the beginning of August have been suspended, at least for the moment. Whether this particular minister is capable of bridging the gulf between train company and unions remains to be seen.
We can but hope.
Photo: Rye News library
Image Credits: Rye News library .