A number of representatives of FSB attended the fourth rail summit hosted by Rt Hon. Amber Rudd MP at Sussex Coast College, Hastings. The Hastings and Rye MP and Home Secretary (pictured standing) brought together the key players to discuss improvements to the rail network and its services.
These included Huw Merriman MP for Bexhill and Battle (pictured left), Rail Minister, Paul Maynard MP (pictured second left), Andrew Wood from Network Rail, Nick Brown from GTR, who operates Southern services, and Ellie Burrows from South Eastern Services.
The discussion centred on the prospect of extending High Speed One services from Ashford along the MarshLink line to Hastings and Bexhill. An audience of mainly business leaders and transport campaigning groups heard that if this were possible it would cut journey times to London to under 80 minutes from Bexhill and under 70 minutes for Hastings.
Seen as an economic ‘game changer’ for the south east coastal towns, Stephen Cox from consultants Mott MacDonald estimated it would raise gross added value (GVA) to the tune of £436 million over 30 years, with the main beneficiary being the tourist and visitor economy. The regeneration would create an estimated 5,500 jobs.
However, the big sticking points included connecting the Marshlink line into Ashford International, upgrading the line itself and developing suitable bi-modal/battery operated rolling stock.
Andrew Wood of Network Rail said that funding from third party partners was needed to secure progress. Commenting on the event on BBC South East, Martin Searle, FSB Development Manager said, “This is the fourth summit on rail in the town and we share Amber Rudd’s impatience at the lack of change.”
The summit was told that the rail journey time to London from Bexhill takes about an hour and 45 minutes, comparing unfavourably with the equivalent ‘as the crow flies’ town north of the Thames, Milton Keynes, which enjoys a 32 minute journey to the capital. The average speed is about 43 miles per hour.