After a couple of years of disruption due to staff shortages and covid, the summer attraction will return May 28 according to Stagecoach.
Following a meeting with Stagecoach, Lib Dem Josh Babarinde OBE got confirmation from the company that the train will ‘absolutely’ be back this weekend (May 28-29).
Councillor Babarinde said he was also told there are five drivers on standby ready to drive the Dotto Train and drivers are being trained as well as agency drivers being ready to fill gaps when needed.
Maintenance work on the train will be carried out in time for the May deadline, Stagecoach told the councillor.
Cllr Babarinde said, “I urged that, for 2023, the Dotto Train service be in place by Easter. Stagecoach confirmed that, for 2023, they will plan to bring back the Dotto Train in time for Easter next year.”
He’s also asked for a meeting with the senior director of Stagecoach to gain assurances about the company’s long-term commitment in the Dotto Train in which he will push for decarbonising the service.
Despite this good news, figures in the town are still concerned over the future of the train, and who is really in charge of it.
Gaynore Sedgwick, Friends of Eastbourne Seafront Ltd, said, “Stagecoach do not have a good track record to date, Dotto is still not operating this year, it is normally up and running by Easter. At best it only runs for around five months a year.
“Dotto is not a priority to Stagecoach.”
She questioned whether Stagecoach will be willing to purchase a new Dotto when the time comes, fearing it has a ‘half-hearted approached at the moment’.
Ms Sedgwick said, “It is hard to understand why at this time when there is so much attention on Eastbourne Borough Council that the much-loved Dotto is being disposed of in this way, behind closed doors.”
Councillor Robert Smart, Conservative leader for Eastbourne Borough Council, said the council needs to ‘come clean’ about the future of the Dotto.
He said, “Ruling Liberal Democrat councillors have gone on record as asking questions about the trains disappearance when they should very well know the answers since they administer the contract.
“It’s so bizarre as to be a farce that those supposedly running this borough clearly don’t know what is going on and are asking these questions.
“Even if the train has a zero book-value because of its age, it is good to provide entertainment for another few years yet, I understand, why then would a prudent council give it away? It doesn’t make any commercial sense.
“Having spoken to Stagecoach, I know that they would dearly love to operate our much-loved seafront train for longer periods in the year, to include Easter, Christmas and the half-term holidays in autumn and winter. They are clearly much more switched-on than those councillors in the Town Hall who are supposed to be managing their contract.
“Many of the town’s woes are because we have leaders in the council who are merely reactive whereas a proactive attitude would reap benefits for so many in Eastbourne.”
When faced with these concerns a spokesperson for Eastbourne Borough Council said, “When the council launched Eastbourne’s Dotto Train some years ago, we initially took responsibility for operating all aspects of the service including the capital costs, recruitment, training and pay for staff, maintenance, insurance and storage.
“We decided to put the running of the Dotto out to tender to an organisation that specialises in public transport and has expertise of relevant legislation, and as a result, the current operator is Stagecoach.
“Under the existing operating model, the council retains ownership of the trains. However, we are exploring with Stagecoach the possibility that the company purchases the trains, which are now more than 14 years old and have far higher maintenance costs than when they were new.
“If this goes ahead, Stagecoach would have responsibility for the whole Dotto Train operation and it would have the benefit of removing the risk of potentially large bills falling to the council and therefore, the local taxpayer.”
Stagecoach was approached for a comment.