Bexhill rail campaigners are up in arms over the proposed timetable changes which they believe would damage the economy and be detrimental to commuters.
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has launched a consultation on changes to its timetable from December 2018 to tackle overcrowding and reduce journey times.
Among the options listed is replacing the current Brighton-Ashford service with two separate services, with passengers having to change at either Eastbourne or Hastings.
The Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) opposes this because of the inconvenience it would cause to rail travellers, and the possible damage to economic regeneration.
BRAG Treasurer Yolanda Laybourne said: “Following a previous consultation undertaken by Southern in 2009, the secretary of state concluded that there were sound reasons to maintain the through service between Brighton and Ashford. Now it appears they are having another go.
“For Bexhill rail travellers, the link through to Ashford has been a godsend.
“Not only do we have a direct connection into Eurostar services, high speed Javelin services also run to St Pancras in as little as 35 minutes providing a tube-free link to north/central London, and onwards to other parts of the country via Kings Cross and St Pancras.
“If the service were split at Hastings we would lose that, along with introducing the extra unreliability and time penalty of an additional connection.”
GTR said splitting the service could help relieve overcrowding on the route because the section of line between Hastings and Ashford is not electrified and the service relies on a small fleet of two-carriage diesel trains, which are in short supply.
By substituting electric trains along part of the route, the company says more seats could be provided between Hastings and Brighton.
BRAG said this would be at the expense of passengers making through journeys to Kent, and those connecting onwards at Ashford into Eurostar and high speed services.
Ms Laybourne doubted that breaking the service at Eastbourne would provide a solution either.
“What the previous consultation showed was that passengers travelling westwards from Hastings and Bexhill stations to Lewes and Brighton would face a reduction in through services, and the additional inconvenience of a further change of train at Eastbourne,” she said.
“Furthermore, this option would not resolve the issue of overcrowding itself, because one of the worst sources of overcrowding is schoolchildren travelling to and from St Richard’s Catholic College from both Eastbourne and Hastings.”
Another proposal is to have one peak train an hour from London Victoria continue past Eastbourne and to end the service at Hastings instead of Ore, with the possibility of Southeastern trains to Charing Cross extended to Ore.
Journey times to Brighton would be reduced by not stopping at Moulsecoomb or London Road (Brighton).
BRAG said the real problem is this service was never provided with enough carriages and neither Southern nor the Department for Transport (DfT) have been proactive in sourcing more.
“The through Ashford-Brighton service is a crucial piece of regional infrastructure and vital for our local economy,” Ms Laybourne said.
“It has already attracted a number of high-value commuters into the area, and its success is a key component in the ongoing campaign to extend high speed services to our town.
“Southern and the DfT must look at other more creative solutions pending the electrification and upgrade of the Marshlink line.”
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