We must fight to keep rail service

Bexhill Observer letters
Bexhill Observer letters

From: Richard Madge, On behalf of Bexhill Rail Action Group

Your report (June 30) rightly highlights the importance to our town of the through train service to Ashford, with the connections it offers into Eurostar and high-speed services, as well as the rest of Kent. This contrasts with the very poor service offer on the route to Victoria, which is likely to get worse rather than better.

The assertion by Phil Hutchinson of GTR that 71 per cent of respondents supported a split in the Brighton – Ashford service is more nuanced than he suggests.

No rail user group supported ‘truncating’ the service at Hastings, and only one Local Authority – which oddly enough in a fit of insularity, was Hastings Borough Council. We have been informed by GTR that 510 people responded to the consultation, with 71 per cent (362) supporting a split at either Eastbourne (176; 49 per cent) or Hastings (186; 51 per cent). So to reframe this, 29 per cent (or 148 people) did not support a split of the service at all and wished for the through Brighton – Ashford service to continue.

It is therefore likely that this group would be more likely to support an Eastbourne split than at Hastings. Add these to the 176 who supported a split at Eastbourne and this gives a total of 324 out of 510 (or 63 per cent) in favour of continuing the service west of Hastings.

To this should be added a sleight of hand in the original passenger count at the time the first phase of the consultation. Instead of undertaking a passenger survey of numbers of through travellers arriving/departing Hastings to and from the east (around 45 per cent of the total on the day in question), the survey measured the proportion of passengers arriving/departing Hastings to/from the west.

Given the higher volume inter-urban nature of the route between Hastings and Brighton, it is therefore no surprise the proportion of through passengers was only around 22-26 per cent.

It may be that maintenance of the through Brighton – Ashford service may be not viable due to overcrowding and lack of rolling stock, but equally there is absolutely NO consensus or mandate for a split in the service at Hastings. Maintenance of a through service from Ashford at least as far west as Eastbourne MUST be pursued.

Without going into the reasons for the chronic overcrowding on the route, the responsibility for which lies primarily with the rail authorities themselves, the local rail user groups have a proposal that could alleviate overcrowding between Brighton and Hastings, but also maintain the through service to Ashford from Eastbourne and Bexhill.

This would involve an overlapping service of a new longer electric train between Brighton and Hastings, AND the diesel service between Eastbourne, Bexhill and Ashford. This would give a daytime service of four trains each way per hour between Hastings/Bexhill and Eastbourne, and two trains per hour between Bexhill and Brighton.

For this to happen the community needs to show its support, either by lobbying our MP Huw Merriman, or responding directly to the second phase of the consultation.

The email address is gtr.timetableconsultation@gtrailway.com.