Response to an Opinion piece in the Rye News of 20 April 2018

MLAG does not wish to be an apologist for Southern but Opinion can be more informative without too much hyperbole. I appreciate the Southern service, now or as planned post-May, could be better for every individual but rail is a mass transit system and individual needs cannot be catered for.

The post-May service will be an improvement for many/ most travellers but not all – this is particularly the case for some early morning commuters with a particular problem. Their current scheduled travel time is 66 mins and they will still have the same scheduled travel time under the new timetable but, in the case of one service, they will not have the advantage of built-in alternatives in the event of disruption; their connection will be onto a very busy Javelin service; and a dependence on the Rye Shuttle (far too often the source of delays).

Commuters have become used to a scheduled service to St.Pancras of 66 mins whilst other users have encountered other problems. For many years, off-peak travellers have had a consistent travel time of 85 mins (this will now reduce to 67 mins); schoolchildren arrive in Rye from both directions at 8.56am, somewhat inconveniently for the start of a school day (the train is now scheduled to arrive at 8.48am); tourists (tourism being a mainstay of the Rye economy) will also benefit from the reduced off-peak travel time 7-days per week; locals travelling to London for a day out who will also experience a reduction in travel time (for all but one off-peak train in the day) and (apart from Sunday) a train one hour later in the evening in both directions.

I appreciate that commuters are concerned about the performance of the Rye Shuttle and that is an irritation for non-commuters too. But if everyone abandons the Shuttle then we can expect a significant reduction in customers is very likely to result in its withdrawal. It may be perverse but MLAG only has an argument to put to Southern if the service doesn’t run to schedule (and passengers can get a Delay/ Repay payment as some sort of compensation) and we only got the service when arguing there was a train sitting waiting for a unit failure that could be used to provide this, then, additional service. MLAG is arguing now that the “spare” released by the reduction in the current Ashford – Brighton service, turning around at Eastbourne (not Hastings), should be available exclusively and conveniently placed for a MarshLink unit failure – the argument has not been won yet though.

The confusion about off peak/ peak/ super off peak is explained in a separate article in this week’s Rye News and, we trust, will be confirmed as we have stated.

With regard to journeys to the west of Eastbourne, unfortunately the popularity of such journeys appears not to be supported by Southern’s statistics but, during Southern’s consultation period, MLAG argued against the cut, unsuccessfully. Regarding the time required to get to Brighton, this will be explained in a forthcoming article (MLAG intends to issue Press Releases on specific issues over the period before the new service is introduced). But, in essence, the journey to Brighton (which, unfortunately, has at least one daily commuter from Rye significantly affected by these changes) will increase from 85 mins to about 92 mins (depending on the “Eastbourne Overlap” – to be explained but an athletic exercise which may not appeal to all); the return journey will increase from about 83 mins to 105 mins.

MLAG has mentioned on many occasions the downside of Southern’s franchise contract – it is the first case in the UK train-operating world of a management contract where, indeed, all ticket monies go to the Government and the Government pays Southern a fee to operate the services – take note, Southern required the approval of Network Rail and the Department for Transport to all the services comprising the new timetable. But it may be interesting to know why this structure was put in place – we understand the reason was the extensive works required at London Bridge over several years which, it was known, would disrupt services, the cost of which would fall improperly on Southern and so this structure was devised.

The issue of the Javelin was raised again and the potential impact on commuters on the peace and quiet of Rye !  This is a subject I will apply an exclamation mark to and avoid commenting further, for now, in case I find myself resorting to hyperbole.

Stuart Harland. Chairman, MLAG