THE long-standing dream of dualling and electrification on the Rye line came closer to reality this week with MP Amber Rudd saying she had ‘absolute commitment’ for a high speed rail link.
Amber held a Rail Summit in Hastings on Monday which was attended by Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin.
Rye remains one of the only rail lines in the country to be single track and unelectrified.
It creates major problems when trains break down.
Amber said: “During the meeting we achieved an ‘absolute commitment’ from Network Rail to deliver HS1 in Hastings and Rye.
“Improved rail links are an essential part of the economic growth for Rye. I am ambitious for our success.”
Ray Chapman of the East Sussex Rail Alliance said: “This is a monumental moment, potentially signifying the greatest investment in infrastructure in this area in over 167 years.
“The new direct link would attract many more tourists into the area, improve the economy further and help businesses flourish.”
The news was welcomed by the Marsh Link Action Group but chairman Stuart Harland cautioned that it could be a very long time-scale.
Mr Harland said: “There is ‘absolute commitment’ in respect of HS1 but it was more to take it to the next stage for full evaluation and funding with works in the next Control Period starting in 2019.
Such a direct train service would significantly reduce the travel time to London from Rye (to 55 mins); Hastings (to 68 mins) and Bexhill (to 78 mins).
“This would encourage investment in the East Sussex coastal area and improve tourist access.
“There is, of course, a long way to go between an “absolute commitment” to working on a project and getting it operational. The project so far has received detailed analysis by Network Rail but this has been mostly theoretical.
“To get the project built, it has to be specified and any problems resolved: amongst the practical issues are: remodelling Ashford Station to get the HS1 over to the MarshLink line; installing power systems, either third rail or overhead; building a “passing loop” to the west of Rye and procuring more Javelin trains.
“Also, the project’s financial viability has to be tested to enable it to source funding (a constant requirement nowadays, even for national projects). So, in practical terms, by pushing forward now the project is expected to fall into Network Rail’s control period 2019 – 2024.
“The project will need support from many directions.”
“Amber Rudd MP has pushed this project to the position it has got to today and the other major political parties have indicated their support and were represented at the meeting: broader central government support has now been provided by the Secretary of State for Transport.
“Local government support is required from district and town councils along the intended route; the regenerative impact of the project needs to be emphasised and Peter Jones, Chairman of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, also attended the meeting to give his support.
“However, there also needs to be a sense of realism when considering this project. It has to be recognised that the MarshLink rail service is stretched now.
“After experiencing quicker journey times to London via the MarshLink, many commuters from Bexhill and Hastings may continue to use this route, despite the direct but slow route being re-opened this week.
“It is difficult for the MarshLink train operator (Southern Railway or any other operator that may take over the franchise next year) to find new diesel trains to operate the service and we still experience unit failures, and so cancelled services, despite assurances that the 10 year old trains are regularly serviced and, indeed, have just completed a major overhaul.
“Somehow a solution has to be found to enable a proper service to be provided on the Marshlink up to the time HS1 starts operating and, along with it, an all stops local electric service.”