Rail action groups claim time-table victory

LOCAL rail action groups claimed victory this week after rail authorities agreed to publish an additional mini-timetable, providing details a flagship new train service, which had not been listed in the latest public train timetable booklets,

Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) and St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement Programme (SHRIMP), demanded to know why details of the new high-speed services to London via Ashford - connecting with local trains along the Marshlink line to Rye, Hastings and Bexhill - were not listed in Southern's timetable booklet 'Train Times 2,' which commences on 13th December and runs until 22nd May 2010.

The timetable contains details of services between London and Brighton to Eastbourne, Bexhill, Hastings and Ashford via Rye.

Onward connections at Ashford to/from London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross are also shown, however, high-speed services to St Pancras are not.

BRAG and SHRIMP say details of high speed 'Javelin' trains, travelling at speeds of up to 140mph, covering the journey between the newly restored St Pancras station and Ashford in just 37 minutes should have been listed, providing local rail passengers a faster option to London.

The trains will travel along the High Speed 1 line via Stratford and Ebbsfleet and there is an hourly connection from Ashford to and from 1066 Country along the Marshlink line via Rye.

The action groups say that, in some cases, the new connections will be much faster than existing services to and from London via Tunbridge Wells or Haywards Heath.

The new service will also provide a new domestic rail connection for Eurostar passengers at Ebbsfleet International station – until now only accessible by road.

The Javelin services are operated by Southeastern trains, whilst Southern trains operate the Marshlink service. However, BRAG and SHRIMP claimed that train operators have a 'legal duty' to show connecting services, even if they are run by separate operators, and in any event both Southeastern and Southern belong to the same parent company, GoVia.

Hugh Sharp of BRAG said:

"It does seem very strange that the train operator should be passing up an opportunity to market services along the Marshlink. There is an extra capacity available via this route, in contrast to the Brighton Mainline, which we are regularly told is at full capacity, thereby frustrating our requests for more frequent and faster services from the East Sussex Coast to London.

Ray Chapman of SHRIMP said: "This omission is inexplicable. The inauguration of domestic high-speed services from London to Ashford opens up a whole new world of opportunities.

"Many journey times between Rye and London have been slashed from over two hours to less than seventy minutes. There are also some fast early morning connections from Bexhill to St Pancras of around one hour and forty minutes instead of two hours, while many Hastings and St Leonards travellers travelling to north London, or connecting into mainline services at Kings Cross or St Pancras may find it quicker and more convenient to travel via Ashford rather than having to cross London."

In response to the rail action groups' complaint a spokesman for Southern initially said:

"We do believe that our timetable booklets meet the obligations in our franchise agreement (which is a contractual not a legal obligation), however we think it's a reasonable point that BRAG and SHRIMP have made, we thank them for their input and we will consider making appropriate changes when we next reprint our timetable booklets."

However, following Observer enquiries a further reply from Southern said:

"We thank both groups for the suggestion and after further thought on the matter, we will be producing a special mini-timetable which will include key connecting services."

Although Southern cannot give an exact time for the time-table to be published they say it is being "put together now and will be available shortly."

On hearing of the victory Ray Chapman said: "It is great news that Southern have agreed at the eleventh hour to produce a special mini-timetable."

A copy of connecting times for high-speed train services can be viewed on the BRAG website: www.bexhillrailaction.org.uk