MEDIA ARTICLE HASTINGS OBSVERVER iro HIGH SPEED HASTINGS
Submitted 28th September, published 5th October edition
Members of the public who attended the Hastings Rail Summit (14th Sept) may well have mixed feelings about the true status of the still undelivered project to extend High Speed rail services to London. Whilst this would undoubtedly be of economic benefit to the town and open up new employment prospects over a wide area it seems that this is not a strong enough business case on its own, with other areas also seeking to obtain funding from a tightly controlled budget for worthwhile schemes. Maybe much more should be made of the potential bonus to tourism; Visit Kent estimate that visitor numbers to Kent resorts have multiplied seven-fold since HS services were introduced.
Hastings’ glass is at best half-full, half-empty. There is clearly the needed political impetus from both local MPs with support from both regional (HBC, ESCC) councils; the regional South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) is also still firmly on board. But, crucially, those in charge of delivering the project ie Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail (NWR) appear to be far from enthusiastic. Per NWR the major issue is the necessary remodelling of the major Ashford West junction which recent surveys have shown to be far more complex and by default more expensive than anyone had predicted, the funding of which has been restricted by DfT to only the required renewal costs.
HS1 extension had been discussed by the local user groups before Amber Rudd had shown her political ambitions. There is no doubt that her enthusiastic support has given the proposal very high profile, however a high profile plus political sound bites and gimmicks do not equal success and after over 10 years we are no nearer this new service than when we started. Would a change of political administration change the tide? This is doubtful, not least because of where the blockage lies ie within a state-owned corporation. Plus the rising but unspecified cost would draw comparisons with other critical services that could make better use of the funding. Notwithstanding that the on-going support from HBC is most welcome and we were pleased to see it mentioned within the recent Hastings plan (section 4.14, redevelopment of Hastings station area).
All the local user groups are disappointed and critical of the fact that other very necessary upgrades to local Marshlink infrastructure, which would increase reliability and potentially improve services to the smaller stations, have been relegated to phase 2 of a project wherein phase 1 may never be achieved. This is the totally wrong priority. As for phase 3, ie* electrification well anyone with knowledge of the current railway industry knows this is not going to happen for a very long time.
At this point it is useful to note that another regionally important scheme, in the North East, has also been put on indefinite hold. Thus we have a score line of Hastings 0 Middlesbrough 0, with at least 15 years extra time to be played.
We hold little hope for the delivery of High Speed Hastings. Nothing would please us more than to be proved wrong. The project is not totally finished. There is clear scope for it to be revived. But for this to happen a new visionary direction will be necessary with clear unambiguous timings and actual funding for the required infrastructure work.
In the meantime SHRIMP & other members of the Hastings & Rother Rail User Groups Alliance will continue with their incremental work and successful meetings with the operators for the services that do exist.
*due to unspotted error in the original submission, this appeared as ‘re-electrification’; the line has never been electrified!