PRESS RELEASE – 23 November 2011

Wherever you look, maintenance works – short term chaos, long term gain

1. Railway works
As is well known now, Southern Railway (SR”) plan to operate a bus replacement service for the 9 weeks starting 9 January between Hastings and Ashford. Despite efforts by MarshLink Action Group (“MLAG”) and other local groups, it has not been possible to dislodge SR from this position. Alternative strategies (for example, de-mothballing a depot just outside Ashford Station to act as a maintenance and re-fuelling facility) have been rejected as unacceptable: the summarised response to the various suggestions is that they are not feasible, too expensive (the ultimate cost going to the public purse) or are likely to create unpredictable results (and therefore not of benefit).

To summarise how we got into this position, NR and SR say:
– the Ore Tunnel works have to be done as soon as possible and cannot be deferred;
– because of the these works, SR say they can’t operate a train service; – consequently Network Rail (“NR”) say they can bring forward additional works on the line between Ore and Ashford which they may (perhaps) do in the future – these work are summarised later.

MLAG’s position and priorities are slightly different:
– the Ore Tunnel works are a priority and have to be done as scheduled; – the additional works are needed for us to be able to press for two trains per hour in the next franchise (but note some further works at a later date are needed to achieve this) – consequently we want to see them done in the 9 week period but we also want to know what the schedule of works is. In other words, can these works be undertaken whilst operating a reduced train shuttle service – we do not think this has been evaluated yet and therefore leaves open the next issue;
– only if the additional works require a complete closure of the line to enable them to be done should the line be subject to a bus replacement service.
So, what are all the works being scheduled:
Core tunnel works
* Work to improve structural integrity of Ore tunnel * Tunnel drainage works
* Track renewals in tunnel

Additional works Ore to Ashford
* Track renewal to remove jointed track in Ore area * Track renewal to remove jointed track between Rye and Winchelsea
* Track renewal to remove jointed track between Ashford and Ham Street
* Replacement of over bridges at Doleham and Three Oaks * Repair to 12 bridges and culverts
* Complete refurbishment of points at Rye
* Renewal of wheel timbers (longitudinal sleepers on overbridges) between Rye and Ashford
* Surveys and possible remedial work to remove Permanent Speed Restriction south of Ashford
* Tamping of track to meet a higher linespeed specification

This leaves two pieces of work to be done in the future which, we have reason to believe, will make two trains per hour feasible:

– the work on the embankment to the south of Ashford (see in the above schedule of works, this area is to be surveyed to enable the work to be specified better); and
– installation of a barrier at Winchelsea Station – this is already funded and scheduled for 2014.

2. Road works
So that is the position with the railway works. But now we have another issue which has come as something of a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have – the Highways Agency (“HA”) has planned works on the A259 at the same time as the rail works take place. It now transpires that NR, SR and HA have held discussions, but only since September, about the HA’s plans for re-surfacing between Winchelsea and Brookland. MLAG understands these discussions continue but the current position appears to be:

– Work between Wish Ward Strand to the A268 will be done on the weekend of 7/ 9 January – this will require closure of the road. It is scheduled that this work will be completed before the rail works start (similarly the replacement bus service);

– Works from Rye to Guldeford will take 10 weeks starting 9 January: – the first two weeks works will be between Camber Road and the level crossing on the A259 and will require a full road closure; – during the same period, work will take place between Woolpack Corner and Brookland
For the remainder of the period the work will be from Camber Road to Skinners Roundabout resulting in two way signals for 8 weeks;

– Works between Winchelsea and Rye will start on 23 January but will be overnight (between 8pm and 6am) for 4 weeks. This will have an impact on the early and late replacement buses which has yet to be resolved.

The HA emphasise they have taken into consideration the variable weather conditions at that time of year and are adaptable. In particular, all efforts will be made to minimise clashes with the replacement bus service.

So, wherever you look in these busy 9 weeks of the New Year there will be maintenance works. That’s good from one point of view. It means that after completion we will have a more efficient railway line and likewise A259. There is even the hope of a considerably improved train service post-2014. The only problem will be to survive this period.

MLAG will continue to try to get information and pass it on to passengers and residents about the changing circumstances.

Stuart Harland
MarshLink Action Group


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