RAIL users have launched a countywide campaign for faster trains between stations on the East Sussex coast and London.
The Bexhill Rail Action Group has offered detailed technical proposals to improve the timetable following concerns that despite new trains and improvements to local railway stations, the rail service itself has become much slower in recent years.
The group is appealing to rail users to support its campaign by writing to transport secretary Geoff Hoon and has called for support from MP Gregory Barker and his counterparts in Eastbourne and Lewes, the leaders of five district councils and East Sussex County Council.
BRAG chairman Brian Hord has drawn attention to the longer journey times to the capital experienced by users of the East Coastway compared to those for travellers in Brighton and in neighbouring Kent.
"Lewes to London is now 67 minutes, as opposed to 61 minutes 20 years ago," said Mr Hord.
"Journey times to/from London are slower than in the days of steam for Bexhill residents and the fastest journey time is a staggering one hour 52 minutes off-peak, with many rush-hour trains taking well in-excess of two hours.
"The journey time from Eastbourne is also excessive compared with other similar towns on the south coast."
He warned, "These disparities will grow still-wider from December 2009 when towns in east Kent will have access to domestic high-speed services to London St Pancras via High Speed 1.
"Once again it feels like East Sussex is being left behind."
BRAG points out that Brighton has seven trains an hour to London, covering the journey in as little as 51 minutes, while from this December, the journey time between London and Ashford will be reduced to just 35 minutes with the introduction of state-of-the-art high-speed trains built in Japan.
In contrast, there are just two slow trains each hour between London and Eastbourne, with one of these continuing to Bexhill and Hastings.
Under the BRAG proposal, developed by BRAG committee member John Taylor, a new limited-stop service would run between Hastings and Victoria via Bexhill, Eastbourne and Lewes during the off-peak period and on Saturdays.
The service would take just 100 minutes from Bexhill to Victoria, with similar reductions of 12 minutes in journey times from Eastbourne and Lewes.
An added bonus from the BRAG plan is that existing trains replaced by the new service could instead run to and from Seaford, giving a regular through service between Newhaven and London for the first time, and providing a shot-in-the-arm for regeneration plans at the port.
BRAG believes the slowness of peak-hour services remains a significant issue, but that rush hour capacity constraints on the Brighton mainline, and at London termini, should not prevent improvements off-peak.
Mr Hord said, "The final say rests with the Department for Transport and we are hopeful our Members of Parliament and councils here in East Sussex will all add their weight to this campaign."
BRAG has welcomed the formation of a new Commuter Group based in Eastbourne. The Southern Eastbourne and East Coastway Commuter Group was recently formed in response to problems arising from evening rush-hour timetable changes.