At the recent Annual General Meeting of the Marshlink Action Group there was a glimmer of hope for our overcrowded trains following the severe landslips on the Tunbridge Wells to Hastings line closing the line for several months.
It is now recognized that this line has many problems due to the geology of the soil making the line vulnerable to land slips.
For this reason a wholly new approach is being studied by Network Rail.
It is called the Hastings Rail Connectivity Study.
At the meeting there was a very interesting presentation by Andrew Wood, the Senior Development Manager from Network Rail who set out the strategic thinking for improving the Marshlink line.
Various rail action pressure groups, including our own Marshlink Action Group, had for some time been pressing for electrification of the line, together with dual tracking to increase train frequency and more stopping points.
Now a more ambitious project is being considered.
The Study has concluded that spending a lot of money on these improvements was not an option and made no business sense.
Andrew said that electrification of the Marshlink line was low value for money whilst other lines in the region had a much stronger case.
Line speed enhancement also received the same comment from him who said that the business case was weak.
On the other hand extension of the HS1 had an infinitely much stronger case from a business point of view.
It is envisaged that the line would extend to Bexhill and perhaps beyond, stopping at Rye and at other stations as now.
There would be remodeling of platform 2 at Ashford Station to accommodate new overhead wiring, but third rail might still be required for trains to travel through Ore tunnel.
Train speeds would be increased to 90 mph for most of the journey which would lop off many minutes on intermediate journeys.
There would be a need for resignalling to increase line speeds, and extending the passing loop from Rye.
Andrew recognized that there would be a need for fully gating rail crossings, and re-routing some minor roads.
There would also be the need to increase the number of 395 Javelin trains.
Needless to say this vision for the future would cost a lot of money, but it was considered that the advantages far outweighed the alternative solutions which in the past had been suggested.
It would decongest the Hastings to Tunbridge Wells railway line, and would give passengers a faster journey.
It would attract more passengers and commuters and boost tourism.
The need now is to seek political support for the project to develop and substantiate a formative business plan, and seek regeneration funding.
With competing schemes in the country Andrew considered the likely completion date would be between 2019 and 2024 depending on what progress could be made.
It has to be said that this project is visionary and inspirational, and would be a great boost to the local economy.
A reader wrote a telling letter in this paper last week which said it all about the decision to downgrade Battle Fire Station.
It is well understood that this country has to make cuts to its services to reduce the national debt, but when lives are at risk it seems the wrong policy to downgrade Battle Fire Station to retained status.
The Battle firemen are frequently called out for incidents covering the whole of Rother, more often than not requiring more than one appliance to be available.
It is reported that Battle and Bexhill are the only two Rope Rescue Units in the area and are called out to incidents way beyond Rother as the alternatives are in Crawley and Deal!
As a minimum of five operatives are needed for such incidents both stations go out together.
It is forgotten that the fire services do so much more than putting out fires.
The catchment area is huge and is reliant on Battle’s full time firemen.
It must be remembered that there are occasions when retained firemen may not always be able to be there when there is a “shout”. I hope the Stand Up for Battle Fire Station campaign will succeed in changing minds.