The High Speed Rail Working Group held its first meeting in Westminster on 25 February to bring together local MPs, councils, business groups, development agencies and transport campaigners to take forward with a strong collective voice the campaign to extend High Speed Rail services from London to Rye, Hastings and Bexhill.
Options for incremental steps towards High Speed Rail were discussed to improve capacity into central London and on the Brighton-Ashford line. In addition, it is hoped that a journey time from Brighton to Ashford of less than one hundred minutes can be achieved through the upgrades.
However, as electrification is proving problematic for Network Rail and several other lines are a higher priority for electrification, it has been pointed out that the focus at the moment should be on steps towards improving speeds on the line.
Proposals to help achieve this included the remodelling of Ashford station which would have wider regional benefits and would mean significant journey time savings with passengers not having to change at Ashford.
Line speed improvements could also be achieved by investing in safer level crossings which would have the added benefit of reducing the costs of line improvements.
Kent Route Study
The Kent Route Study will be the first time when bi-mode and battery-powered trains will be presented as options. Diesel-electric hybrid and battery trains have a promising future without the need to convert third rail electrification to overhead.
The train being considered for the Hastings to St Pancras line is a hybrid version of the Class 377. Compared to the current Class 171 the hybrid would travel at the same speed as the diesel on a track that is not electrified, but it would be quicker on the electrified section.
This could achieve journey time savings of 5-6 minutes on the Brighton to Ashford line. Network Rail sees this as a conservative estimate, with the likely journey time savings expected to be greater. This new service would operate with four cars instead of the current two.
The Route Study will strongly recommend the purchase of new Javelin (Class 395) stock – there is the possibility that these could be bi-mode or battery powered and built on similar Hitachi work for the Intercity Express Programme.
The group is now looking ahead to its next meeting when they hope to be joined by Rail Minister Claire Perry.