A railway station in East Sussex is celebrating the launch of hourly services following a successful campaign.
Until very recently Cooksbridge, just north of Lewes on the Southern Coastway East mainline, had a very limited service – Monday to Friday, peak hours only. In 2009, Hamsey parish council launched a campaign for an hourly service, seven days a week and this became a key objective in the parish neighbourhood plan. The Cooksbridge Station Partnership was founded in the following year to drive this forward. Building on initial contacts a dialogue was established with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and in the ensuing nine years some incremental improvements were made, principally filling out the weekday evening services.
The station partnership campaign sought to convince GTR management of the latent demand for off-peak train travel, not only north towards London but also south to Lewes, Brighton and the coast. Ongoing residential development in Hamsey and neighbouring parishes added weight to the case. The Partnership also enlisted the support of the South Downs National Park Authority. The station sits on the boundary of the Park and there are off-road footpaths all the way up to the South Downs. Cooksbridge was therefore potentially a very attractive destination for walkers.
The major breakthrough came in 2019 with agreement to implement an hourly service Monday to Saturday from December. This was enabled by a restructuring of the timetable to alternate stopping services at Cooksbridge and neighbouring Plumpton. Improvements in reliability also convinced Southern that it could afford to introduce a further three minute stop without compromising overall performance.
On December 21 2019, Phil Hutchinson, Head of Strategic Planning at GTR joined over 50 people at the station to celebrate the arrival of the first Saturday service for 35 years. In his speech he went further, announcing that an hourly Sunday service would be added in May 2020. This was obviously extremely well received and at last realises the objective of a comprehensive, seven day a week, service.
During the ten years of campaigning the station partnership has enjoyed the active support of local MPs, councillors and communities. However, success could not have been achieved without establishing a long term, constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with management at GTR and Southern. During the ten years the members of the Station Partnership have received an education in what is possible and what is not within the constraints of a complex and highly structured timetable. What on the face of it seems simple – just stop the trains – is far from it.
The partnership’s work doesn’t stop now, as they need to ensure that the new services are well used by both local residents and travellers to Cooksbridge. We are actively working with the National Park Authority to develop and promote a circular walk from the station, to encourage walkers into the area, our share of the costs being very generously funded by an ACoRP grant – for which thank you. We also have a project to improve accessibility at the station, alongside maintaining and further developing our gardens.