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Marshlink

Image Railfuture, and other local groups, are campaigning for shorter travel times to London via HS1 and to Brighton and more frequent services through higher line-speeds, selective redoubling, and electrification of the MarshLink line between Hastings and Ashford International, to support regeneration of Hastings and Bexhill and improve access to towns and villages along the route.

STOP PRESS

2017 - a year for decisive influence. On 14 March 2017 both Network Rail and the Department for Transport set out their plans and choices affecting the future for MarshLink for consultation. Network Rail's draft South East Route: Kent Area Route Study is open for comment until 30 June. The DfT's 'Shaping the future' - the next South Eastern rail franchise is also open for comments until 30 June; in addition the DfT published its Prospectus for potential franchise bidders on 28 March.


The need

Travelling across or around East Sussex isn't quick or easy. Roads are congested (there are few dual carriageways), bus services are slow and finish early, and rail services do not all link up.
  • Hastings is over 100 minutes from London by rail via Tonbridge in the peak
  • Travel between Brighton, Eastbourne, Hastings and Ashford is slow by both road and rail
  • Service frequency at smaller stations between Brighton and Hastings is limited, especially on Sundays
  • Connections with High Speed trains at Ashford International may require a long wait

The background

Image The MarshLink line runs between Hastings and Ashford. There are long single track sections between Ore and Rye and between Rye and Appledore. During the blockade to repair Ore Tunnel in early-2012, some improvements were made on the line to remove a line-speed restriction on an embankment outside Ashford station, and more work is required to remove other speed constraints, eg between Ore and Doleham currently limited to 40mph. There is an hourly ‘Ashford flyer’ service between Brighton and Ashford, which runs limited stop between Brighton and Rye, then all stops to Ashford. These services stop alternately at Three Oaks and Winchelsea, whilst only early morning and late night services stop at Ore and Doleham. On Sundays only the first and last (westbound only) services stop at Ore, and Doleham. The line is not electrified; it is a ‘diesel island’ operated by 2-car Class 171 Turbostar units. Since these were introduced, patronage has grown sharply and peak services are now heavily overcrowded, but no extra stock is available.

The ‘Hastings Direct’ line was built with difficulty in Victorian times south of Tonbridge, with many small stations, steep gradients, tight curvature and sub-standard tunnels (where the line is now constrained to single track). In the peak, trains are running at capacity. There are also capacity limitations on the double-track line north of Tonbridge. It is unlikely to be possible to develop this route either to improve journey times to Hastings or to increase capacity.

The evidence

Network Rail's London and South East Passenger Market Study observes that the impact on business travel, and therefore economic output, is relatively large for small incremental improvements to journey times in the range one to two hours (para. 7.2.1), and the impact on commuting, and therefore economic output is relatively large for small incremental improvements to journey times in the range 30 to 90 minutes. Railfuture worked with local rail user groups to agree consolidated feedback on the Market Study to East Sussex County Council, to inform their response to Network Rail. We pointed out that Hastings is 10 miles closer to London than Portsmouth, yet suffers a high level of unemployment because of its relative isolation. York can access London by rail in about the same time as Bexhill. There are three rail routes from Hastings to London offering five travel opportunities in the peak hour, with travel times between 1 hour 28 mins (at extra cost via Ashford/HS1) and 2 hours 17 mins. These are significantly slower than the rail journey from Portsmouth to London, for which the Market Study gives an aspiration of a 75-minute journey. Improvements to the journey time between Hastings and London would therefore confidently be expected to have a significant impact on the economy of the town - the prosperity of its residents and businesses - and attract more commuters to rail.

The regional centres of Brighton and Hastings are around 35 miles apart. The travel time by train is between 68 and 86 mins, with two direct and one connecting trains per hour, an average speed of 24-31 mph. The time by car is around one hour off peak and 90 minutes during the peak. These journey times make it unattractive for people to travel from Hastings, an area of high unemployment, to the key employment centre of Brighton for work or education. However these times are within both the one to two hour band for business travel and the 30 to 90 minute band for commuting, where small incremental improvements have a large impact on economic output. Reducing these travel times would also have a significant improvement on employment in the Hastings area.

Railfuture put its money where its mouth is by engaging independent advisor Jonathan Roberts Consulting to assess the evidence of economic and transport needs in Sussex. The key recommendations to promote economic growth in East Sussex are:
  • Electrification of Marshlink and provision of Javelin services via Ashford to achieve acceptable London-Hastings journey times
  • Investment in a direct Coastway connection between Polegate and Pevensey to reduce journey times to attractive levels along the main coastal corridor, between Brighton, the Sussex Coast and East Kent
  • Coastway Metro service linking Eastbourne and Hastings, with more stations.
  • Uckfield-Lewes reinstatement to achieve affordable and effective journey times between the Weald, the Sussex Coast and Brighton
  • Faster travel and extra capacity between the Sussex Coast and Gatwick, Croydon and London
  • Electrification and other infrastructure which expands services and connections, reducing journey times - by through trains not changes
View or download the presentation, or view or download the full 80-page JRC report "Access and Connections: East Sussex", which was a significant input to the East Sussex Rail Strategy and Action Plan and as explained in Christian Wolmar's article in Rail magazine, the catalyst to start things happening.

Railfuture contributed to the East Sussex Rail Strategy and Action Plan; in our response to the draft strategy we proposed changes to link the strategy objective of promoting economic growth to the required rail industry outputs of faster more frequent services on Marshlink and East Coastway. East Sussex County Council made electrifying and redoubling Marshlink and the Uckfield line its top priorities in the final version of its Rail Strategy and Action Plan, as building blocks for extending Javelin services to Hastings/Bexhill and reinstating Uckfield - Lewes.

We have carried out a number of station counts which showed that there is a significant demand for travel between Winchelsea, Three Oaks and Hastings and beyond on Saturdays, which it is likely would be repeated on Sundays if a usable service were provided. In conjunction with our local affiliated rail user group Three Oaks and Winchelsea Action for Rail Transport (THWART), which is a member of the East Sussex Rail Alliance, we held a campaign meeting at Winchelsea station on Saturday 7 December 2013 to call for the return of a usable, all-day Sunday service.
After a decade-long campaign, since all-day Sunday services last ran up to December 2005, THWART members and supporters saw the just reward for their tireless efforts on Sunday 13 December 2015 when all-day Sunday services returned! Eight trains in each direction now serve each station, alternating between the two stations which will each have a train each way every two hours. Check the online Southern timetable.

At the first Hastings Rail Summit on 31 March 2014 Network Rail committed to develop a project and to build the partnership with stakeholders needed to bring HS1 Javelin services to Hastings soon after 2019, and Railfuture presented Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin the Shock and Ore picture, and Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd a model Javelin train, to commemorate the occasion. Full story at High Speed Hastings.

At the second Hastings Rail Summit on 30 January 2015 Network Rail and local stakeholders reported that feasibility studies and economic reviews of the project to bring HS1 Javelin services to Bexhill via Hastings and Rye soon after 2019 had been completed in draft and were then expected to be published in April 2015. Rail Minister Claire Perry reaffirmed the commitment to develop the project - read her speech here - and a special Javelin train service was run to Hastings to commemorate the occasion. Full story at First Hastings Javelin.

At the May 2015 Bexhill Town Forum we launched our campaign leaflet for High Speed Hastings - view or download it.

In his Summer Budget on 8th July 2015 the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed that "The Department for Transport has asked the rail industry to include extending High Speed 1 services to Hastings and Rye in the forthcoming Kent Route Study." The full text can be seen in para.1.327 on page 69 of his Budget Report.

The consultants' report on the strategic economic case for Javelins to Bexhill, via Rye and Hastings, commissioned jointly by East Sussex County Council, Hastings Borough Council and Rother District Council, was launched in Bexhill on Friday 9 October 2015.

"Bringing high-speed rail to 1066 country" - on 25 February 2016 a high-level working group was established to secure HS1 services for Bexhill, Hastings and Rye, via Ashford International. Read the Hastings Observer for the full story.
The third meeting of the high-level working group was held on Wednesday 14 December 2016. Read here how the campaign gathers pace.

The proposal

At the first Hastings Rail Summit, Network Rail’s Route Managing Director for the South East Dave Ward committed to develop the project to bring HS1 services to Hastings during Control Period 5, and to build the partnership with stakeholders needed to deliver the project in Control Period 6. High-speed Javelin trains running between London St. Pancras and Bexhill via Ashford International will achieve a journey time between London St. Pancras and Hastings of just 68 minutes, compared to over 100 minutes via Tonbridge in the peak today. The new service for Hastings and Bexhill will also reduce crowding for passengers on the line through Battle, Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks.

Railfuture urges Network Rail to improve the local services earlier by progressing some minor enhancements in CP5. We also urge SELEP to achieve economic growth in Hastings sooner by making funding available so that the project can be scheduled as an infill between CP5 and CP6. Incremental development of the Marshlink line could realise benefits as follows:
  • Reworking the timetable to provide close connections with domestic HS1 services to London at Ashford, and to reduce journey times by taking advantage of recent line speed improvements - achieved at recent timetable change
  • Line speed improvements to remove the remaining speed constraints, eg Ore - Doleham
  • Redoubling the single line section between Rye and Winchelsea to enable a service frequency of two trains per hour: one Brighton – Ashford stopping only at major stations, and one Hastings – Ashford all stations
  • Electrification between Ore and Ashford to enable a faster more reliable service with longer trains. It should be scheduled and funded as an infill to maintain a rolling electrification programme between Control Periods 5 and 6. This will provide the potential for through trains between Hastings and London, which will promote economic growth in Hastings and Bexhill
  • Remodelling junctions at Ashford which will allow Marshlink line trains to access HS1, to enable Javelin services between Hastings and London St Pancras in 68 minutes, and between Bexhill and London St Pancras in 78 minutes, which will attract more passengers and so provide the business case for electrification.
Deliverable within a half-decade? Three vital years ahead! A Next Steps guide:
  • May '16 - Office of Rail and Road (ORR) due to hold first Control Period 6 (CP6, 2019-24) stakeholder consultation
  • July '16 - ORR stakeholder workshops
  • Sep '16 - Network Rail (NR) publish Kent Area Route Study in draft for consultation
  • Sep '16 - Network Rail publish Initial Industry Plan for CP6 for consultation
  • Feb '17 - ORR advice to Ministers, and requirements for NR's Strategic Business Plan
  • July '17 - DfT publish High-Level Output Specification (HLOS) and Statement of Funds Available (SoFA) for CP6
  • Jan '18 - NR's Strategic Business Plan (SBP) published, ORR conduct consultation
  • Feb '18 - ORR stakeholder workshops on NR's SBP
  • Jun '18 - ORR 'draft determination' on NR's SBP, and consultation
  • Oct '18 - ORR 'final determination'
  • Dec '18 - NR publish draft Delivery Plan, including Enhancements Delivery Plan, for CP6, for consultation
  • Mar '19 - Final NR Delivery Plans published for CP6, 2019-24
Deliverable within a half-decade? With a new franchise
  • Aug '16 - Pre-Qualification Questionnaire for new train operator bidders
  • Nov '16 - DfT invites Expressions of Interest (EoI) for the post-Southeastern franchise
  • Apr '17 - DfT issues Invitation To Tender (ITT) to short-listed bidders
  • Feb '18 - DfT awards contract for new franchise
  • Jun '18 - Southeastern franchise due to expire (extendable by DfT for up to six months), new franchise due to begin
  • Dec '18 - latest possible end of Southeastern franchise and start of new franchise
  • Apr '19 - Network Rail's CP6 Enhancements Delivery Plan implementation begins
  • May '21 - start of new high-speed passenger train services between Bexhill and St. Pancras, via Hastings and Rye?
  • Mar '24 - end of CP6 Enhancements Delivery
Railfuture will continue to work in partnership with East Sussex, Hastings and Rother Councils, Kent, the Local Enterprise Partnership, Amber Rudd MP and Network Rail to ensure that this promised project is delivered.
We will continue to build the partnership to achieve East Sussex's second priority of electrifying the Uckfield line and reinstating between Uckfield-Lewes, enabling through services from London via the Weald to Brighton and Sussex coast destinations.

If you support the Railfuture campaign, wish to keep up-to-date with our activities, or find out more about how YOU can play your part, please join us at Sussex and Coastway.

Meanwhile, other local incremental enhancements are taking place along MarshLink. In January 2017 accessibility works began at Ham Street.

The next Hastings Summit is planned for Friday 6 October 2017.

Railwatch