Update on Marshlink Activities

Report to MLAG Members cocerning meetings attended in October and our response to the
Network Rail Study Team
Delivering High Speed Rail to Bexhill, Hastings and Rye Bexhill De La Warr Friday 9 October
At a crowded meeting held at 8.30 a.m.(!), chaired by Huw Merriman MP for Bexhill and Battle, a
Report entitled ‘Economic Case High Speed Rail to Hastings and Bexhill was released. The report had
been commissioned and funded by East Sussex County Council, Rother District Council and Hastings
Borough Council. It was carried out by Mott MacDonald, a leading consultancy firm with previous
experience of large scale rail projects.
The Report found that there would be significant benefits to the economy of the area deriving from
a High Speed Link. These benefits were shown in terms of increased numbers of jobs in the area and
capital investment arising from regeneration and tourism amounting to £m354 by 2044.
Fundamentally the improved journey times to London would increase the attractiveness of Rother,
Bexhill and Hastings as places to work and live and improve the image of the area as a business
Due to poor connectivity the East Sussex area has fallen behind in terms of numbers of commuters
to and from London compared with neighbouring areas. In particular HS1 has had a significant
impact on commuting and business links between Kent and London. The report says that Rother in
particular has a large and growing proportion of population over 65 (30% compared with 17.4%
nationally). Consequently working age population is predicted to fall both in Hastings and Rother.
Even worse the working population is less qualified and less skilled than the average and major
regeneration is essential to attract higher skilled people to the area.
The expectation is that the HS1 scheme would promote:
Business investment and growth
Provision of new commuting opportunities
Expand the visitor economy
Overall the presentation was upbeat, but did not cover engineering matters or Network Rail costs
both of which may prove awkward. The message though is that supporters of the scheme should
continue to beat the drum and campaign through interested groups since there is competition for
limited funds from other schemes in other parts of the country. In my opinion political support will
be essential from all interested parties, but the political will seems to be there to pursue this
Kent Route Study – Wider Stakeholder Briefing 1 21 October 2015
I attended this meeting at Network Rail HQ in Euston, London. It was held for people described as
‘wider stakeholders’, which included representatives from rail action groups such as ours, people
from Rail Future and people from local authorities including Ashford, Hastings, Rother and East
This Kent Route Study began in 2015 and the study team are looking for input from rail user groups
who can share their aspirations for rail by e.mailing KentRouteStudy@networkrail.co.uk. (See our
response below). The geographical base of the study is Kent but clearly there are routes including
the Marsh Link which cross boundaries. The Sussex Route Study has been completed and the report
can be accessed from the Network Rail Site.
The Marsh Link is clearly a very small part of this Network, but of interest to Network Rail as it
connects Ashford to Brighton. There was some discussion about Ashford, but mainly in terms of
connecting Kent stations with a larger Gatwick Airport. The mooted HS1 extension was not
specifically covered, but obviously NR are aware as they say of the proposals. The only direct
reference to our line concerned housing growth near Ashford at Park Farm and Ham Street which
has led Ashford Council to commission a report into the viability of a Park Farm Station. I assume
that a direct link to London would be relevant here.
The onus is on rail users to submit economic cases for rail growth, or investment such as
electrification, longer platforms etc which will form part of the Kent Route Study (KRS). The
timetable is to submit these by March 2016. A draft report should be produced by September 2016
and a final report including amendments by March 2017. The Final Report will enable a programme
of rail development in Control Period 6, 2019/24 to be prioritised. There will be a long term strategy
in the KRS covering the period to 2043.
Apparently Network Rail are attempting to communicate much more with rail users about their
plans, hence these stakeholder meetings and the facility to comment direct to the Study Team by
e.mail. These are interesting times for the Railways particularly with the Crossrail and Thameslink
developments which will open up whole new routes as for example Brighton to Cambridge and
modern trains. Also Network Rail are predicting a big rise in freight traffic over the period. We just
need to make sure that the South Coast Route is not forgotten!
Our response to the Study Team is reproduced below:
22 November 2015
Kent Route Study (“the Study”)
The MarshLink Action Group would like to respond to the Study as follows:
MarshLink Action Group
The MarshLink Action Group was set up in 2002 to represent the interests of passengers using the
railway service between Ashford and Hastings (now elongated to a service between Ashford and
Brighton and part of the Coastway East service).
The Group, which is based in Rye, has over 100 members. MLAG seeks to work constructively with train
operating companies, Rail Future, Transport Focus, Sussex Community Rail Partnership, Network Rail
and other rail groups in the south east. MLAG is also a member of the East Sussex Rail Alliance of
passenger action groups.
In view of our current interest in the extension of the HS1 service between London St. Pancras and
Ashford being extended along the MarshLink line we wish to work with Network Rail and Kent County
Council on the Kent Route Study.
MLAG's website can be seen at: http://www.mlag.org.uk/
Rye and its population
The MarshLink Line (“the Line”) runs from Ashford to Hastings and Rye is halfway along that Line.
Rye is a town with a resident population of c4,400 but with a significant seasonal population and
commercial dependency on tourists.
Many residents of Rye use the Line to commute to larger towns including Hastings and Ashford but also
to London which is now commutable with a connection at Ashford to either London St.Pancras or
London Charing Cross.
However, the demographic profile of Rye includes:
- a high proportion of older people with a comparatively high demand for rail services; but also
- children use the Line to get to schools along the Line including travelling to Rye (to Rye College and the
new Rye Studio School); and similarly
- students travel to Sussex Coast College Hastings to Ore and other colleges further afield.
Local people use the Line for shopping purposes and also to travel to entertainment centres such as
London and Brighton (requiring the need for late night trains which the current service does not
provide). Rye has its own newly-opened cinema (the only one in Rother District Council’s area) which
will attract passengers to the rail service from surrounding towns and villages.
With regard to tourism, Rye Station acts as a hub for several coastal holiday resorts, for example Pontins
at Camber and Winchelsea Beach: tourists are also attracted to the area by wildlife and for walking and
cycling holidays. But the other smaller stations on the line (Winchelsea, Three Oaks, Doleham,
Appledore and Ham Street) also attract their own tourist traffic.
The main roads in the area are radial, towards London, and east-west travel is slow. The A259 (which, to
a large extent, the Line follows) is the only east-west “A” road but is winding along the flat Romney
Marsh (to the east of Rye) and includes one of the few hairpin turns on an “A” road in the South East
region (at Winchelsea, to the west of Rye).
Rye and the MarshLink Line
For the majority of its length, the MarshLink Line is single track. Services are operated by 2-car Class
171s and so the Line is an island of diesel operation surrounded by a sea of third rail electrification. The
limitations on service versatility are made worse by the operating logistics of the fleet which continues
to be maintained at Selhurst, in South London: this impacts on the operating period of the fleet on the
Line and therefore curtailment of the service somewhat earlier than passengers require. Currently the
last train from London to Rye leaves London at 21.37 (arriving 22.55) and the last train from Hastings to
Rye is at 21.35
The Line has experienced substantial passenger growth since services were extended to Brighton in
2005, even though this results in the Class 171 diesel units operating over existing third rail for the
greater part of the route. Further growth was generated by the introduction of Eurostar from Ashford,
and more so by the introduction of the Javelin HS1 domestic services to London. Many commuters to
London from towns to the west of Rye (such as Hastings and Bexhill) now also use the Line to link to the
Javelin service, particularly if they want to get to North London or Canary Wharf/ Stratford.
- the Line’s service is inflexible in the event of unit failures because of it being an isolated diesel fleet and
this unpredictability leads to some railheading (and the resulting increased pollution) to other,
overcrowded services;
- the Line does not operate late in the evenings consistent with passenger demands for business and
leisure purposes, again attracting passengers to railheading (and increased pollution);
- the frequency of services is not dependant on passenger demand but on line constraints caused by the
single track for most of the Line’s length; and
- the service is limited to two carriages (because of inadequate diesel units) and therefore is persistently
The MarshLink Line in the London and South East Network
The Line is a very small part of the whole network but must be considered strategically vital to that
network connecting several major routes:
- Javelin HS1 to London;
- HS1/ Eurostar and, potentially, DeutscheBahn services to the continent;
- train services to Channel ports;
- proposed commercial services from/ to a new airport at Lydd;
- the Brighton Mainline; and
- the Hastings Mainline
And, if for no other reason, the Line must be considered significant and brought up to modern-day
standards and capacity.
MLAG’s aspirations
MLAG’s aspirations are for the MarshLink route to receives the infrastructure necessary to enable:
- hourly all-day/ every-day through services between London St.Pancras International via Ashford
International, Rye, Hastings and Bexhill; and
- hourly all-day/every-day local stations' services between Ashford International and Brighton.
This is to improve journey-times and connectivity between key economic centres and also improve local
access to the rail network.
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss any of the comments, aspirations or concerns with you.
Stuart Harland Chairman, MarshLink Action Group