Press Release: Southern Consult on Timetable and other Changes

PRESS RELEASE – 21 September 2016




Whilst their passengers continue to suffer a considerably degraded train service, Southern Railways has now let loose another bombshell in the guise of a consultation paper – see , click on the link “Timetable Consultation Document” and go to Question 52.


This consultation is on the timetable from various parts of 2018 and covers the many regions serviced by Southern. Strangely perhaps, 2018 is beyond the current franchise term but, nonetheless, this would inevitably be adopted by the Department for Transport for any future franchise so we should take it very seriously.


Before explaining what the consultation document proposes it should be emphasized that one of MLAG’s formal Objectives has been to increase capacity on the MarshLink because the current 2-car diesel trains are inadequate going east and even more so going west beyond Hastings where the 2-car service continues to Brighton alternating with a 4-car service. About a year ago we heard from Southern that the solution is to retro-fit Electrostar trains with a diesel engine (the Electrostar is a standard electric train with many operating into Hastings) and, indeed, we even extracted a date from Southern to put in our diaries for them to be operating on the line (March 2017). But the consultation paper does not incorporate this proposed solution and MLAG will be pushing Southern on why this has disappeared. Without this solution, several of the negative aspects of Southern’s consultation paper relate to the current Type 171 diesel trains continuing to operate on the MarshLink beyond the start of the timetable.


So, what is being proposed (only dealing here with the service between Ashford and Brighton) from the perspective of Rye passengers:


  1. Travelling west from Rye

The hourly service to Brighton is proposed to be truncated at either Hastings or Eastbourne. The objective of this proposal is that, by reducing the length of the route, carriages can be freed up and used to increase the length of the remaining trains, thereby increasing capacity, we are told (but see later), to a 3 or 4-car service. But there is another oddity proposed which affects capacity which will be explained below.


So, looking in more detail at the timing effect of the proposed truncation of services:


(i) Truncation of service at Hastings

The effect of terminating the service at Hastings is that passengers travelling on to Lewes will, of course, have to change at Hastings but also at Lewes – looking at the detailed timetable resulting from this change, this increase the journey time to stations beyond Lewes by 27 minutes. Services beyond Hastings would be on longer electric trains.


(ii) Truncation of service at Eastbourne

Southern would schedule an ongoing service to connect with the incoming service so there should be no increased journey time – if the train runs to time. Services beyond Eastbourne would be on longer electric trains.


  1. Travelling east from Rye

Travelling east from Rye, no change in journey times is proposed. But we are concerned whether there would be any increase in capacity because there is a mysterious passage in the consultation document reading as follows:


“The current Class 171 units used on this route, when joined together, cannot be walked through meaning passengers and conductors are unable to access both parts of the train. In this circumstance when operating between Ashford International and Hastings, the rear coaches would need to be locked out of use only providing capacity benefits between Hastings and Brighton. Journey times would also need to be increased to allow for the locking and unlocking of doors which would preclude this option of being able to be accommodated in the current timetable.”


Trying to interpret this is difficult – in what circumstances capacity would be increased is unclear. What would permit the intervening doors to be unlocked, one wonders, when travelling west from Hastings that isn’t present when travelling east from Hastings. This also seems strange in the circumstances that Southern is going through considerable efforts at the moment to persuade its passengers (and the RMT) that it is safe to operate trains without a guard or conductor. Anyway, MLAG will be querying this mystery.



Another of MLAG’s formal Objectives is to improve connectivity at Ashford so we will want to enquire about the timetable of the Javelin service from 2018 into and out of Ashford.


The first phase of consultation requires responses by 8 December so MLAG will be having discussions within its Committee and with other local action groups under the heading of the East Sussex Rail Alliance (“ESRA”). If you have any comments you would like to put to the MLAG Committee, please email .




Stuart Harland


MarshLink Action Group

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