Short History of the Marsh Link
The line was part of an original proposal by a company named the Brighton Lewes and Hastings Railway to extend its coast route to Hastings. The South Eastern Railway eventually built the line, thereby renewing a local rivalry between itself and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR), who had already built the line to Brighton. Deemed to be of strategic military importance, Parliament ordered that it was to be completed before the extension of the Hastings Line from Tunbridge Wells to Hastings. The line was opened on 13 February 1851, though as a result of the rivalries between the companies, the LB&SCR attempted to prevent SER trains from entering the station. After a court case, the two companies agreed to share the station’s facilities for both lines.
The railway’s location was problematic. It passed through no places of significance between Hastings and Ashford aside from Rye. Some stations, such as Appledore were some considerable distance away from the settlement they were supposed to serve.
The line was recommended for closure by Dr. Beeching in the 1963 Beeching Report, as in addition to its inconvenient location, it maintained fully manned staff at all stations despite low passenger numbers. Like several other lines threatened with closure, there was strong opposition, and the route survived because the nearby road network made it impractical to run a replacement bus service; the parallel main road from Hastings to Brenzett, the A259, had several level crossings over the line and a hairpin bend at Winchelsea (Which is still there to this day). The branch to New Romney closed in 1967, although freight traffic still remains on the line as far as a nuclear flask loading and unloading point just outside Dungeness. This branch now sees flask trains about once a week. The branch to Rye Harbour was lifted at around the same time as the New Romney Branch’s closure.
In 1969, Railway Magazine announced the remainder of the line would close at the end of the year, while in 1971, the Kent Messenger stated the same. In 1974, the Ministry of Transport recommended the line for closure but stated that services would run indefinitely for the foreseeable future. Stations remained unmodernised and gas-lit well into the 1970s. Despite proposals to axe the service, it has survived to the present day.
Most of the Marshlink Line is now single track. At the River Tillingham bridge in Rye shown, where the second track used to be here is clear
The line was single tracked between Appledore and Ore on 1 October 1979, leaving a passing loop at Rye. Line speed was reduced from 85 mph to 60 mph, but there are additional long term speed restrictions in place, including 40 mph between Doleham and Ore and 20 mph across a half barrier level crossing at Winchelsea, which is strange because since the crossing’s upgrade from an ungated to barrier crossing, the speed limit was said to be raised. In the 1990s, following privatisation, the original Victorian station building at Ore was demolished and replaced with a simple shelter.
The line is not electrified, with the exception of Hastings to Ore. This small section was electrified to provide access for East Coastway trains to the carriage sidings as part of the East Coastway electrification of July 1935.
Proposals have been made to upgrade and electrify the line to extend Southeastern high speed train services (which will operate from London via High Speed 1 to Ashford) onwards via the Marshlink to Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne, which if realised, could transform the line into an important through route.
The line was closed for nine weeks from January to March 2012 for essential repair work to Ore tunnel. There was also maintenance to signals and bridges to increase train speeds along the line.