Our trains – this is progress?

Train timetable changes will affect some commuters

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 .


  1. This Opinion piece reminds me to advise readers there is still time to respond to GTR/ Southern’s timetable consultation – go to gtr.timetableconsultation@gtrailway.com . Please see earlier reports in Rye News of MLAG’s view of Southern’s revised timetable, included in their consultation paper.

    I must make one comment on the article though. I think we cannot say that Network Rail is “prepared to [electrify the line]”. Third rail and overhead electric supply are possibilities and were costed by Network Rail in their Kent Area Route Study (again, see recent reports in Rye News following the second MLAG general meeting). But there are even more recent suggestions in the press that electrification schemes are likely to be cancelled in preference to bi-mode traction, something that could work well on the MarshLink (and on the HS1 line) with only a short section of unelectrified line (though, again, this would leave the MarshLink needing rolling stock inconsistent with equipment that surrounds it, with potential issues in the event of equipment failure).

  2. Can anyone explain why the service from Ashford to Rye has been reduced since last week? Today there are only hourly trains 16.50, 17.50, 18.50 and yet the strike action has been lifted?

  3. In response to the question from B. Keneghan, the overtime ban timetable is still in place (hence no shuttles, bus instead). But the normal timetable should be back in place from tomorrow.

  4. Rye and neighbouring residents and businesses have until 5pm this Thursday 27th to respond to GTR/Southern’s consultation on their 2018 timetable which currently proposes splitting the hourly Brighton-Ashford diesel service at Hastings. This would deprive Rye of direct rail access to Eastbourne, Bexhill and St Leonards. However I’ve seen that national campaign group Railfuture have advocated an ‘overlapping split’ which would increase Hastings-St Leonards-Bexhill-Eastbourne train services from three to four trains an hour each way, by running a 4-car electric between Brighton and Hastings instead of the 2-car diesel to add capacity west of Hastings, AND running the 2-car-diesel from Ashford through to Eastbourne instead of terminating at Hastings to maintain MarshLink’s direct connections with East Coastway. This has a good chance of happening but only if GTR/Southern are told of the local support for it via gtr.timetableconsultation@gtrailway.com by 5pm this Thursday, and the local MP is also made aware of such support.

  5. Furthermore iro electrification. Whilst overhead is preferred by the industry over more third rail, the whole UK overhead electrification upgrade programme is in disarray with a very long waiting list. The solution will need to be a different – if unverified – propulsion method to achieve the outcome of direct HS1 services from St P to Rye Hastings and beyond. However that is a long way off. The immediate concern is to get DfT approval for Marshlink to run into Eastbourne rather than (as proposed) Hastings, thus retaining the important cross-county connectivity.


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