Delight as City rail link is saved after a determined and hard-fought campaign

CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed the news the Hastings to London Cannon Street rail service has been saved.

City-bound commuters from Crowhurst, Battle, Robertsbridge and Etchingham stations found out last week that the direct rail service has been saved, thanks to a determined effort by area businesses with East Sussex County Council, local authorities and MPs.

When, in 2009, Network Rail proposed to truncate this direct link to the City at London Bridge, private-sector businesses along the line between Tunbridge Wells and Hastings were swift to point out it could spell economic disaster for the area.

Battle Chamber of Commerce member Yolanda Laybourne, who was heavily involved with the campaign, said: “With East Sussex and other councils already united in their objection to the proposal, we were happy to co-ordinate a concerted campaign from the private sector.

“In consultation with Southeastern, we set about organising a carefully-orchestrated system of lobbying letters to be sent to the Department for Transport, Network Rail and Westminster MPs.

Yolanda Laybourne said: “More than 25 area businesses and organisations, together representing hundreds of businesses, were quick to sign up to the lobby, and we drip-fed the letters up the chain over a key period of 15 months.

“The diversity of the businesses involved was extraordinary, from one-man bands to substantial employers, but the message was always the same - it was all about jobs, livelihoods and the threat to our local economy if this direct rail lifeline to the City was axed.”

She added: “This result is great news, and wonderful that all the uncertainty over this important direct rail-link to the City has now been lifted.

“Everyone who participated in the campaign is to be thanked and congratulated on this huge achievement.

“The users of the line will still wish to see improvements to the service, as well as smaller fare-increases, but with this assurance and profile-raising under our belt, these are issues which can now be tackled with a new sense of confidence.”

Tessa Sweet-Escott, principal transport policy officer for strategic economic infrastructure at East Sussex County Council, wrote to campaigners to share the good news from the Department for Transport (DfT).

The letter said: “The DfT do indicate in their correspondence there is a possibility that whilst the station and track layout at London Bridge is being re-built and remodelled (between 2015 and 2018) there may need to be a short term diversion of one or more of the Hastings-Cannon Street trains to Charing Cross.

“However, they confirm that there is no reason why the Cannon Street trains need to be withdrawn for the foreseeable future - although they highlight that rail timetables are not fixed forever.

“The news that the Cannon Street service will be retained (aside from when changes are made at London Bridge Station) is positive news and welcomed. The efforts of a wide range of stakeholders, including the county council, local planning authorities, local businesses and residents have all played a part leading to this success story, and I thank everyone for their contribution towards achieving this.”