Date for implementation of high-speed trains in 1066 Country remains ‘unknown’

Jo Johnson is pictured speaking at the 2018 Hastings Rail Summit SUS-180920-170301001
Jo Johnson is pictured speaking at the 2018 Hastings Rail Summit SUS-180920-170301001

No date has been set on when high speed train services will be extended to 1066 Country.

Business leaders, politicians and rail users met at Hastings and Rye MP, Amber Rudd’s rail summit on Friday (September 14), held at Sussex Coast College in Hastings.

I understand everyone’s impatience which is why I have made HS1 my priority. It seems absurd that we do not have faster trains to London while other coastal towns do

Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd

The case for HS1 (High Speed 1) services was put forward at the event.

At last year’s summit it was revealed that extension of the high speed rail link from Ashford to Hastings and Bexhill would be a reality by 2024 at the latest.

But at Friday’s summit, no date could be pledged.

Ms Rudd said: “I understand everyone’s impatience which is why I have made HS1 my priority.

“The technology for it is moving our way and the business case for HS1 has to be made in order to get the investment, both public and private. It seems absurd that we do not have faster trains to London while other coastal towns do.

“I understand everyone wants a date on when HS1 will happen but we can’t say.

“We have the support from the Government and all of the enterprises around to push it forward.”

The project would involve electrifying the Marshlink allowing for high-speed Javelin trains to serve Bexhill, Hastings and Rye from Ashford, which would link up to the HS1 route to London St Pancras.

It currently takes around 112 minutes to get to London from Bexhill but this could be reduced to 78 minutes with the Javelin trains.

Hastings to London would take 68 minutes instead of around 100 and from Rye it would be under an hour rather than up to 85 minutes.

The project would be delivered in three phases. Phase 1 is the proposed enhancement to the track layout to the west of Ashford.

Network Rail recently completed its topographical survey of the area and is starting detailed design of the required solution.

Phase 2 of the scheme is the potential for line speed increases designed to improve journey time reductions between Eastbourne and Ashford. The final phase would be electrification.

Andrew Wood, senior commercial scheme sponsor at Network Rail, said the cost of partially or fully electrifying the Marshlink line would be ‘very high’.

He said initial design work has been completed with £200,000 of investment from East Sussex County Council and the Department for Transport.

The second part of the design for Phase 1 will be costed by late autumn with work expected to start in early 2020.

Bexhill MP Huw Merriman said: “The south east puts £200bn into the country’s economy so we are the goose that lays the golden egg.

“The message I always say is that if you continue to invest in us you are investing in the UK as a whole.

“We make the case not just for our back yard but our back yard being the stimulus for the rest of the UK.

“HS1 will be an incredibly tough project to deliver.”

Graham Peters, chairman of Team East Sussex and vice-chairman of South East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Our physical infrastructure and journey times to the Channel Tunnel and ferry ports lag far behind our aspirations and potential. Our physical connectivity remains very much second-rate.

“The south east towns are the geese which lay the golden eggs for the UK economy and we really must nurture and feed them.

“We now need that extra charge in investment in a fast rail service for Hastings and Bexhill.”

Cllr Keith Glazier, leader of East Sussex County Council and chairman of Transport for the South East, said: “Our key ambition is putting in sustainable growth for enterprise and the people of East Sussex and without that we will stagnate.

“To achieve our ambition we need housing and we need industry.

“Without HS1 coming to Hastings it will be an opportunity missed.

“We know we are the most productive part of the country outside London and we need to continue that.”

Jo Johnson, Minister of State for the Department of Transport and Orpington MP, said the Government will be investing ‘record amounts of money’ into the UK’s rail network, to the tune of £48bn between 2019 and 2024.

He said: “The benefits to Hastings will come through improvements to the Southeastern franchise. Bidders are being given incentives to speed up journeys between Hastings and London.”