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The Marshlink Line, shown with other railway lines in Kent.
South East England
|Services||Ashford to Hastings
Appledore to Dungeness, Lydd & New Romney
|Opened||13 February 1851|
|Rolling stock||Class 171 "Turbostar"|
|No. of tracks||1-2|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Operating speed||60-40 mph|
The Marshlink Line is the name given to the railway line linking Ashford, Kent with Hastings, East Sussex in the South East of England. The line runs from Ashford to Hastings via Romney Marsh, Rye and the Ore Tunnel, and opened in 1851.
The line is the only one along with the Uckfield branch of the Oxted Line in South East England that still runs on diesel and has not yet been electrified. Both lines use the Class 171. Despite its relative unimportance in the national rail network and several announcements of its closure in its past, it survived the Beeching Axe and is now considered a potentially significant line due to High Speed 1 and Hastings.
The line was part of an original proposal by a company named the Brighton Lewes and Hastings Railway to extend its coast route to Hastings. The South Eastern Railway eventually built the line, thereby renewing a local rivalry between itself and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR), who had already built the line to Brighton. Deemed to be of strategic military importance, Parliament ordered that it was to be completed before the extension of the Hastings Line from Tunbridge Wells to Hastings. The line was opened on 13 February 1851, though as a result of the rivalries between the companies, the LB&SCR attempted to prevent SER trains from entering the station. After a court case, the two companies agreed to share the station's facilities for both lines.
The railway's location was problematic. It passed through no places of significance between Hastings and Ashford aside from Rye. Some stations, such as Appledore were some considerable distance away from the settlement they were supposed to serve.
The line was recommended for closure by Dr. Beeching in the 1963 Beeching Report, as in addition to its inconvenient location, it maintained fully manned staff at all stations despite low passenger numbers. Like several other lines threatened with closure, there was strong opposition, and the route survived because the nearby road network made it impractical to run a replacement bus service; the parallel main road from Hastings to Brenzett, the A259, had several level crossings over the line and a hairpin bend at Winchelsea (Which is still there to this day). The branch to New Romney closed in 1967, although freight traffic still remains on the line as far as a nuclear flask loading and unloading point just outside Dungeness. This branch now sees flask trains about once a week. The branch to Rye Harbour was lifted at around the same time as the New Romney Branch's closure.
In 1969, Railway Magazine announced the remainder of the line would close at the end of the year, while in 1971, the Kent Messenger stated the same. In 1974, the Ministry of Transport recommended the line for closure but stated that services would run indefinitely for the foreseeable future. Stations remained unmodernised and gas-lit well into the 1970s. Despite proposals to axe the service, it has survived to the present day.
The line was single tracked between Appledore and Ore on 1 October 1979, leaving a passing loop at Rye. Line speed was reduced from 85 mph to 60 mph, but there are additional long term speed restrictions in place, including 40 mph between Doleham and Ore and 20 mph across a half barrier level crossing at Winchelsea, which is strange because since the crossing's upgrade from an ungated to barrier crossing, the speed limit was said to be raised. In the 1990s, following privatisation, the original Victorian station building at Ore was demolished and replaced with a simple shelter.
The line is not electrified, with the exception of Hastings to Ore. This small section was electrified to provide access for East Coastway trains to the carriage sidings as part of the East Coastway electrification of July 1935.
Proposals have been made to upgrade and electrify the line to extend Southeastern high speed train services (which will operate from London via High Speed 1 to Ashford) onwards via the Marshlink to Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne, which if realised, could transform the line into an important through route.
The line was closed for nine weeks from January to March 2012 for essential repair work to Ore tunnel. There was also maintenance to signals and bridges to increase train speeds along the line.
Description of route
The stations on the route are listed below:
- Ashford International
- Ham Street (was Ham Street & Orlestone)
- Appledore (the station's formal name includes (Kent) in its title, although Appledore (Devon) station closed in 1917)
- Freight-only line diverges to serve Dungeness nuclear power station, operated by Direct Rail Services. The branch originally served both New Romney and Dungeness. The branch stations were as follows:
- All were closed to passengers on 6 March 1967
- At Appledore the double track becomes single track
- Branch splits to Rye Harbour, opened in 1854, closed in 1962
- Three Oaks
- Ore Tunnel (1402 yards) 
- Here the line becomes double track again and is electrified (originally for access to the carriage sidings at Ore but since removal of these sidings they are just used by scheduled trains)
- Mount Pleasant Tunnel 230 yards 
This line is one of few in South-East England not to be electrified. Consequently, services are operated using Class 171 "Turbostar" DMUs. These replaced the elderly Class 205s and Class 207s in mid-2004. When Class 171 units are not available a Class 201 diesel-electric unit (1001) owned by Hastings Diesels Ltd stands in. This unit has been fitted with central door locking so it can continue running services. Concern has been raised that these units will need to be replaced by the end of the decade.
Passenger services are operated by Southern, as part of its East Coastway services. The line has been an integrated part of Southern's network since 2012. Trains run hourly between Ashford and Brighton, stopping at Ham Street, Appledore and Rye. Three Oaks and Winchelsea stations are served by a two-hourly service in each direction (alternating between one and the other), while Doleham is served by just three or four trains a day. Trains then stop at Hastings before continuing on the East Coastway Line to Brighton. At peak times, an additional hourly shuttle runs between Ashford and Rye.
Ore is only served by the Brighton-Ashford trains at peak times. Off-peak, it has separate services to Brighton and London (hourly to each), which start or terminate at the station. Since the line is electrified between Ore and Hastings, these services use electric multiple units (usually Class 377s).
Ham Street, Appledore and Rye have staggered platforms: passengers cross the line from the end of one platform to the end of the other. Platforms at Three Oaks and Doleham are long enough to accommodate only a single carriage, meaning that passengers wishing to alight must travel in the front carriage of the train.
The line is strategically important, as electrification and junction improvements would mean that High Speed 1 trains could travel directly from St Pancras International to Hastings. Amber Rudd, Member of Parliament for Hastings, has campaigned for electrification works to start by 2017. The aim is to reduce times to London from Hastings to 68 minutes, and from Rye to under an hour. This would require remodelling Ashford International station so the existing Marshlink line could connect to HS1, installing power systems, and adding a passing loop at Rye, all in addition to requiring new trains. The two level crossings with the A259 have been criticised as being inadequate, and a decision would be required with the Highways Agency, who manage the road, as to what work is required to make the upgrades go ahead.
The Marshlink Action Group is a volunteer group set up in 2002 in the interests of passengers using the line. The group are concerned about its facilities, particularly its use of Class 171 DMUs when all connecting lines have been electrified. They have reported a high proportion of children and the elderly use the line compared to others in the south east.
- "The A259 Trunk Road (Level Crossings) (Temporary Prohibition of Traffic) Order 2014" (PDF). Highways Agency. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
- "More give than take on Marshlink". Rye News. 3 February 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
- Sissons 2008, p. 399.
- Beecroft 1986, p. 7.
- Le Vay 2014, p. 257.
- Sissons 2008, p. 401.
- Sissons 2008, p. 402.
- Sissons 2008, p. 408.
- "Market study response by Marshlink Action Group" (PDF). Network Rail. 21 July 2013. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- Sissons 2008, p. 403.
- Sissons 2008, p. 412.
- http://www.networkrail.co.uk/browse%20documents/StrategicBusinessPlan/RoutePlans/2010/Route%20A%20-%20Kent.pdf Network Rail Route Plan A 2010 Accessed 9 May 2012
- "Southern Railway announcement, essential repair work to Ore tunnel in January". Retrieved 9 May 2012.
- "Southern Railway announcement on Marshlink line walks in March". Retrieved 9 May 2012.
- Kent Rail's page on Ore station Accessed 9 May 2012
- "High speed for Rye is on track". Rye and Battle Observer. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- "ESRA comments on new Thameslink/Southern franchise". Rail Technology Magazine. January 2012. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
- "Renewed calls for high speed train services at rail summit". Hastings Observer. 6 February 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- "High speed service to run between Ashford and Hastings from London after Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin attends rail summit". Kent Business. 2 April 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- Beecroft, Geoffrey (1986). The Hastings Diesels Story. Chessington: Southern Electric Group. ISBN 0-906988-20-9.
- Le Vay, Benedict (2014). Britain from the Rails: Including the nation's best-kept-secret railways. Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 978-1-841-62919-3.
- Sissons, Rob (2008). Single Track Obsession: A Book of Extraordinary Railway Journeys. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1-425-16239-9.
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