Bexhill could join the High-speed rail network with both Network Rail and the Government supporting a plan that would see journey times to London slashed, giving a massive boost to local economy.
The proposal to extend the High Speed 1 (HS1) rail link from Ashford into East Sussex was discussed at a rail summit chaired by Hastings & Rye MP Amber Rudd on Monday.
Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin, and Bexhill MP Greg Barker, were also on hand to speak in favour of the plan which would cut journey times from Bexhill to London to 78 minutes.
To achieve this, the railway line between Hastings and Ashford requires electrification and upgrading to accommodate high-speed Japanese built ‘Javelin’ trains, running to and from London’s St Pancras International station.
The extension is a long-term project and would take five years to complete with construction not expected to start until at least 2019.
But attendees agreed that Monday’s summit was ‘very positive,’ paving the way for a future high-speed train to the capital and Network Rail announced that £2.3bn has been assigned to improve train services in the South East from 2014 to 2019.
Supporters of the scheme hailed its potential regeneration benefits and Greg Barker said it would be “the best thing to happen to our area for decades”.
He added: “With the Link Road set to open next year, improvements planned for the A21 and now the prospect of massive new investment in rail services, Bexhill can face the future with confidence.”
Hugh Sharp of Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) said this is potentially wonderful news for Bexhill. He told the Observer: “Current average journey times to London are close to 2 hours, and only the hardiest commute the full distance every day.
“This development would make Bexhill the terminus for a nationally prestigious high-speed rail service, and consequently a more attractive place to live, work and visit, reinvigorating our local economy.”
Further work to develop technical and financial details of the scheme, will be led by Network Rail, with input from Local Authorities, MPs and the South East Local Enterprise partnership.
Dave Ward, Southeast Regional Director, Network Rail said: ”Network Rail is absolutely committed to making the case.
“It’s a compelling case.”
Ray Chapman of East Sussex Rail Alliance (ESRA) said this is a “monumental moment” for the local area which potentially signifies the greatest investment in infrastructure in the locality in over 167 years; since the original construction of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway into St Leonards in 1845. He added: “The new direct link would attract many more tourists into the area, improve the economy further, and help businesses flourish.”