NO LIGHT AT END OF THE TUNNEL

RYE rail users are bracing themselves for a winter of discontent after operators failed to reassure them.

The Rye line is set to grind to a halt for nine weeks in January with no trains running between Ashford and Hastings while work takes place on the Ore Tunnel.

Passengers demanded answers at a packed public meeting in Rye on Friday evening but were far from satisfied with the response.

They were confronted with a done-deal as Network Rail said they could not shift the work from its winter slot as contracts had already been agreed and signed.

There were also concerns that Southern had underestimated the number of people using the trains while sorting out a replacement bus service.

Now there are fears that the whole town could be isolated and cut-off in the event of icy weather or snow.

Rye resident and regular commuter Ray Prewer said: “We were given all the reasons why various schemes to provide train connects were rejected, mainly on cost and how the only hope was a bus replacement service.

“I asked if it was reasonable to isolate a town of 5,000 inhabitants for 2 months in winter?

“There were several observations from local teachers and parents. Students travel to various schools and colleges in the area,

“The concerns expressed were that children could he left waiting at the side of the road for buses that don’t turn up because of bad weather.

“The numerous questions from local people were all well considered and presented.

“The answers from National Rail made it obvious that this was not a consultation but a mere presentation.

“Murray Moltby, from Network Rail, said the dates could not be moved as the contracts have already been signed and changes to the timings would cause additional costs.

“Enquiries about working arrangements, 1 or 2 shift working and how much contingency was built in got the reply we will have to get back to you.

“There was no offer to change any part of their plan as it had been agreed with the engineers and they said it could not change.

“We did a bit better with Southern. There was a suggestion from the floor to run a ‘fast’ bus from Rye and link Appledore and Ham Street with a separate bus. This is to be looked into.

“When the discussion turned to the number and size of buses there were observations that Southern may have underestimated the number of people travelling. Again, this will be looked into.

“Network Rail and Southern turned up for a PR exercise and their attitude is that we will get what we are given.

“ If I had been on the platform, as a senior manager, I would have been ashamed to have been unable to provide answers to so many of the questions .

“They will just leave the poor students and commuters with at least nine weeks of the difficult travel during what can be the worst of winter. Their ‘customers’ are of no concern..”

Richard Howkins, from Network Rail, said many of the tunnels were 150 years old and needed maintenance. Temporary repairs were carried out on the Ore Tunnel 6 years ago.

Stuart Harland, chairman of Marshlink Action Group, who called the meeting,said: “Network Rail’s presentation seemed to make clear they have been working on this for quite a while.

“The downside of that is that the plans are immovable.

“The upside is, hopefully, that they have their timing right and we won’t be subject to any nasty surprises.

Rye MP Amber Rudd, attending the meeting, said: “Although I welcome the investment in this line, I have raised objections about the duration of the closure.

“I have asked Network Rail to look again at the manpower they have made available for this in order to accelerate the completion of the works.

“I will also be pushing for compensation for the passengers who have already purchased costly season tickets and are now having to suffer longer journey times for such a long period.”

Stuart Harland said: “Our primary concern is the practicality of operating a bus service in winter and for passenger numbers which are large but variable throughout the day.

“We are very concerned about the vulnerability of school children, particularly the 51st child trying to board a 50-seater bus away from the relatively protected environment of a railway station.

“The meeting also identified cyclists and disabled passengers as other groups which need further thought.

“We are keen to work with all these interest groups and the other rail action groups along the line to discuss with Southern the adequacy of the bus service.”