Plans to axe direct rail service criticised

Southern Rail
Southern Rail

Bexhill rail campaigners have expressed alarm at plans to recast local rail services from December 2018.

Under the plans, unveiled this week following a public consultation, the through coastal service between Brighton and Ashford International would be axed completely, meaning passengers would have to change trains at Hastings.

Train operator Southern/GTR and the Department for Transport proposed the move as a way of easing overcrowding on the two-car diesel trains used on the route, saying they would operate longer electric trains between Hastings and Brighton instead.

Bexhill Rail Action Group chairman Hugh Sharp said: “If implemented, these proposals would be of huge disadvantage to Bexhill.

“Our Victoria service is slow, suffers poor punctuality and is often unreliable, with random cancellations and curtailment at Eastbourne.

“The advent of the Ashford service in conjunction with high-speed Javelin services between Ashford and St Pancras has opened up a new faster corridor to the Thames Gateway and north Central London. At peak times it is half-an-hour quicker than travelling on the Southern route to Victoria via Haywards Heath, and is much more punctual and reliable. The development of this corridor is important in attracting high-value commuters to the town, thereby fuelling re-generation. It has also stimulated incoming tourism. More importantly still, it has helped support the case for upgrading and electrifying the Marshlink line between Ore and Ashford, eventually to enable the extension of Javelin services direct to Rye, Hastings and Bexhill.

“Conversely, we know that passengers travelling eastwards are not going to take the risk of a cancelled or missed connection at Hastings.

“The news about the Ashford service is potentially bad enough, but there is no better news with the Victoria route under these plans.

“The draft timetables envisage longer journey times, and no action to address the lack of capacity and overcrowding resulting from splitting and joining trains at Haywards Heath.”

BRAG has put forward alternative proposals to maintain the through service to Ashford, and resolve overcrowding.

Southern’s head of strategic planning, Phil Hutchinson, said: “Our proposals give passengers desperately-needed longer trains on the most popular parts of the Hastings to Brighton route and were supported by 71 per cent of people responding to the first phase of our consultation.”