Chugging along the Hastings to Victoria Line – the slowest in the country?

There may be other parts of the country where it is genuinely quicker to drive across the county rather than use rail services, but they would be hard-pressed to match our absurd, time wasting, inefficient, infrastructure that belongs to a long by-gone age.

Below are some figures – not from the 19th century but today (all approximate data)

Hastings to Brighton.

Road distance 38 miles. Train journey minimum 75mins. Average = 30mph.

Hastings to Gatwick.

Road distance 50 miles. Train journey minimum 1hr 30mins. Average = 33mph.

Hastings to London Victoria.

Road distance 70 miles. Minimum journey 2hrs 5mins. Average  =34 mph.

The Hastings (Ore) to Brighton, Gatwick, Victoria Line (East Coastway)

In those figures at least 20 minutes to Brighton is spent going NOWHERE, increasing to 30 minutes on the Gatwick and Victoria sections (see our article ‘The Missing Millions’ / ‘The Magic 100’).

These are MAJOR business and tourism connections.

Why do our politicians allow this in the 21st century?

What we would like to see:

A DEDICATED Hastings and Eastbourne service that does NOT need to attach / divide at Haywards Heath to West Coastway services (towards Littlehampton / Bognor Regis).

This would save up to 8 minutes each way that is currently spent in that station. It would also reduce – by 50% – the possibility of either service being delayed by incidents or missing crew affecting the other portion.

The reinstatement of the ‘Willingdon Chord’ (the long -removed rail line linking Pevensey & Westham to Polegate) thus removing the wasted journey in/out of Eastbourne for through-journey passengers. That would save approximately 20 minutes each way.

A general review of service patterns could ensure that Eastbourne did not lose out on services or capacity. Indeed, there is the potential for both to increase. But this is a long way off.

Whilst the original line of route is no longer available, there is a workable alternative moving out from near the Cross Levels Way road bridge and across the open land.

It is only one mile of track, points, signalling – so we are not talking a mega-spend-project.

Rebuild of Hampden Park?

As a possible alternative to a new Willingdon Chord (above), it might possible to rebuild Hampden Park station as a purpose-built interchange, or with a reversing platform. But that reduce the time saving to about 10 minutes.

NOTE: Neither of those ideas featured in Network Rail’s recent Sussex Route Study, covering their view of the next 30yrs+.

Faster journeys with fewer stops 

Whilst we acknowledge that the industry tries to serve all the people with all the options, passenger surveys repeatedly note that slow journey times are an issue. Depending on individual train stopping patterns, do our London services have to call at Wivelsfield? Balcombe? Three Bridges? Horley?

There are also arguments for and against removing smaller station stops between Bexhill and Lewes, with local services serving as sweeper trains taking passengers to the bigger interchange stations. We are not advocating or arguing against that notion. It is a debate waiting to be had.

But guaranteed connectivity and passenger comforts must be strong.

Reworking of Train Formations

The 0958 Shuffle (We’ll try not to get too detailed, but it is important to understand the basic working pattern.)

For the majority of our services, trains switch between routes. Thus, a Victoria > Ore service then forms an Ore > Brighton. Opposing, a Brighton > Ore then forms the Ore > Victoria. This switch allows a decent turnaround time at Ore.

All these services operate with modern class 377 Electrostar units. EXCEPT ONE.

Due to rolling stock demands elsewhere on the network, the 0752 Brighton > Ore is serviced by an old (but refurbished) class 313 unit which is not compatible with the general stock used on Victoria services. Thus in mid-morning this arrives at Ore but cannot form the return Victoria service. Instead it does a shuttle service back to Hastings, then back to Ore once more before forming a service back to Brighton. In the meantime the 0747 from Victoria terminates at Hastings due 0954, to form the 0958 back to Victoria. Note the short turn-round on a service from London during the early morning peak. It often ARRIVES after it has supposed to have LEFT again!

Through numerous discussion both Southern, as an individual operator, and Govia Thameslink Railway which now includes Southern, are well aware of this nonsense and have been for many years.

With the advent of newer, longer rolling stock elsewhere on the GTR network, it is time for this anomaly to end.

The Evening Lewes Convergence

Another bug-bear which the operator has known about for a long time; indeed, our colleagues at Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) FOREWARNED them, more than once, that this was impending chaos.

In short: the 1722 from London Bridge (to Eastbourne), the 1727 from London Victoria (to Ore), and the 1832 from Brighton (to Ashford) all converge on Lewes within a condensed time slot.

It is very rare for one of the London services to be on time – which then results in a signalling shambles because the Brighton > Ashford is a limited stop service with a fixed running schedule at Rye (to pass the opposite service). Passengers from London and at Eastbourne get involved in a guessing game as to which service will leave first – there are no rules.

Thus, a relatively short delay of 3 or 4 minutes on one of the London services can translate into a 15 minute delay or greater on leaving Eastbourne, which then affects punctuality on the Marshlink and East Coastway for the rest of the evening.

The operators know how to reduce the impact of this scenario, but choose not to.

Increased Capacity on Marshlink Services

We’ve covered this, in some depth, in our separate HS1 article. Suffice to say that this is not going away soon, but there are various schemes being examined to remedy this highly unsatisfactory state of affairs. Be aware, the operators would prefer to truncate the service at Eastbourne but have been thwarted, so far, by stakeholder resistance through the DfT.

It would NOT solve the capacity issues between Eastbourne and Ashford.

SHRIMP May 2016