Getting out of Hastings – A tale of two trains

Whichever way you try, getting in and out of Hastings is difficult. In some ways, it’s part of the charm of this place, giving it a cut-off, otherworldy quirkiness, but in terms of convenience and economic viability, not so good.
    A few days ago we travelled up to London to meet my sister and
brother-in-law. I don’t mention my sister much on here – she is twelve years older than me. We get on well even though she is totally different to me. Her exasperated cries:  ‘Oh, honestly, Stepho, don’t be so wet….’ echoed through my childhood.
    Anyway, their trains arrive at St Pancras, so we
decided to meet them there, travelling on the Marshlink Line from Hastings to Ashford, then changing to the HS1 high-speed service which hurtles up to London along the Eurostar line.
    All railway links to Hastings are slow, but the Marshlink Line is like going back to the 1950s. It’s one of only two non-electrified stretches of line in the South East. After the long Ore tunnel (1042 yards), most of the route is single-track. 
    The little diesels chug along so slowly you can watch flying birds keeping pace with the train. After cutting through the steep wooded hills just outside Hastings, the line crosses Winchelsea Levels, and after Rye, Romney Marsh. The scenery is beautiful – wide horizons, expanses of sheep-grazed level, sun glancing off reed-fringed ditches and streams. In the background, gentle hills, with old churches, farms and oast house towers. Too, too Rowland Hilderish – see previous post.
    The train passes toy-town stations, rumbles across level crossings and even foot crossings. See the pictures below – not mine, all taken from the internet.

Level crossing on the Marshlink Line
Foot crossing on the Marshlink Line

   The line narrowly escaped closure back in the 1960s and 70s. It was partly spared due to another, darker purpose – the transport of nuclear stuff to and from the power station at Dungeness. I’m not saying anything more about that.
   Unlikely though it sounds, leading up to the 2015 General Election, there was much talk about upgrading the Marshlink Line, enabling High Speed Javelin trains to run directly from St Pancras via Hastings to Bexhill.  Our local MP, Amber Rudd, (then fighting a Conservative marginal seat) launched a high-profile campaign. I love this, from this article – a hypothetical high speed train in Hastings Station – a painting presented by Ms Rudd to the then Transport Minister!

Not in my life-time!

    Since the election, things have gone rather quiet. Now, there’s a surprise.  Amber is now Environment Minister and has bigger fish to fry than those from Hastings, and any fool can see the cost of electrfying and up-grading that line would be colossal.  Apparently, there is still a faint hope that the project might be included in the 2019 works budget….
    Back to our journey. Eventually, the little train lurches apologetically into a dark corner of bright and shiny Ashford International Station, avec ses notices en Francaise pour les travelleurs internationale. Quelle excitement! Paris via Eurostar!  Mais zut Alors! Les trains arrive seulement trois times a day…..
    ‘Owevair, our HS1 teleports us very fast indeed to St Pancras International, via the mysterious Ebbsfleet International. Stuck in the middle of an empty wasteland, the station is intended to serve the hypothetical 15,000 home Ebbsfleet (International?) Garden City, announced with much trumpet blowing by our wretched Government back in 2014. So far, hardly any homes have been built. Yawn scratch, yet another surprise.
    We had a nice time in London – went to the restaurant at the British Library – have never been before, and it is an excellent discovery for reasonably priced food in pleasant surroundings near St Pancras. The Library has a lovely shop, too. Just on that theme – equivalent cheap and wholesome eating place plus nice shop near Charing Cross – the Crypt at St Martins in the Field Church.
    I took these sunset photos of the Dartford Crossing and the Medway from the HS1 train on the way back to Ashford. We had a very chirpy train conductor who kept saying ‘Look at the beautiful sunset’ over the PA, so we did. Considering the train was probably going over 100mph and they are snapped through the window, the photos are surprisingly good. Camera is on my Iphone6s…….

Dartford Crossing at Sunset

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