Tonbridge to Redhill Line: Landslip and more misery for passengers

The winter of 2019 saw heavy rainfall in the South East, which resulted in a number of landslips on the railways. The area near Godstone (on the Tonbridge to Redhill line) was particularly affected. Network Rail’s image of the landslip is shown below:

Landslip Image at Godstone (Source: Network Rail)

The Godstone landslip started on the 22nd December but continued for a number of days. Network Rail has described the landslip as a “significant earthworks failure”. To make life more difficult, the landslip is located at a particularly awkward place, where access cannot easily be gained. The two possible routes are as follows:

  • From the north – they’ll need to build a road, cut through an old embankment and build a bridge over the river
  • From the south – a significant part of the current embankment will need to be removed. Whilst this might sound like an easier option, there are lots of livestock around, including at least one bull.

Neither are easy options and so this will cause a delay to assessing the situation and ultimately rebuilding the line. Until Network Rail can access the site and arrange for their equipment to assess the geology of the land, they can’t build a feasible case for rebuild (as they can’t just replace what was there as that’s clearly insufficient). Network Rail appears to be favouring option 1 (From the north).

One bit of good news is that Network Rail is rather excited about having a machine called a ‘Bog Skipper’, which can be used to drill into the ground and assess the geology from a better perspective than is available at ground level. Another bit of good news is that Network Rail is looking to re build at least 400m rather than just the 100m of track that’s affected. This should help improve the resilience of the line in the future.

Once Network Rail has completed its assessment and released its plan, we’ll report further.

Further information can be found at the following links:

Southern – https://www.southernrailway.com/travel-information/plan-your-journey/services-between-tonbridge-and-redhill

Network Rail – https://www.networkrail.co.uk/running-the-railway/our-regions/southern/tonbridge-to-redhill-line-closure/

TLC’s Views

We’re not satisfied with the response to this. This has been a neglected line for a long time and yet again it seems like the needs of our rural members are being swept under the carpet. Southern have shown little interest in this line and seem content to slowly run it into the ground. This incident heaps further misery onto passengers. We accept that nobody can be held to blame for the weather, but we feel that more could be done to provide an alternative service. Yet again it seems like the railway’s convenience trumps passenger service.

Our principle is that any replacement service should mirror the timetable as far as possible. That means the shuttle train should run half hourly in the peak and should continue to run at the weekend. If the shuttle can’t run to the full timetable then we call for an express bus that goes directly between Tonbridge and Redhill (and vice versa). We are making this case to Network Rail and Southern and they have yet to provide a satisfactory answer as to why this cannot be run. We would also welcome a shuttle service between Redhill and Nutfield (as recommended by the Reigate, Redhill and District Rail Users Association) , to alleviate the need for the minibus service (which we suspect will be oversubscribed).

We feel that Southern and Network Rail are picking convenience over passenger needs here. We understand that there is only one train on the Tonbridge side of the line and so it would take some logistical effort to get another unit in place to offer a more frequent service. We’re sure that if they really wanted to, they could find a way of doing it. We suspect that a more frequent service could be provided if manpower was provided at Edenbridge (to work the signals, allowing units to turnaround and operate at a higher frequency) but it seems that again the line gets short changed for the fact it’s rural. We also wonder how Southern plan to allow for maintenance of the one unit? We hope this hasn’t been overlooked and later leads to a number of cancellations.

The weekend approach of shoving everyone onto buses is another example of convenience over passenger comfort. We recognise that Network Rail are busy with maintenance, upgrades and repairing damage from the recent weather, but we sometimes wonder whether Network Rail think that the railway belongs to them and passengers are a mere inconvenience?

We are concerned that the services as planned are not sufficient for the peak demand on the line. As well as people getting to work, there are a lot of school children who use this service. The minibus from Nutfield to Redhill may be exceptionally busy. We will be monitoring this closely. Southern are claiming that more buses aren’t available in the peak because of school runs but given how long this disruption is likely to last, we think that providing buses could be a lucrative contract for a bus company and so wonder how hard they’ve tried?

This is a substantial rebuild job and that it may take a long time to reopen. Early estimates of February 2020 seem overly optimistic. We have no idea how long it will take but it is safe to say that it’s likely to be months rather than weeks before we return to a ‘normal’ service. We have requested a site visit so that we can understand the challenges ahead. We also have our long-term goal of a Kent to Gatwick service in mind and so will make sure that that specification of the line is built with future proofing in mind.

We are engaging with Southern, Network Rail and the three MPs for the affected area to co-ordinate responses and make sure that the service delivered is the best that it can be, albeit in very challenging circumstances. We hope that the weather allows Network Rail to proceed without further difficulties.

Passengers on this line have been short changed enough, let’s not pile on their misery. Network Rail and Southern, you can do better.

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