Summit signals progress towards High Speed

On Friday 6 October Amber Rudd MP’s fourth Hastings Rail Summit set out a clear plan to deliver high speed journey times between London St Pancras and Rye, Hastings and Bexhill.

Attendees at the event, including constituents, members of the local business community and representatives of the area’s councils and rail user groups, heard presentations from:

  • Huw Merriman (Member of Parliament for Bexhill and Battle)
  • Ellie Burrows (Train Services Director, Southeastern)
  • Nick Brown (Chief Operating Officer, GTR)
  • Andrew Wood (Senior Commercial Scheme Sponsor South East Route, Network Rail)
  • Graham Peters (Vice Chair, South East LEP)
  • Rupert Clubb (Director of Communities, Economy and Transport, East Sussex County Council)
  • Stephen Cox (Head of Economic and Social Development, Mott MacDonald)
  • Cllr Keith Glazier (Chair, Transport for the South East)
  • Paul Maynard MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rail, Accessibility and HS2)

The event was chaired by Ray Chapman of the East Sussex Rail Alliance.

Amber Rudd said: “Since I became MP for Hastings and Rye in 2010 it has been my priority to cut journey times between London St Pancras and Hastings to under 70 minutes. This Rail Summit has shown not just how this can be achieved but also the huge benefits of delivering it: thousands of new jobs and an economic boost to the region of over £700m.”

Ellie Burrows of Southeastern updated attendees on steps which had been taken to improve passenger experience including increasing the provision of customer-facing staff and refurbishing stations. It was also confirmed that all Southeastern trains will have Wi-Fi equipment fitted by the end of the current franchise.

Nick Brown’s presentation discussed the latest position regarding industrial relations, where performance improvements have been achieved as well as where further work was needed. He also set out the outline plan to deliver overlap services between Hastings and Eastbourne as part of the 2018 changes to GTR’s timetable. This would introduce a longer, four carriage train, to run between Hastings and Brighton to alleviate overcrowding, while the existing two carriage service continued to operate between Ashford and Eastbourne to allow passengers to make direct journeys. This was a proposal submitted by local rail user groups in response to GTR’s consultation on the timetable changes and fully supported by MPs Amber Rudd and Huw Merriman in their response to the consultation.

In his remarks Cllr Keith Glazier, Leader of East Sussex County Council, discussed his role as chair of the Sub-National Transport Body for the South East. The organisation’s aim is to create a more reliable, less congested and better-connected transport network that works for the passengers who rely upon it.

Network Rail set out the work needed to deliver high speed journey times - between London and Hastings in 66-69 minutes, and between London and Bexhill in 76-79 minutes. The first phase of this work would see changes made to the track layout at Ashford International creating a connection between the Marshlink and the High Speed 1 line. Hybrid electric-diesel or battery-powered trains would then be able to run direct between London St Pancras and Rye, Hastings and Bexhill. The second phase would see line speed improvements made to the track between Eastbourne and Ashford International including changes to the 35 crossings on the route and new signalling.

The significance of the benefits of the project to deliver high speed journey times was highlighted in a joint presentation by Graham Peters, Rupert Clubb and Stephen Cox. They announced the key findings of Mott MacDonald’s 2017 study of the strategic economic case for the project – this was an update to their 2015 report. The study found that the potential benefits of delivering high speed journey times included 1,600 jobs and a total economic impact of £711.2m across the region.

In his remarks the Rail Minister informed the summit that the South Eastern Invitation To Tender would be published shortly and that the new franchise would see an integrated working relationship between the train operator and Network Rail. He also told attendees that better, faster and more reliable journeys will be delivered for the South East, and that the “message has been heard” for investment in rail services for the area.

Huw Merriman commented: “The delivery of High Speed Rail would be a game-changer for the travelling public and deliver a boost to our local economy. It is an enormous prize and I am determined to work with Amber Rudd to do everything possible to make it a reality. There was enormous enthusiasm at the Rail Summit for this project and I would like to thank Amber for bringing the Rail Minister to our part of East Sussex so he could see for himself that the community is united behind making it happen."

Ray Chapman, co-chair of East Sussex Rail Alliance who chaired the Rail Summit, said: “We have seen major improvements in our rail services in recent years including faster peak time services but there is still more to do to develop our area’s connectivity further. By making the most of innovative technology on our railways through hybrid trains as well as opportunities to reconfigure track and infrastructure, the faster journey times we need to see can be delivered.

“East Sussex Rail Alliance will continue to work with the other local rail user groups to develop and take forward solutions to local transport issues, as we have with the overlap plan for Brighton – Ashford International which will see direct trains continue to travel through East Sussex while boosting capacity on the route.”

Amber added: “I will continue to work as hard as I can to secure high speed journey times and the huge benefits they would bring for our communities.”