Third Rail Summit held in Hastings
On 18 March there was a Road and Rail Summit held at Sussex Coast College organised by Amber Rudd MP with speakers from Rail organisations and politicians. It was an opportunity for executives from South Eastern and Southern Railways to offer hope of better services in the future. It became clear that the rebuilding of London Bridge has had greater than expected adverse effects on current train performance and punctuality. The meeting was promised hope of better services once London Bridge is completed and more train drivers are being trained to fill shortages though training takes many months.
Of most interest to us locally were comments on electrification and improvements to the Marsh Link. Our line is included in the Kent Area Route Study which will be published for comment later this year. Any improvements have to be costed and then a business case to the Department of Transport for competing funds needs to be made. The focus is on incremental improvements. In the shortish term there will be line speed improvements allowing speeds of up to 60 mph between Ore and Doleham and of up to 90 mph between Doleham and Ashford which should allow for shorter journey times. A longer passing loop at Rye and improvements at Appledore and Ashford are on the agenda. It seems that there is considerable interest in looking at introducing hybrid trains on the route, these are converted electric trains that would operate on battery power over non electrified parts of the route. In theory this could enable seamless running between Brighton and Ashford and potentially further afield. Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill, who is an enthusiast for running Javelin trains through to Bexhill via Rye and Hastings is even thinking of converting these units to hybrid running. However MLAG still favours electrification of the route as otherwise the Link will remain outside the electrified network and dependent upon non standard train units (see below). However Merriman give an impressive exposition of the social and economic benefits of better transport links for Bexhill and Hastings.
The Summit was all about future progress, but a member of the audience who commutes from Hastings to London did bring things down to earth and got applause for criticising existing services from Hastings which she described as shocking in terms of performance and time keeping and ruinously expensive. It does seem there is a way to go to get from where we are now to where we want to be. There was a question and answer session but this did not venture into current issues such as more late night trains and better connections.
On a brighter note the summit was very well attended with probably 150 or more people and a good number of Councillors and railway activists so may be there is plenty of push behind the campaign to introduce the Javelin to our area.
Stuart Harland, MLAG Chairman, has penned the following thoughts:
Very interesting meeting on Friday where I think we got a strong steer from NR that we should be looking towards a hybrid Javelin to operate our direct service to London. However, I have concerns about that solution.
Firstly, the alternative we are/ were looking for (electrification of the MarshLink) will take until 2022 (?) to put in place and lots of cash. But some downsides of abandoning this objective and changing our emphasis to hybidised Javelins are:
– is NR just wanting to be able to forget this project and concentrate on other priorities
– is it do-able, to fit sufficient batteries to a Javelin
– would this kit be economic to operate, to carry heavy batteries up and down to London not being used. I can see the operatiing cost of these trains would be higher than other services and make this line less attractive to operate and, in different economic/ political circumstances, more desireable to terminate
– timescale (if do-able, probably shorter than electrification)
– we will finish up with kit only useful on this line so our kit
requirements will, again, be unusual compared with our surrounding lines
– so issues when there’s a breakdown
– we would also need diffferent kit to the surrounding lines for the half-hourly service.