1. Bus replacement timetable announced
Southern Railway has now issued its timetable for the replacement bus service during the blockade during January to March next year. As expected, the use of buses will result in slow journeys but quite how slow wasn’t anticipated – from Rye to Ashford will be about 55 mins (compared with 22 mins normally by train) and to Hastings about 35 mins (compared with 18 mins normally). MLAG was keen that any timetable produced should be able to be kept to, considering the vagaries of the weather during the period; congestion at varying times of day; and, only recently realised, major road works on the A259.
One expectation not realised was a direct bus from Hastings to Rye and then Ashford. Southern were not in favour of this proposal but have included in their timetable a bus every half-hour. Southern has also indicated that a back-up bus will be available in case the scheduled bus is full but the practical application of this hasn’t been made clear yet.
We are expecting Southern to produce timetables for the bus replacement service shortly, in the same form as their train timetables. Meanwhile, the full bus replacement timetable can be seen here: Ore tunnel replacement bus service
The timetable is also available from Southern’s own news site here
2. Rail fares to go up (but by not as much as first announced) The rail fare increase effective from 1 January 2012 when first announced by the Secretary of State for Transport last year was to be RPI + 3% (average 8%). However, following changes announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement on 29 November, Southern Railway has confirmed that the fare increase (effective from 1 January 2012) will be 6% (RPI + 1%).
This fare increase notionally applies to users of the MarshLink line between Ashford and Hastings. However, with a bus service replacing the rail service for nine weeks in the New Year, MLAG is looking for lower fares to apply for the period of the disruption and, indeed, for season ticket holders who have already paid for their travel to benefit from the reduction too.
3. But the route to Ashford may be shorter sometime soon
Over the years the weekday Rye Shuttle has been operating, many people have asked MLAG why the train, having arrived at the westbound platform, needs to travel across the Ferry Road crossing and then back again to pick up passengers from the eastbound platform – this results in two openings and closings of the level crossing barriers causing additional disruption to many drivers and pedestrians wanting to cross the line at Ferry Road. The easy answer is that doing anything else would breach the “block working” principle, a fundamental safety measure applying to the safe working of UK railways. To get around this problem, the signalling around the station would need to be changed, a very expensive operation. However, Network Rail are now looking into the feasibility and cost-benefit of installing a new signalling system at Rye Station that would permit the Rye Shuttle service to return to Ashford without changing platforms, thereby avoiding the shunt move to and fro across Ferry Road. A key part of the business case will be the time saved by motorists whilst the crossing is closed and MLAG is assisting Network Rail in the survey.
4. Repair of the Ashford embankment
MLAG has previously reported on the work Network Rail intends to carry out along the MarshLink line during the blockade period to improve track speed. One item of work that has been in some doubt has been the repair of the embankment to the south of Ashford Station – this area has been subject to line speed restrictions for several years. The issue delaying commitment to this work has been the need for an environmental survey on the embankment and river. We now understand from Network Rail this survey has been completed without any major issues being identified and we therefore hope the work can be done during the 9 week blockade and the speed restriction removed. However, MLAG has to caution that, by itself, this may have no immediate affect on journey times with timetables being already in existence but we will expect, over a period, the enhanced line quality will result in increased speeds and, ultimately, the possibility of two trains per hour being feasible.”
MarshLink Action Group