To state the obvious, things have changed dramatically over this year for railway operators and passengers. But, necessarily and intentionally, on the MarshLink itself, things have been reasonably quiet. But there are some issues to note:
Covid-19 issues have to be at the top of all lists at the moment.
At the start of Government controls, public transport was reduced to essential use only and so one of our longest running issues of capacity suddenly disappeared from the current issues list (at least for now). Whilst passenger numbers reduced the situation was improved further by 4-car units replacing our long-established 2-car units. 4-car units will not be with us for ever but, at least, are there during the return to school so children have space for social distancing as they get used to travelling by train again. One of the downsides of the 4-car units is that Southern Railways are unable to operate the Rye Shuttle service with these trains so when we do lose them, we will have the Rye Shuttle back with us.
On most trains, social distancing has been easy to achieve (even during the Summer tourist trains) and passengers have complied with the requirement to use a mask on trains. Again, this has been helped enormously by having 4-car units operating on the line. Perversely, it had been arranged with Southern at the end of last year that they would bring 4-car units to the MarshLink during Summer weekends to alleviate the problems in past years of rampant overcrowding.
- Service disruptions
Unfortunately, though, there have been service cancellations which, apart from other issues, increases the number of passengers travelling on one train – 4-car units are subject to service disruption in the same way as 2-car units.
We asked Southern Railway for their comments on service disruptions and they said “The Marshlink has suffered a number of service interruptions in the last few weeks which has caused inconvenience to passengers. The infrastructure issues are a result of the unusually high temperatures followed by significant rainfall and are being investigated by Network Rail. In addition to these infrastructure issues Southern are investigating some minor issues with the trains to ensure a more consistent service. On a positive note it should be mentioned that the majority of trains currently running on the route are now 4-car to assist with social distancing.”
MLAG recognised the points made by Southern. Through Hastings and Rother Rail User Alliance (“HRRUA”, a partnership of rail user groups along the line) MLAG is able to keep a close eye on service interruptions and maintains close contact with Southern about these issues.
- New timetable
A new timetable comes into effect this weekend and there are changes to two early morning services that are regrettable and need to be noted by travellers to St. Pancras: the problems result from changes to the MarshLink services (where for both services, departure time has been delayed) and the Javelin service (where in one case the service has been brought forward).
- The current 06.47 service
The current 06.47 service from Rye to St.Pancras has been delayed by 2 minutes but the Javelin service has been brought forward by 3 minutes. So the current and new timetables show the following:
New timetable service: Dep Rye 06.49; Arr Ash 07.11: Dep Ash 07.36; Arr StP 08.12
However, it should be noted that there is an earlier Javelin service that may be able to be met but the connection time does not permit National Rail to include it in its timetable as a formal connection. That timing would be as follows:
Possible connection: Dep Rye 06.49; Arr Ash 07.11: Dep Ash 07.16; Arr StP 07.54
- The current 07.47 service
The current, new timetable and possible connection services for this service are as follows:
Current service: Dep Rye 07.47; Arr Ash 08.10: Dep Ash 08.16; Arr StP 08.54
New timetable service: Dep Rye 07.49; Arr Ash 08.11: Dep Ash 08.43; Arr StP 09.21
Possible connection: Dep Rye 07.49; Arr Ash 08.11: Dep Ash 08.16; Arr StP 08.54
The new timetable includes similar problems with two evening services, the 17.49 and 18.49 departures from Rye to St. Pancras.
MLAG has been in discussion with Southern about the timings of these MarshLink services and we wait to hear if any changes can be made. Meanwhile we would recommend you check the timetable thoroughly for yourself.
- Flexible ticketing
There has been discussion in the press about a change to the long-established annual season ticket system to take account of the recent changes in working practice (and, arguably, Government recommendations) to avoid travel by working from home (probably some of the time so going away from the 5-day per week commuting standard). One possibility proposed is a carnet system to enable the bulk purchase of tickets at a reduced price.
MLAG fully supports this movement and has recommended it to Southern. Inevitably there is a decision to be made by Government about this because it would change the economics of franchises so we await developments.
- MLAG Annual General Meeting
MLAG normally has its AGM in the first half of the year but has not done so this year for obvious reasons. It seems unlikely we will be able to arrange a meeting in the usual format very soon
(enabling our rail operator, Southern, and our rail maintainer, Network Rail, to speak directly to their “customers”) but we will endeavour to arrange such a meeting whenever possible.