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Proposals to close Folkestone harbour branch line by Network Rail "makes no difference" to Remembrance Line Association aspirations for train service

By Matt Leclere

Campaigners fighting to save Folkestone’s historic harbour railway branch say they will not be deterred after Network Rail announced its intention to close the line and station.

The proposals published by Network Rail this week, would not end hopes of a service running down to the harbour again, according to the Remembrance Line Association (RLA).

As part of the announcement, Network Rail, the owner and operator of the track, has said the railway line and station would close on or after May 31 next year.

An artist's impression of the Remembrance Line Association's plans for Folkestone Harbour
An artist's impression of the Remembrance Line Association's plans for Folkestone Harbour

However, before a final decision is taken, a public consultation must be held as a legal requirement of the proposal to close part of the network and the use of a station.

People now have the chance to present their views during the consultation period, which will end on February 21, 2014.

Richard Moffatt, chairman of the RLA, said: "We have not been dreading this closure announcement.

"Whether or not the railway actually closes makes no difference to our aspirations.

"Closure would be a dramatic step - but would just mean that Network Rail would be out of the picture as regards the branch line itself. We then deal with the other stakeholders."

Henry Bolton, who stood in the police and crime commissioner election
Henry Bolton, who stood in the police and crime commissioner election

The three month consultation period will now be a key time for the group to generate public support.

Mr Moffatt added: "We will be fully pro-active in looking for solutions, seeking support and common purpose.

"Our campaign is to gain support for our light railway/tramway scheme which we intend that in the future will provide a state of the art transit system for Folkestone."

Fiona Taylor, Network Rail’s route managing director for Kent, said: “We have carried out an extensive assessment of the Folkestone Harbour branch line, taking all aspects into consideration.

“We feel it would be irresponsible of us to continue to maintain this unused line, largely at the taxpayers’ expense, at a time when we are doing all we can to make the rest of our business more efficient.

“The consultation is an opportunity to comment on these proposals and ensure that all opinions are taken into consideration before a final decision is made.”

The announcement comes just weeks after the RLA unveiled plans to preserve the line and run trams down to the harbour and link them up to a new foot passenger ferry service.

Plans to redevelop the seafront and the Rotunda site, tabled by the Folkestone Harbour Company (FHC), have already been approved by Shepway District Council but did not initially include reconnecting a passenger route for the rail network.

The Oliver Cromwell steam engine visits the harbour line station
The Oliver Cromwell steam engine visits the harbour line station

The RLA and FHC have held talks over introducing a rail plan to the seafront development plans.

Henry Bolton, planning and policy director for the RLA said when presenting the group’s ideas: “We’ve got a marvellous opportunity. We don’t need Network Rail coming along and ripping up the tracks and in doing so denying us that opportunity for positive regeneration.

“We absolutely need the local authority on board and until then I don’t want that track taken up.”

Network Rail recently conducted an assessment of the route and concluded keeping the line open with no services running on it was no longer financially viable.

The last passenger service to run on the line was in 2001 and since then has been used for charter services including visiting steam trains.

Representations can be sent to Folkestone Harbour Branch Consultation, Department for Transport, Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 4DR or emailed to folkestoneharbourbranch.consultation@dft.gsi.gov.uk

What do you think? Join the debate in the comments below.

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