Published: 11:01, 06 July 2017
The government has reassured commuters no rural stations will be axed - but cuts to services may still be on the cards.
More than 11,000 people signed a petition against proposals to reduce stops between Tonbridge and Ashford, to deliver an hourly fast service connecting the two towns.
It comes after the Department for Transport held a consultation on possible improvements to the rail network, while also looking to find the next operator for the region when Southeastern’s franchise expires in December 2018.
If the plans were to go ahead, it would mean fewer trains serving Pluckley, Headcorn, Staplehurst, Marden, and Paddock Wood, and commuters fear that could eventually lead to services being cancelled altogether.
Responding to commuters’ fears in a statement this week, the government ruled out shutting any stations, adding: “If service to certain intermediate stops were reduced, hourly fast services could be created between key destinations, offering faster journey times.
"All intermediate stations would continue to be served by at least an hourly service. We are not proposing to stop services to or from any station.
“The Department for Transport recognises that this has the potential to inconvenience passengers that currently use those intermediate stations. Any changes would therefore only be made if passengers overall benefitted, and travellers from lesser-used stations were not unduly disadvantaged.”
However, Kent County Council has urged the government to go a step further, and rule out axing any rural stops.
In its response to the consultation, the authority said: “The Ashford to London via Tonbridge service would need to retain its current stopping pattern to reflect the growth in demand at intermediate stations on this route.
If Maidstone Borough Council’s draft Local Plan is approved 1,580 homes will be built in Headcorn,Staplehurst and Marden alone, creating greater demand for an already well used service.
The public consultation ended on June 30 and the conclusions will be published in the autumn.
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