Different options on the table as rail group meets to discuss future of our rail network

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Problems besetting our rail network came under the microscope when local rail action group Marshlink held its AGM.

Martin Grier, Head of Drivers for Southern Railway, provided an update on the problems Southern has encountered over the last year, in particular the enormous issue of the redevelopment of London Bridge Station - the worst now over but not expected to be completed until 2018 - and a landslide at Glynde having cut short the Ashford – Brighton route.

But there was also an optimistic eye on the future with talk of the new high speed Javelin service.

A formidable group of speakers presented their views on the way forward.

They comprised Paul Best, Senior Strategic Planner for Network Rail; Ray Chapman, Chairman of East Sussex Rail Alliance and Roger Blake, Director of Railfuture (of which MLAG is a member), who is a noted authority locally with an independent view on rail matters

Marshlink chairman Stuart Harland said it should be emphasised there is no intention of the service operating at high speed along the MarshLink.

Mr Harland said: “They each presented to the meeting, from their point of view which was fairly consistent.

A national review of electrification schemes to be implemented in the period 2019-24 (what is referred to by Network Rail as Control Period 6) is expected soon but, in view of the significant schemes already underway and behind time, the MarshLink scheme cannot be expected to be near the top of the list.

All speakers suggested we should look at what we want to achieve in terms of “outcomes” rather than attempt to dictate how the outcomes should be achieved.

“The outcomes MLAG is looking for are, in essence, to obtain a direct link to London St. Pancras and a two trains per hour intermediate Ashford to Brighton service. So the question was then, can this be achieved any other way than by electrifying the line. The answer suggested was “Yes.” It was proposed that, with nascent hybrid technology (electric trains but capable of operating on batteries) and bi-mode technology (electric trains but operational with a secondary source of power, so diesel or nitrogen) it would be possible to run these trains on electrified line, when electricity is available, and then switch to the alternative fuel when operating on non-electrified line such as the existing MarshLink track.

“This may appear somewhat futuristic but such trains exist and even bi-mode Javelins are in production for the Great Western line.

“However, this requires a great change in faith from where we were only a few months ago when life seemed more certain and we were feeling relatively confident that an electric infill scheme on the MarshLink would enable existing equipment to operate a Javelin service, for the route to London, and use existing Electrostar trains for the Ashford to Brighton route.

“There were many questions raised by members about current service issues, in particular the connections at Ashford, the need for a later train.

“Although this was the main theme of presentations, other interesting point were made including one very specific comment relating to one of MLAG’s continuing issues with Network Rail, the line speed limits along the MarshLink.

“MLAG has complained for quite a while that the current line speed limits are not what were contemplated after the tunnel works in 2012, when the Ore Tunnel was closed, and the opportunity was taken to upgrade track on several parts of the line.

“There is one stretch of line from Doleham to Ore still to be upgraded and it was suggested that a higher line speed could be achieved compared to what we are expecting because the original target was limited by it being envisaged only diesel trains would operate on the line, not electric as now expected. This situation also applies to those parts of the line already upgraded so further upgrade may be possible.

MLAG announced its new website - see www.mlag.org.uk.

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