Some years ago, the late John Howlett wrote with his usual eloquence about the vagaries of the system of opening and closing the barriers on the level crossings at either end of Rye station. That was in 2015 and one might be forgiven for thinking that in almost seven years since that piece was written, Network Rail’s “improvements” that we are often told about, together with staff changes and practices, would have meant that the sometimes long waits John complained of would be a thing of the past. Sadly not.
As most will know, the line between Ashford and Hastings is mainly single track and the only practical passing point is at Rye station – very roughly halfway between the two towns. This means, of course that trains approaching from either end need to arrive at Rye at the same time. If one is a little later – or even earlier – than scheduled, the other has to wait at the platform for its arrival. All this while, the traffic barriers are down.
Sometimes, they will be raised at one end, or occasionally both ends while the trains are stationary and then lowered again when one or the other is ready to depart. But why only sometimes? There are, I am told, several different operators who work shifts in the recently refurbished signal box, so why are the barriers not raised by all of them when the trains are stationary, allowing traffic to clear, and then lowered again for a minute or two as they depart.
You might well say “What does a few minutes matter. We are all in too much of a hurry these days anyway,” and clearly at least one signalman would agree with that. Or perhaps he is an arch trade unionist and the rule book says he can only operate the necessary switchgear every so many minutes without demanding a pay rise for extra work. Or, as John Howlett imagines, is he just a bookworm who loses track of time? Either way, those minutes do matter.
The picture above shows what can happen, particularly when the town is full of summer visitors and traffic. Ferry Road is backed up into Udimore Road in one direction and right back to the Kettle of Fish roundabout and beyond in the other. The latter congestion will then effectively block Winchelsea Road, the Strand, South Undercliff and Cinque Ports Street, bringing the town almost to a standstill. An inconvenience to many people which could be largely avoided by a simple opening of the barriers for two or three minutes while the trains load and unload their passengers, and then opening them again as soon as the train has passed, rather than wait until it is half a mile away.
Simple, probably, in which case why doesn’t that happen all the time instead of just some of the time? Is it, as John suggests, just a case of an enthralling book? Or maybe he (or she – why shouldn’t it be a female signal person?) is under instruction from Southern Rail to create as much chaos as possible to demonstrate how much more efficient it would have been for the frustrated motorists to have travelled by train.
Image Credits: John Minter .