Last Friday I held my fourth Hastings Rail Summit to update constituents and local businesses on improvements to our rail network and what further enhancements are planned.
Speakers included representatives from Southern and Southeastern. They discussed welcome improvements in performance and what they were doing to make their services better, including fitting all Southeastern trains with Wi-Fi by the end of next year. I am pleased with the steps taken but I will continue to make it clear to both companies where further work is needed to deliver the standard of service passengers need and expect.
This summit also set out a clear plan to deliver high speed journey times between London St Pancras and Rye, Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne.
Since 2010, delivering high speed rail has been a top priority for me. I have always been clear that this could bring huge benefits for our area; this was proven on Friday as the economic case presented at the summit showed the project would directly support 1,600 jobs and a £711m economic boost across the region.
After pushing for high speed rail in my first term as your MP, in Parliament and with my first two rail summits, in 2015 the Government committed to studying it as an option for delivery from 2019. I am pleased to say that we are still on course for this.
While the original vision was to extend the HS1 service with overhead electrification to our towns, this would have been hugely expensive and it would have taken far too long to come to fruition. That is why I am backing the plan presented on Friday. This will deliver exactly the same high speed journey times - between London and Hastings in 66-69 minutes, and between London and Bexhill in 76-79 minutes – while providing better value for taxpayers’ money and delivering transformational benefits to our communities much sooner.
This plan has three steps: changing the track layout at Ashford International to create a direct connection between the Marshlink and the High Speed 1 line, investment in hybrid electric-diesel or battery-powered trains to run the service, and improvements to the track between Eastbourne and Ashford International to allow trains to travel much quicker than they’re currently able to.
This project can be delivered within the 2019–2024 period initially set out – Network Rail’s Control Period 6. However, the next steps are critical. Design work for the Ashford connection needs to take place soon. I am working with partners at Network Rail and in local government to make sure this happens. These steps also need to be included in the specification for the next South Eastern franchise. Along with Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman I have made this case strongly to the Rail Minister. On Friday he announced that the specification will be published shortly and that the need for faster journeys was fully understood.
These major changes to infrastructure take time but rest assured that I will continue to work as hard as I can for as long as it takes to secure the high speed and high quality rail service we need.