Rail campaign group takes service fight to Transport Secretary

RAIL campaigners Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) have launched a county-wide campaign for faster trains between stations on the East Sussex coast and London.

The group has offered detailed technical proposals to improve the timetable.

BRAG is concerned that despite new trains and improvements to local railway stations, the rail service itself has become much slower in recent years.

The group is appealing to rail-users to support its campaign by writing to Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon.

In a New Year letter to Bexhill MP Gregory Barker and his counterparts in Hastings, Eastbourne and Lewes, and to the leaders of five district councils and East Sussex County Council, BRAG chairman Brian Hord draws attention to the longer journey times to the capital experienced by users of the East Coastway compared to those for travellers in Brighton and in neighbouring Kent. He writes

"Lewes to London is now 67 minutes, as opposed to 61 minutes twenty years ago.

"Journey times to/from London are slower than in the days of steam for Bexhill residents; the fastest journey time is a staggering 1 hour 52 minutes off-peak, with many rush-hour trains taking well in-excess of two hours.

"The journey time from Eastbourne is also excessive compared with other similar towns on the south coast. "

He warns: "These disparities will grow still-wider from December 2009 when towns in east Kent will have access to domestic high-speed services to London St Pancras via High Speed 1. Once again it feels like East Sussex is being left behind."

BRAG points out that Brighton has seven trains an hour to London, covering the journey in as little as 51 minutes, while from this December, the journey time between London and Ashford will be reduced to just 35 minutes with the introduction of state-of-the-art high-speed trains built in Japan. These will regularly travel at speeds of up to 140mph, and other east-Kent towns such as Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone are set to benefit from massive reductions in journey times.

In contrast, there are just two slow trains each hour between London and Eastbourne, with one of these continuing to Bexhill and Hastings.

BRAG complains that - unlike the Brighton mainline services - the Eastbourne and Hastings trains waste a lot of time calling at secondary stations en route, and standing still at Haywards Heath waiting to attach to and divide from other trains from West Sussex.

Under the BRAG proposal, developed by BRAG Committee member John Taylor, a new limited-stop service would run between Hastings and Victoria via Bexhill, Eastbourne and Lewes during the off-peak period and on Saturdays. The service would take just 100 minutes from Bexhill to Victoria, with similar reductions of 12 minutes in journey times from Eastbourne and Lewes.

An added bonus from the BRAG plan is that existing trains replaced by the new service could instead run to and from Seaford, giving a regular through service between Newhaven and London for the first time, and providing a shot-in-the-arm for regeneration plans at the port.

BRAG continues to believe that the slowness of peak-hour services remains a significant issue, but that rush hour capacity constraints on the Brighton mainline, and at London termini, should not prevent improvements off-peak.

Mr Hord concluded:"We have had discussions with the train operator and other than one train-pathing conflict in the Gatwick area, which appears resolvable, no other technical barriers appear to exist to prevent the running of this faster service. However, the final say rests with the Department for Transport and we are hopeful that our Members of Parliament and Councils here in East Sussex will all add their weight to this campaign."

BRAG has welcomed the formation of a new Commuter Group based in Eastbourne. The Southern Eastbourne and East Coastway Commuter Group was recently formed in response to problems arising from evening rush-hour timetable changes. BRAG hopes that the new group will complement its own work developing long-term qualitative improvements for the whole East Coastway route between Brighton and Ashford.

Brian Hord said:"We look forward to working with the new group, which we hope will bring together commuters from the whole East Coastway in numbers that the rail authorities will find hard to ignore. The reality for us in Bexhill is that we have a relatively small commuter base, precisely because of the slow nature of the service. We have often been ignored and this is something that we are working to reverse."


TO: GEOFF HOON MP, DEPT FOR TRANSPORT, Great Minster House, 76 Marsham Street, London. SW1P 4DR

Dear Mr Hoon

I am writing to support faster train services between the East Sussex Coastway and London as suggested by Bexhill Rail Action Group. Although we have suffered the highest fare increases in the country, we do not have the fast services enjoyed by Brighton, and we will not benefit from the new High Speed Javelin services in Kent.

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