Lobbying leads to faster access to Europe

Daytrippers fancying a jaunt to the continent can reach Brussels from Bexhill in around three hours.

Locals can catch reach the Belgian town in time for breakfast before hopping on the train back in late afternoon safe in the knowledge they will be back in Bexhill in time for tea.

Improvements to the line between Ashford and Europe have made continental rail travel an increasingly tempting option for locals across 1066 Country – thanks in no small part to years of lobbying by train campaigners Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG).

Latest figures suggest more and more locals are choosing to travel to London through Ashford since high speed Javelin trains were added to the service – meaning they can reach St Pancras from the Kent town in just 35 minutes.

And this month marks the fifth anniversary of another significant step forward in our rail services. When Ebbsfleet Station opened in early 2008 all direct services between Ashford and Brussels were withdrawn. BRAG though was one of many organisations which campaigned against this change. Subsequently, in February 2009 Eurostar responded to public pressure and announced the re-introduction of a direct daily service from Ashford to Brussels.

BRAG Chairman, Hugh Sharp, emphasised the importance of this decision for our area. He said: “BRAG has always campaigned strongly for better rail services between East Sussex and the continent.

“Belgium and northern France offer many reciprocal business and tourism opportunities. Ashford is the only UK Station less than two hours from Paris and only 90 minutes from Brussels. So BRAG welcomed the decision to run a direct early morning Ashford-Brussels service - and we regularly press Eurostar to examine the case for also stopping an afternoon Brussels service at Ashford, as they already do for the Paris service.”

Bexhillians can catch the Southern 6.09am service to Ashford - and then connect onto the 7.28am Eurostar to Lille and Brussels, arriving at 10.07am (adding an hour for the time change). The return direct service leaves Brussels at 4.52pm.

BRAG now has its sights set firmly on lobbying rail bosses over a major upgrade in the Hastings-Ashford line to allow more frequent services and faster journey times.

Mr Sharp said: “We regularly press all the relevant rail and government organisations about the case for upgrading the line to Ashford.

“We are convinced that better services would attract more passengers - both to St Pancras and for Eurostar services - add more rail options for people in East Sussex and, in the longer term, reduce pressures on the overcrowded Brighton Mainline.”