Changes in prospect on the MarshLink
From Rye’s perspective, Amber Rudd’s Transport Summit (held last Friday in Hastings and, almost certainly, her last Summit), provided updates on two slow burning issues and the rejuvenation of a long lost friend:
- Connecting Rye to St. Pancras
Being able to construct a link between the HS1 line and the MarshLink is, to state the obvious, needed to enable a Javelin train service to operate directly between Rye and St. Pancras. Network Rail (“NR”) explained the evolution of the project and those who attended this year’s MLAG AGM will be substantially aware of the proposals:
– the expectation (voiced at last year’s meetings) was to connect the HS1 line with Platform 2 at Ashford;
– however, considerable complications arose with signalling which have proved difficult to circumvent – so a new track layout had to be found;
– the solution now proposed is to construct a new Platform 2A (between Platform 2 and 3, taking out two of the three freight lines).
It should be emphasised this proposal has several advantages that are, perhaps, not so obvious – the platform would be good for connecting to the Kent route as well as the MarshLink; it avoids the need for reduced speed at crossovers between tracks; it avoids having to change propulsion source whilst moving (i.e. from overhead power on HS1 to another power sources on the MarshLink); and, very obviously, it provides Ashford Station with an additional platform (much needed).
After NR announced their then current track layout at the MLAG AGM in June, a meeting was held in Parliament in July at which NR presented their proposal to the High Speed Rail Working Group (formed and chaired by Amber Rudd and attended by the MLAG Chairman as a member). This track layout solution has, so far, survived considerable scrutiny from within NR and is now moving into a new phase, costing and a formal proposal to the Department for Transport. It should be emphasised though that if this proposal satisfies the DFT’s demands, this would put it in the same position as many other rail schemes, needing financing. For this reason there were presentations at the Transport Summit from East Sussex County Council on the financing issues.
- Line speed upgrades
Again, as presented to the MLAG AGM, for any new service to be fully functioning, the MarshLink line needs to be upgraded with works between Ashford and Eastbourne, so not cheap. These costs also need to be funded and a strategic business case prepared.
- MarshLink propulsion speculation
The upgrade most thought to be needed on the MarshLink over the last several years has been electrification. But the need for electrification has been brought into focus by recent references in trade press, including this month’s Modern Railway where it is stated that GTR’s Turbostars (i.e. the Class 171 diesel units used on our line) will be transferred to East Midlands Railways sometime after August next year and replaced by Electrostars (the train used between Hastings and London powered by third rail) that have been converted for bi-modal use. It is interesting that Amber Rudd, about three years ago, suggested that Electrostars could be retrofitted to form a hybrid train and MLAG has questioned since why this appeared not to have progressed. But, at the Transport Summit, GTR confirmed it is supplying engineers with one of its Electrostar trains to enable retrofitting to be tested. If this speculation comes to a positive conclusion, Electrostars would also give us much needed additional capacity. MLAG will be pursuing progress with this proposal.
Meanwhile, on more current issues (but also announced at the MLAG AGM by Southern), there will be two changes to the MarshLink timetable from December:
– the 07.16 Rye – Ashford service will be retimed to 07.06 arriving Ashford 07.28 to provide additional connections; and
– the connection time at Hampden Park from the MarshLink onto the Brighton service will be increased from 4 to 6 mins. This follows concerns expressed at the short connection period.