The MP for Hastings and Rye, Amber Rudd (pictured centre) brought together a range of heavyweight transport decision-makers for her fourth Rail Summit at Sussex Coast College, Hastings.
These included Rail Minister, Jo Johnson MP (pictured speaking), Transport for the South East (TFSE) Chairman, Keith Glazier (left) and Huw Merriman MP for Bexhill and Battle (right).
Chaired by Ray Chapman from the East Sussex Rail Alliance (centre right), about 100 invited guests heard from Andrew Wood of Network Rail who updated on the work taking place to link the HS1 service at Ashford International to the Marshlink line through Rye to Hastings.
The business case has now been made and a compliance design in place for the works to proceed. “Funding appears to be the main obstacle,” said FSB Development Manager, Martin Searle, “so we must maintain our lobbying to keep this development high on the priority list with a range of potential stakeholder funders.”
The next step is upgrading the Marshlink Line, which Mr Johnston said currently takes 60mph trains but with upgrades would hope to get to 90mph. The final step is commissioning the latest bimodal trains.
Technology is advancing quickly, and the Government is committed to using the best available technologies to improve the network. New bi-mode train technology offers seamless transfer from diesel power to electric and the rail industry is developing alternative fuel trains, using battery and hydrogen power.
The summit also heard from franchise service providers: David Wornham, Director of Passenger Services, South Eastern Railway and Angie Doll, Passenger Services Director, Govia ThamesLink, who run Southern railways.
South Eastern are in the final year of their franchise and have wi-fi service now installed on all its 392 rail units. David Wornham also gave an update on ticketless travel using ‘The Key’ as well as the programme of clean up and replacement of the 375 Class fleet.
Angie Doll mentioned the success of the four carriage improved service from Ashford International to Brighton, a significant lobbying win for business and transport stakeholder groups.
The timetable changes have stabilised with the franchise looking to reach a 90% public performance measure (PPM) for the first time in 5 years. Earlier, Network Rail had said major track work on the Brighton-London mainline around Three Bridges, Crawley, would be postponed and contained within a nine day closure period in February next year.
During an animated question and answer session the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Jo Johnson MP, reiterated his support for the extension of HS1 into Sussex – considered a ‘game changer’ for the County’s economy - as well as a faster Brighton mainline.
He informed that the new South Eastern franchise gives a commitment to faster journey’s to London by December 2022 and a £6.5 million minimum investment in station improvement.
Improvements to transport infrastructure is a priority for the FSB South East Region with South East Policy representative, Clive Soper, sitting on both the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Strategic Board and Transport for the South East (TFSE) Stakeholder Group.
Clive, who attended the Rail Summit, commented: “The transport infrastructure in the south east of England is critical to the UK economy and yet it remains a system that is out of date and over capacity. We urgently need to invest strategically for the long term. TFSE are in the best place to work with Government and the LEPs to take change and improvement forward.”