So contrary to published national policy, the local Labour contenders in Bexhill and Hastings are pitching to “renationalise” the railway (Observer - 13 March). As the cost to railway industry started at £5 billion at privatisation – which brought the railway support industry to its knees because the changes in responsibility were differently held - the last thing that is needed is reversion to public ownership, even of the franchises serving the South Coast which come up for re-tendering in just three years time. We just cannot afford this gimmick change.
As a regular traveller from Bexhill, Robertsbridge and Hastings to London and beyond, I know that rail travellers need is the speedy completion of the improvement work which will transform timetables and new rolling stock; signalling and track upgrades will bring much improved reliability and satisfaction levels. But all this work will take the time it does – and we just have to accept higher charges and delays until the network maintenance backlog catches up. What we are getting is a more efficient and safer operating railway, keeping the UK on the move.
Any support for a return to public ownership would be a very costly error and it would open to the Treasury the opportunity to chop the rail investment programme - £30 billion plus – and which includes the massive London Bridge development to complete in 2018. This knee jerk change might make some happy but, if it succeeded, it would again set the programme back years. What we need is progressive development – not political interference and stop-go because it seems a “good” idea.
Labour has an appalling record of interfering and declining the investment in the national network, right from the time of nationalisation and the closing of over 2000 miles of railway since. Today, with 5 per cent year-on-year growth, rail is carrying more passengers than ever on a much reduced system. And that system had cut after cut under Labour, on lines which local travellers here on the South Coast are now having to work very hard to upgrade – Ashford-Hastings – or reopen Uckfield-Lewes, the Willingdon Chord at Polegate. And we need faster services to and from London via Gatwick Airport and Ashford to improve our local economy. It is happening and it was tremendous to see the High Speed Javelin running from Hastings to Bexhill and Eastbourne and back just a few weeks ago. What a prospect.
The South Coast railway is now getting attention in the major investment queue – but it takes time. And impatient ill-thought-out vote-attracting advertising by Labour really does show up how naïve this proposal really is. If you are a rail traveller, please keep supporting the local ginger groups as their lobby is really winning, by talking up investment in rail to the East Sussex system and growth to South Coast business. The eggs have been cracked - so let’s look forward to a quality omelette. We rail users deserve nothing less.
Richard Tilden Smith
c/o Church Cottages, Mountfield