diamond geezer

 Sunday, March 20, 2011

Seaside postcard: Newhaven
When spring arrives and the seaside beckons, you'd probably not choose to head to Newhaven. It's a ferry port for a start. Its beach is small and pebbly. And there's Brighton ten miles up the coast, which is much more of a draw. But there's enough going on in this East Sussex town to keep you entertained for, well, a few hours.

Newhaven Harbour: Newhaven's a long-established port astride the mouth of the River Ouse (well, a River Ouse, England has so many). The river used to meander to the sea round a shingle spit, but an artificial channel put a stop to that, hence the name New Haven. This was one of the first towns in England to get a lifeboat, and there's still an orange monster tied up on the quayside near the RNLI shop. The harbour's deep enough for cross Channel ferries to berth, but the majority of river traffic now comes from motorboats using the new upmarket marina. I was pleasantly surprised to see a small trawler by the quayside, with three fishermen aboard tweaking their nets in readiness for another catch. But the sea doesn't bring prosperity to the town quite like it used to. Freight traffic's down, unemployment's up, even the Parker Pen factory has closed down. There's a giant new waste incinerator nearly completed upstream, but that won't bring as many jobs as were lost over the last few decades. Newhaven needs to stay a working town to survive, so here's hoping current investment pays off.

Newhaven Marine: Newhaven has two stations - Newhaven Town and Newhaven Harbour. Everybody uses the former, because its closest to the swing bridge across to the main side of town. The Seaford train nips from one to the other in under a minute, so there's barely any need for the second station at all. But there used to be a third, less than another minute further on, called Newhaven Marine. Holidaymakers used to pour off trains from London onto its single platform to board the ferry to Dieppe. No more. These days there are only two ferries a day, one mid morning, one late evening, so there's not the demand. The main ferry terminal has shifted, closer to the main road and to Newhaven Town. And that's left Newhaven Marine as one of the strangest, most contrary stations in the country.

Newhaven Marine really ought to have closed down by now, but hasn't quite. The last passengers used the station in August 2006, at which point the platforms were deemed unsafe and sealed off. But it's damned awkward to close down a railway service, even one that's never used, because parliamentary rules throw up all sorts of impenetrable red tape. So trains still run from Newhaven Marine, even though nobody's allowed to get on board, which notionally keeps this tiny branch line open. There's only one train each weekday evening, the 8:15 to Lewes, and it only runs in one direction. You won't find it in the timetable, and it doesn't accept passengers. Yell through the fence as much as you like, the driver won't let you on. And this charade continues, and will continue to continue, for as long it's easier to run the train than hold a public consultation on the line's closure.

I arrived in town at Newhaven Harbour, one stop past the busy Newhaven Town. Only two of us got off the train, both seemingly more interested in local transport peculiarities than nipping over to France. From the footbridge there was a good view of the regular tracks taken veering off towards Seaford, and the ghost railway running straight ahead into oblivion. It's only a couple of minutes walk, via the nearby level crossing, to the abandoned Transmanche Ferries terminal. You'd have to be really heavily laden with luggage not to be able to manage this walk, not that anyone with luggage comes this way any more. Peer across the tracks and there's the mothballed platform, empty but for a couple of old signs (mmm, Network SouthEast) and the odd pigeon. The station canopy's seen better days, and it's the supposedly perilous state of this roof which has been used as an excuse to end passenger services.

Never fear, if you're really keen to make a journey from Newhaven Marine there's a sign outside suggesting that you call for a complimentary taxi. One problem, you have to be in possession of a ticket from Newhaven Marine, and nobody sells those. I would direct you to a Radio 4 documentary on the subject, in which the presenter actually manages to wheedle a cab ride out of Network Rail, but that's no longer accessible. It's ludicrous, but Newhaven Marine station remains on an administrative life support machine, and nobody quite has the nerve to turn it off.

Since I wrote this, Geoff and Vicki have been down to Newhaven Marine and encountered the daily ghost train. Their excellent video report is here.

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