Two trains stand in the station and passing loop at Rye at the mid point of the single track section of the line
South East England
|Services||Ashford International – Hastings|
Branch line to Dungeness (freight only)
|Opened||13 February 1851|
|Rolling stock||Class 171 "Turbostar" (2003–)|
|Line length||26 miles 21 chains (42.27 km)|
|Number of tracks||2 (Ashford International – Appledore)|
1 (Appledore – Rye)
2 (Passing loop at Rye)
1 (Rye – Ore)
2 (Ore – Hastings)
(Branch line to Dungeness also has 1 track)
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Electrification||None (Ashford International to Ore)|
750 V DC third rail (Ore to Hastings)
|Operating speed||60 mph (97 km/h) maximum|
The line was constructed by the South Eastern Railway, settling a rivalry with the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway that led to disputes over the route and planning. It opened in 1851 after several false starts, followed by branch lines to Rye Harbour in 1854, Dungeness in 1881 and New Romney in 1884. The line struggled to be profitable and it seemed likely that it would close following the Beeching Report. All the branch lines were closed by 1967 but the main line was kept open because of poor road connections in the area. Though the line has been single-tracked, and was slow to be modernised, it has remained in service into the 21st century. Services are currently being provided by Southern.
The Marshlink line is one of the few in South East England that has not been electrified, and uses the British Rail Class 171 diesel rolling stock. Despite its relative unimportance in the national rail network, it is now considered politically significant as electrification of the line could allow High Speed 1 services to be extended to Hastings and Eastbourne.
The line starts at Ashford International, a major interchange in Kent connecting it to High Speed 1 and the South Eastern main line. Services run from Platforms 1 and 2 southwards on double-track towards Ham Street (previously Ham Street & Orlsetone), crossing the Royal Military Canal and entering Romney Marsh towards Appledore.[a]
Here, a freight-only branch line operated by Direct Rail Services diverges to serve Dungeness nuclear power station. The branch originally served New Romney, Brookland Halt, Lydd Town, Lydd-on-Sea Halt, Greatstone-on-Sea Halt, New Romney and Littlestone-on-Sea and Dungeness.
Beyond Appledore, the line is single track and after crossing the River Rother reaches Rye where there is a disused branch to Rye Harbour. The mainline continues to Winchelsea, Snailham Halt (closed in 1959), Doleham and Three Oaks before entering the 1,402 yards (1,282 m) long Ore Tunnel.
After the tunnel, the line is double track and electrified (originally for access to the carriage sidings at Ore but since their removal the lines are used by scheduled trains). After Ore, the line enters the 230-yard (210 m) Mount Pleasant Tunnel before arriving at Hastings.
Passenger services are operated by Southern, as part of its East Coastway services. Trains run hourly between Ashford and Hastings, stopping at Ham Street, Appledore and Rye. Winchelsea and Three Oaks 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 per day each way.
Trains then stop at Ore and Hastings before continuing on the East Coastway line; in the past these services usually ran through to Brighton but since May 2018 they form stopping services as far as Eastbourne. At peak times, an additional hourly shuttle runs between Ashford and Rye.
Ore station, in addition to Ashford-Eastbourne services, receives services to Brighton and London (hourly to each), which start or terminate there. The 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 can only accommodate a single carriage and passengers wishing to alight must travel in one particular carriage of the train.
|Mileage from Charing Cross via South East main line|
The line was part of an original proposal by the Brighton Lewes and Hastings Railway (BLHR) to extend its coast route to Hastings. The South Eastern Railway (SER) were keen to build 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, in June 1846, Parliament ordered that it was to be completed before the extension of the Hastings line from Tunbridge Wells to Hastings. As part of the order, the BLHR were authorised to build the line from Hastings to Ashford, with a caveat that the SER could take over operation if they so wished. Since the proposed line passed through countryside with only Rye as a significant settlement, the SER easily managed to acquire it.
Construction began in early 1847, but relationships between the LB&SCR and SER broke down quickly. The SER were unhappy about the proposed line from Rye to Hastings via Ore, which they viewed as too expensive compared to the alternative route via Whatlington. The LB&SCR objected to this route as it was longer, and consequently the SER dropped their proposals in November 1847. The land over Romney Marsh was unstable, and test trains were seen to tip over in heavy winds. The line was originally proposed to be single-track, though this was changed to double-track in June 1850.
The original proposed opening of the line was on 28 October 1850 by Thomas Farncombe, Lord Mayor of London, but the line was far from complete by this time and so the ceremony was postponed. A second proposed opening date of 1 January 1851 was rejected due to signaling problems.
The line was eventually 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 Hastings station. After a court case, the two companies agreed to share the station's facilities for both lines. Even after opening, there were complaints in early 1852 that the line was not completely finished, and it was still marked as "nearly complete" in March 1853.
The railway's location was problematic. It passed through no places of significance between Hastings and Ashford aside from Rye. Some stations were a considerable distance away from the settlement they were supposed to serve; Appledore station is around 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the village itself. Little changes were made to the railway throughout the 19th century aside from minor signaling work and some additional buildings. It was not declared profitable by the SER until 1895.
Branch to Dungeness and New Romney
In 1859, the Town Clerk of New Romney suggested a line should be constructed from Folkestone to Rye via Dymchurch and Lydd, but the SER was not interested. However, in 1866 they were favourable about a branch line from Appledore. An Act of Parliament to build the line was obtained on 30 July that year, which included a branch to Denge Beach. On 5 August 1873, the SER were authorized to extend the line to Dungeness with a 100-yard (91 m) pier and landing stage. Progress stalled on the line in the 1870s and the SER were in danger of a rival railway taking over construction.  The development of the artillery range at Lydd increased the potential for traffic, so the newly formed Lydd Railway proposed their own bill to work on the Appledore – Lydd branch line. Work began on 8 April 1881 and opened to Dungeness on 7 December that year.[b] An act for the northward branch to New Romney was granted on 24 July 1882, with the line opening on 18 June 1884.
The line was not a financial success, and the Lydd Railway was absorbed into the SER in 1895. A passing loop past Appledore was removed in 1920. At the New Romney end, one of the sidings adjoining the station was extended to serve the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The line was realigned to be closer to the coast in the 1930s, opening on 4 July 1937. At the same time, the branch to Dungeness was closed to passengers.
Branches from Rye
In 1854, a short branch was constructed from Rye station towards Rye Harbour. It was 3⁄8 mile (0.60 km) long and only used for freight. It ended by the River Rother at a pier. It was almost derelict by 1955, and closed around 1962.
The Rye and Camber Tramway was a separate isolated line the other side of the river. A 1 3⁄4-mile (2.8 km) section from Rye to Golf Links Halt opened on 13 July 1895, followed by a 1⁄2-mile (0.80 km) extension to Camber Sands, opening on 13 July 1908. The line was closed in 1939 following competition from bus services and was temporarily part-converted to road during the war. It was returned to railway after hostilities ended, but the line was impractical to repair to full use and hence closed permanently.
The line was electrified from Hastings to Ore in 1935. This was done in order that trains could be serviced in a siding away from the centre of Hastings; this has since closed. Electrification through to Ashford was planned, but abandoned in 1939 when the war started.
The line was recommended for closure by Dr. Richard 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, all of which remain as of the 21st century.
The local member of parliament for Rye, Bryant Godman Irvine made a significant Commons speech complaining about the decision to close the line. As well as the A259, he complained that a lack of rail service would hinder holidaymakers, prevent children from getting to school easily, and remove the potential profitability of being able to move freight via rail. At the same time as the Beeching Report was published, Arthur Irvine complained that a bus took an hour to travel the 19 miles (31 km) between Rye and Ashford.
The branch to New Romney closed on 6 March 1967, although since 1975 freight traffic has used 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. Very occasional passenger services are run for rail enthuasists; as of 2008 the former Lydd station was beginning to fall into disrepair. 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. On 31 July 1974, the Ministry of Transport recommended the line for closure but stated that services would run indefinitely for the foreseeable future. Michael Heseltine said a condition of the line closing would be improvements to buses from Ashford to Ore. Stations remained unmodernised and gas-lit well into the 1970s. By the 1980s, British Rail had started to modernise the route, though proposals to electrify the line were rejected as improvements to the South Eastern main line from Tonbridge to Ashford were a higher priority at the time. Despite the 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. At Winchelsea, the down platform was removed; trains in both directions now stop on the former up platform. 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. The restrictions mean that services along the Marshlink line do not make optimum use of the rolling stock, which has a top speed of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h).
In the 1990s, following privatisation, the original Victorian station building at Ore was demolished and replaced with a simple shelter. The line was run by Connex South Eastern from 1996 until 2000, when Southern took over management.
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.
Accidents and incidents
- Accidents occurring at Ashford and Hastings stations are not covered.
- On 27 December 1898, eight passengers were injured when a horse box was roughly shunted and collided with the passenger train it was to be attached to at Appledore.
- On 14 March 1980, an empty stock train comprising five Hastings Unit vehicles derailed at Appledore due to excessive speed through a set of points. The driver was killed. A motor coach was consequently withdrawn from service due to extensive damage.
- On 24 January 2019, the Marshlink line was closed after a person was hit by a train. All services between Ashford International and Bexhill were cancelled for part of the day.
This line is one of few in South-East England not to be completely electrified. Consequently, the line was steam-operated until 1962, when Class 205 "Thumper" diesel units were introduced. Services are now operated using Class 171 "Turbostar" DMUs, replacing the Class 205s and Class 207s in 2003.
Concern has been raised that these units will need to be replaced by the end of the decade. The lack of electrification on the line means that rolling stock elsewhere cannot be used. This includes the Class 375 trains used elsewhere on the South East Mainline, and the Class 395 "Javelin" trains on High Speed 1.
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. In 2015, Amber Rudd, Member of Parliament for Hastings, campaigned for electrification works to start within the next two years. 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. An alternative proposal was put forward in 2016 that involved hybrid overhead / battery powered trains, which would not require electrification on the Marshlink line. 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 2003 in the interests of passengers using the line. The group are concerned about its facilities, particularly the 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, and that trains are now at capacity but there is no additional stock because of its state as an isolated non-electric line. In 2016, Rudd chaired a working group to look at short and long-term plans for upgrading the Marshlink line, including the potential accommodation of Class 395 rolling stock. A report from Network Rail suggested that third rail electrification would cost around £100–250 million, and overhead electrification would cost between £250 and £500 million.
In November 2017, it was suggested that the line could use British Rail Class 802 electro-diesel multiple unit trains, allowing direct running between HS1 and Hastings. Damian Green, MP for Ashford, endorsed the suggestion as it would allow more services running from St Pancras to Ashford International generally. In May 2018, the Department of Transport allocated £200,000 for further electrification design, with the possibility of completion in 2022 when the existing track life-expires.
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