Note: this is not intended to be a technical document; there are other agencies better qualified for that purpose. This is simply trying to address a number of general issues on an equally general basis.
What Has Gone Wrong With Marshlink?
The new (albeit 2 car) diesels have proved very popular compared to the old slam-door ‘thumper’ trains. The passenger catchment and usage have increased. Foreign-based route finders use Marshlink services as an alternative to travelling via London. HS1 and Eurostar connections at Ashford have added new dimensions to travel options.
There are a restricted number of diesel units which we share with the Uckfield > London Bridge services – whose overcrowding makes ours look like a picnic! So the 4-car units stay there while we survive with the 2-car version. We are not endorsing the arrangement, but that’s how it is at the moment.
Why Extend HS1 Services?
One of the oft-cited problems for Hastings is long journey times. London is only 63miles away, but trains take up to 2 hrs to do the journey. The infrastructure is old and any improvements would be costly and marginal in time saving. The HS1 line from Ashford to St Pancras was purpose built and by using that option the journey time from Hastings would be cut by 30minutes. As a BUSINESS case for regenerating Hastings and Bexhill, it is a winner.
So, What Will Happen to the Charing Cross (CX) line? Important: HS1 to St Pancras is an ADDITIONAL travel option, NOT a replacement.
The CX line is and should remain very important. But to upgrade that line would cost BILLIONS of pounds to save a couple of minutes, whereas the HS1 option would cost around 200 MILLION to save 30minutes. No contest. But Network Rail will be obliged to maintain the CX line to a reliable and resilient standard.
But St Pancras Is In North London!
True. But that hasn’t stopped HS1 being a much-used alternative service from all over Kent, even with premium fares. FAST. RELIABLE.
Most journeys via Charing Cross involve a subsequent tube trip; St Pancras has better underground connections and provides fast access to East Coast main line services at Kings Cross. The HS1 line also connects with Stratford Int’l, with easy connection to Stratford main-line, DLR and tube. Ebbsfleet (EF) is also served; by the time this project is finished EF will be a significant part of the Thames Gateway, a whole new town and theme park offering employment prospects less that 1hr away. This is a connectivity that is really necessary and we don’t want Hastings to miss out.
How Will Marshlink Be Electrified? Potentially it won’t have to be.
As will be seen from the D-Train (under) there are various innovative ideas around , such as ‘bi-mode’ trains that use a mix of power sources, including high-power battery supported units which are being developed by Hitachi (who build the HS1 Javelins). This progress might even bring the scheme forward in time-scale, because on a national basis the electrification process has hit a few issues which are putting back those schemes by up to 5 years. By adopting bi-modes instead of electrification, we would possibly jump the line, winning on time and innovation.
The end-result of faster journeys is the necessity, not the propulsion method.
Why Not Just Double-Track The Whole Line?
No need. Other significant routes in the Uk are one track – modern signalling allows this. It would be sufficient and safe on a maximum 2 trains per hour line.
Did You Just Say 2 Trains Per Hour?
In theory, as previously confirmed by Network Rail, there is scope for that even now. The rail service pattern would be very different. But that is a long way off and not a high priority.
What’s This About ‘D-Trains’? Could They Help?
D-Trains are ex London Underground trains that are being fully refurbished and will have multiple power source options. They are a very clever and innovative idea, but the short term answer to Marshlink capacity issues is most likely to be hybrid class 377s, currently being investigated.
Talking Of Which, Didn’t Southern Get Some Extra Diesels From Scotland?
Yes, but they arrived in very poor condition and still need a lot more work done to them before they are ready for use. More importantly, these units are being brought in purely to strengthen the Uckfield line fleet – the operator insists there is no intention for them to see service on the Marshlink. But the additional fleet will mean more stock to go round, which will hopefully reduce the number of units cancelled down here. Well, that’s the nice thought anyway.
Can’t They Just Add Another Carriage (like they did to the slam door units)?
No. The current diesels were purpose built as self contained high-tech units and it is not possible to just drop a loose rolling carriage in the middle! Computers, eh?
What Else Needs To Be Done?
There are a lot of smaller issues; numerous crossings need to be made suitable for higher-speed train operations; the Rye passing loop needs to be extended towards Winchelsea; there may need to be another passing point near Three Oaks; the line speeds between Ore and Doleham need to be increased.
And then of course there is the question of Ashford Int’l……..
Yes, How Will Ashford Int’l Be Fixed To Allow Cross-Over Between Marshlink and HS1? Ok. First and foremost – Network Rail (NWR) are 100% confident this can be done.
The root issue is that when Ashford Int’l was rebuilt to accommodate inter-European services, nobody anticipated the need to link the HS1 line into the Marshlink in the future.
The question is WHEN not IF.
How Can Marshlink Immediate Time Issues Be Fixed?
During the Ore Tunnel blockade (2012), Network Rail used the time to do a lot of other work including re-laying large amounts of track along the route. However speed restrictions between Ore and Doleham and hopefully also at Winchelsea level crossing are being actively reviewed with the intention of removing them.
Any Short-Term Fixes You Would Like To See?
Like to see – Yes! Going to get? – Unlikely.Capacity increases on the 0733 ex Ashford (0815 from Hastings) and the 1734 ex Brighton. But there simply isn’t enough rolling-stock to do that.
Hourly daytime Marshlink services calling at Ore but, at the moment, the precise timing requirements at the Rye passing point simply don’t allow this, but there is potential for future changes.
Who Will Operate The Services?
A legitimate question, however both the relevant operators’ franchises will have been renewed or changed by the time the HS1 / Marshlink scheme is finalised.
Will HS1 Definitely Go To Bexhill? Yes.
Bexhill is a crucial part of the economic regeneration plan that is driving the project.
What’s Happening Next?
There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to deliver this project. A new project team ‘High Speed Rail Development Group’, incorporating key members from political, industry, and stakeholders has been established. They will be responsible for maintaining the momentum for the project.