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Deadline looms for Kent's rail bidders

By KentOnline reporter

The firms looking to run Kent's train services for the next decade have just hours left to submit their bids to government.

Abellio, Stagecoach and Govia have until today to make their case to the Department for Transport, following a controversial tendering process, during which fears emerged of cuts to Maidstone’s rail services.

DfT documents issued to potential franchisees revealed the companies were offered the option of scrapping the popular 52-minute high speed trains from Maidstone West to London St Pancras, in favour of an alternative service to Abbey Wood, which calculations suggest would be significantly slower.

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The Kent Messenger newspaper is calling on the Department for Transport to retain the much-valued high speed services from Maidstone West to London St Pancras.
The Kent Messenger newspaper is calling on the Department for Transport to retain the much-valued high speed services from Maidstone West to London St Pancras.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling insisted bidders could only take this up if they can prove it offers “significant benefits” over the existing service, and there would be no “degradation to today’s level of service”.

The argument is that County Town commuters would be offered variety by having routes to Abbey Wood - a major Crossrail station where passengers can easily access Canary Wharf and Bond Street - from Maidstone West, and quick routes to the city from Maidstone East through the much-trumpeted Thameslink service, planned to run to Cambridge.

Opposition councillors point out the Thameslink service has already been delayed several times, and fears were exacerbated when it emerged the DfT had asked bidders what they would do were the Thameslink service “delayed indefinitely”, leaving many critics wondering whether it would ever materialise at all.

More than 1,600 passengers have signed a Kent Messenger petition urging the government to retain the high speed route, while council chiefs and business leaders have also written to the bidders, insisting losing the existing service would be hugely detrimental to the local economy.

To sign our petition, visit tinyurl.com/KMhighspeed

The government will now assess the bids made by the potential franchisees before awarding the contract to the winner in December.

When contacted for a response to recent campaigning, the firms said the process was “commercially sensitive” and declined to comment.

Last week Maidstone councillors backed keeping the service in the County Town.

Council leader Fran Wilson said: “The business community have taken this up in very strenuous terms, and it is one of those occasions where everyone is on the same page working together to see that we retain and improve these services to Maidstone.

“MPs are already doing it, the business community is already doing it, every single political party is already doing it, and so I’m very happy to support this.

“I just want everybody to know just how hard the entire community of Maidstone is working on this and we do need to have to keep the pressure up, but lets not think that we’re not doing all that we can, because we are.”

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