Britain’s neglected railways

A day spent on Southern and Southeastern trains filming with Richard Wilson for Despatches was instructive in showing how the railway system is still constrained by lack of investment. We took the train from Victoria to Hastings, and my god is that a slow service, not helped by a six minute stop at Eastbourne so the driver can get from one end of the train to another.  Two hours to Hastings, barely 80 miles from London, must make it one of the slowest routes in the country – perhaps readers have other suggestions for similar slow trains?

Clearly commuting from Hastings is barely feasible except, of course, a better alternative would have been if the section between Hastings and Ashford had been electrified. This would have opened up a whole section of southern England to faster services and yet it did not pass the cost benefit test a few years ago when the SRA looked at it. It would also have allowed south coast trains to go directly all the way from Ashford to Brighton and beyond, again providing an important service.

When there is so much focus on HS2, it is instructive that there are still such obvious gaps in providing a coherent railway system that is inclusive of the whole country. Hastings, after all, is a pretty poor town and deserved better. It does have a shiny new station, with good bus links outside, but sadly this too looked to have been done on the cheap as the iron girders holding up the bus shelter roof were already rusting which is hardly surprising given the sea air. They already look shabby, a shame given that money has clearly been spent but penny pinching will mean much is wasted.

Heading back on the high speed train from Ashford, the vibration was very noticeable. I tweeted this last night, and a couple of responses suggested that some of the trains had been altered, but certainly not the one I was on. It really is a source of embarrassment for Hitachi and Richard and the crew were very surprised at how bad it was, given the newness of both track and trains.