A LOCAL rail group has slammed Southern rail's plans to replace new coaches with thirty year old rolling stock.
The newly formed East Sussex Rail Alliance Group (ESRA) say the introduction of the 'Class 313' suburban rolling stock, which will replace new coaches launched five years ago, is putting East Sussex "at the bottom of the pile ".
Southern's plans include replacing two-car units (built 2003–4) and three-car units (built 2001–2) with three-car Class 313 units built in 1976–7; which are not fitted with toilets or air-conditioning, and have a top speed of 75mph, against the 100mph top speed of the more recent trains.
Andrew Leach of ESRA said: " These thirty year old units have seen much wear and tear on the busy North London Line. The two, three and four coach units, designed specifically for local services along the East Coastway route, are to be relocated to South London.
These trains are old, slow, cramped,noisy and dirty and first saw service in 1976. They lack toilets and air conditioning, and despite Southern's promise to refurbish these trainswith new seating we still believe they will offer an inferior journey to the current trains, which were only built in the mid-Noughties.
"In addition, half the direct services between Brighton and Hastings are to be discontinued and replaced with services terminating at Eastbourne. "
Southern advise passengers to change at Hampden Park if they need to travel beyond Eastbourne in either direction, ESRA is concerned that Hampden Park has limited disabled access and few passenger facilities.
Andrew said: "In spite of our objections made to Southern and the Department for Transport (DfT) in their consultation on the timetable, it appears that it was already a done deal. Passengers between Brighton, Eastbourne and Seaford will have to endure uncomfortable journeys made even longer by the reduced top speed of the refurbished stock.
"We are also very disappointed that disabled passengers will have to cross the level-crossing at Hampden Park to change trains, instead of being able to change at platform level at Eastbourne.
"Southern don't guarantee connections at Hampden Park, and it is the busiest level crossing in Europe. Passengers who will have most difficulty in travelling from one side of Eastbourne to the other risk being stranded — even the waiting room closes at 7pm!
"We call on the DfT to invest in infrastructure to ensure a better service for all, on the East Coastway and in south London, rather than ensure that East Sussex is again at the bottom of the pile by tinkering with rolling-stock allocations."
In response a spokesperson for Southern said:
"We will introduce four Class 313 units in daily operation at our timetable change on 23 May 2010, on services on the Brighton - Seaford and Brighton - West Worthing routes.
"These units are currently in daily service on London Overground routes. This, in addition to two extra Class 442 units, will allow us to provide additional carriages on our most crowded trains at the timetable change and will release seven Class 377 trains. We hope to use up to two of these units to strengthen Sussex Coast pm peak services.
"Our intention was to refresh the interior of the 313 units prior to introducing them. However, following a detailed tendering process with a number of suppliers it is impossible to meet this date and it will be the summer before the first refresh can be completed.
"Our strong preference is to provide passengers with fully refreshed trains. However, there is a need to make additional capacity available at the earliest opportunity and we have, after careful consideration, elected to continue with the introduction of four Class 313 units to the daily service in May.
"We considered attempting to compress the time-scales for the refresh of these units, but experience has shown that such an approach, even if it were possible, compromises both quality of the train and reliability of service.
"The alternative option of withholding these trains from service until they are refreshed would prevent relief of crowding on current peak services, which we know is a priority for passengers.
"Recognising that the option of un-refreshed trains is not one that passengers would necessarily wish for if there were a more attractive alternative, we feel that we have made the right choice for overall benefit."
Bexhill Rail Action Group, East Coastway Commuters Group based in Eastbourne, and the St Leonards & Hastings Rail Improvement Programme campaign for better services along the coast and into London.
They are founder members of the new East Sussex Rail Alliance, an umbrella group linking organisations and pressure groups throughout the county.
Visit the website at: www.eastsussexrail.org.uk