MPs Amber Rudd and Huw Merriman Respond to Rail Franchise

We are responding as the Members of Parliament for Hastings & Rye and Bexhill & Battle. We believe that the options for improvement contained in the public consultation, especially the extension of High Speed services proposed in Question 11, would be transformative and hugely beneficial for our constituents and the communities we represent.

1) Do our priorities correctly reflect your views?

We support the priorities listed in section 5.4 which seek to optimise the use of the network and improve journeys for people served by the South Eastern franchise.

However, we believe that the priorities for this franchise could be more ambitious and aspirational for the communities on the network. Specifically, it should be a priority for this franchise to use the rail network as a vehicle to help deliver enhanced economic growth, tackle deprivation and support regeneration.

As the consultation document recognises, travel between London and our area currently takes far too long relative to the distance covered. Quicker and easier connections between our towns and major centres will boost the appeal of our communities as places to live, to invest in and to visit. We perceive this as key to tackling some of the social problems and relative deprivation which is common to many coastal towns. Also, it will improve the opportunities available to residents and supportongoing regeneration.

It is our view that a new franchise provides a chance to reassess how the rail network can boost economic growth in the communities it serves. Therefore, well-targeted improvements to the South Eastern franchise in order to help realise an area’s economic potential should be a priority in the next franchise.

5) What comments, if any, do you have on our plans to improve customer service and the overall passenger experience?

The next South Eastern franchise should deliver much-needed improvements in customer service and we welcome the areas highlighted for improvement in the consultation.

Passengers should enjoy a straightforward ticket purchasing process which allows them to easily identify which fares provide them with the best value for money.

Also, during periods of delay and disruption, the next franchise should see greatly improved communication to passengers. Updates should be accurate, clear, consistent and prompt. This would give passengers a clearer understanding of the cause of disruption and assist them in planning their onward journey.

11) How far do you support, or oppose, the extension of High Speed services from London St. Pancras to Hastings, Bexhill, and Rye, where this would represent value for money to the taxpayer?

The extension of High Speed services from London St Pancras to Hastings, Bexhill and Rye has our full support. It would be ahugely significant development for our towns with enormous benefits resulting from reduced journey times.

We see this scheme as essential for the communities of Hastings, Bexhill and Rye, and the best means to make our area moreattractive for investment, to create jobs, and to offer local people fantastic new opportunities. Tourism is one of the key sectors of the local economy and a faster rail link with London would encourage an increase in visitor numbers. This would provide a significant boost for local businesses. In addition, this scheme would incentivise housing developments between Rye and Bexhill, and it would support specific projects such as the North East Bexhill business development area.

This scheme would help our towns to thrive and make the most of their potential.

We are confident that the scheme represents fantastic value for money for the taxpayer. Its benefits will be felt across the region and the country.

Investment in Ashford International, to link the High Speed 1 line to the Marsh Link, will improve its position as a major interchange and free up platform capacity. An improved link to St Pancras will reduce the pressure placed on services to Victoria and those operating on the Hastings mainline to London Bridge, Waterloo East, Charing Cross and Cannon Street. Also, investment in High Speed rolling stock would enable the cascading across the national network of the diesel trains currently operated by Southern.

Proposals to bring High Speed services to our communities are exceptionally well-supported by local people. The opportunities it would bring to the towns of Hastings, Bexhilland Rye and their residents arewidely recognised and highly sought. The inclusion of this scheme in the next South Eastern franchise would deliver phenomenal benefits to local people. High Speed services between St Pancras and Hastings, Bexhill and Rye via Ashford International have our complete support, and it is imperative that this scheme is delivered.

17) How far do you support, or oppose, options to reduce the choice of central London destinations served from individual stations with the aim of providing a more regular, evenly spaced timetable, and a more reliable service? 

We would like to see the mainline services between London and Hastings via Tonbridge continue to serve both Charing Cross (as well as London Bridge and Waterloo East) and Cannon Street.

Our constituents have benefitted greatly from peak time services to Cannon Street and support the continued choice of termini, which reduces the need for our constituents to make onward journeys on the Transport for London network. 

18) How far do you support, or oppose, plans for the train operator and Network Rail to form a close alliance with the aim of reducing delays and improving performance?

We fully support closer cooperation between the operator and Network Rail in order to deliver reliable, punctual and safe services for passengers. We believe this will improve track maintenance and reduce disruption on the Hastings mainline. 

24) Looking to future,beyond this franchise, what,if any, benefits do you consider there would before passengers from a franchise with a different geographical boundary?

We support further analysis of the possible benefits from splitting the Ashford-Brighton service at Hastings as proposed in section 6.16.

The introduction of longer electric trains on the Hastings-Brighton route would address severe overcrowding issues suffered by our constituents. Also, this change would reduce the pressure placed on the trains which operate on the unelectrified track east of Hastings.

We believe that residents who currently make the journey on the Southern service could benefit from this split, it would also bolster the position of Hastings as a rail hub and support the delivery of High Speed services.

Overall, we are pleased with the vision of a future South Eastern franchise displayed in the consultation. Improvements to this network, especially the extension of High Speed services to Hastings, Bexhill and Rye, have the potential to deliver major positive changes to our coastal communities.

We look forward to working with the Department for Transport, Network Rail and the next South Eastern operator to make this vision a reality