Report of 2019 AGM by Stuart Harland, Chairman MLAG

This year’s MLAG AGM took place at Rye Town Hall on Tuesday 18 June, following which there were presentations from Southern Railways and Network Rail. This first section reports Southern’s presentation to be followed by a separate report covering Network Rail’s presentation regarding progress with the objective to deliver the extension of the HS1 service to Rye.

Southern Railways was represented by James Harris, Service Development Manager and, for our purposes, primarily responsible for timetabling. Each year we ask Southern to report on service performance statistics, cancellations and developments (particularly timetable changes in prospect).

James continued with his presentation to explain two timetable changes of particular relevance to Rye residents (having been requested by MLAG members at the 2018 AGM). These proposals have now been agreed by Southern and Network Rail and will come into effect in December:

 

  1. The 0716 Rye – Ashford service will be retimed to 0706 arriving Ashford at 0728. This will enable connection to the following services from Ashford:

 

– 0736 HS1 (12 car) service to St. Pancras arriving 0812

– 0736 to Tonbridge/ Cannon Street arriving 0902

– 0743 to Tonbridge/ Charing Cross arriving 0910

– it will also create a fail-safe connection (in case of delays) onto the 0744 HS1 (12 car) service to St. Pancras arriving 0822.

 

  1. The connection time at Hampden Park from the MarshLink onto the Brighton service will increase from 4 to 6 mins which should enable less fit passengers to make the connection which involves going over a footbridge to the opposite platform avoiding the need to go in and out of Eastbourne.

 

MLAG has raised issues with overcrowding during Summer weekends and, particularly, on Bank Holidays: a particular case was reported in Rye News when a large number of passengers were unable to get onto the train leaving Rye. There has been much discussion between Southern and MLAG and a trial plan has been proposed by Southern for July and August this year. The objective is to increase capacity over hot Summer weekends  (specifically on Saturdays and Sundays) when Rye expects a large number of visitors – it is appreciated we would like to increase capacity at all times but this plan is to resolve this specific issue.

The proposal is, when the weather is forecast to be hot (so not every weekend!), Southern will endeavour to roster a crew to operate a 2-car Shuttle between Rye and Ashford (stopping at Appledore and Ham Street) starting at 0927 and going through to 2027 (with returns from Ashford, of course). This would supplement the existing 2-car hourly service departing Rye at xx47. It is necessary for passengers to be made aware of operating services in advance so, when a decision has been made to run the Shuttle for a particular weekend, the service will appear on the rail industry’s service planners a few days before the relevant weekend. We will wait to see if this complicated formula works in practice so it will be subject to review after the trial period. We wonder if the service will be advertised by posters at Rye.

Since the AGM we have had the hottest day of the year on Saturday 29 June and there were no extra trains or coaches, but we assume that Summer as defined here does not begin until July.

 

There were several questions raised by members concerning Southern trains including the following:

  • In May, there was a minor timetable change to standardise the timetabled arrival time at Ashford to xx.10. This was thought to be an exercise without any real effect because the departure time from Ham Street remained unchanged. However, it has had wider repercussions on scheduled connections. James agreed to review the position and get back to us (response awaited).

 

  • One member reported being traumatised recently by being stuck on a train at Rye when the doors were unable to be opened. The circumstances were that a westbound train broke down in Rye Station with its brakes locked. An attempt was made to remedy the problem but the result was the train stopped the level crossing barriers opening (with a significant effect on the town’s road services) and passengers were stuck on the train. James was asked to provide MLAG with a comment on this for publication (response awaited).

 

  • A member pointed out that there was no 4-car service for this year’s Hastings Jack on the Green weekend. James explained that Southern endeavours to provide 4-car services for prescribed events such as Rye Fireworks Night, Eastbourne Air Show and also Hastings Jack on the Green. Regrettably cover was not provided for this year’s Hastings Jack on the Green but it was confirmed it is on the prescribed list and should have 4-car services in future.

 

  • A member commented that the MarshLink trains always look as if they need cleaning. James will put this matter to the Head of Train Presentation.

 

  • Another member commented there seemed to be no cooperation between Southern and SouthEastern staff, particularly evident when there is service disruption. James said he would report the comments to Southern’s Control department to ensure SouthEastern receive the latest and correct information which should be passed on to passengers at stations. This is a long running saga and MLAG will continue to monitor breakdowns in communication when told by members

Update since AGM

Further to our report on the MLAG AGM, we have now received responses from Southern on some outstanding questions reported above:

 

  1. A question was raised on the service that broke down at Rye Station with its brakes locked causing delays to both rail and road services. Southern has responded:

 

“When the train came to a halt on the level crossing, GTR ensured all the correct safety procedures and correct chain of reporting the issues and updates were maintained.

Once it was understood that the train needed an engineer, our Control arranged replacement buses with two sent to Rye, two to Hastings and two to Ashford.

Network Rail staff were also requested to help evacuate the passengers on-board and escort them safely back to Rye station.

Unfortunately as the unit was sitting over the level crossing, traffic had built up in Rye which meant progress was slow for Network Rail and our fleet fitters arriving at the train. It also slowed the arrival of the buses.

Once our fleet fitters arrived, all efforts were made to fix the fault to get the train moving which proved particularly challenging.  This particular fault is particularly rare.

We are very sorry to everyone who was delayed. Please rest assured we did everything we could to fix the problem and get people moving again.”

 

  1. Seeking further comment on the evacuation of passengers stuck on the train (being one of the major concerns of the original questioner), Southern responded:

 

“There were 43 passengers on board who were stuck there from around 0850 until 1000. We could not evacuate until we had a safe method in place which required a qualified member of railway staff who was themselves held up in the traffic. Meanwhile, the safest place for our passengers was on the train. We know how frustrating this is for our customers but it was the right thing to do in the interests of safety.”

 

  1. With regard to issued with the changes in the timetable to show a consistent xx10 arrival time at Ashford, Southern responded that they would take this into consideration for future timetables.

 

MLAG will pursue these issues with Southern via our normal lines of communication.

Stuart Harland

Chairman, MLAG